The idea of a “smarter” home is nothing new. From electrical home appliances introduced in the early 1900s to the first home computer in 1966, the ECHO IV, and Marty McFly’s 2015 kitchen, the idea of a more capable home has been developing for a century.1 The National Home Builders Association even formed a “Smart House” interest group in 1984!1 Though some of these early appliances and ideas are nothing modern consumers would consider “smart,” they helped pave the way for the smart homes of today that are rapidly growing and evolving.

Now, these efforts to connect and enhance the home are about more than convenience. They’re about managing and conserving energy to create a more efficient world by putting more control in the hands of everyone. Today, everyday life is more connected than ever. Globally, there are currently 3.9 billion smart phone subscriptions and 4.3 billion broadband subscriptions, according to Ericsson’s most recent Mobility Report.2 As we approach 2020, these numbers are even expected to reach or exceed the overall global population. With that sort of connection, it only makes sense that our homes become smarter to accommodate this new way of life and help ensure that our consumption is smart, too.

From smartphones and virtual assistants to thermostats and light bulbs, internet of things (IoT) technology is popping up everywhere at home, at work, and in-between. In fact, there are connected devices for just about every room. Naturally, this smart transition comes with its share of challenges. For example, in addition to developing cool new products, companies need to ensure that the infrastructure is agile and able to handle these growing demands. However, safety challenges both real and cyber will also remain as an ever-present and growing concern as we continue to connect to nearly everything we own.

Ready from Room to Room

Smart lights in every room that can be turned off from your phone. A thermostat that learns your behavior, monitors use, and automatically adjusts to save energy and maximize comfort. A refrigerator that lets you know when you’re out of specific items and helps generate lists. Home security systems viewable no matter where you are in the world. Voice assistants. Bluetooth locks. Buttons that order goods with nothing more than a touch.

Almost everything you need to help ensure your home is safe, efficient and, in many ways, customizable is either available now or in the works. It’s hard to believe you can keep an eye on a sleeping baby while controlling your music, dimming the lights, and preheating the oven without ever getting off the sofa, but that’s the home of today. And the home of tomorrow? Sadly, we’re probably still years away from the smart utopia of Tony Stark (or are we?), but homes will continue to become even more connected, accessible, and easy to use from the garage to the laundry room to the pool.

The Downside to Downtime

It’s all fun and games until the power goes out. Or the internet freezes up. Or your Bluetooth device can’t connect. If that happens, your entire connected home could start to feel anything but smart. This is both inconvenient and potentially concerning. With everything interconnected, one little glitch can lead to myriad issues. Having to physically turn the lights on is one thing, but finding yourself locked out or with a disabled security system due to a connection issue is something else entirely. This is where infrastructure, back-end technology and security come into play.

Without a reliable system on which to operate, smart homes simply can’t function. Cyber attacks on home networks may not be as prevalent as those targeting commercial or government bodies, but any connected device is theoretically vulnerable. Even if the attack is only meant to disable a system, the result can be damaging (ex: the furnace or oven turning on without warning) and annoying. Improved security testing and efforts to enhance our current power supply network to an equally smart grid are helping, but these challenges will only continue to evolve with the technology itself and safety precautions remain important.

Efficiency Is Key

In addition to making life easier, smart homes enable homeowners to feel greater ownership over how they live and work at home. One estimate notes that a typical family home could contain a few hundred smart devices by 2022, meaning we’ll always be close to every button, switch, and knob in the house.3 This also likely means that much of the technology will be largely “invisible,” operating in the background to monitor our lives. Though some people may find this future a bit unnerving, it can also be very helpful. Technology often monitors electricity, water, and natural gas better than people and that can lead to smarter use, decreased utility bills, and a cleaner planet, but only if these devices are working properly over both the short and long term.

1. http://mashable.com/2015/01/08/smart-home-tech-ces/#jQ8LSSLcskqd

2. http://www.ericsson.com/ericsson-mobility-report

3. http://industries.ul.com/blog/smart-home-tech-giants-take-control