What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thoughts on a Connected Home aka Smart Home

As mentioned previously, I have been interested in home automation for as long as I can remember.  In many ways, homes have been automated for a few decades thanks to washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and timers.  Even small appliances quickly became automated simply by the addition of timers.  Aside of plug in timers and timer equipped small appliances, home automation was and still is not very much of a DIY.  Strictly speaking home automation is the control of lighting, heating, cooling, and entertainment via devices that go through a main contoller, usually wired.  The new generation of home automation takes that a step further by using smart devices that can control each other via means of a hub and controller (eg. smart phone, tablet).  More importantly this new generation allows the control of your devices wirelessly from anywhere you have internet connection.  In most cases, only the hub is connected to your router although at least one hub connects to the router wirelessly.

We have had a Nest thermostat for about three years now.  It has its own app.  The Nest is a treat to use, has paid for itself and it has been virtually problem free except when the Wink hub booted Nest offline even though Nest was always kept separate from Wink.  We've had Sonos for about a year and a half with no problems at all.  It has its own app.  Both Nest and Sonos are smart devices that don't talk to each other and have separate app controls.  Wink was a huge disaster so I switched over to SmartThings which controls Z-wave and ZigBee devices.  It has added control for Belkin Wemo (WiFi) as well as numerous other brands like Aeon Labs, Ecolink and GE.  Both Apple and Google are doing their version of home automation and then there is Lowe's Iris and Staples Connect, both using a propriety version of ZigBee.  Herein lies the problem and it is a huge problem for consumers.  It doesn't take long before you have four or five apps just for home automation taking up a lot of valuable space on your space limited cell phone not to mention the aggravation of having to click one app for HVAC, another for music, another for lighting and yet another for locks. 

We currently have Nest thermostat, Sonos 3, Sonos 1, 5 motion (1 Ecolink, 4 PEQ), 1 GE bulb, 3 Wemo bulbs, 5 Cree bulbs, GE 3-way switch, and GE on/off switch installed as part of our home automation.  We have 2 PEQ motions, 1 PEQ tripper and 1 Cree bulb to install yet.  Two GE plug in switches and a GE on/off switch are on their way.  All rooms are automated to some degree, some more than others.  We have two Quirky products: egg minder and spotter.  We use four apps: Nest, Sonos, SmartThings, Wink; but that will go to three quickly the way Wink is going.  SmartThings can control Sonos but not Nest yet.  So here are a few tips:

  1.  follow home automation forums, Facebook pages, Twitter - These resources can be a wealth of information especially for the how-tos and troubleshooting.  They are also ideal for keeping up to date with what's new in home automation and where the great sales are.  Twitter is especially useful for outage notifications.
  2. do not buy all your devices at once -  Buy the hub and one or two devices.  Add to that as the need arises.  Focus on need first then fill in with your wants.
  3. shop the sales - If you are willing to wait, some of the sales can be quite good.  I picked up the PEQ motion sensors for half price at Best Buy!  The plug GE plug in switches were also $50 off on Amazon.  Keep an eye on Best Buy, Lowes, Amazon and eBay. 
  4. avoid Wink like the plague - This all talk, broken promises company is nothing but a headache with the hub continuously going down, having to reconnect devices multiple times often daily for some, dwindling customer support and failure to deliver.  The second major outage was just last night, on the heels of the first a month ago!
  5. opt for a hub that supports numerous protocols (eg. Z-wave, ZigBee, WiFi, Bluetooth) - SmartThings is quickly proving itself to be stable as is Vera.  SmartThings allows the most as far as customizing with SmartApps using your own code or templates as well as published SmartLab apps.  Be aware there are a lot of home automation brands coming onto the market but they haven't proved themselves. 
  6. stay away from any propriety protocols (eg. Staples Connect, Iris) - Some components will work with other systems while others won't.  If that system is eliminated like Revolv, you will be left high and dry with a bunch of devices that won't work with anything else.  Some of these systems have monthly subscription fees as well.
  7. keep home security system separate - Home automation devices will increase your home security but do not use them as a security system and do not tie your existing home security system into your home automation.  The last thing you want to deal with is doors that are unlocked when the app says they are locked!