Making my home … smart! [Part 3]

This is part 3 of a series I am writing titled Making my home… smart! If you would like to go back and check it out, Read Part 1, and Part 2.

So, if you have been keeping up with this series you have read about two major systems that tend to interconnect and act as a hub for your Smart Home devices, you have also read about to plan and select your devices by knowing the different connection types. But now, I am going to go over my personal setup at home and what devices I have used so far and what I want in the future.

Keep in mind that though I personally own an Amazon Echo Dot, I mainly use Apple devices in my home so I tend to use items based on HomeKit functionality. Most of my products that I have bought also work with Amazon Alexa but I choose to favor Siri due to better natural language support.

Lighting

It all started with Lighting, this is what got me into Smart Home devices in the first place. At first, I thought it was just a silly gimmick as I started to see things on Kickstarter and similar websites. They were marketed to be able to change the light brightness and sometimes color from an app on your phone. I wasn’t buying it at all, it all seemed as a gimmick. But then, I bought a set to demo the Philips Hue system and see what the hype was about. That one test purchase to demo the system and I intended to return, got be hooked on the idea of a Smart Home. It gets even better, once you start getting into Home Automation, but more on that later.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue is pretty much the most well known Smart Lighting products on the market right now. They have several different items in their Hue line-up which allows you to really customize your home with light the way that you really want it to be. The basic functionality for Hue is being able to turn on and turn off and also be able to control the brightness of the bulb as well. Some bulbs are also able to control the color of the bulb, but if you want that functionality make sure you are purchasing the bulbs with that feature. These bulbs are also LED based lights so that means they are going to be much more power efficient and should last for a very long time.

The most common way to get started with Hue is to purchase a starter kit. At the time of writing, there are a couple starter kits available. The main starter packs I would choose from would be: Hue White & Color Ambiance Starter Kit, or the Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit with Dimmer Switch. These starter kits get you started by including a Hue Bridge, a couple bulbs, and possibly an accessory. Make sure to get the 2nd Generation Bridge when you are buying a Hue system, this will allow you to use both Alexa and Siri, which should be a rounded square and not a circle. The Bridge also allows you to control your lights away from home and also use services such as IFTTT.

I personally have 7 light bulbs throughout my home. Most of them are in the main lamps spread throughout the apartment. These allow me to have great lighting and if I want to have a little fun, I can change the color of the bulbs as well. The installation is as simple as screwing in the light bulb into any standard socket. If you have recessed lighting fixtures, there are specific light bulbs made to help with recessed lighting sockets. They also just recently released an E12 Candle bulbs.

Other than the typical light bulbs, the Hue ecosystem has several different lighting products and accessories. One of my favorites is the LED Light Strip. These are pretty bright LEDs that you can adhere into a place and be able to control the brightness and color of the strip. Place them in an area in which you will not look directly at the LEDs as they are bright, they work best bounced or used as ambient light. I placed the strip on the rear of the enclosure of my projector screen in my living room. This allows the light to bounce off the wall and provide a wide bright light for the room almost like a large fluorescent light.

One other accessory I highly recommend having is the Hue Dimmer Switch. Don’t confuse this with the Hue Tap Switch. The Hue Tap switch allows you to use 4 buttons to assign different scenes to, but the Hue Dimmer Switch can do the same and more! The Hue Dimmer Switch is made to be placed on a wall and simulate a normal wall switch, perfect for those that don’t want to pull out their phone to control the lights. Using this switch allows you to control the brightness using the two dimmer switch buttons, or quickly turn on and off the lights with the on and off buttons. But, even better is that with the On button, you can assign up to 5 different scenes per press of the on button. I have mine setup as: Last State, Full Brightness, Reading, then Night Light.

Hue has a great system and lots of products that interconnect and is controlled by easy to use software. You can’t go wrong using Hue products and you can really accomplish what your custom lighting needs are. One downside with the Hue system is that it is a little bit more pricey than other similar products, but they all link together and work very well.

Switches

Smart Switches allow you to turn on and off devices that you plug into them. These can be used for lamps, fans, or practically anything that you can plug into a normal wall socket and has an analog switch on it. The analog switch is usually required for something to really work with these types of devices. The reason the analog switch is important is that the switch will basically provide power or not based on the switch you have in the app, if the device has a digital switch on it there is a good chance that it does not turn on when power is applied to the plug alone.

For example, a fan that I had in the past had a digital switch, so when I plug it into the wall, it would not turn on automatically as it needs a physical input on the device. In contrast, my current fan has an analog switch which I can leave on the On position, then control when power is sent to it using the smart switch using my phone.

The switch allows you to simulate as if you are plugging in the device into the wall or unplugging it. These are mainly useful for lighting controls that use standard plugs. I currently use them for my patio lights so I don’t need to use the switch to control them. I also use them for a fam in my bedroom as I described above. I also have one more that I typically use for my Christmas lights that I used on my Christmas tree. It was pretty fun to ask Siri to turn on the Christmas tree this past Christmas.

iDevices Indoor Switch

There are different brands that make these types of switches, but the ones that I personally use are iDevices Indoor Switches. I have also setup the iDevices Outdoor Switch for my father-in-law. Overall they have been great, but there are a lot of competitors for these types of devices so other brands can work as well. The iDevices switches allow you to control the power running to them, monitor power usage from each switch, and also have a small night light that you can change to any color you like. As for the night light, it does not illuminate that much other than showing some color so do not consider that in your decision between different models.

The iDevices Switches are 2.4GHz WiFi devices that do not require a hub. They allow easy setup using their app and are HomeKit enabled so you can use Siri commands or using the Home App on your iOS device. IDevices also supports Amazon Alexa as a Skill.

Light Switches

One of the newer items to start coming out are smart light switches. Smart light switches are similar to the switches I mentioned above but rather to replace light switch fixtures in your wall and controls the devices that are connected to those switches. So if you have lighting fixtures that are controlled by a light switch and you want to control those with the touch of your phone then these are what you are looking for.

Koogeek Smart Light Switch

I have a one dual switch at home for my setup. The item I am using is a Koogeek 2-Gang Smart Light Switch. I used this in our dining room to replace a 2-gang Light Switch to control our Kitchen Lighting and our Dining Room Ceiling Fan and Light. The switch features two clicking switches that allow you to toggle on and off the switch with a simple press or using your smart device. They guide you through installation using the app, but unless you have some electrical know-how and are comfortable turning off the power using a breaker, I would highly recommend a professional install.

The Koogeek Light Switch are 2.4GHz WiFi devices that do not require a hub. They allow easy setup and installation via their app and are HomeKit enabled so that you can use Siri or the Home App on your iOS devices. Koogeek also supports Amazon Alexa as a Skill.

Deadbolt

Smart deadbolts are simply a deadbolt that can connect to your phone in some way. They allow you to do unlock the deadbolt using an app or your phone. Though it seems simple, there are different variations of these types of devices. Some opt to be more of a retrofit that allows you to use part of your existing deadbolt, while some require you to replace the whole deadbolt from your door. Brands like August go through the retrofit route and just attach to the rear of your deadbolt. SCHLAGE chooses the route of whole deadbolt replacement. But some will connect to WiFi, some will connect to Bluetooth, so there are lots of variation here and make sure to pick based on your needs and functionality.

SCHLAGE Sense

I have setup the SCHLAGE Sense deadbolt on my front door at home and I really love this product. The SCHLAGE Sense is a whole deadbolt replacement so it takes a little time and effort to replace. For most installations, if you can work a screwdriver you should be able to replace your deadbolt in about 20 minutes as long as you have a standard door and standard measurements.

The SCHLAGE Sense allows you to use the app or Home App to unlock the lock, you could also program multiple key codes and set a schedule for those codes’ access. You also have the availability  to remotely unlock or lock the lock if you need to let someone in while you are away.

The SCHLAGE Sense lock uses a 2.4GHz WiFi device that does not require a hub. The installation is pretty simple if you door was installed using standard measurements. The lock is HomeKit enabled so you can use Siri and the Home App, and can also be controlled by Amazon Alexa.

 

My next Smart Home Products

Thermostat

One of the items I have been wanting for a long time is a smart thermostat. When the Nest Thermostat first launched I found it amazing the things that it could do. Smart thermostats not only allow you to control the temperature with your phone, but you can setup schedules for the system to turn on and off, it can shut off if it detects you are not at home. My only holdback to purchasing one at the moment is that I do not have central air in my home. Here in Southern California, SoCal Edison will also often offer promotions to get some of the costs of a smart thermostat down by enrolling in power savings programs.

Ecobee4

If I were to buy one today I would buy the Ecobee 4 Thermostat. It has separate room sensors to get readings from different parts of the house rather than only at the thermostat. The Ecobee 4 also is HomeKit enabled and has built-in Amazon Alexa.

IR Remote Hubs

One of my next purchases will be the Logitech Harmony Hub. This device allows you to control 8 different devices with WiFi or IR controls. It allows you to program different scenes in your home and different Activities to automatically turn on and switch inputs for your home entertainment. Basically think of a universal remote control for up to 8 devices, but you use your phone or tablet to control a box in your multimedia shelves or cabinets to send out the signal.

Logitech Harmony Hub

Logitech makes a hub that sits on/in your multimedia cabinet/shelves and emits the IR signals to your devices to power them on, change the volume, change the channel, etc. It is accessible through an app on your phone or tablet, or you can get an add-on physical remote. The remote interface on a tablet is much more preferable. The Hub can store the remote control commands for up to 8 devices and create as many as you want Activities.

Activities on the Harmony Hub are things such as: Watch TV, Listen to Music, Watch Movie on Projector, etc. You can use these activities to configure your sound system, your TV, and any other devices so that they work together. I have an older Harmony Remote and basically when I run the Watch TV Activity it does this: Power On surround sound, Power On the Samsung TV, Power On Xbox One, Power On DVR, Change TV to HDMI1, Change Receiver to SAT/TV. All of that is from one command.

The Harmony Hub can also connect to some WiFi Devices such as Philips Hue. This adds a layer of functionality such as when you use the Activity Watch Movie on Projector, it can dim the lights for you as an addition to the other Power On commands. The Harmony Hub is a 2.4GHz WiFi device but is not HomeKit enabled. Logitech is considering looking into it in the future, but they are Amazon Alexa enabled currently.

 

Part 4: Home Automation

I will be working on Part 4 this week. Home Automation is the fun part of a smart home and will hopefully make things easier for you. For more information on Smart Home products, in the future I will break down those sections even further and talk more specifically.

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