02. August 2016 · Comments Off on Creating a Smart Home: Major Mom Style · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
Smart Homes are coming. You can't escape it...

Smart Homes are coming. You can’t escape it…

Earlier this summer our family took our annual trip “east”. For the past several years we had been flying east, but this time we drove because we’d be spending quite a bit more time visiting with friends and family. The boys and I were “out east” most of the month of June, while Dave flew out for the latter part of the trip and drove home with us.

We visited our friends Don and Maryann in North Carolina. Their home was pretty well set up with a number of devices that were all tied together with their Amazon Echo. They could control lights, the door locks, and even their holiday decorations with Alexa. They were working on tying a humidistat into the system while we were visiting.

We also visited our friend Lisa, who lives in St. Louis. She was similarly increasing the intelligence of her home with WiFi enabled lighting and door locks.

Home automation had been on our family’s mind quite a bit. We were worried about crime in Colorado Springs, and our own neighborhood isn’t immune to that.

Not long after we got home, we went through with ordering an Amazon Echo, which Dave and I had been discussing for quite some time. After a couple weeks of seeing what the Echo could and could not do, we took advantage of Amazon’s Prime Day to get some good deals on basic home automation: half price lightbulbs and WiFi-enabled plugs.

So a few vocabulary words are in order here.

  • “Amazon Alexa” is the name of the company’s artificial intelligence capability. Technically, it isn’t a device of any kind. Folks I know with Alexa-enabled devices will simply call the devices “Alexa,” but that’s somewhat misleading. You will not be ordering an Amazon Alexa. You will be ordering an Alexa-capable device and using either a mobile or desktop app to manage the settings.
  • “Amazon Echo” is the name of the company’s premier device that employs Alexa to synthesize Amazon’s numerous capabilities. It is equipped with a basic smarthome hub capability, and has a high-quality speaker/microphone combination such that it can follow voice commands. You wake up the Echo with the word “Alexa”**, and then give the device a command. Amazon’s “Tap” Bluetooth speaker and “Fire” television controller are also Alexa-enabled.
  • “Smart Home Hub.” This is a device that will connect your home network to the devices you’re attempting to automate. Many of the home automation devices will require a hub such as this. There are some companies that are coming out with some wide-reaching smart home hubs that can work with numerous brands of home-automation products, such as Wink and Samsung’s SmartThings. At the moment our family doesn’t have anything like this…we are still exploring.

**Be careful! If you say the word “Alexa” in any other context in the device’s presence, it will wake up and listen for your command.

The Philips Hue light bulbs we had ordered a couple weeks ago came with a hub of its own. It can only control other Philips Hue products. However, once it’s set up through the Philips Hue app, it’s pretty fire-and-forget. We were able to integrate it to Alexa pretty easily through the Alexa app and now we use Alexa to control it. We simply say something like “Alexa! Kitchen light 50%” or “Alexa! Kitchen light off!” Unfortunately, the hub is taking up precious space connected to our WiFi router (that’s for another post…).

We also bought a TP-LINK Smart Plug, which was half price on Prime Day. We haven’t set it up yet, actually. We aren’t yet sure what we can do with it. I think it’s going to end up being used for our Christmas tree later this year, since our tree’s lights cycle through three color combinations, then off. So every 4th day our timer turns the tree completely off. I think we can program this smart plug to overcome that. We’ll let you know around Thanksgiving…

Next on my wish list is an Alexa-enabled door lock. I’ve been looking at options and right now there isn’t an Alexa-enabled door lock that fits what I’m looking for. There’s only the August system, which is still quite expensive. The lock, hub, and keypad are all separate units (and priced separately). I’d prefer something with an integrated keypad for the kids.

I’m quickly realizing that many of these items require an app and/or a control hub of its own which I find frustrating. I hoping that ideally I can just use the app to set up the devices and then rely on Alexa for the day-to-day.

Another tool one can use to control home automation is the IFTTT, which I mentioned in my previous post. I have set up a “recipe” to have the Philips Hue lights turn on at sunset each evening. Since sunset times change daily, this is something that you can’t do with regular controller apps. The IFTTT will look up the sunset times based on my location and the lights will turn on according to that time. I think that’s pretty cool.

A neat thing IFTTT can do is trigger things in your house when the door locks or unlocks. You can turn on lights, set alarms, and even turn off a smart oven when the front door locks. Provided you have the products that work with IFTTT, such as an August door lock and a GE WiFi Connect oven

Setting up a Smart Home can get complicated. A lot of me wonders how long to wait for the technology integration to work out a little better. If you choose a certain hub, you may become hostage to what other companies will choose to integrate with that hub. Currently there are numerous hub/controller companies competing with each other, and you have to decide early on which controller hub you plan to use. My family has chosen things that integrate with Amazon Alexa, and those capabilities are still evolving.