Pandemic sparks flurry of smart-home products to boost health and efficiency

Spending so much time working remotely over the past two years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to note what’s unsatisfactory about systems and products around the home and to dream about technology that would make life better.

Manufacturers got the message with a range of new or soon-to-be-introduced products. Among them:

  • Devices that not only monitor air quality in the home but also alert you when your blood pressure or other vitals are off-kilter.
  • A doorbell that plays a recorded greeting and instructions for delivery people and allows visitors to leave their own message.
  • An in-oven camera that lets homeowners livestream cooking so that they won’t have to constantly open the door to see whether the food is done.

“In the past year, we’ve seen homeowners prioritize indoor air quality and energy efficiency in their HVAC system more than ever before, and we know this will only become increasingly important to the comfort and health of homeowners,” says Kim McGill, Lennox Residential’s vice president of marketing.
The pandemic, says Kelly Safis, general manager of builder sales at Whirlpool, “created an increased consumer demand for health-conscious cooking options.”

Dirk Sappok, director of product development at Miele, says consumers increasingly are embracing smart products that “make life a little easier.”

Note that when bringing smart technology home, it’s prudent to stick with name brands and companies that update security features rather than off-brand smart home devices that are more susceptible to hacking.

Here’s a look at a range of new smart products aimed at boosting comfort, convenience and energy efficiency in the home:

Climate and health

Rheem’s EcoNet Zoning System: Manufacturers have developed HVAC systems that manage or monitor heating, cooling and even air quality automatically. Most of them can be controlled via user-friendly phone apps.

In 2020, Rheem introduced the EcoNet Zoning System, which allows homeowners to customize and schedule temperature settings throughout the house, eliminate hot or cold spots, and modify heating and cooling in unoccupied rooms to trim energy use.

A $299 Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostat controls the equipment in this optional add-on to the company’s EcoNet heating, cooling and water heating system. Employing new control capabilities and ductwork dampers, the system regulates heating, cooling and humidity in up to six areas of the home. It can be set to switch automatically to an energy-saving away mode when nobody is home.

Homeowners can manage the system via voice command or smartphone app. Cost of the zoning system is based on the layout of the home and number of dampers needed.

Mitsubishi Electric artificial intelligence: This year, Mitsubishi Electric will unveil artificial intelligence (AI) that will detect and adopt HVAC scheduling patterns around the house. Suppose, for instance, you lower the first-floor temperature and raise the temperature in second-floor bedrooms on most winter nights. The AI will spot this and recommend setting up a schedule to make the nightly adjustment automatic.

Mitsubishi Electric plans to introduce sensors in 2024 that will help homeowners monitor indoor air quality. The terahertz radiation-based system will detect and analyze air components, display the data on a desktop dashboard and activate a warning as needed.

The company also is developing sensors that monitor health vital statistics, including body temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate. If a person needs frequent checks, the narrow-band near-infrared video recordings can make it easier for a caregiver to note changes. Eventually, the sensors will be able to detect blood oxygenation and even situations such as choking, falls, signs of distress and elder abuse.

Called HealthCam, a prototype of the wall-mounted sensors was exhibited in the company’s CES electronics show virtual booth. HealthCam will launch first in hospitals in 2023. A price has not been set yet.

Home security

Ring Video Doorbells: New smart security features give homeowners more ways to protect their property. This year, Ring introduced doorbell features that let the doorbell do the talking.

The Ring Doorbell Pro 2 can play a prerecorded audio message or have Amazon’s Alexa take a message.

The Ring Doorbell Pro 2 can play a prerecorded audio message or have Amazon’s Alexa take a message.


Ring doorbell customers can activate a prerecorded audio message, have Amazon’s Alexa take a message or, through Quick Replies, play a preset response such as, “We can’t answer the door right now, but if you’d like to leave a message, you can do it now,” when someone rings the doorbell or the Ring camera detects motion. (Ring is owned by Amazon. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Alexa can greet visitors when they ring the bell, ask how she can help, and either take a message or provide directions for package deliveries.

Quick Replies are free to all Ring customers. Alexa greetings are available to Ring Video Doorbell Pro ($170) and Pro 2 ($250) customers who have a Ring Protect Plan. Plans are $3 to $10 a month.

Geofence: Ring also introduced customer-friendly updates for Geofence, the system that delineates and monitors a zone surrounding the homeowner’s property. It now can be set up to determine how many and which alerts to send, avoiding unnecessary alerts but adding handy reminders to switch modes when homeowners come and go. Geofence is free on all Ring devices and does not require a Ring Protect Plan.


Whirlpool Yummly: Appliance manufacturers are introducing a wide range of products and functions that add convenience and customization opportunities.

In 2020, Whirlpool introduced the Yummly wireless smart thermometer which, with the Yummly cooking app, can monitor the cooking and grilling of meat, poultry and fish.

Users select what they’re cooking and set a level of doneness. With the $130 thermometer, the app tracks the cooking and alerts the user — up to 150 feet away — when the food is done. Now users can watch up to four thermometers on a single smart device, so that foods can be cooked the way each family member prefers.

GE Appliances CookCam: In 2020, GE Appliances began offering CookCam, a Wi-Fi-enabled in-oven camera that lets homeowners livestream the cooking on their smart devices. No need to keep opening the oven door and letting heat escape. The camera is available in numerous GE Profile smart appliances, including a slide-in range and built-in wall ovens.

The company says GE Profile appliances with Wi-Fi connections can receive free updates as innovations become available. In 2021, for example, the company introduced a no-preheat air fry option for wall ovens and pushed the upgrade into previously sold appliances via an over-the-air software download.

And in November GE Profile released a software upgrade designed to take some stress out of the holidays. Turkey Mode provides instructions on how to use the meat probe, tells where to position the oven rack and calculates how long to cook a turkey of any weight — no need to preheat, prep, coat, cover or baste the bird. The app announces “gobble, gobble” when the turkey is ready to serve.

Miele’s CM7750 CoffeeSelect countertop machine also works with an app.

Miele’s CM7750 CoffeeSelect countertop machine makes more than 10 preprogrammed coffee drinks and can be set to brew personal favorites.

(Miele USA)

Miele FoodView, TasteControl and CM7 Countertop Coffee system: Miele will debut an oven camera, FoodView, in select convection ovens in a new line called Generation 7000 that’s coming out in May. Aiming down from the top of the oven cavity, the camera sends photos once a minute to a smart device.

The cook will then be able change the cooking time or oven temperature remotely based on what the photos show. TasteControl also will be offered in some Generation 7000 appliances. This app feature will open the oven door slightly once the cooking is done to prevent overcooking. Prices have not yet been released.

In fall 2021, Miele launched a luxury CM7 Countertop Coffee system that makes brewing and system care easier.

It offers push-button selection from three coffee bean containers, automatically adjusts the spout height to fit the cup or mug, and removes mineral buildup. An app can start the coffee maker, check its maintenance status, and place an order for beans and cleaning supplies when they run low.

The $5,499 machine makes more than 10 preprogrammed coffee drinks and can be set to brew personal favorites.

Miele’s Generation 7000 built-in ovens have a smart assist feature, TasteControl, to help prevent overcooking.

Miele’s Generation 7000 built-in ovens have a smart assist feature, TasteControl, to help prevent overcooking. This app feature will open the oven door slightly once the cooking is done.

(Miele USA)

GE Appliances S’moresUp and Sonos: In February 2021, GE Appliances announced a partnership with S’moresUp, the free family chore management app. “Parents are stretched thin as many of us are doing everything from home. This app helps organize household tasks so everyone can lend a hand,” says Jeremy Miller, commercial director of SmartHome Solutions for GE Appliances.

It works with connected GE washers, dryers, dishwashers and ovens, enabling parents to assign and monitor tasks. It can notify the child with laundry duty that the dryer cycle is complete or alert a family member that the dishwasher cycle is over and the dishes are ready to be put away.

Another GE Appliances partnership, with the wireless sound system company Sonos, lets homeowners set up audible appliance notifications throughout the house, such as an alert that the oven is preheated. There is no extra charge to include the notifications in a Sonos system.


Source Hydropanels: Forget those trunk loads of plastic water bottles, unwieldy water service jugs and water filters that need frequent replacement. Homeowners can produce their own drinking water.

When installed on the roof or on the ground near a house, Source Hydropanels “harness heat and energy from the sun to draw pure water vapor out of the air and convert it to fresh, mineralized drinking water. It feeds via flexible pipes into the home’s taps, faucets, refrigerator or counter dispenser,” says brand president Neil Grimmer.

The system converts the vapor to liquid water that is collected in a reservoir in the panel. A cartridge in the reservoir adds magnesium and calcium.

The standard Source Home system creates the equivalent of three to four 24-pack cases of bottled water every week, at an average cost of 15 cents a liter. Setting up a residential system typically costs $5,500 to $6,500. An air filter and polishing cartridge inside the panel need to be changed once a year, and the mineral cartridge every five years.

New panels that will be available nationwide this year offer increased water production, more storage capacity, and the ability to customize the taste and alkalinity of the water.

EV charging stations: The electric vehicle (EV) industry is driving innovations in residential design. Todd Usher, president of Addison Homes, a green home builder in the Greenville, S.C., area, is incorporating EV charging ports as a standard feature of his new homes.

“I predict that many homebuilders will be doing this within the next five years or sooner,” Usher says.

The wiring Addison installs is about $500 to $750. Homeowners can buy and install a Level 2 charger — which charges a vehicle in a few hours — for $400 and up.

Ford all-electric F-150 Lightning truck residential generator: Usher points to Ford’s 2022 all-electric F-150 Lightning truck as “an incredible jump” in technology. The Ford Intelligent Backup Power system links home and vehicle power and can take the place of a residential generator.

Through this system, the truck charges up from the grid; when the grid goes down, the homeowner can set the system to provide electricity to the home itself, delivering “full-home power for up to three days on a fully charged battery, or as long as 10 days if rationing power,” according to Ford. The truck price will start at $40,000.

Contractor connection

Miele and Mitsubishi Electric Trane remote diagnostic systems: Homeowners may be becoming more savvy about using smart technology, but many don’t want to deal with repair issues. Some manufacturers, including Miele and Mitsubishi Electric Trane, are using wireless connectivity to spot potential product performance issues and initiate repair services.

This year, Miele will launch a suite of built-in appliances with Wi-Fi connection to the company, allowing homeowners to request remote assessment of product issues. Sappok says this means “we can diagnose problems and prepare for the repair, including identifying needed parts and creating a service call through our third party” contractors.

Mark Kuntz, CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Trane, says the company soon will be able to receive a product error code and send it via secure connection to a homeowner-selected service contractor for follow-up with the homeowner. The company says that with this technology the HVAC contractor can be notified of a system problem “likely quite a while before the homeowners would spot the problem themselves.”

Looking forward, Usher says he would like to see much of the tech troubleshooting role go to homebuilders and remodelers as a one-stop shop. “The house is a system and we can view it holistically,” he says.

Jordan is a freelance writer. This article appeared in The Washington Post.