The Hacker's Guide To Smart Yards [Interactive] | Popular Science

The Hacker's Guide To Smart Yards [Interactive]

Building a more efficient, automated, and futuristic home from the outside in

You know well enough that your home doesn’t end at the front door. Power, security, summer fun—a lot of life takes place outside. Adding intelligence to your yard can save money and time, not to mention spare you backaches. Why cut the grass when your smart mower can do it for you? Scroll over the icons in the image below to learn which gadgets can help you power, maintain, secure, and enjoy your smart yard.

  • Power It
  • Maintain It
  • Secure It
  • Enjoy It


Smart energy is about more than what device you use; it’s about how you use it. Soon, you’ll be able to program your home to draw from personal solar and wind systems whenever they’re producing electricity. The dark side of a yard is the upkeep. These tools will help you take back your weekends.

Don’t want to dirty your hands?

It’s now easy to get solar power to your home. Any of the third-party companies that lease solar panels will install them and help you manage the system. But don’t leave all the decisions to a contractor. A recent study found that pointing solar panels south—as most installers do—may not always be the most efficient orientation. Panels that face west can gather energy in the late afternoon, when grid demand and electricity rates are highest. Truly smart solar systems—those that can sense and respond to a home’s fluctuating energy needs—are in development. As a first step, solar manufacturer SunPower has introduced a system that sends push notifications when energy generation peaks.

Happy to hack?

Utility companies across the country are installing smart meters, sensors that provide data about your energy usage in real time. With this information companies can set higher prices for peak-usage times. This means consumers could save money by strategically timing when, say, they do laundry, and utilities can encourage people to cut back when many people are using electricity. If you want to go the extra step and feed excess renewable energy back to the local utility— a process known as net metering, something many states require utilities to do—additional metering equipment is needed.

Eventually, energy production could fully dictate how we use products; for example, your solar panels will tell you to run the dishwasher only when they are producing energy. In the meantime, energy services provider SolarCity is working with Nest to develop software that shares energy data between devices, which could one day allow costly heating and cooling systems to sync with solar-energy output. If you don’t want to wait, consider using the free Web-based service If This Then That (IFTTT). It allows you to set up device-to-device triggers for any number of activities. With IFTTT, you can program a smart-home system—such as Belkin WeMo—to carry out orders cued by your solar-panel activity. There are many potential applications; for example, one hacker created code to charge his Tesla only when his solar panel was producing power.


Home-monitoring systems used to require the help of professionals. Not anymore. Here's how to set up your cameras for maximum protection.

1. Hang 'Em High

Mount cameras at least 7 feet above the ground. Not only does the higher viewpoint ensure you have the perspective to capture everyone passing by, but it also allows a camera like the Arlo to gain full advantage of its 130-degree field of view.

2. Monitor The Periphery

Rather than mounting cameras where they point forward—right above the front door, for instance—mount them off to the side. Any movement will cross the frame from one side to the other, extending the vista farther from your door and making it possible to observe a person— be it a UPS delivery guy or an unwanted visitor—the second he crosses the threshold.

3. Work The Angles

A wide-angle lens has a field of view that’s more than 30 degrees wider than a person’s, so you’ll need fewer cameras than you think. For example, two cameras, one hung near the back door and one across the yard, should be able to create a complete view of the entire space.

4. Hide In Plain Sight

The urge to tuck cameras into nooks is natural, but you don’t want to impede the view. Instead, camouflage cameras by painting them to match their surroundings or buying special skins that allow them to blend in—while still giving you a full range of sight.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Popular Science.