Smart vacuum cleaning the living room floor.

Home Automation to Make Life Simpler

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Dive into home automation with your own personal flair. These smart home ideas give you a different approach to creating a cool home of the future customized to your needs.

If you like thinking outside of the box — we’ve got some ideas for you. With the Internet of Things (IoT) on the cusp of being in every household, now is the time to be an early adopter of home automation products. Make your home even more connected, simplify your life, and maybe even impress your friends with these super-innovative home automation gadgets.

Smart Home Technology around the House

Sure, having smart home technology on your side can make your home safer with smoke detectors, water/flood detectors and security systems. They might even earn you a discount on your homeowners insurance. But being smart is about more than just detectors. Take things to the next level with these savvy gadgets.

Smart light bulbs. If you haven’t made the leap to smart light bulbs, now’s the time. Initially smart bulbs gave you control over brightness. Today there are versions that let you control the ambiance with color-changing options, have voice activated controls, a master hub, and, perhaps most importantly, help monitor your energy consumption so you have more control over your energy bills. Here’s more about how products like smart lights can help improve energy efficiency.

Smart outlets. These brainy little devices look a lot like an extension plug. You can pop one right into your outlet, follow a few instructions online and you’ve suddenly turned it into a smart outlet. Once installed, you can control any device plugged into it from your phone.

Robot vacuum. Not a fan of housework? Get a robot to do it. A smart vacuum can take care of the work while you’re sleeping, at work or enjoying some much-needed couch time. Most smart vacuums can be controlled from your smartphone and some even work with Alexa voice commands. Just start the vacuum up and cross that chore off the to-do list!

Automated blinds. Technology has even made blinds exciting — now you can control your blinds with the convenient touch of a button or sound of your voice! But why invest in automated blinds? Consider this: You can create the appearance of someone being at home even when you’re away, you can set a timer to close your blinds when you want to protect your privacy, and by being strategic, you can save money on AC costs by setting your blinds to close during hot days, therefore reducing the strain on your air conditioner. Plus, automated blinds are just cool and give your home that quintessential smart-home touch.

Home Automation in the Kitchen

Your kitchen is the hub of your house and the place where friends and family gather. With a few simple upgrades, you can turn your kitchen into one of the future. From coffee makers to crockpots, check out these smart home technology options.

Coffee makers. It can be hard to get out of a comfy bed in the morning, but a smart coffee pot makes your wake-up call a little easier. Coffee makers with WiFi or Bluetooth capabilities allow you to brew a fresh cup of Joe without stepping a foot out of bed. Just fill the grinds the night before, set the timer and wake up to the scent of motivation!

Smart refrigerators. Introducing the refrigerator that reminds you when you need milk! Smart fridges are becoming more and more popular for the convenience and efficiency they offer. Some have the capability to place food orders, remind you when products are running low, and thanks to advanced cameras, you can view its contents on your phone so, no matter where you are, you can track what you need at the grocery store. There are smart fridges that suggest recipe ideas, alert you when a product is expiring and you can create shopping lists right on the fridge that’ll send to your smartphone. With a smart fridge, it’s all about making the day to day that much easier.

Crockpot two ways. Once the smart home technology of its day, generations have used a crockpot to make cooking meals easier. Now, crockpots can have Wi-Fi connectivity letting you control the time, temperature, and turning it on and off — all from an app on your phone. Mixing control and convenience with your slow roasted tenderloin never tasted so good!

Smart fork. Okay, this might be more fun than function, but the smart fork is here. It tracks how many mouthfuls you take and how fast you take them, and it’ll alert you when it senses that you’re eating too quickly. The objective: The slower you eat, the faster you feel full and ultimately you’ll eat less. The smart fork connects with an app on your smartphone and includes tracking information and workout objectives. If you need a little boost in adopting better eating habits, why not let your fork help?

Smart laundry. Ok, so this isn’t exactly a kitchen appliance, but it’s smart nonetheless. A smart washer and dryer is not only attractive because you can download custom cycles and enjoy convenient remote monitoring of your devices, but you can save money with their energy-saving features. For instance, some dryers can detect when your clothes are dry and it’ll shut the dryer off, meaning your dryer isn’t running when it doesn’t need to be.

Get Comfortable with Home Automation

Of course, having smart technology is great when it helps out around the house, but wouldn’t it be nice if these conveniences also made life a little more comfortable? We’ve discovered a few home automation devices that can do just that.

Sleep machine. Who doesn’t need a better night’s sleep? An ambient noise sleep machine might be your solution to a more restful night. By adding Wi-Fi connectivity, you never have to get out of bed to make adjustments — just hit your screen and slip into sleep. Nighty, night!

Smart mattress. The idea of a great night’s sleep is just so tantalizing, what about adding a smart mattress to the mix? There are a variety of mattresses available that can do just about everything— customize your temperature, track your sleep patterns, even wake you up in the morning.

Sweet smart smells. Every home has its own unique smell — do you know what yours smells like? How about tropical packed with a coconut-y punch? Or maybe it depends on the season. With Moodo, all you have to do is tell it which of the pre-loaded scents to spray and your nose does the rest.

Smart shower. Get clean, relaxed and rejuvenated, all from the comfort of your own shower. With a smart shower, the temperature and pressure is always just right. You can get models that include mood lighting and music to amplify your enjoyment. And, to top it all off, you can save water too — now that’s smart!

Smart Home Technology for the Outside

Now that you know how to equip your home with some smart-tech love, let’s take a look at how the outside of your home can benefit as well. These genius smart home ideas are just a few ways to incorporate automation into your outdoor environment.

Gardening sensor. Knowing what’s happening in the soil can help you transform your backyard into a jaw-dropping garden wonderland. Using a garden sensor to learn when and how much to water, soil nutrition needs and weather concerns gives you that green-thumb edge you need.

Irrigation and lighting. Take it a step further and control your entire yard with a smart device. Watch and water your lawn from afar. Turn on your outdoor lighting to create a welcoming atmosphere for friends or a well-lit one that discourages thieves.

Robot lawnmower. Why sweat and strain pushing a lawnmower? Or spend your time being jostled around on a riding mower? Now you can let the mower do all the work for you. This is set-it-and-forget-it technology that keeps your lawn in tip-top shape.

With smart technology becoming ever more popular, there’s bound to be one way or another that home automation can help make your life just a little easier. No matter what technology you install, be sure to connect with your American Family agent (Opens in a new tab) to learn about protecting your smart home investment — and don’t forget to check if you qualify for a discount on your homeowners insurance.

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    20 Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

    Choosing your new apartment isn’t an impulse decision. The choice you make will have an impact for a long time. There are many different things to consider as you tour one possible home after another. On top of that, landlords and management companies work hard to make them all seem perfect.

    How can you tell which one’s the right fit for you? Here are 20 key questions to ask when renting an apartment. The answers can give you a better idea of what you’d get from each one.

    How Much is Rent & the Security Deposit?

    Any apartment hunter should ask themself this crucial question: “How much should I spend on rent?” Setting a budget ahead of the search helps narrow the possibilities. You’ll save time by eliminating options that are too expensive.

    Still, relying on online listings alone may not be enough. It’s better to personally ask the landlord, whether by calling, emailing, or visiting. Make sure to also bring up the security deposit, as well as any other upfront costs they may ask of you. This will save you from unpleasant surprises before you sign anything.

    How Much are Utilities and What Do I Cover?

    Every apartment complex handles utilities differently. Water, electricity, air conditioning, heating, gas, and more may be split between landlord and tenant. Then there is the matter of which ones you’ll need to get yourself. Your apartment may come with cable and wi-fi, but you may be responsible for them on your own.

    Only your landlord will know for sure, and they should be clear about what’s expected of you. Before leasing an apartment, you should ask what utilities are available and which ones are covered. Record the answers, factor the costs into your budget, and look for the place that offers the most for the least.

    How Does Parking Work?

    Some apartment complexes have their own parking lots, with many spaces reserved for tenants and a few set aside for guests. Others may give residents access to a dedicated structure, providing greater security — but possibly at a higher cost. Others still may only offer street parking, which can be expensive to maintain.

    In short, parking may be a complex situation involving specific locations and extra costs. If you have a car, don’t just ask if parking is available. Get the details. As you weigh your options, consider what’s best for your car as well.

    What’s the Pet Policy & Is There a Deposit or Fee?

    The pet policy won’t matter to every apartment hunter. If you have a furry friend or might want one someday, make this one of their first questions to ask when touring an apartment. A “no” answer is no deal, no matter how great the other perks may be.

    Some landlords may allow pets if you pay a one-time deposit or additional monthly fees. Make sure to keep that in mind during your search.

    What Amenities are Included?

    Utilities cover the most vital parts of a home — the things that make living there comfortable. Amenities are the complex’s welcome bonuses — the things that make living there enjoyable. Common examples include clubhouses, swimming pools, public kitchens, communal laundry machines, and fitness rooms.

    Amenities are great for those who use them, but their presence can justify higher rent. As your landlord takes you through each selling point on your tour, ask them whether these perks are included with your price. Also, make sure to consider if you’ll even use them.

    Do I Need Renters Insurance?

    Home insurance is for houses. If you live in an apartment, you look for renters insurance instead. In fact, some places make it mandatory for all residents. Be sure to ask your landlord in advance so you can make any arrangements you need.

    This practice is all about liability. Landlords have their own insurance, but it’s based on their duties and would only cover their share of the damages. Renters insurance offers protection for your living space and your belongings. Even if it’s not required, getting your own policy could bring you peace of mind.

    Can You Describe the Application Process?

    Applying for an apartment can be complicated and time-consuming. You might have to pay fees, undergo background checks and other screenings, and more just to see if you qualify. This may be preferable to the alternative: apartment listings that promise no credit check may be scams.

    You could always learn about each step of the application process as you go. Still, it never hurts to know ahead of time, especially if there are any fees and risks. If anything is unclear, the landlord should explain it to you.

    What Should I Know About Rent Increases?

    A variety of factors can change the value of an apartment. Examples include market shifts, new installations, repairs and replacements of fixtures. Your rent will likely not change for the duration of your lease. Once the time comes to sign again, though, your monthly payments may very well go up.

    This may not seem like a pertinent question when starting a lease. Still, making it one of your questions to ask when touring an apartment could be useful. How your potential future landlord approaches the matter can tell you what to expect. At the very least, it can help you choose whether to look for a new place well before your lease ends.

    What are the Lease Length Options?

    How long are you looking to stay at your next apartment? One year, two years, longer, less? Not everyone has a plan in mind, which means the apartment’s available options may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

    Landlords always inform apartment hunters about the duration of their lease. However, you might need to probe them for other available options. Be sure to make this one of your questions to ask before leasing an apartment, even if they only mention one length that sounds good. They might have something better.

    Can I Make Changes to the Rental Unit?

    Your apartment may come pre-furnished, but it’s unlikely to be pre-decorated. Few people are content with blank walls and sparse spaces. Most prefer to personalize and beautify their home with art, decorations and other belongings.

    Unlike houses, apartments usually only have temporary residents. The building’s owner may not allow certain kinds of changes, believing they may hurt the unit’s future value. Take the time to go over policies. That way, you can get a better idea of how you’ll make your space feel like a home.

    How Do Maintenance Requests Work?

    Besides rent, tenants might only interact with their landlord through maintenance requests. After all, it’s the complex owner’s duty to keep everything in their apartments running smoothly. If your shower stops pumping heated water or your lock gets sticky, maintenance will get it fixed.

    Asking about the process of filing maintenance requests can give insights to how landlords view this responsibility. Does the process seem straightforward or complicated? Are approvals easy, or do they require a great deal of evidence and demonstration? The answers may reveal how long this landlord will let you live with inconvenience. Few questions to ask about apartments are more revealing than this.

    What’s the Guest Policy?

    In most cases, a guest policy doesn’t apply to someone who’s just visiting for a few hours. It covers situations where someone might want to stay at a tenant’s apartment for a few days or longer. Depending on the terms of the policy, you might even need permission for someone to spend the night.

    Don’t just assume that any landlord would be okay with your best friend crashing on your couch for a while. Get the details on the guest policy before moving in. They’ll tell you what permissions they’d grant and how you can get them granted.

    What’s the Neighborhood Like?

    The oldest real estate myth holds that three factors must guide where you choose to live: “location, location, location.” There’s more to it than that, as this list of questions to ask when renting an apartment should make clear. Still, the area around the complex is important to consider.

    Getting info on the neighborhood is valuable to any apartment hunt. Try to get your landlord’s perspective about any areas of concern. We also recommend exploring on your own, both by car and on foot. See if any useful places are close by, such as grocery stores.

    How Soon are You Looking to Fill the Unit?

    In most cases, you won’t be the only person viewing an apartment. Others have likely received a grand tour, and others may be waiting in line to see the place as well. Landlords might be screening you as much as you’re screening them.

    Landlords are also usually interested in starting a new lease as soon as the current one ends. One way to get noticed is to strike quickly: ask when they’d want you to move in. You should still weigh your options, but don’t procrastinate.

    Do I Need a Cosigner?

    People with rental history have a record that landlords can review. If this is your first time paying rent, they won’t know if they can trust you to make payments on time and consistently. Adding a cosigner to the contract can make it easier. Their signature promises that even if you can’t pay rent, someone else can pay for you.

    Many renters with no history may worry about background checks and credit checks. However, there are some landlords who won’t ask for them. While the answer will likely be a yes, it doesn’t hurt to have it on a list of first-time renter questions.

    What Payment Methods are Accepted?

    Rent payments can take a variety of forms. Before you make any assumptions, though, you should double-check what’s allowed. Each place will have its own policies. Some offer more payment method options than others.

    You might be able to set up a regular automatic withdrawal from your bank account. You might have to do it online. The landlord might accept checks or cards (warning: anyone who only takes cash is likely a scammer). There’s only one way to know for sure.

    What Furnishings & Appliances are Included?

    Preparing for the big move is a big task. It’s not just deciding what to take, but also figuring out what you need to get. Each apartment is different: some come fully furnished with appliances, while others only have a bed.

    Asking this question is important because the answer can impact your budget. It can even make or break your apartment options. Ask about beds and bedding, chairs, sofas, tables, kitchen appliances, TV sets and anything else that matters to you in a home.

    How Much Notice Do You Give Before You or a Representative Shows Up at the Property?

    An interesting agreement comes with living in an apartment. It’s your home, and you pay to stay there. But someone else owns it and covers many responsibilities related to it. Technically, they have at least some right to enter at any time for any reason.

    Even so, many building owners respect their tenants by giving them advance notice. Depending on the person and situation, you may have days or hours or minutes to prepare. We recommend asking how much notice they usually give. It could save you some major headaches.

    What’s Your Late Fee Policy?

    Accidents can happen. Paychecks can come late. You might have temporary money problems. Most apartment contracts provide some leeway for late rent payments. But they might charge a late fee.

    Given that it’s so common, there’s no problem with asking about late fee policies. You’ll want to know the terms just in case anything happens. You’ll also want to know the limits according to state law, so you can see if the fee is fair. Just try not to seem too eager, and don’t count on being able to do it often.

    What’s Your Subletting Policy?

    Subletting is when a renter temporarily moves out and lets someone else cover their lease. A landlord may refuse to rent to your candidate if they don’t meet their requirements.

    Even if you don’t plan to leave during your lease, you may still want to know your apartment’s subletting policy. Life may surprise you. Being aware can save you some time and trouble in looking for someone to take over.

    Know the Best Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

    Any of these questions to ask when renting an apartment can help decide your future home. Having so many factors to consider may seem intimidating at first. As you gather information, though, you may find that each new detail narrows down the options. Soon enough, a few apartments will rise above the rest. No matter which of them you pick, you benefit. Ask away.

    Renters Insurance from American Family Insurance

    Even while you’re still apartment-hunting, it’s never too early to start thinking about renters insurance. If you have any questions about that, feel free to contact an American Family Insurance agent. Once you’ve learned what we have to offer, you can get a quote online and get protection for your next home.

  • Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
    Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
    9 Steps to Create a Home Inventory for Insurance Claims

    Your home is more than a roof over your head. It’s where your dreams grow, your family thrives and memories are made. But the possessions you keep inside are important, too.

    Whether you’re renting an apartment or own your home, you’ve most likely got an insurance policy designed to protect your dwelling and the things inside. Should the unthinkable happen and you have to use that insurance policy, it’s important to have a plan in place. And a home inventory list is a great way to get started!

    We’ll walk you through how to create a home inventory so — in the event of the unexpected — you’ll be more prepared and have a streamlined recovery.

    What Is a Home Inventory?

    Quite simply, a home inventory is a complete list of all the items, especially valuables, in and around your home. The best home inventories include photos, descriptions and dollar values of each of your belongings. The more detail, the better! It’ll help you provide a comprehensive list to your agent of items lost in the event your home is damaged or destroyed, allowing you to get the most out of your coverage.

    When your describing the items in your list, remember that the more information, the better. Here’s a quick reference list of the type of information you should include in your home inventory list:

    • An in-depth description of the items. For example, rather than writing down “diamond ring,” be more descriptive, such as: “an emerald cut diamond ring, with white gold shank, accent stones and initials inscribed below the bridge.”
    • Make, model, and/or serial number of the items.
    • Date of purchase, receipts and photos.
    • Estimated replacement cost if you bought it today. Do note that the value of the items might be different today than it was when you first bought them. This is especially true with jewelry, and other valuables.
    • Appraisals at time of purchase. Especially if your items were appraised for insurance purposes.

    Why Do I Need a Home Inventory?

    Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, everyone can benefit from a home inventory!

    If you ever have to make a claim, a home inventory is a great asset to have, especially after stressful events like theft, storm damage or a fire (take a look at how one renter used their home inventory after facing an apartment fire).

    When you make a claim, you typically submit information on everything that was lost — which can be difficult to do off the top of your head for all your possessions. Remembering to replace your TV or computer are no-brainers, but when it comes to remembering each piece of jewelry in your jewelry box, things tend to get overlooked. Having a personal property inventory will help, along with knowing how to properly insure your jewelry.

    When you have your home inventory checklist, you know exactly what needs to be replaced, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your entire household is protected.

  • A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
    A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
    Reasons Why a Roof Leaks

    You’re admiring the rain from the comfort of your home when you notice a sound — the unmistakable drip of water dropping onto your floor. The first and hardest step is figuring out why your roof is leaking. And with these tips, you’ll find the culprit in no time!

    Here’s Why Your Roof Is Leaking

    The list of reasons why your roof is leaking may seem long, but don’t worry — when it comes to finding the leak and fixing it, the finding is the hardest part. And the good thing about these problems? They can all be fixed. Check out the list and see what’s troubling your roof:

    Your roof is old

    Roofs don’t last forever. Protecting your home and everything inside it from the elements comes with a cost. And with all that rain, snow, ice, wind and even sunlight wearing down your roof, it becomes more susceptible to leaks. Every roof will eventually need to be replaced, so learn more about how long your roof should last based on what it’s made of.