Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Smart homes are hard to inspect (with Dr. Ben Franske)

Dr. Ben Franske joins the show to speak about the internet of things and technology around your house. 


Ben discusses home automation and the software that helps him control various disparate devices such as HVAC control and thermostats, security and alarms, and door locks, among others. He also talks about devices that communicate through the cloud and localized systems. Reuben asks about installing permanent custom lights, the system, and how much they cost. Tessa asks about the cost of automating a new property.


Reuben mentions that wifi-controlled devices could be difficult for home inspectors. They discuss how the technology works and the challenges that may arise when properties are sold to new homeowners. Ben introduces Matter- reliable and secure connectivity for various devices such as Android and Apple.




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 since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Today, we’ve got a special guest on, Dr. Ben Fransky, who is a long time listener, first time guest. No, I made that up. I don’t know. But Ben had reached out to us because he definitely is a listener, and he’s got some game to bring to this podcast when it comes to the internet of things and technology around your house. And Ben, I’ve got some information about you, but I thought I’d better just let you introduce yourself. I know that you have a limited electrician’s license, right? 


Ben Fransky: That’s right. So yeah.


RS: Power limited license. What else? 


BF: I also have a bunch of professional certifications. So in the IT space, there are a lot of professional certifications. And so since I was in college, I’ve had a number of those Cisco certified network professional and Cisco certified network designer.


RS: Okay. All right. You are definitely an IT geek, right? 


BF: That’s right.


Tessa Murry: What’s your degree in specifically, Ben? 


BF: So I went to the University of Minnesota for my graduate degrees, and I have degrees there in technology and engineering education. So I actually had a 512 teaching license before I moved into the community college space, which is where I teach now.


RS: Awesome. So we dabble in technology. We’ve talked about this a few times over the years about what we’re doing at our own houses, internet of things, fancy…


TM: I think I’ve heard you’re quite the geek.


BF: It’s a relative term. We said this at the end of our last podcast. I’m a geek compared to the average homeowner, but then compared to a real geek, I know nothing. The extent of my knowledge is getting Alexa to turn my lights on and off for me. I can get that much down, but that’s about it. But I bet you’ve got a lot to share with us. And what does your house look like, Ben? 


BF: Yeah. So I focus a lot on lighting automation at home. So we have lights that turn on in the morning when we get up and lights that turn off at night when we go to sleep. But there’s a lot more that different people do with home automation.


BF: I’d say that I’m an enthusiast, but I am really more narrowly focused than a lot of people. For a lot of people, home automation can be anything from HVAC controls that you do with a Nest thermostat to security systems and alarms, door locks, multimedia stuff. So there’s a lot of different things that you can do. I don’t know if you remember, but when I was growing up, the Radio Shack sold a lot of X10 devices. And so that was kind of where I feel like most people got their start in home automation. You could buy little plugin modules that could communicate with a controller or a timer clock, and you could create scenes. They made outlets and light switch controls as well. So lots of different things that you could do with home automation, even at that point.


TM: Is that when the clap lamp came to market? Clap on, clap off? 


BF: I think around the same time, right? 


RS: That’s the original home automation device, isn’t it? 


TM: Yeah.


RS: So what else does your house look like right now? What kind of smart stuff do you got going on besides lighting automation? 


BF: Yeah. So besides that, I think we also do a lot of stuff with HVAC control. I have a mini split system in my workshop in the back of my garage. And I also have a traditional forced air gas furnace situation for the rest of the house. And we have a couple of different zones. So kind of monitoring and managing all of that. I have a variety of kind of home built temperature sensors that I have around the home. So I can kind of track temperatures in different places, in the garage, in the workshop, in the basement. I’m probably going to be building some that allow me to check incoming air temperature to the furnace, as well as discharge air temperature so that I can log that over time. I can see that too.


TM: Wow. I love that.


RS: I love that.


BF: Yeah, those kinds of things.


RS: What type of thermostats do you use? 


BF: So I use some thermostats made by I think a European company called Venstar. But in my previous home, I had one made by a company called RCS, which was a residential thermostat communication system company. But the thermostats that I chose, the reason that I chose those particular ones is that one of the things as you get more into smart home stuff, if you want to become more enthusiastic about it, you kind of get interested in the ability to do what we call local control, meaning that the device that’s doing the control and the device that’s being controlled communicate directly with one another on like your home network, rather than going to the cloud somewhere and coming back. From a security standpoint, that’s interesting. Also, though, the landscape is littered with home automation companies that have gone out of business. And if you’re relying on their systems to continue to operate, you can be left with an expensive brick if things stop working, right? So everything that I do at home is all local control stuff. There’s some cool free open source software that I use to kind of manage all of that.


BF: It’s called Home Assistant. And that software kind of lets me build a dashboard that lets me control all of these disparate devices, do logging for temperature, and create what they call automations where like, if this happens, then do this, right? So I can set it up. So if the basement drops below 40 degrees or something, it starts to flash lights or whatever you want it to do, right? 


RS: Wow. I love that.


TM: Oh my gosh. Wow. Do you have like settings for like, do you have a sump pump or anything like that in your house that you monitor too? 


BF: I do. So my wife and I live in Southwest Minneapolis. We’re right across the street from Minnehaha Creek. And so we are in a relatively low spot. I’m always super worried that the sump pump’s going to go out, right? Or that the sump pump and the backup sump pump, which has happened, both go out.


RS: Oh no.


BF: So luckily, we knew about that and we were able to bail it manually until we had things back under control. But always really concerned about that. So I’ve done some monitoring before of just like a high water alarm in the sump pump pit. And I can get notification about that. You can have it email you, you can have a text message you, what kind of whatever you want to have things do is possible. But I want more data. I love data, right? So I interested in actually being able to log the water level specifically to the inch in the sump pump pit and kind of see how long it takes for it to come up, how long it takes for it to go down. So that it can projects…


RS: Oh my goodness.


BF: Wow.


RS: If the power goes out, how long do I have before I have a problem? 


TM: Oh my gosh. So you’re kind of a weather geek too. I mean, you’re tracking to see how much rain we’ve had and then how it translates into the water in your sump basket and know how much time you’ve got.


RS: Well, now I got to know how much time do you have if they both fail? How long does it take your sump pump to fill and start flooding your basement? 


BF: So it depends. We pump a lot of water.


RS: I knew you were going to say that.


BF: I’m channeling Tessa without even realizing it.


TM: My favorite answer.


BF: We pump a lot of water. If it’s been raining in the spring, in a wet spring, we can be emptying that sump pit every 30 seconds or less. My neighbors across the street can do it faster than that. So we pump a lot of water if the ground is wet.


RS: And I’ll just throw that out there to anybody looking at houses in the Minneapolis area, exactly what you’re talking about, where you live near the creek. Those are some of the most problematic basements I have ever seen in my life. I mean, I’ve seen houses with multiple sump baskets in those areas and all of them have experienced water intrusion in the basements. I mean, all of them. You buy a house in that area and the homeowner checks no on the box to water intrusion, they are a liar. Don’t buy it.


TM: Did you know that when you bought the house, Ben? 


BF: For sure. It was on the disclosure form. Now, what they said is, well, we had one inch of water in the basement one time and we had a company come out and put in the tile system and haven’t had any problems since then. Whether that’s entirely true is hard to say, right? Because the day we moved in, there was a little bit of water on the ground in the basement. But I also feel, without leading too far down this road, but maybe I am just condemned to houses that have water issues that need to be monitored because the previous house that I had was at the bottom of about a 50 foot hill in Edina. So that one, clay soil, same problems there. I thought that I had pumped a lot of water there. I pump even more water here.


RS: Whereabouts in Edina was this? 


BF: So it was kind of right in the corner of 62 and 100 basically.


RS: Okay. All right. Sure. I know exactly what you’re talking about.


TM: Familiar with that area. Yeah. Well, so I’ve got a question going back then to what you were saying. I know nothing about this topic. I guess one of the questions I have is, and this might sound stupid for the IT people. So there’s like, you can either go with a route that has technology that uses a cloud base, or you can go a route where you keep all of that technology localized, communicating on a local software that you manage or the company that provides the software manages. Is that right? And which method is more common you see in houses today? 


TM: So I think in terms of raw numbers of devices, the stuff that’s cloud-based is by far more popular. In fact, most of the stuff that I have, switches and plugin modules that I communicate with locally, originally were designed as cloud devices. And then there are some projects where you can reprogram them to communicate. Just because it’s a much easier barrier to entry for most people. Now, there are some problems with that besides the things that we’ve mentioned about potentially security and potentially them going out of business, is that if you have things from a variety of manufacturers, there’s no integration between those devices. So if you buy some lamp plugin modules from your favorite store online, you can get them for like $4 a piece that communicate over Wi-Fi. They have Wi-Fi chips in them and they communicate up to the cloud and you can control them from your phone. But then you go buy a thermostat and you want to be able to communicate and work with the thermostat and do some automation with that. And then you go buy from a different company, some controllers for ceiling fans and you want to be able to do something with that. Now you have to do each one of those from a different app on your phone.


BF: That kind of thing, as you start to build a bigger system, becomes a bigger challenge. And so then you start to get interested in, okay, I want to use some kind of software like Home Assistant to build a dashboard where I can control everything. And those things can still work with cloud things, but it’s usually more straightforward and you get more functionality if you can control things directly.


TM: So it kind of sounds like you want to have a strategy if you’re a homeowner and you’re thinking about modernizing your house and making it a smart house. Zoom out first, think about what you really want and then maybe attack it holistically kind of, instead of adding one little piece here and one little piece here.


BF: Like most things, if you put some planning effort into it in advance, then you can do probably some better things. You can make some better choices about what you do. One of the other things that I wanted to bring up, given that I know we have lots of real estate agents and people involved in real estate transactions that listen to the show, is that even when my wife and I bought our house in 2019, our current house, you’re already seeing things in the standard purchase agreements about smart devices. So there are two sections I actually found. I dug out my old purchase agreement and found two sections that are mentioned in there. One is about linked devices, because there have been these, every once in a while, you hear these stories about someone moves into a house and all of a sudden the temperature is changing by itself or lights are going on and off and those kinds of things. So now in the standard purchase agreement…


TM: I always just thought it was a ghost.


BF: Now in the standard purchase agreement, they’ll say that the seller shall permanently disconnect or discontinue access or service to any device or system on or serving the property. And then the other part is, you can put a lot of money into buying replacement switches and plugs and things like that for your house. And so the thing to be aware of too, is that those are probably going to be considered fixtures in the house when you sell it and therefore are going to be part of the real estate transaction. So if you don’t want them to be, you probably need to take all of that out before you list the house and have some open houses.


RS: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. And then just thinking about this more, and I read some article about this, about how it’s becoming more and more challenging for home inspectors. I mean, what are we supposed to do with this? I mean, at my house, I’ve got a bunch of these Alexa switches and I got to say, just kind of a plug for that. My mother-in-law recently had me over and I had replaced this timer she’s got. It replaced a standard wall switch for outside lights and she can program her outside lights to come on at a certain time, go off and replace it all.


RS: And she’s having a tough time getting it all programmed. It’s not working right. I think she got a bad switch or maybe I screwed it up when I put it in. No, just kidding. But I said…


TM: Never.


RS: I said why don’t you just get one of these Alexa switches? I mean, you can get an Alexa, wifi light switch for 18 bucks now, and it connects to your Alexa app and you can set timers. You can turn it on and off remotely from the other side of the world. You can do anything you want and you’re not having to push these tiny little buttons on this little programmable device. So I’ve started to put these in my house. I’ve got all these wifi enabled switches. So I can just say, Alexa, turn off the basement lights instead of having to run downstairs and shut off the lights when my kids forget to turn them off. I mean, it’s wonderful, but what’s going to happen when the next person takes possession of my house? I mean, these are all tied to my Amazon account. It’s like, they’re going to have to hire some IT professional to come in and figure out how to reset all of these devices and pair them to some new device. I mean, it’s going to take somebody like a day to reprogram my house. Who does this, Ben? 


BF: Yeah. Well, and I think that that’s a problem, right? In 2018, a year before I sold my last house, I spent a bunch of time, turns out I shouldn’t have, putting permanent holiday lighting in the house. So I put along the front a whole bunch of individual pixel controllable LED tape all the way across the front. So you could wash the whole house in one color. You could different colors, chases, whatever. When I left, I obviously left that in place because it was going to be too much work to take it down. I took the controller out before I listed the house, and it’s almost certainly still there, still doing nothing because you either are interested in figuring this out and doing it on your own, or you are probably just going to leave it and use basic functionality. It’s a problem, right? Because you could hire an expert, and I suppose there are some high-end homes where that is… There’ve always been, I remember watching TV shows on home building from the 80s where they were doing smart homes and home automation stuff. So in a real high-end home, but the truth is that you’re going to be paying someone well over $100 an hour for that kind of thing. Most people are just not going to be willing to do that.


TM: I didn’t even think about that. But yeah, I mean, if you’re buying a house that already has a system integrated, it has these smart things, it comes with the house, you’ve got a company that can come and help you with it. But for the average person who’s adding these things piecemeal one at a time, it’s kind of a nightmare when you move.


RS: And it makes me think, Tess, we got to start putting something in our home inspection reports saying…


TM: We couldn’t test…


RS: We don’t inspect any of the WiFi controlled stuff. That is outside the scope of the home inspection to determine whether light switches are controlled by WiFi and whether they’re going to work for the next home owner. We got to start putting in a disclaimer, just saying, we don’t do this.


TM: Yeah. I know that we did. Yeah. We just had some home inspectors recently talking about this on our team about how sometimes they just… I mean, testing the furnace can be a challenge. Getting into the thermostat is difficult. So yeah, I mean, I would think if someone were to come inspect your house, Ben, we would need you there to explain to us or to help us run all these different systems you have.


BF: Well, and that’s, for example, why when I sold my last house, I took all of it out before we did open houses. Because if you come to my house now, I have a whole bunch of switches that are configured to work like three-way switches, even though they’re not really wired as three-way switches. So when you turn on a light somewhere, it can turn on something around the corner, down the hall, whatever. And that’s going to be crazily confusing to anybody who’s expecting normal functionality.


TM: Wow.


RS: Now, you said something a minute ago, I got to come back to this because Eric, another guy on our team, Eric and I have both been talking to each other about wanting to put up permanent holiday lighting at our own houses. I love the idea that I never put up Christmas lights this year, but I love Christmas lights. I just didn’t want to get up there and do it this year, but I want to put up those permanent lights, put up those LEDs and maybe 4th of July or whatever, we’ll have some red, white and blue LEDs going on. I love that idea. Tell me, how do you do this? What do you buy? What controls it? Give me some advice, please, Ben.


BF: For permanent holiday lights there actually now are some companies in the Twin Cities I know of that will do permanent installations of that. So they’re restricting themselves to that because there’s enough interest from people who don’t want to be climbing up in November when maybe it’s snowed and maybe it hasn’t and hanging lights. So there is some interest in that. And by keeping things more uniform and straightforward, you can make a viable business out of that. That’s exactly the thing that I wanted to be able to do. Have them be orange for Halloween and have them be red, white and blue for 4th of July. Have them be green for St. Patrick’s Day. When they’re permanently there, there’s so many fun and interesting things that you can do. So holiday lighting is also one of those areas where you can go on YouTube and find all kinds of people who are super passionate about it, who spend all year building custom ornamentation for their lawn and stuff like that, programming giant sequences.


BF: I think if you want to do kind of the permanent holiday light type thing on the house, you’re probably looking at something that’s a little more straightforward. But some decisions that you’re going to have to make are going to be things like, do you want something that looks like a traditional light string that’s up permanently, you know, kind of has bulbs every 12 inches or so? Or do you want something that’s kind of more like you would see commercial LED lighting at a restaurant or something like that, where it’s kind of more looks almost like a neon bar that can just change color and wash light in different colors in different places. If you’re going to be doing it year round, maybe the second one makes a little more sense for you. And then the question is, well, how much control do I want? Do I want to be able to have each, you know, if you’re doing it with this like LED tape, which kind of looks like rope light, you can either get it so that like the whole string of it is always the same color changes all at once. But you can have three different red, green and blue.


BF: And you can make any color by mixing those. Or do you want to be able to say, I want this pixel that’s one inch to the left of this one and one inch to the right of this one to be a specific color. And then I can do things like chases and moves and things like that. And then you also have to decide how much time do I want to spend learning the software to build something, you know, that a cool show with something like that. But there’s all kinds of resources online for people to learn about that sort of thing as well. And then kind of do some research and figure out what makes the most sense for you and for what you want to be able to do.


RS: So how much should I expect to spend on this system? 


BF: So it depends. You’re kind of a do it yourself kind of guy. So I think, you know, you can buy an individual pixel LED tape for you can buy 25 feet for like under 75 bucks directly from China delivered to you. And then you can put it up and you can put so you know, it doesn’t have to be particularly expensive. If you want to have someone do it all and have it be a turnkey installation. I haven’t gotten any of those priced, but I suspect that they are very expensive.


RS: Yeah, I suspect you’re right.


BF: Probably $10,000 more your house. Okay, but they’re gonna make a pitch to you that all you’re never gonna have to go up on a ladder again, you know, it’s gonna make sense for some people to do that.


RS: I’ll update our listeners in about eight months and tell you what I ended up doing probably. Eric and I have made a made a pact with each other, we are going to do this, it’s gonna happen in the next year, but I’m just waiting to find out what he does so I can copy him.


TM: You know, while we’re on the topic of price, I’m just curious then, do you have like an estimate for what it would cost for someone who’s like building a new construction house to automate it to put in, you know, this, all these features you’re talking about lighting and controls and thermostats and everything like to make it as smart as possible. How much would that cost? 


BF: Well, it’s interesting. So kind of one of the things that you brought up there maybe unintentionally is that the big difference between the way that home automation is happening today and the way that it happened 20 years ago is that 20 years ago, it only made sense to do like the most advanced systems in new build houses because you had to put in a whole bunch of extra custom wiring and things like that. Today, because everything can connect over Wi-Fi or in some cases there are hub based systems because you can have problems with Wi-Fi penetration through walls and things like that, that use lower frequencies, but those systems work equally well in a new house and an old house. So I don’t think that today there’s really probably too much of a difference in terms of what functionality you can get at the same price between a new house and a retrofit in an existing house.


TM: Good to know.


BF: Like I said, I don’t know that there’s a lot of people who do that kind of work commercially on a widespread basis other than a fairly high end home. So if you’re doing it yourself, the joy of the internet has decreased the cost on these things dramatically. And the fact that there’s a lot of people who are walking around with smartphones that kind of have built-in control so that you don’t have to have a dedicated control surface like we used to have 20 years ago too, means that you can buy a replacement switch for $10. You can buy a plugin module for a lamp for $4 to $10. $10 is a conservative amount to spend on something like that. So it kind of depends on how… When you’re looking at just like one room, it’s relatively inexpensive. Now, if you start to count the number of switches and lamps and things in your house, you can easily spend a couple of thousand dollars pretty easily.


RS: And it’s all dependent about having good internet throughout your house too. You need to have that. And so that kind of brings me to my next question. What do you have for good internet at your house? 


BF: Yeah. So that’s a good question. So for our actual internet service, luckily, one of the advantages of living in Minneapolis is that we have fiber internet connectivity to every home, right? And so our actual internet speeds are fantastic. Now, you still have the problem of getting a wireless signal throughout the house for all of those devices. So we have two different wireless access points. I have one that’s located down on the main floor in kind of one side of the house and another one that’s located upstairs in kind of the opposite side of the house. And so between those two, I’m able to cover the house pretty well. The ones that I use are from a company called Unifi or Ubiquiti Networks, and they make kind of a small business commercial type wireless access points. I’ve had really good luck with those. What I would say for most people probably makes the most sense is that now you can look at these variety manufacturers have what they call mesh wireless systems where you can plug a couple in in a couple different places and get pretty good coverage throughout the whole house. One of the challenges that we have, our house was built 1949, so we have nice thick plaster walls that’s terrible for Wi-Fi. So that’s why we don’t have a particularly large house, but we need the two wireless access points because of the plaster walls.


RS: Sure. I got to share my story. I’ve got a mesh network where I’ve got three different access points in my house. And I’ve got that for anything that anybody wants to log on to kids devices or whatever, and it’s on a smart timer. So it turns off at nine o’clock at night or whatever, because I don’t want the kids doing stuff after I’ve gone to bed. I don’t think there’s anything good happening after I go to bed. So that turns off at night, but then I got…


TM: That’s true though, because you’re in bed by what, eight? 


RS: Almost, almost. And then I’ve got another Wi-Fi network for my internet of things, stuff that doesn’t really need great bandwidth, that just needs enough to send a signal, turn this light on or off. That’s all connected to a different one, but everything starts with that network. And I got to upgrade on my speed. I got this notice from Comcast saying, we’re giving you 450, 500 megabits per second now. You get a big upgrade, it’s free. So, okay, great. But I never noticed that big increase. And the other day I decided I need to dig into this. Why am I not seeing these speeds? So I hooked my computer directly up to my modem, sure enough, got the speed there advertised. And then through a bunch of troubleshooting, I narrowed it down to one of my routers. And once it goes through the router, even if it’s plugged in, I was only getting 100 megabits per second. And I look on the router and it says 450 Mbps. So I’m like, that can’t be the bottleneck. So I ended up chatting with tech support for TP-Link. I said, why am I not getting this? And they said, what’s the model? 


RS: I give them the model. They say, oh yeah, the max you can get is 100. I said, well, why is that? It says 450 right on there. And they said, well, that’s the link rate. And I have no idea what that means.


TM: What does that mean? 


RS: My mind was blown. I bought a new router that had one gigabit link rate or whatever and problem solved instantly. I mean, it took me five minutes to swap out my router. Now I get great internet throughout my house, just like that. But how the heck was I supposed to know this? And Ben, what is the link rate versus the speed that I want? 


BF: Yeah. So the link rate is just between your device and the router, what the maximum speed you can possibly get is. It’s not necessarily how much you can get through the router to the other side of it.


RS: Oh, wow. That is such a scam number. Don’t even publish it. I don’t care what that number is.


TM: How would you ever know as a consumer, you know, that that was a problem or how to fix it? 


BF: It’s a challenge. You know, as internet speeds have gotten faster, it’s been a challenge for consumers to keep up with the devices in their home. And because also we use so much more wireless in the typical home than we do wired connections, that can also be an issue because on that wireless link, that 450 megabits per second that you had, that’s going to be shared between all of the devices that want to communicate on the wireless at once. So it’s not 450 megabits to each device. If you had only one device connected, it’s 450. And then if you had two, it’s, you know, 225 a piece. So that is something that you have to kind of keep in mind with home networking as well. Anytime you’re using wireless, it’s always shared bandwidth. So that’s, I’m a little bit of an outlier being in the IT field. I love my wired connections. So when I bought the house, I tore open walls and put wired network jacks all over the house. So in my office here, I’ve got six of them and they’re all running at a gigabit per second so that I can get, you know, speed for uploading files, things like that, that I want.


BF: But that’s something as you put more wireless devices for like a smart home on your network, that you’re going to see potentially degrading speed because all of those are sharing that wireless. One of the things you can do is to break that up and have multiple wireless access points in the house so that each access point is only talking to a smaller number of devices, meaning that it’s sharing that speed across a smaller number of devices.


RS: Sure. Makes sense.


TM: Ben, what does like the average homeowner do if they’re considering like going down this road of adding smart devices to their houses and they have no clue where to start in terms of thinking about, you know, do I want multiple access points? They don’t even know that that exists. Like, how does someone research this and figure it out? 


BF: It’s really tough. I think that hopefully you have someone in your life that you can reach out to. I know that all of my friends and family call and have problems that they need solved with their networks at home. We don’t have the support capacity. Companies that are providing support like for your router are only thinking about their product and they’re not thinking about how it interacts with everything else that is in the home. And so that’s just a problem. And that’s why there’s a good career path for all of my students who I teach, you know, corporate IT because in business we have the same problem, but businesses have committed to having IT departments who can fix things and answer questions and worry about the integration between multiple different systems and different vendors.


TM: It seems like there’s this huge hole in the market where, I mean, companies can afford to hire IT people to manage, you know, their technology, but when it comes to a homeowner, I mean…


BF: I think that’s why most people end up with a pretty basic straightforward setup, right? Whoever your internet service provider is, is probably providing a modem router combination unit for you. They plug it in, whatever it covers, it covers. What it doesn’t cover, it doesn’t cover. And you’re just kind of stuck in that situation.


TM: Where do you see the future of this industry going, like in five or 10 years? 


BF: So in the smart home space in particular, kind of one of the things that we’re watching is a couple of years ago, a few companies got together to try and create a standard for how some of these devices can communicate with one another so that we don’t have as much problem as I mentioned earlier, where you have devices from vendor one and vendor two, and they can’t really interoperate with one another.


BF: So Google, Apple, and a few of the other big vendors got together and created a standard called Matter. And so I think we’re just starting to see, I think this fall, the first couple devices that actually implement this protocol came out. So, but I think we’re probably going to see… That’s what we’re going to be told is if you look for devices that say that they’re matter compatible, they are going to be able to interact with one another. And you’re probably either you’re an iPhone user or you are an Android user. And those will become kind of the hub for communication for most people with those devices. And so that you can interact with lots of stuff without having 10 different apps for the different vendors.


RS: That’s fantastic.


TM: How do you spell that matter? Is that…


BF: M-A-T-T-E-R. You just look, it’s related to Apple had a previous standard called HomeKit that they were trying to push, but it was just Apple specific. And so it didn’t take on. It didn’t get taken up as much as I think Apple was hoping. And so that’s why they joined into this.


RS: I got to say, knowing what I know about Steve Jobs, he’d be rolling over in his grave if he knew that they had an Apple product that was going to be compatible with anything else.


TM: With an Android.


RS: Anything. Well, especially Android.


TM: It’s the way of the future though. I mean, there’s so many people that use Android that do not have a product that is compatible, it doesn’t make sense.


BF: Right. And unless you’re going to go down the road of Apple making smart home devices themselves, which they don’t seem particularly interested in making, the amount of money you can make by selling plugs is not that high. So unless you’re going to go down that road, if people aren’t taking up the standard that you have created, you probably are going to have to join with some other people.


TM: Wow. I’ve got one more question for you, Ben, if it’s okay for me to ask. If you had to list your top three favorite devices in your house, that you use a lot and you’re really grateful to have them and they’ve changed your life, what would they be? 


BF: Oh, that’s a great question. I really think that the ability to reconfigure how lights operate on a whim is pretty convenient. So in the winter, I can have things automatically change from where our holiday lights outside are lit up versus our permanent exterior soffit lights, just by ticking a box. I don’t have to mess around with a whole bunch of stuff. And also just having lights that the system tracks how high the sun is in the sky. So as the sun goes down and it starts to get darker, lights automatically come on. You don’t have to think about it. So those types of things, just not having to think about things most of the time is probably the biggest thing.


TM: Wow. Until there’s a problem with the Wi-Fi or stupid lights, you can’t get them on.


RS: You don’t have any of those problems with technology you’ve got at your house…


BF: No, no, no, no… Of course, there are problems from time to time and it gets to be a frustrating thing. I think I always tell my students that in our IT people don’t really have any fewer problems with technology than anyone else. We’re just really stubborn about it because we know that it’s supposed to work.


TM: And the reason, Reuben, you brought that up is because ironically, we lost you, Ben, at the beginning of this podcast. We had to start over because your… What was it? Your internet connection went out? 


BF: The computer that I usually use for my streaming stuff had a problem and is not working correctly. So I had to switch over to another computer.


RS: See, it can happen to the best of us. It makes us all feel a little bit better hearing that. I love it.


TM: Yes. Yes. Yes.


RS: Any last thoughts before we wrap the show today, Ben? 


RS: It’s just that it’s an exciting space to do some interesting work in and you can go as far into it as you were excited about doing. You can do anything from, I just want to have some lights that I can turn on and off remotely and have on a schedule. Maybe I go to Florida for the winter or something and I want to be able to monitor the temperature in my home, all the way up to kind of bigger automation where I want to have different things happen depending on different things or have sensors that are kind of recording and monitoring the environment in the home all the time.


TM: I want that, but I don’t want to have to be the one that figures it out and sets it up and installs it. Can I call you, Ben? 


RS: Yeah, sure. You’re for hire, right Ben? 


TM: Right. What’s your hourly rate? Yeah.


BF: That’s the problem is that people with IT training tend to be pretty expensive.


RS: Normally at the end of the show, we’d say, all right, how can people get ahold of you? But I’m not going to do that for you because you are not here to sell anything. You’re just here because you’re passionate about this and you wanted to share what you know. So we’re not giving out any contact information for you, but really appreciate you taking time out of your day to join us on the podcast today.


BF: For sure. Great to be here.


TM: Yeah. Thanks, Ben.


RS: I’m Reuben Saltzman with Structure Tech Home Inspections. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. And I am Reuben Saltzman for Tessa Murray saying, Godspeed.