Amazon Alexa in Vacation Rentals

Smart Home Systems vs Smart Home Devices

By Pat Hagerman

Using Amazon Alexa to Voice-Enable Smart Home Systems

It’s a great time right now if you are a vacation rental property owner and you care about guest experience and running your business efficiently. With always-on internet connections, IOS and Android mobile devices, and the mass acceptance of smart home devices, we finally have a way to ensure that our guests show up to a house that is a comfortable temperature, the outside lights are automatically turned on in the evening, and the door unlocks without needing keys; and we can be notified when our guests arrive, the temperature is out of range, there is a water leak, or a myriad of other notifications that give us piece of mind that things are working as they should.

It wasn’t long ago that none of these devices existed. Now seeing a Nest thermostat on the wall, or a Yale door lock is very commonplace in the vacation rental industry. While these devices provide capabilities that we’ve never had before, there is an inherent problem that occurs as we continue to add these devices to our houses. Besides security and privacy, which we’ll deal with in another article, the other problem is that these devices don’t talk to each other or take commands from a central brain. They are simply standalone devices. What that means is that on check-in day you need to open an array of different apps, probably one for each device, and manually set the temperature, turn on the lights, enter the pin code to unlock the door, and on and on. And then do the same on check-out day. While the ability to do that remotely is hard to argue with, the odds of you forgetting to do all that one time are pretty high. And that’s a big knock against the guest’s first experience with your house when they show up and it’s dark and cold.

The alternative to standalone devices is a smart home “system”. A smart home system is a number of devices, such as thermostats, door locks, light switches, and video management, etc that all talk to each other and take direction from a central hub. The primary benefits are that you only have one app to use to interface with the devices, but most importantly, the task of preparing the house for arrival and departure can be scheduled through a calendar and achieved through automation. This means that you can input guest bookings into a calendar, or connect to a calendar that you already maintain and the system will automate the process from there. For example it can set the thermostats for the correct seasonal temperature, turn on the lights at dusk, activate the pin code for the door, and let you know when your guests arrived. It will also automate putting everything back into unoccupied mode when your guests leave - saving you the trouble of doing it yourself, and a significant amount of energy in the process.

Admittedly, these systems can seem intimidating to implement, and you can spend a lot of money on custom smart home integration. Whenever possible, a great alternative is to leverage a kit that includes a central hub and various devices as one packaged solution. Start with a small deployment, and then build out from there by adding additional components to the system. Kits can even arrive at your doorstep pre-programmed for your vacation rental property.

These new tools make it a great time to be a vacation rental owner or manager. The technology has matured dramatically, hitting mainstream adoption. By 2021, more than half (55%) of all homes in North America are expected to be smart homes, according to a study by Berg Insight. While independent smart home devices do add some incremental value, implementing a smart home system can enable a big step forward for your guest experience and operational efficiency.


Pat Hagerman
Pat Hagerman is a vacation rental owner with 20 years of experience in smart home technology. He is a thought leader in the use of capabilities like the virtual concierge and pre-programmed smart home kits in the vacation rental industry.