There was a time when a remote control was only used for flicking through TV channels.
But these days – often via a mobile phone – it can control your entire home and help shave hundreds of pounds a year off the household bills.
Here, The Mail on Sunday picks through the high-tech maze to explore some of the ways you can make savings, looking at everything from entertainment to energy – and even feeding the cat.
Well connected: Adam Davison, with wife Laura and daughters Lily and Ella, front, have a raft of cost-saving gadgets in their home
Reduce your energy bills
Every home in Britain is to have a ‘smart meter’ installed for free by 2020 as part of a Government campaign to get us to save energy. According to the Energy Saving Trust, by changing our habits it is possible to knock 15 per cent off your energy bill. The average house pays £1,345 a year – so it can lead to a saving of £200.
Fortunately, the technology is already out there to cut costs with the help of a remote control that operates ‘smart’ light bulbs, energy-saving electric sockets and individual thermostats.
Internet technology director Adam Davison, 42, invested £2,000 in cost-saving gadgets five years ago and says they have already paid for themselves – slashing £400 a year from his energy bill.
Adam, married to Laura, 37, with whom he has two children Ella, 11, and eight-year-old Lily, has fitted 60 remote-controlled light switches and power sockets from LightwaveRF, which cost from £35 each. He has also installed £59 Tado radiator thermostats and £15 Philips Hue light bulbs, both of which can be monitored and controlled through a phone app even when out of the house.
He says: ‘At last the technology has caught up with an energy saving lifestyle. You can set the sockets so they turn off at night when everyone is asleep – so you no longer unnecessarily use up energy when gadgets are on standby. You can also avoid heating rooms when there is no one in them. You can control the settings remotely from your smartphone – even if you are abroad on holiday.’
Other devices to help you keep energy costs down include a Nest Thermostat, which sells a touch sensitive £200 wall monitor that can be controlled manually or remotely via a smartphone app – to control hot water and the central heating. There are also software packages such as Apple Home Kit that can link controls – including lighting and heating – to be managed on a phone.
Enjoy more music around the home
Streaming is the most popular way to enjoy music – with 45 billion tunes listened to over the internet in Britain every year.
The technology not only gives you access to more music than you will find in your record or CD collection at home but can work out cheaper.
For the £10 cost of buying an album you gain access to millions of tracks a month if you sign up to an online music subscription service. Providers worth considering include Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Deezer, Napster and Tidal.
While these companies often offer free trials or basic streaming that includes occasional adverts for nothing, a paid-for service will also enable you to download tracks to enjoy listening to later offline.
Because the music is accessed over the internet you need speeds of at least one megabit per second – fibre optics rather than telephone wires offer faster speeds and are better for homes where more than one person might want to enjoy music at the same time.
By hooking up your streaming facility with wi-fi you can broadcast tunes into any room you want around the house and use your mobile phone as the music remote control.
This requires speakers that are connected – wirelessly or not – to an amp. You can buy speakers with built-in amplifiers for under £100 but if you invest more then the quality of sound and number of rooms that can enjoy music is expanded.
Ion Smith, co-founder of home cinema installation firm Cyberhomes in Thame, Oxfordshire, believes systems can transform the home.
He says: ‘Only your imagination needs hold you back. The best time to install a music system for the entire home is often when you are doing renovations as this enables any unsightly wires to be hidden away out of view. Consider hiring a consultant to discuss what you want because at the same time you can also look at home cinema, heating, lighting controls and security systems.’
He suggests using a member of the trade body Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, whose members sign up to a high standard of service and care for its customers.
Pamper your pets…by remote control
Pet lovers occasionally find it hard to give their cat or dog the attention they deserve – and are forced to pay others to keep an eye on them.
But new remote control gadgets now allow you to watch your pet from a smartphone when it is at home – so you can talk, feed and even play with it.
The £140 Petcube is a box that sits in your property and enables you to observe and speak to your pet when you are out and about, using a smartphone app.
Kit for cats: Keeba Roy can play with her cat Harry remotely via an app
It also has a remote-controlled laser beam you can control by moving your finger on the phone screen to bring up a light in your home that moves around on the wall or floor – and cats can chase in a game.
Assistant arts editor Keeba Roy, 29, of Greenwich, South East London, shares a flat with boyfriend Ben, 28, and their cats Max and Harry.
Keeba says: ‘It is great to have a camera to keep an eye on them. At Christmas time I was watching and saw that the tree had got knocked down so knew they were up to no good.’
She adds: ‘They both love playing with the laser but if you try talking to them it can be a bit of a shock – we drew the line at buying a model that feeds the cats as well because they get greedy.’
Other devices to keep an eye on the pet include a £250 Furbo that has a camera and also throws out snacks. A £140 programmable feeder from PetSafe puts the pet food out at a certain time.
Lower insurance with home security
There is a growing number of security devices that monitor what is going on inside the home that complement traditional burglar alarms.
They are unobtrusive devices about the size of a handheld camera and sit in prime spots around the home, such as a kitchen.
If they spot anything out of the ordinary going on in the house a text alert is sent to your mobile. You then have the option to set off a noisy alarm back in the house to hopefully frighten off any potential intruders.
By adding a layer of security these devices can also cut the cost of building and contents insurance. The average cost of buildings and contents cover is £291, according to the Association of British Insurers. A burglar alarm can cut premiums by 10 per cent.
Among the devices on the market is the £159 Cocoon. It picks up low-level sound waves and notifies you through an alarm sent to your smartphone if it hears something out of the ordinary. The device only operates when you are out of the home and quickly learns to ignore the usual movements, such as a pet walking around.
Other security devices that can help keep insurance premiums down by linking a home camera to a smartphone include the £200 D-Link Omna 180; the £160 Canary; and the £159 Nest Cam Indoor. All these cameras can be set up to record unusual movement and include night vision.
Plug a leak to save money
A dripping tap might not look like an emergency, but if not dealt with it can cause costly damage to the home. According to the Association of British Insurers, the industry pays out £2.5 million a day on water damage claims. A burst pipe causes on average £2,700 of damage – wrecking floors and carpets, damaging walls and destroying favourite furniture. Often the first tell-tale signs you have a problem is the sound of dripping water – and fixing it early can mean you do not suffer a burst pipe.
Devices such as the £149 LeakBot keep an eye on your entire plumbing system and if a leak is spotted will alert you via a text message. The device is clipped on to a water pipe situated by your mains stop tap – usually under a kitchen sink.
Remote apps can also be used to look out for emergencies such as fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Companies such as Roost sell a £25 smart battery that can be fitted into existing smoke or carbon dioxide alarms. It can send a text to your phone if the alarm goes off.
How to stay switched on to the TV revolution: Get a greater choice of free TV
We are no longer stuck with a handful of terrestrial television options – but can get access to hundreds of free channels over the radio waves, cables and the internet.
You can join this revolution by investing as little as £20 for a set-top box that will give you more than 100 channels offered through Freeview. You plug a cable into your old TV aerial socket and the other end into the back of your television. On top of the usual channels – such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – you get a host of others including Dave and Pick TV.
Alternatively, you might want to take advantage of Freesat if you have a satellite dish on the side of your house. Boxes cost from about £80 but will give you access to more than 200 channels and you do not need to pay for a subscription.
‘Be future ready’: Ion Smith of Cyberhomes and, top, Netflix show The Crown
Each TV usually needs its own set-top box but if you buy a modern TV you may find it already has Freeview or Freesat technology inside the set. Viewers still pay £147 a year for a TV licence – although if aged over 75 you can enjoy TV for free. Multi-room systems can be set up with a single set-top box or DVD player serving several screens. There is also a host of streaming services that let you watch TV over the internet. Providers such as Netflix charge from £5.99 a month for access to thousands of shows. If you want to watch using more than one TV you pay £8.99 for a ‘premium’ service. Each TV needs to be plugged into the internet.
Amazon Prime TV starts from £7.99 a month and also gives subscribers access to its next-day postal service and access to its streamed music.
If you want access to Sky and its hundreds of channels subscriptions start from £22 a month. This includes a box on which you can record shows.
A set-top box usually only works for one TV but if you want a ‘multi-room’ deal, Sky charges from £32 a month, including required extra boxes.
Anyone wanting to watch TV in several rooms and perhaps include a surround sound system to give the feeling of being in a cinema, should consider using a professional installer to ensure that no unsightly cables are left lying around the home.
Ion Smith, of Cyberhomes, says: ‘Be future ready. For example, the latest technology is 4k – ultra-high definition TV. Make sure any wiring is ready for this as in a few years it could be the norm.’
Cut the cost of your weekly shop with the help of a virtual butler
One of the must-have gadgets of the moment is a virtual personal assistant.
Companies such as Amazon are keen to promote the charms of a female-sounding butler called Alexa who can link up to a smartphone app.
Back to the future: Companies such as Amazon are keen to promote the charms of a female-sounding butler called Alexa
The robot can answer verbal queries by searching for answers online and then telling you what she has found out.
Among the more useful tasks are recording shopping lists, booking tickets, playing tunes and remembering birthdays.
By helping you be more organised she might save you money and time. The average family spends more than £85 a week on groceries and if you plan ahead with a list, it targets your needs and helps you avoid impulse purchases that can easily add £20 to a weekly bill.
Alexa requires a £150 Echo console, pictured right, that sits at home wherever the family spends most of its time.
This device is connected to the internet via wi-fi and has a speaker for talking. You can also connect to Alexa via a smartphone app.The main competition is the £129 Google Home, below, that has similar skills.
She may look more attractive than Alexa – resembling a modern vase rather than a cylinder – but does not have a name. Other voice-activated software includes Siri from Apple that works on a smartphone.
Facebook launched its own ‘M’ virtual assistant in the US last month on its Messenger service – with a UK version expected out later this summer.