Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Smart Home updates Part 1 (with Dr. Ben Franske)

In this podcast episode, Reuben and Tessa are joined by Dr. Ben Franske to discuss various aspects of smart home technology. They cover topics such as the marketing of smart home products, the integration of AI in smart home devices, and the considerations for permanent installations. They also delve into the security concerns surrounding smart locks and the battery life of these devices. The episode concludes with a discussion on gateways and hubs in the smart home ecosystem. The conversation covers various aspects of smart home technology, including entertainment systems, smart TVs, physical media, streaming in cars, and the obsolescence of built-in technology.


Smart home technology is evolving rapidly, with marketers using the term ‘smart home’ to encompass a wide range of products.
When considering permanent smart home installations, it is important to evaluate the lifespan of the technology and ensure serviceability.
Security concerns surrounding smart locks should be taken into account, but the risk of hacking is often outweighed by the vulnerabilities of physical locks.
Battery life can be a challenge for smart locks, and it is important to choose devices that are compatible with the existing infrastructure.
Gateways and hubs play a crucial role in connecting different smart home devices and protocols, providing a centralized control system. Smart home technology has greatly simplified entertainment systems, eliminating the need for complex setups and wired zones.
Smart TVs and external devices both have their advantages, but it’s important to consider the longevity and user experience of built-in technology.
There is a resurgence of interest in physical media, such as Blu-rays and vinyl records, due to concerns about streaming service availability and ownership.
Streaming media in cars can be challenging, and the most common solution is to pre-download content onto tablets or use dedicated streaming devices.
Built-in technology can become obsolete quickly, so it’s important to consider the long-term value and flexibility of devices and systems.


00:00 Introduction and Weather
01:23 Introduction of Guest
03:01 Interest in Smart Home Technology
04:19 Marketing of Smart Home Products
05:13 Smart Electrical Panels
06:25 Evolution of Smart Lighting
08:16 Integration of AI in Smart Home Products
09:44 Considerations for Permanent Smart Home Installations
11:39 Permanent Outdoor Lighting
13:47 Types of Smart Lights
16:22 Serviceability of Permanent Installations
21:44 Smart Locks and Security Concerns|
23:33 Hacking and Security Risks
26:46 Smart Lock Battery Life
30:42 Smart Lock Battery Issues
32:47 Gateways and Hubs
38:11 Entertainment and TV Systems
42:07 Smart TVs vs. External Devices
44:04 Resurgence of Physical Media
46:47 Streaming in Cars
50:36 The Obsolescence of Built-in Technology



The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech home inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019. And we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Welcome back. Here we are again for another podcast, and this one I’m excited about because we have a repeat guest on the show today. But before we do that, Tessa, how are you doing today? 

Tessa Murry: Hey, Reuben. I’m doing well. The weather feels like springtime here in Minnesota. It’s February 1st today. Yesterday, it was like, what? 55, 58? It was…

RS: It was so nice.

TM: Wonderful. Yeah. I hope it stays like this the rest of February and March, but I highly doubt it. So I’m just going to soak it up while it’s here.

RS: Yeah, odds are it’s not going to happen. But, man I was, I actually, I attended an inspection with Jeff yesterday, and we were outside, we’re walking… All the neighbors are out. They’re out chatting with each other. They’re outside in their shorts, and I’m talking to Jeff like, Oh, I forgot to flip that fan on. There’s no air coming out here. I think I forgot to turn on. The neighbor yells, “I can go turn it on for you.” I was like, “Wow, you are the most helpful neighbor I have ever met. Nobody has ever volunteered to do that.”

TM: Everybody’s in a good mood. They’re outside in their shorts and their T-shirts, and January 31st, and they’re smoking meat. And they’re, I mean, it’s…

RS: Yes.

TM: Yeah, it’s a party up here. But anyways…

RS: Yeah, Yeah. Feels great.

TM: Okay. Reuben, who do we have on? Who’s our guest today? 

RS: All right, we have repeat guest. Dr. Ben Franske is on the show today. And he’s an IT geek. He’s actually an instructor at Inver Hills Community College, but he has a passion for home technology. We had him on the show about a year ago, and he had so much stuff to share. I just got done re-listening to that podcast, and I’m thinking this is one. I need to re-listen to this, like, once a year just to make sure I’m staying up on…

TM: Yeah.

RS: Just keeping it all front of mind. One of the funniest things I heard, though, was that we actually talked about Christmas lights during that podcast. I recently shared my woes and how I installed this fancy Christmas permanent LED system. But Ben had done that a long time. Well let, we’ll get into it in a second, Ben, how you doing? 

Dr. Ben Franske: I’m doing great, Reuben, Tess.

TM: Welcome, Ben.

RS: Ben, fill the listeners in on exactly what it is you do and how you know so much about smart technology, would you? 

DF: Sure. Yeah. So I have been a college professor for, oh, gosh, it’s been somewhere around 15 years now at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, and I teach IT with a focus in networking and cybersecurity there. So working primarily with students who are interested in large enterprise networks, business systems, that sort of thing. But the smart home stuff is adjacent to that in that a lot of it has been facilitated by the use of widespread home networking. And so I’ve kind of had an interest in it because of that and because I’m a child of the 1980s, and RadioShack had those awesome catalogs in the ’80s and ’90s, with the X10 home control stuff that seemed so futuristic. I wanted to be able to turn the lights on and off from my bedside table just like everybody else. So kind of…

TM: The clap-on clap-off.

DF: Some of it stems from that, too.

TM: Do you remember those? The clap-on clap off or the touch lamps? I had a touch lamp, too. I thought that was so cool.

RS: Oh, so modern. Yeah, you’re way ahead out of your time, Tess.

TM: We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Yeah.

RS: Yeah.

DF: In some ways, yes. And in some ways, no. I mean, those products are still sold today, and they’re, I can’t say that I’ve looked at an advertisement for one recently, but it would not surprise me if they didn’t say smart home on them, now. Because, and that’s one of the things that I had on our list of stuff to talk about, is smart home is a hot marketing term, and marketers are just lumping everything they could possibly imagine into that smart home category. The beginning of January is the consumer electronics show. So this is a great time to do this show because a lot of new products are announced that kind of fall into this category, and announcements come out at the beginning of January every year. And so I took a look at some of those from this year’s consumer electronics show, and it was very apparent that the marketers have decided we got to call everything a smart home thing. So all of the robotic cleaning vacuums are now being labeled as a smart home thing. Maybe yes, maybe no. In reality, as well as I saw, a microwave was labeled as a smart home technology.

RS: Stop.

DF: Now, technically, they were saying it had some AI in it to help you find recipes that would work with stuff that you have, but, if you ask me, that’s called Google, and we’ve had it for a while, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a smart home technology. The other one that I’ve started to see more play on that I think will be of interest, kind of, to the Structure Tech community as we start to see more of it is, I’ve started to see electrical panel manufacturers talk about smart electrical panels and what that means. And it’s, again, one of those fuzzy areas where they’re not really doing anything necessarily smart. They’re doing way more than an electrical panel has done in the past. So it’s different. But what makes something a smart home technology? I don’t know who’s to say? There’s no guiding organization or government edict that says this stuff is smart home and this stuff’s not. So it’s whatever people believe is smart home technology.

RS: Okay. All right. Makes sense. So what were some of the things that you saw that piqued your interest you want to talk about? What’s some of the coolest new stuff out there? 

DF: Yeah. So that’s interesting. Like most things, the reality when you get into the nitty gritty of things is that it’s a very evolutionary process over time in terms of change to products. It’s very rare that we have something that’s an earth-shattering event that’s going to completely change things. So I think that the things that this year we started to see, I think in last year’s podcast, we talked a little bit about the matter standard for home automation devices or smart home devices to help them be able to communicate across manufacturers. We’re starting to see more traction of that being in some actual products this year. So I think, like a big one that came out this fall is that Philips, with their Hue lighting system, started to support that in some new software. It hasn’t been without problems in terms of the practical implementation of the interoperability. So it’s something where we’re continuing to see that develop. It’s something that is exciting to actually see start to show up in more products, though. So that’s one of the things. We’re starting to see continued incremental changes in things, different form factors, is the way that I’d say it, so, you know, for example, the smart lighting started with the Phillips Hue stuff.

DF: Well, in the modern sense, it started with the Phillips Hughes stuff. And that was a light bulb replacement that you could put in, that you could control from your phone and things like that. And what we’re seeing is that instead of just being a regular, what we’d call like an Edison screw bulb that could go in and be controlled, we’re seeing that technology appear in other form factors. So, for example, I think this year there were a few manufacturers at the consumer electronics show that announced under cabinet smart lighting, so that you’d have a low form factor light, that you could put an LED strip under cabinets and you could control that from your phone. So it’s a lot of things like that. The other thing I’d say is this has been the year of AI, right? So that’s the other term that all the marketers are jumping on. And so we’re starting to see more products that say that they incorporate AI in some way into those products. Now, they run the gamut of stuff that’s maybe truly integrating AI and things that are branded as AI. So if we think back to in the HVAC area, one of the things that was a real popular early smart home thing was the Nest thermostats. Google has since bought them. One of the things that made them “a special thing”, like different than any other programmable thermostat, is that they would learn your habits.

DF: So it would use a motion sensor that was built in and it would use you turning it up and down each day to learn, This is what your typical weekly schedule looks like, and then apply that for you so that you didn’t have to go into the menus and program, this is what I want it to do every day, that sort of thing. So, today, absolutely, the marketing people would say, you know, it’s an AI enabled thermostat. Maybe it’s algorithmic, but is it AI? Well, it depends. Again, AI is one of those terms just like smart home, that’s a very fuzzy term. So, things like that is another thing that we’re seeing.

RS: Okay. All right. Yeah, it’s kind of like applying the low carb label to every food package you find.

DF: Right.

RS: It’s popular. It’s trending.

TM: Yeah. I was thinking like, all natural versus certified organic, very different things, but marketing puts all natural on everything they can.

DF: Exactly.

RS: Yeah.

TM: Yeah.

DF: The other things that we’re seeing are merging of devices. So, just like we saw in the home theater space where things like Roku and Google TV are now built into most of the TVs that you see today, we’re seeing these smart home devices embedded in other things. So, for example, you’re seeing furniture that gets announced that has a smart speaker built into it or something like that. Or we’re seeing like air purifying robots that can go around. So they’ve taken like the cleaning robots and added air purifying capabilities to them. Maybe they also have a smart speaker built in or a hub for controlling some of your other devices, things like that. So it’s just kind of a, well, we can pack more stuff into a single device. That’s, I would say, another category of things that we’re seeing start to happen more. And that makes sense as the market matures. Yeah. To increase the audience of people who are interested in this stuff, they wanna deal with less individual things, that outside of the, what I’d call like the smart home hobbyist community, people wanna buy one thing, plug it in and have it run their whole house, right? So that’s another one of those things that I’d say has been happening this year.

RS: Man, so many things I want to ask you questions about, but let’s start at the top. ‘Cause I wanna revisit something we talked about last year, which was the permanent holiday lights. Let’s start with that. And that was something I know you had brought up that you could share on a little bit. What did you have to share on that? 

DF: Yeah. And I was so excited to listen to your tales of woe in getting your system set up, Reuben.

RS: Exactly. I was so frustrated.

DF: But I’m glad that you finally got it all working.

RS: Yeah, it’s going. And I haven’t turned them off yet, ’cause you know, it took me that long.

DF: I just switched off my outdoor lights. I decided January 31st was a good day to be the last day of running outdoor holiday lights. So I just switched mine off last night was the last night for them.

TM: Reuben, you can pretty much just transition right into pink and red soon. Right? Can’t you change the color of the lights? 

RS: It’s coming up soon. You know, I might…

TM: Valentine’s Day.

RS: I may follow Ben soon. I was thinking the same thing last night. I was thinking this might be the last night. I gotta give it a rest, but… Yeah. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.

TM: Right around the corner.

DF: Another couple weeks, and you’ll be good to go for another holiday, right? 

RS: Yeah.

TM: Yeah.

DF: So I think, you know, a lot of people, as you talk to people, there’s a lot of people, especially in cold weather climates that are interested in having permanent outdoor lighting that they can use. People are tired of getting up on ladders and setting it up. So I think I mentioned last year there are, this is actually an area where there are more and more companies that seem to be in this sphere of interested in getting people set up with permanent outdoor lighting, holiday lighting, or decorative lighting. And so I think that a few things that I’d say people wanna consider. And I think you’d missed some details in telling us a little bit about your system. So I’d be curious to hear about what you ended up doing. But one of the big things is you have to decide whether you just want color changing ability, ’cause pretty much everything’s gonna come with color changing ability now on a broad scale or whether you want what they call pixel controlled lights. So pixel controlled lights are when you drive by those cool houses in the winter holiday season and you see that they’ve got a whole show going on that’s choreographed things like that.

TM: Oh yeah.

DF: And every individual light emitter in that system can be color controlled individually. So you can have alternating colors, you can have chasing colors, you can have pixels that are dark for a period of time. And so it gives you a lot more flexibility, but it is a lot more complex both from a programming perspective as well as a manufacturing perspective to make a system like that work.

RS: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You could tell me which one I put in. I mean, I installed the Govee system where it’s got a light every 12 inches. And I can go on my app, actually, my son goes on my app, let’s be honest. He knows how to do this, and you could change the colors on all the individual lights. So it is the individually controllable lights, I think they call ’em like IC, no IP… What’s the term for that? 

DF: Well, IP65 or 66 is gonna be the rating for that it is a waterproof fixture.

RS: Okay. No, it’s individually controlled. Each one has its own IP address or something.

DF: So the generic term for that is that the people will call them pixels or pixel control.

RS: Okay. Okay.

DF: There are some specific chips that are very inexpensive these days, which are the way that that happens. And so sometimes you might see like a WS2811 or WS2812 chip is part of the light, and that will mean that they’re individually controlled or sometimes in some cases they’re controlled in groups of three lights. But yeah, that’s definitely, I would say the preferred way of doing it. Even five or seven years ago, it was considerably more expensive to do that. Today, it shouldn’t be, like I said, it still adds some complexity in terms of the programming of it and the layout of it, but it gives you a lot more flexibility. ‘Cause you can just run that tape of LEDs all over the place. And if you wanna, for example, have a section be dark for some period of time, you can just say, I want this light, this light, this light and this light to be off as part of the string rather than controlling the whole string at once.

RS: Oh man. I should have thought about that. Oh my goodness. That would’ve saved me so much heartache. Oh, go ahead, Tess.

DF: So that’s a lot of times what the installers will do, is they’ll just put them everywhere rather than splicing in space between them. Because if you’re paying…

TM: That’s smart. Yep.

DF: Now, if you’re doing it yourself, it might be just fine to splice some space in between them ’cause your time is arguably not worth anything. You’re not paying for it at least.

RS: Yeah.

DF: But when you’re paying labor, it’s just a whole lot easier to just put them everywhere, and then say these ones are just never gonna be on.

TM: Turn ’em off. Yeah.

RS: Smart. Yeah.

TM: Ben, what are your thoughts on smart technology and electronics that are “permanent”? Because in my mind I’m a little hesitant to install anything that’s like permanent when technology is changing so quickly. Do you think it’s wise to use these technologies that are permanent and install ’em, you think it’s a good advice? Or do you have other recommendations for people? 

DF: That’s a really good question, when it comes to smart home stuff, because the technology is changing very quickly, especially when you compare to what the replacement or expected lifetime is of a lot of the things that the smart home stuff gets included with. So, for example, if you’re installing something permanently to your house, the life expectancy of your house could be a hundred plus years, right? So does it make sense to embed a whole bunch of smart stuff that’s more or less permanent inside of that? That also comes up with, like I mentioned, furniture that’s starting to include smart home technologies or appliances is another big one, refrigerators that have smart home stuff built into it and lots of other appliances. And what I would say is…

DF: It’s probably important to think about that. And, for example, I would not pay extra for those types of features in an appliance when I know the life of the appliance is gonna be much longer than what the technology that’s built into it is kind of viable for. We would expect more and that’s something you see too, in like car entertainment systems, you know, cars last a pretty long time these days. And if you get into one that’s still a very serviceable car that built in entertainment system, or what we used to call the radio is probably looking pretty dated and it may not work with, for example, modern smartphones. There’s tons of cars out there that have those old 30 pin connectors for old iPhones that you can’t plug, I mean, we’ve all been to a hotel where they have the clock radio that has the 30 pin iPhone connector on it still that you can’t put the phone into. So was that a good purchase? Well, probably not. It turns out, luckily those are not very expensive things. But when you start to think about in a home, that’s why I would say for me, it’s a nice bonus if something has some technology built into it, but I would say the things I would watch out for is. Assuming that technology stops working is the core functionality of the appliance or home or whatever going to be affected in any way.

DF: Because if it is, then you need to substantially reduce what your expectations are for that lifetime of that. If it’s a water heater that normally lasts 10 years and it has some fancy smart stuff in it, that if the manufacturer turns off the service in the cloud, all of a sudden your water heater stops working that’s gonna be potentially, it’s a risk that you need to consider when you’re purchasing that for sure at least. As far as things like the holiday lighting that is attached to your house or even upgrading switches in your house to be smart switches, things like that, I worry a little bit less about those.

DF: If they were truly embedded, if you were building a new house and doing all kinds of, you know, routing channels in your outside trim for a permanent holiday lighting and things like that, then you kind of want to think about, well, we need to, we know that the lifetime of this is going to be somewhat limited. So we need to think about how we’re gonna make this serviceable. So are there conduits in place that we can pull new wires through? Is it gonna be possible to remove and replace that LED strip if it gets damaged or things like that. You don’t want to make those things too hard. Usually, they’re not. And also if you’re doing it as a retrofit to an existing house, like Reuben did, usually you’re gonna have the ability to have that be serviceable because you had to put it in after the house was built. So you should be able to remove it, make modifications, replace it with something else. So I guess those are some considerations I would say.

RS: Okay. All right. Excellent. Well, move it on to the, some of the other stuff you had on your list. Another thing you wanted to talk about was smart locks. What’s your thought on smart locks, Ben? 

DF: Yeah. So smart locks and home security cameras, kind of that whole security sphere is one of the interesting places that people want to talk about home automation. There’s usually people have, are either into, they come into it from a few different perspectives, lighting automation, security in some way, shape, or form, or media is another one. So home media centers, stereos, TVs, that sort of thing. Those are probably the big ones that people come into smart homes with. So for the people who come in and are interested in integrating security cameras and smart locks, I’d say the easiest entry point into that part of home automation are the doorbell cameras. You see them all over the place now, right? They’re pretty easy. You don’t have to be that handy to install them. They’ve made it pretty simple to do. A lot of them even will operate off of batteries, although there are some disadvantages to those because they’re usually only on when somebody pushes the button because they need to conserve the battery power and of course you have to remember to charge it. So it’s generally better. And this is a bit of a theme when we eventually talk about some home networking stuff too. If you can have it be attached to a wired power source.

DF: So a lot of them will allow you to use the existing wiring that you have for your doorbell, but those are a very easy way to get in. That’s probably gonna be the most popular thing. Then the other things that people want to do are either cameras or smart locks. So since you brought it up, let’s talk a little bit about smart locks. People get concerned about smart locks because hackers could get into them. And this is another kind of trend that we see in the home automation stuff. And in the smart home stuff is that there are concerns about the ability for it to potentially be hacked. Anytime that you take a device and put it, especially on something that’s somehow connected to the internet.

DF: And if you’re controlling it from your phone 9 times out of 10, it’s gonna be connected to the internet somehow. There’s legitimate concerns about that. So people say, “I’m really worried about putting a smart lock on my house because a hacker could get in and unlock my front door.” Here’s the thing to think about when you’re talking about that though, is the vast majority of hacking that happens happens because someone can do it from the other side of the world. Is there a value in someone unlocking your door from the other side of the world? Probably not. Unless we’re talking about a major organized crime situation where there’s somebody outside the house and somebody on the other side of the world who’s breaking in and is gonna let that person know that they’ve unlocked that door.

DF: The reality is it’s a whole lot easier for them to just kick in the door, right? Most doors are not built that well, or the jam’s not reinforced or all of the things that have been kind of standard security things that if you have someone out to evaluate home security, they’re gonna look at are much more serious concerns for me than someone hacking that door lock. Now, could someone cause a lot of chaos if like a general vulnerability is found and they could unlock all smart doors and they basically just set them so that every two minutes everyone’s door unlocked. Sure. It would make a great headline in the newspaper for a couple of days. People would take the batteries out of their locks and use them as traditional locks and it would be fine. So I don’t worry about that too much, but it is something to be concerned about. Probably a bigger concern is if there’s some local vulnerability to that lock, if there’s some way that someone can do something from at the lock itself, that’s a relatively easy thing to do to defeat it is a bigger concern. So there was a big problem with Kia and Hyundai cars recently and car thefts because it was found that it was very easy to get those cars to defeat their immobilizers and get them started and drive them. So all you had to do was get into them and you could basically drive off with them.

DF: If something like that happened because of a manufacturing defect or poor design on the part of some smart lock manufacturer, that would be a concern. But in general, as having done some locksmith work locks are basically there to keep honest people out. And so there are a lot of security vulnerabilities to physical locks. There’s tons of ways to break into a house that are way easier than getting a hacker to do it. So I don’t worry too much about smart locks for that reason. If you find them extra convenient, if you have a situation where you need to let a babysitter or a nanny get in and you don’t want or kids and you don’t want them to have to have a key, go for it is my general recommendation on that.

RS: Okay. And.

TM: You know, you just.

RS: Go ahead Tess.

TM: I was gonna say, you just gave me an idea, Ben, with talking about, I mean, I’ve never thought about it this deeply before, but if there’s someone out there listening, some kid who wants to wreak havoc, they’re like, Ooh, now I have an idea. I’m just gonna try and hack everybody’s smart locks and unlock them all at the same time. And then I was thinking, okay, like what about these smart electrical panels and are they gonna have the same capabilities where someone could go in and like, just start switching off your circuits and you’re like, what’s going on? Next thing you know, everything has a password and next, like I got a switch on my circuit. I got to put in my password. I got to unlock my door. I got to put in a different password. I feel like my whole life is like taken over by passwords for all these different smart things that I have now. And it just is totally ridiculous and overwhelming. Is that the direction we’re going or like, tell me that there’s some hope.

DF: Well, I’m sorry to say yes, that is the general direction that we’re going. I think, you know, we’ll become more adept as a society at evaluating and figuring out how to make it easy for people to secure things and we’ll develop better standards for making sure that the things that are sold and installed are secure. But in the interim, I mean, it is a bit of the wild west in the smart home space right now. I mean, there aren’t regulations and there aren’t things that are happening yet that really can provide that level of kind of “guaranteed” because there are no real guarantees in security. An example of starting to see some of that change is that in this year’s update to the National Electric Code, for the first time, they now kind of recognizing that especially in large industrial installations, some of these like circuit breakers are able to be adjusted and controlled remotely through building management systems and things like that. It’s possible to actually have a circuit breaker where you can change the trip level of that circuit breaker remotely. So this is not something you’re seeing in homes, at least not yet, but in large industrial places. Absolutely. So because of that.

TM: That’s brilliant. That’s so smart. You don’t have to rewire anything they put in a wire size that would be capable of like 50 amps for the future when they need to expand. But right now they only need 15 amps. And so they have the circuit breaker set at 15, but they can change it and adjust it as needed.

DF: Yes. Or if you have some other need to be able to do kind of more controlled tripping of circuit breakers for circuits that have need to like AFCI like capabilities and things like that, there are other ways to trip it. So that’s very expensive technology right now. It will get cheaper and it probably is gonna show up in home stuff eventually. But because of that, this year, starting with the 2024 NEC, if you’re installing those, they now need to be evaluated for cybersecurity. That’s basically all that the code says. It doesn’t, there’s not standards in place yet about what that exactly.

TM: How to do it, yeah.

DF: Means but somebody has to sign off on it saying it’s been evaluated for cybersecurity. So I think we’ll start to see more things like that in the smart home space as we come to understand what real risks there are for security.

RS: Oh my goodness. I can think of so many great things with that electric panel, but before we move on, I just, I want to share a little bit of my experience with smart locks real quick and give our listeners some tips on this because we’ve got a rental duplex where we do short-term rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo. So we’ve got smart locks at that house. And originally I had used quick set and it connects directly to the Wi-Fi. And this way we can know when the renters have arrived and they got into the house. Okay, good. We’d like to monitor that stuff and everybody gets their own passcode. But the problem with this is that our Wi-Fi router is on the other side of the house. It’s lath and plaster. Ben, I know you’ve got a lath and plaster house. Wi-Fi doesn’t work so well there. It was a strong enough signal to operate the lock, but I think the distance to the router burned up the batteries trying to read the Wi-Fi signal and it would take four AA batteries and they wouldn’t even last a month. So we’re constantly have to change out the batteries in there. So we started putting it in lithium ion batteries. Those last longer. They last like six weeks instead, something like that. But then the problem with those is that the smart lock doesn’t tell you when the battery is dying because they have different voltages where the voltage stays high throughout its entire life. And then it just falls off a cliff when it’s dead.

TM: Oh, no.

RS: So it always would say the battery was at 100% until right up to the point where it’s dead and then it’s dead. So you just had to proactively change your batteries regularly. And we were spending so much money changing out these batteries. Finally, I switched over to a different type of lock that comes with its own repeater. So you plug the repeater in to an outlet and then you got an outlet right by the lock. And then the lock doesn’t use nearly as much power. We’ve had those for months now. I mean, probably we put them in in the summertime and we have not changed the batteries on them yet. This one, the brand is called Ultraloq, L-O-Q. I found them on Amazon. I had never even heard of this, but those work perfectly. So just a little word of caution to anybody who’s thinking about doing it. Those things will suck up your battery life if you’re not right next to a router.

TM: What is a repeater? 

RS: It’s a little, Ben, why don’t you explain it? You’ll do a better job of explaining it.

DF: Sure. So it’s really a couple of things. There are such things that are just like Wi-Fi repeaters that extend your Wi-Fi system. And we can talk about those. But I think probably what you’re talking about is really more of what I would describe as a gateway, which is transferring between two different types of wireless protocols. So there are some protocols that work better for low power situations, like Bluetooth is designed for battery. So it’s a very efficient protocol. And there’s some others as well. It’s part of the matter standard. There’s ones called threads. There’s Bluetooth, Bluetooth, low energy, Zigbee and Z-Wave are a couple of the other ones, but your home router doesn’t speak any of those. Your home router speaks the 802.11 standard, whether it’s the BGN, AC, AX, now they started to call them Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 7, but those are a different type of protocol. They’re not really, they were never really designed for all these low, tiny, low powered battery devices, like a smart lock or even a smart light switch That’s a battery powered switch like that. You could just stick on the wall anywhere.

DF: So you can get things that are directly connected to your Wi-Fi network, like a smart lock. But because that Wi-Fi protocol isn’t designed for that low power environment, you run into problems where they eat batteries. And it is true that the further away they are from that router, the stronger, they will kind of slowly ramp up their signal until they’re able to get a good signal or their power until they’re able to get a good signal. But, of course, the more power that they’re using to talk, the more quickly those batteries are going to be depleted. So Wi-Fi is just generally not a great protocol for stuff that’s gonna be battery connected. So what you need to do, if you’re gonna use one of these other protocols that’s better for battery, like a ZigBee, a Z-Wave or a thread, you need to have some kind of gateway device that can speak Wi-Fi back to your router and speak that other protocol to that device. So this gets into, I think, something Tessa mentioned that she wanted to talk about, which is hubs and how they kind of fit into this whole thing. So a lot of times those gateway devices are built into a smart home hub and the hub will speak all or some collection of those protocols. Usually, the ones we’re talking about are ZigBee, Z-Wave or Thread, which Thread’s very new, so less likely that you’ll see that than ZigBee and Z-Wave.

DF: And a lot of times these are built into a smart speaker like an Amazon smart speaker or a Google smart speaker, but there are dedicated devices as well. And sometimes they’ll be sold with a, something like a smart lock as well. So there are definitely some manufacturers that do that. They also, what kind of differentiates for me between a hub and a gateway is that a gateway just does the transcoding of the protocols that are being used, whereas a hub also includes some software capability, for example, for programming things or like a schedule or things like that. If we’re working with smart lights. And sometimes the hub will also contain other sensors. Like it’ll have a microphone and can detect glass breakage and use that as part of a security alarm, or it’ll detect temperature or air quality or smoke, they’ll detect smoke alarms that are sounding and then be able to send you a notification that there’s a smoke alarm going off in your house. Those types of things often are also included in those hubs. So they range in price from like about 40 bucks to about 250 bucks, but probably around that a hundred dollar price range is most common. And the most common ones that you see are gonna be the Amazon, the Google, the Apple, and there’s another company called Hubitat, which is a bit of a more of a smart home specific hub. And then there’s tons more of smaller players, but those are probably the big ones that you’re likely to see.

TM: So then are gateways cheaper than a hub since there’s a little bit simpler device? 

DF: That’s probably true. And I would say usually, although not always, a gateway is either comes with something like a Smart Lock so that you can be able to use it or it is sold as an accessory to a specific product or line of products from a manufacturer rather than something that’s a little more generic, which is usually the hub.

TM: So really you wouldn’t go out and buy a gateway if you had a bunch of different little devices. The smart thing would be like holistically to get a hub that all these little devices can talk to and the WiFi can be translated through.

DF: Right. That’s probably correct for most people. Yep.

TM: Okay. I had, I mean this is a whole new world to me and it’s a whole new language too, so thank you for explaining these things in English to me [laughter]

DF: Sure, yeah.

TM: It’s complicated. This is complicated stuff. At least to me it is. This is your world, Ben, but it is so foreign.

DF: There are a lot of parts to it, for sure.

TM: Yeah.

RS: You talked earlier about entertainment TV systems. Where are we at with those? I mean, is it better to get a Smart TV or to buy an external device? 

DF: That’s an interesting question and I guess what I would say about the entertainment media TV space is that that was probably a huge driver of “Smart Homes” in the early 2000s, late ’90s, early 2000s. And if you remember real estate listings, I’m sure at Structure Tech you saw lots of homes where people had added either dedicated media rooms or home theater spaces and basements, things like that. You actually, I think see a lot less of that today than you did. And at least in the average home, in a real high end home, you still oftentimes will see that. But people were putting in big surround sound systems with wiring in ceilings and walls, things like that. And then doing automation. Because they had some kind of complex TV stereo setup and you needed to turn on the stereo and the TV and set them to the right inputs and things like that.

DF: Maybe even in a higher end home have motorized blinds that would come down and things like that that would happen. Dim the lights in the room. So it wasn’t entry point for that Smart Home technology because this is also, you got to think back to a time before everyone was carrying around a smartphone. So it was a, the TV was a pane of glass where people could interact in a way that wasn’t using a computer with a Smart Home. So there were a lot of technologies that were built around that and people wanted to do things like have whole home audio, where they could play music throughout their whole house. And if you think about it, you don’t hear a whole lot about that anymore. There’s almost nobody that I can think of that’s still running speaker wires to every room in their house. And so I would say that like, that’s a good example of something that the Smart Home technology has really solved that problem for people. You can drop Amazon or Google or Apple Smart speakers in a few rooms and have a whole home sound system for playing background music for your parties super easily. And so that’s what most people are gonna do. So we don’t see those wired zones and stuff anymore like we did.

TM: It’s obsolete already. It was only cool for what, 5 or 10 years? [laughter], I don’t know.

DF: [laughter] Yeah, that’s probably right. That’s probably right. Now you asked about like the Smart TVs versus dedicated standalone devices. And that’s an interesting question ’cause as I mentioned earlier, that is an example of something that has happened as we’ve started to build all of the ability to watch streaming services and stuff into TVs versus using a dedicated standalone device like a Roku or a Google Chromecast or one of the others that was out there. And I think that that’s kind of an interesting point of contention, I would say. There are some manufacturers that do a better job of building it into their TVs than others and some models within those manufacturers that do a better job than others. The other thing is to the point that we were talking about earlier is a TV itself, especially a flat screen LCD TV today, can last a very long time.

DF: But if you use a TV that has built in streaming capabilities from seven years ago, it’s gonna feel sluggish. It’s going to sometimes have problems connecting, maybe new streaming providers are not gonna be, have their app supported on that TV. So it is another example of are you obsoleting that TV before it would need to be because it has that built-in technology. So I think that means those dedicated standalone devices are not going to go away entirely because once your TV gets to a certain age or if it just has a bad user experience, even when it’s new, it’s gonna sometimes make sense to have a dedicated standalone device. So my advice is if what’s built into the TV works for you and you’re happy with it, that’s great, you should just use that. But be aware that there may be a better experience if you use some type of standalone device.

RS: Like a Roku or the Chromecast.

DF: Like a Roku and Apple TV or, I mean there’s tons of those that are still being manufactured, but those are probably the two big ones.

RS: Okay. Okay. Got it.

DF: The other interesting thing that I’d say I’m starting to see some pickup on is kind of a resurgence in physical media. So I hope you didn’t get rid of all those DVDs that you had from the ’90s and 2000s.

RS: I did.

TM: Yes. I still have my DVDs.

RS: Tell me, what did I do wrong? You haven’t thrown out your collection? [laughter]

DF: Good for you. So there’s some resurgence in the Blu-Ray and DVD usage that I’m starting to see people talking about. Because stuff comes and goes from streaming services and even there have been a few cases where people, I think it was people who purchased Warner Brothers Discovery stuff through their PlayStation where they had “purchased it” because a license agreement expired between Sony and Discovery Networks. They were going to lose access to that stuff that they supposedly had purchased. So it turns out…

RS: Oh no.

DF: If you ever read all the fine print in your Amazon agreement or wherever you’re purchasing your streaming media from it will say, yeah, this is yours forever until it’s not [laughter] So people are going to get frustrated by that sort of thing. Now, in that particular case, the Sony and Discovery were able to come to an agreement and push the deadline out for another couple years.

DF: So people will retain access for now, but it kind of woke people up to, if you don’t physically have it, it can go away at any time. And so that’s not the case when you’re using Blu-rays and DVDs. So there’s some people who are interested in that again. The other thing, records have been cool for the past 10 years or so. And they remain cool. So people continue to put out new albums on records and there’s a whole community of people who are interested in having record players and messing around with that. My advice there is don’t buy a new record player, go on eBay and find yourself a record player from the ’80s or ’90s at the latest. Because the new ones tend to be made very poorly compared to the old stuff. They were just cranking out a lot of really good quality, fairly inexpensive record players at that point.

DF: And all of those manufacturers and the way that they knew about making a good product kind of went out the window because people weren’t buying record players. And then when they became cool again, there are some companies like Crosley that came out who had kind of always been making kind of vintage-y looking stuff, but they’re not known for being very good quality. The same is true in the cassette tape space. There is a resurgence in interest. People love those ’80s feel of cassette tapes. We’re starting to see some new releases on cassette tape again. And these days all cassette tape doesn’t matter what the brand name it says on the outside of the cassette tape player, there is only, I think two companies still manufacturing the actual mechanisms for playing cassette tapes. So it’s all just a rebrand and the casing and product controls around one of these mechanisms. And they’re not as good as the stuff that was out in the ’90s. So there’s again a robust used market on eBay for high quality like Nakamichi tape decks from the ’90s.

TM: Oh, my gosh.

RS: And and they’re all hipsters.

DF: Yep. [laughter] In fact, I even saw something recently, there was some news stories that came out around CES time in January ’cause Yamaha released a new CD changer and people were excited about CD changers coming back. So [laughter], there you go.

RS: Oh my goodness.

DF: What’s old is new again.

TM: Ben, maybe you can solve a technology problem for me. I just thought of this as we’re talking about different streaming systems and how to get stuff on your TV, solve this problem for me. I’ve got a car that’s got the screen so kids can watch movies. Now, my kids are kind of past this now, but I’m thinking about other family members. You got the car, it used to be super cool. You put in a DVD then the kids could watch a movie on a really long car drive. But now, nobody gets DVDs anymore. We’ve all got streaming services and you stream stuff from your TV, you stream Netflix, you stream voodoo movies, whatever. How do you watch that in your car? What’s the solution there? The best solution I could think of is you got to get your smartphone and you got to turn on your WiFi on your phone and make it a hub or whatever and make it a hotspot.

TM: Hotspot.

RS: And then you got to connect your laptop to it and then plug an HDMI cable from your laptop in your car, which is so tedious and it’s gonna burn up all of your data. What else is there for you? 

DF: And that assumes your car has an HDMI input, which there are not very many. There was maybe a small window where that was the case, but more likely it has an RCA jack input with the red and the white and the yellow connectors. So then how are you gonna get that from your laptop? I think you hit the nail on the head though, that the real problem with the streaming stuff is that it will burn through data and it relies on you traveling through a place where there is a good signal like a 5G or a 4G signal, which there’s still plenty of places if you’re doing a cross country road trip where that is not the case. So I’ll tell you this gets back to should we build the technology into something like a car and it’s convenient to have it built in and it’s served you well, but it’s probably past its prime.

DF: So are there ways that you could make that work? Sure. We could design a system for you where you use like a Raspberry Pi, which is like a little mini computer and you use that as like a streaming media server in your car and you can preload it with stuff. The reality is…

RS: Oh gosh.

DF: I’m gonna tell you what everyone does today, which is that they get a little thing that hangs over the seat back and you put a tablet in and they put the tablet in there and you use your streaming service in advance at the hotel or at home before you leave. And you pre-download all the media that you wanna watch in the car. Plus then everyone doesn’t have to watch the same thing, which may be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your family dynamics.

RS: Sure. So you really just have to bypass this technology that’s in your car. You can’t listen to it on your car speakers, you can’t do any of that. It’s just you’re using the brute force method.

DF: Right. And you could if you wanted, you could probably stream the audio from a tablet back over Bluetooth into your car stereo and play it through the car speakers, right? 

RS: Okay, okay.

DF: So, there are ways to make that work, but from the actual video playback stuff, the easiest solution is to just bypass the whole thing. And that comes back to our discussion about building the stuff into something that’s gonna last a lot longer than the technology is.

TM: I’m just gonna say it seems like a common theme that if technology is like physically built into something that it becomes obsolete and then really just, I mean a waste of space.

DF: Yeah. And potentially…

TM: So you can have something that you could plug in or…

DF: And potentially something you paid for that is not really, you’re not really receiving that extra benefit from it anymore, which is why I would usually suggest not paying extra or considering, it’s a nice freebie if that’s included, but I wouldn’t count it in the plus column when I’m making a major purchase of something like a vehicle or an appliance.

TM: Yeah. Something that’s gonna last more than 10 years probably or 5 years. Yeah.

DF: The way technology moves probably five.

TM: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s why it goes back to me, asking the question about permanently installed LED lights. I guess you can take them down so they’re not permanent but you know, where do you draw the line with what you use, what you don’t, what you install what you don’t.

RS: I’ve never taken mine down. I’ll tell you that. [laughter] No way. Alright, well, Ben, I think we’re about at time. We’ve still got so much to cover and that’s why we agreed before we even did this, this has got to be a double header. So we’re gonna have you on next week and we’ve got way more stuff to talk about. We’ll probably end up tying this back into home inspections at some point. But we just got so much to talk about, so.

DF: We’ll talk about those smart electrical panels next week.

RS: Oh my gosh.

TM: Yes.

TM: What a teaser. Yes. I wish we had gotten that today. Alright. Yeah, thank you for teasing that ’cause I can’t wait to hear what they’re doing with those today. Alright, well, Ben, thank you so much for coming on the show. Great to have you again and I’m looking forward to having you on next week. Tessa, any closing thoughts for us today? 

TM: You know what, thank you Ben for coming on the show and you just make me feel so incompetent in all of this IT stuff. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and knowledge with us and I hope we can dive in next week too to learn a little bit more on any updates that you have on hearing about how people can get help with this stuff too. Like if they don’t feel like this is something they can do on their own or they don’t wanna do it on their own, what do they do? So, I’m looking forward to that.

DF: Yeah, definitely. We can talk about that next week too.

TM: Okay. Good.

RS: That sounds good. Well, if you got questions for us between now and then, you are welcome to email us. We’re gonna have Ben on again. Email is We read all of them. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll catch you next week. Take care.

TM: See ya.

DF: See ya.