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Matthew Silkwood
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May 19, 2024

Avoid These Dumb Smart Home Devices [2024]

From paywalled services to bricked houses, there's some really bad smart tech out there. Meet the 4 dumbest smart home devices every homeowner should avoid.

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Matthew Silkwood
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Dumb Smart Home Devices: Key Takeaways

At their best, smart home devices increase the energy efficiency of our homes, enhance our personal security, and simplify our daily lives with AI-driven automation.

But not all smart tech lives up to these eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical standards. E-waste is growing 5 times faster than it can be recycled. Some brands mine customer data for profit, and others even paywall features on the devices you’ve already purchased.

HOMR’s mission for this article is simple: reveal some dumb smart home devices, and the troubling trends they represent. (We’ll also highlight 3 smart brands getting it right!)

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide to problematic smart home technology:

  • Some smart washing machines and cars paywall features, forcing consumers to subscribe to fully utilize the products they’ve already purchased.
  • Many smart TV brands mine consumer data and sell it to third parties in an attempt to increase profits while selling their hardware at razor-thin margins. 
  • “Small cap” smart home hubs are often bought out by larger brands and cease service. This drives obsolescence and puts you at risk of a “bricked house”. 
  • E-waste is growing at a rate 5x faster than it can be recycled. Smart microwaves and other small appliances make up ⅓ of this e-waste.
  • Rachio, Ecobee and Lasso are 3 smart device brands getting it right. Their commitment to climate justice and sustainability is built into daily business practices.

HOMR reps are live 24/7 to connect you with smart home installers near you!

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We Interviewed a Smart Tech Expert

We interviewed Lucas Gutterman to gain valuable insight for this article. Lucas is the Director of the Designed to Last Campaign at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). He informed our research with surprising information regarding obsolescence, e-waste and consumer protection in the smart home space.

The Designed to Last Campaign fights to establish policy which reduces e-waste and extends the lifespan of electronic products. 

PIRG is a federation of independent, state-based, citizen-funded Public Interest Research Groups. PIRG acts as an advocate for the safety, health and overall well-being of the public.

We’re passionate about consumer advocacy at the Home Experts Blog — that starts with our rigorous 6-step contractor vetting process.

The first smart device problem we discussed with Lucas: paywalled features on smart appliances and vehicles.

Smart Washing Machines: The Paywall Problem

smart washing machine LG paywall subscription features
Would you pay a subscription to use your own washing machine?

In 2023, LG announced a “bold vision” to transform itself into a “smart life solution company”. The vision briefly mentioned plans for a new revenue stream — locking existing features in their smart appliances and smart TVs behind monthly subscription paywalls.

TLDR version? Consumers are charged a monthly subscription fee to unlock features on products they already own.

“Once you’ve already purchased the product, we don’t want to keep having to purchase the product every time we use it,” Lucas Gutterman explained.

And yet, that appears to be the proposed LG model. Homeowners will purchase a new smart washing machine, with features built into the washer or dryer that won’t be functional without an upcharge. 

Even though the appliance is capable of performing all these tasks, you aren’t able to access them without paying. But those components are still perfectly capable of breaking — meaning you could pay for washing machine repair for parts you aren’t even allowed to use.

‘Smart Subscriptions’: Paying to Use What You Already Own Stinks.

“We are concerned about subscriptions,” Lucas told us. “I don’t want to pay a smart home company every time I turn on and off my lights — that is a problem. I’m already paying for my electricity.”

Smart washing machines aren’t the only culprit of paywalled subscription models.

Another prime offender of unnecessary subscription models: cars. Lucas outlined how some remote start features are now subscription-based.

“If you want to remote start your Toyota, you have to pay for a cloud service — even though there’s nothing that’s actually talking to the server.”

You shouldn’t have to subscribe to your own appliances. Software lockouts cut into your rights as the owner of a device, and consumer advocacy groups like PIRG frown on this trend.

“I think consumers — when they buy something, expect that they own it,” Lucas concluded. 

Can your home appliance repair company fix smart washers? Our pick for the best Dallas appliance repair service can do it all — check out our latest rankings.

Smart TVs are Your Home's Biggest Thieves

smart TV and remote with ACR tracking technology to collect user data
Smart TVs use ACR to track your viewing habits, then sell that data to third parties.

Wondering how you got that new smart TV for such a steal? Don’t worry — their manufacturers find new ways to pad their margins every time you grab the remote.

Lucas describes the sales model of many smart TV companies as “razor and blades” — operating at incredibly thin margins just to get their products in consumer’s homes. 

Vizio’s CTO Bill Baxter admitted on “The Verge” podcast that “I don’t really need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.”

So where are all the profits coming from? 

Smart TVs are notorious for mining consumer data and selling it to third parties at a profit. Or as Baxter put it on the same podcast: “It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.”

And you likely don’t know just how much data your smart TV has on you.

How Your Smart TV Uses ACR to Track Your Habits

Most major smart TV brands utilize technology called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR). ACR allows the smart TV to grab screenshots and audio from what’s playing on your screen, then analyze what you’re watching. 

Yes, ACR is recording a history of everything you watch on your smart TV — live TV, video games, streaming services, movies, Internet videos and websites. Everything.

That data is then used to curate a customer profile the company can sell to marketers, advertisers and third parties. Your IP address, login email address and home information is included.

There are a few ways to stop or limit your smart TV from collecting your personal data with ACR. Turn ACR off on your smart TV — this helpful guide from Consumer Reports guides you through the process on LG, Roku, Vizio, Samsung and other smart TV brands.

Talk to us 24/7 — let’s build you a non-invasive smart home installation plan. 

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Is Your Smart Home Hub Obsolete?

obsolete smart home hub wall control unit
image: Jan Prucha, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

What happens when a smart tech company folds or is bought out? Some homeowners are left with obsolete smart devices that don’t work.

Obsolescence — the process of becoming no longer useful or necessary — is one thing. New technology and innovation renders older products less effective. Planned obsolescence, a business strategy that guarantees your devices become useless to force consumers into a new purchase, is far more problematic.

Nathan Proctor, Senior Director at PIRG, asked this simple question in an article about smart tech obsolescence:

“If your devices can stop working at any time, on the whim of the manufacturer, do you really own them?”

Smart home hubs experience obsolescence in both organic and planned ways:

  • Organic: When a smaller smart tech company is bought out by a larger competitor and shuts down service to their original devices (more on this in a moment!).
  • Planned: When existing smart home hubs are created with a built-in shelf life that plans for the device to become outdated. PIRG calls this “junked by design”.

The Revolv Horror Story: Living in a Bricked House

If one of your smart devices became obsolete, that’d stink. But trying to navigate daily life with a bricked phone is one thing. Imagine living in a bricked house.

When Google acquired smart hub maker Revolv, it was an acquisition that benefited both parties. Google merged the Revolv team into its Google Nest division, adopting its knowledge and technology into enhancing its smart home devices.

2 years later, homeowners with Revolv smart hubs woke up to find their devices and apps didn’t work anymore. 

“Their system shut down, and you were left with ‘no-longer-smart products’,” Lucas Gutterman recounted.

We can’t fault a company for accepting a buyout from a larger competitor. But Revolv is a cautionary tale — if you’re buying a smart home hub, an established brand like Ecobee or Google Nest is a better choice. 

“You spent money, you outfitted your home… that really sucks,” Lucas said. “If the WiFi goes down, and I can’t open my front door, that’s a problem.”

Does your smart home thermostat pair with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant? Read about our top 3 smart thermostat brands, like Google Nest and ecobee.

Disposable Smart Tech and the E-Waste Dilemma

e-waste landfill with computers and smart appliances
image: George Hotelling from Canton, MI, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

E-waste refers to electronic and electrical equipment that’s obsolete, old, or nearing the end of its functional lifespan. The UN considers any discarded device with a battery, plug, or hazardous substance components (mercury, cadmium, etc.) to be e-waste.

“No problem,” most consumers assume. “I’ll take out the batteries and chuck that old smart microwave in recycling.”

The problem: we’re creating e-waste 5 times faster than we’re able to recycle it. And small disposable products are a driving factor behind the issue.

In the United States, we throw away 8 million tons of electronic waste every year.

“We are manufacturing these products even faster with no way to recycle them,” Lucas warned.

“The worst of the worst [is] that disposable tech — vapes, air pods with batteries that end up in the landfill,” he continued. “All of these products are not really designed to stay in use.”

But as bad as disposable tech is, smart appliances aren’t far behind.

The Growing Global E-Waste Problem With Small Appliances

Small appliances make up over ⅓ of that e-waste — but only 12% of them are recycled. The UN 2024 Global E-Waste Monitor noted that small appliances comprise the largest portion of global e-waste. This includes smart appliances that quickly become obsolete with new updates.

Smart appliances are particularly problematic sources of e-waste, as they contain components and rare earth metals that simply aren’t able to be recycled at this time.

“We shouldn’t tolerate disposable electronics such as vapes, or  unnecessary “smart” products such as internet-enabled toilet bowl trackers, toothbrushes and microwaves,” Lucas stated in a recent review of that UN study.

Here are 4 troubling statistics about the growing smart e-waste problem:

  1. Only 1% of rare earth metals in our smart devices are being recycled.
  2. Only 23% of our smart devices are being recycled at all.
  3. Our laptops and phones create 11 billion tons of e-waste per year.
  4. $91 billion in metals was thrown away during 2022 in e-waste alone.

Programs like PIRG’s Designed to Last are leading the charge to demand legislation against electronic waste and advocate for greater recycling measures and consumer awareness.

“My program Designed to Last… is focused on electronic waste,” Lucas explained. “Pushing back against the disposability treadmill that has us replacing our phones and laptops at ever-increasing rates.”

Want more insight into the worst smart tech products? Check out the 2024 Worst in Show Awards and meet the world’s least sustainable, least secure devices and gadgets.

3 Smart Home Brands Getting it Right

What can we do to combat these smart tech issues? If you’re asking that question, good news — you’re part of the solution. But it takes more than educated homeowners and consumer advocacy groups to turn the tide against global e-waste, paywalled smart devices and obsolescence.

Change begins with smart home device companies who commit to ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly business practices.

These 3 smart home brands have a proven track record of protecting the environment, creating sustainable products, and reducing e-waste.

🌟 Rachio

rachio 3 8-zone smart irrigation controller buy from amazon

Buy Rachio 3 8-Zone Controller from Amazon: $162.99 (at time of writing)

Core products: Smart lawn irrigation

HOMR and the Home Experts Blog rate the Rachio 3 as the best overall smart sprinkler controller for its excellent features, ease of installation and excellent user experience. Its simple installation guide makes it possible for most homeowners to set up their Rachio 3 in under 30 minutes.

But Rachio doesn’t just win on product superiority — as a certified B Corporation since 2017, it’s an industry leader in climate justice, water savings and environmental protection.

A good smart sprinkler controller saves over 7,500 gallons of water per year. Rachio expands on this effort with new innovations like its Smart Hose Timer for above-ground sprinkler systems. It’s earned them EPA WaterSense certification.

“The product speaks for itself,” said Chris Klein, co-founder and CPO of Rachio. “It’s designed to save water — we’ve saved 200 billion gallons to date.”

Rachio’s commitment to environmental excellence earned it Best for the World: Environmental honors. The brand goes beyond water savings, reducing e-waste by actively thinking about packaging materials and offering consumers the ability to recycle their old controllers.

“We recycle controllers that are coming off the wall,” Chris continued. “We think about sustainable packaging, [and] the water savings are front and center.”

🌟 Ecobee

ecobee lite smart thermostat in black, buy smart thermostat

Buy ecobee Lite Smart Thermostat on Amazon: $149.99 (at time of writing)

Core products: Smart thermostats, smart home cameras

Ecobee smart thermostats have eliminated over 6.2 tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, and have achieved EnergyStar certification since 2016. The brand shows consistent commitment to sustainable products with long lifespans — the average ecobee thermostat lasts 4 times longer than a smartphone.

Ecobee designs its products for easy disassembly, then refurbishes old units to further reduce electronic waste. 

“We keep thousands of our thermostats out of landfills and reduce e-waste by repairing and reusing them,” ecobee states in its sustainability story.

The brand also extends product lifespan by ensuring its newer software is usable with older devices. Their eco+ thermostat software works with all ecobee thermostats dating back to 2014.

Ecobee announced a sustainable packaging initiative in 2022. New ecobee packaging includes tapioca starch trays, which reduce water and energy waste in production.

🌟 Lasso

Core product: Closed loop at-home recycling system

Lasso’s upcoming product launch offers the world’s first at-home closed-loop recycling system, promising 100% carbon-negative recycling solutions for homeowners. 

Did you know? Closed loop recycling means a product or material is re-used or converted into a new product. No waste, no material in landfills — 100% sustainability.

Lasso steam cleans every item, eliminating contaminants and preparing surfaces for proper recycling. Glass, metals and plastic are separated and ground down for you. The process requires less energy than running a dishwasher, and ensures every batch of items is 100% recyclable. Any items that aren’t recyclable are returned for disposal.

The Lasso app monitors items inserted into your device, tracks your storage, then schedules a pickup. Lasso drivers visit your home 3-8 times per year on request. Curbside pickups doesn’t disrupt your daily routine, and the rest of the recycling process is handled for you.

As a bonus: after 5 years, Lasso owners are eligible for cash compensation — you’ll earn money based on the value of your recycled materials.

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Conclusion

Consumer advocacy, homeowner education, and ethical smart company practices are the 3 keys to safe, private and eco-friendly smart home devices.

  • Avoid smart devices with subscription features. If you own a product, you should be able to use all its features — no paywalls.
  • Turn off ACR and tracking features on smart TVs. Don’t blindly opt in to the feature. You’ll allow your smart TV to monitor what you watch and listen to.
  • Research your smart home hub brand. Make sure their business model ensures future success — don’t end up in a bricked house.
  • Reduce e-waste with closed loop recycling. Take the time to properly recycle your devices and find ways to recycle rare earth metals and hazardous materials.

Our smart home partners provide free in-home assessments — get yours!

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