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Chill out with home automation gizmos

Smart thermostats and garage door openers can save you dough and peace of mind.

Total Connect app for your smartphone lets you remotely set the heating or cooling temp in your house
Total Connect app for your smartphone lets you remotely set the heating or cooling temp in your houseRead more

GIZMO Guy thinks some of the golly-gee brainstorms in home automation (like the robotic vacuum cleaner) are goofy.

And, yes, we're all concerned about the potential for hackers to electronically break into our house through Wi-Fi-connected automation gear. Wireless cameras have proven particularly vulnerable to eavesdroppers.

But the latest in smart thermostats from Honeywell and Nest, and the new smart garage door opener from Chamberlain, are pretty irresistible. Makers also promise that their sophisticated encryption tech secures the devices from assault.

CHILLIN' FROM AFAR: Every homeowner should install a programmable thermostat for maximal comfort and energy savings.

The growing breed of smart thermostats from Honeywell and Nest, priced from $140-$300, let you fine-tune the temp on a daily and even quarter-hour basis with slick, easy-to-follow programming.

These Internet-linking smarties display extra aptitude when you have Wi-Fi service in-house: Remotely monitor and control the thermostat on your smartphone or tablet, wherever you are.

Going out for dinner after work? Reset the home thermostat to adjust the temp at 10 p.m. instead of 6. Leaving town? One tap puts the thermostat into extended "vacation" mode.

And if PECO ever gets its act together, you'll be able to sign up (as businesses already do) for a program that automatically reduces your HVAC system's electric "draw" during peak demand - and discounts your monthly bill.

PICKING A FAVE: The Honeywell Wi-Fi Color Touchscreen Programmable Thermostat is slightly more complicated to install, clued my electrician buddy John Siemiarowski, though online videos proved helpful.

And the Honeywell's unique features and more upgrade potential made it my preferred choice.

The top model (RTH9590, $300) offers "hands-free" voice control (and voice feedback) that can be activated from across the room. Say, "Hello, thermostat" to wake this cute thing up. Try, "I'm feeling warm" (or "very warm," "cold" or "very cold") and it adjusts the climate accordingly.

On command, the female-voiced device also offers the current time and temperature indoors or out.

Don't have the patience to input daily/hourly temp instructions? The Nest Learning Thermostat ($249) automatically programs itself after a week of manual user adjustments. Tedious in a different way.

But it's neat how Nest's proximity-sensor screen lights up when you approach the device. And I appreciate Nest's energy-saving nudges, including a retrievable report on consumption.

GATEKEEPER: How often have you driven away from the house and thought, "Did I remember to close the garage door?" Fret no more - install the Chamberlain MyQ garage-door monitoring/control system ($130).

One small, wireless component is attached inside on the garage door. The device's internal level monitors and communicates the door position. A larger "hub" communicates wirelessly with your garage door opener and, via Wi-Fi, with an app on your smartphone.

Password-protected, the screen app shows and lets you move the door position. The MyQ main unit flashes a strobe light and beeps for a minute to warn off anyone in the door's vicinity.

Syncing MyQ to a LiftMaster door opener required just one push of the latter's program button. The system also works with motorized garage openers from Craftsman, Genie, Linear, Stanley, Overhead Door and most others made after 1993.

Connecting the control app to my home Wi-Fi network required repeated entries of the correct WPA-2 password. Annoying, but a good security precaution.