Monday, March 12, 2018

Smart Homes are Awesome!

Older video, I'll be updating this later.

This will be an overview of how I use some of my smart home products and  the backstory on how I got started. I honestly have too many products to review each one individually in this article. I knew for a long time that I wanted a smart home. What does this entail do you ask? I mainly wanted the ability to turn  lights on and off with my smartphone. Another reason was just for convenience, who doesn't want to turn lights on and off from the couch? You can build a simple or sophisticated smart home, mine is more on the sophisticated side. More about that later.

I bought my first smart home product to save some money. The year was 2012, my A/C bill was pretty high. I had a thermostat that had the built in schedule, but it didn't know when I was away from home. That could be a huge savings if my thermostat could automatically go into away mode when I wasn't there. I had read on the internet that there was a new "smart thermostat" that was heading to the market. As soon as I laid my eyes on it online I knew I wanted one, so I placed an order. At that time Google didn't own Nest, and they didn't even have an Android app. I received the Nest thermostat in the mail, installed it, and it's been great ever since. You may even recall a blog post where I reviewed it.

The next thing I needed was a central home hub for all the devices to connect to and communicate with each other. At the time there were only several options, Alexa didn't even exist yet. The three main ones were SmartThings, Iris, and Wink. There may have been a few more really expensive options that I wasn't even going to consider. I chose Wink as my home automation hub and have been happy with it every since. Iris had a monthly fee and Samsung owns SmartThings (they had just purchased them.) Just a few years back Samsung had purchased Boxee and buried them. I was worried the same thing would happen to SmartThings.

From there I bought the Chamberlain MyQ garage controller, a few light switches, and some bulbs. I didn't want to go too crazy and get everything at once. I slowly built my smart home so I could verify everything was working along the way.

The other reason I chose a hub was because I wanted to use Z-wave and Zigbee devices. Without getting too detailed, Z-wave and Zigbee are 2 different wireless technologies used in a lot of smart home products. I don't care for the WiFi and Bluetooth enabled products because they typically don't integrate well with other devices. Below is a list of devices I own. Some of them integrate through wink with APIs.

Smart Home Products I Own (I'll be reviewing products individually soon.)
1st Gen Wink Hub 
1st Gen Nest Thermostat 
Canary Indoor Camera 
Ring Doorbell Camera 
MyQ Garage Door Opener 
3 Arlo Cameras 
1 GoControl Siren 
5 Go Control Door Sensors 
1 Iris Door Sensor 
2 Go Control Motion Sensors 
1 Iris Motion Sensor 
3 Dome Leak Sensors 
2 Wink Relays 
Quirky Egg Minder 
4 GE Link Bulbs 
2 GE Fan Switches 
2 GE Dimmer Switches 
3 GE 2-way Switches 
4 GE Light Switches 
2 Quirky Pivot Power Genius Outlets 
3 Sengled Elements Classic Light Bulbs 
5 Sylvania RGB Light Bulbs 
1 Sylvania Adjustable White Recessed Light 
2 Aeon Z-wave Plugs 
1 Sylvania Zigbee Smart Plug 
1 Sylvania Flex Outdoor/Indoor Zigbee Light Strip 
Roomba 690 Vacuum 
Bloomsky Weather Station 
1 Harmony TV Smart Control Hub and Remote 
1 Fire TV Streaming Media Player 
1 Echo Show 
1 Echo Spot 
2 Echo Dots 
1 1st Gen Echo 

The great thing about a smart home is that you don't need to only use your app to turn lights on and off. With the help of motion sensors and robots (used to trigger events based on inputs) you can really automate your home. I have 3 motion sensors that I've setup to turn lights on and off at different times. The one downstairs turns on 3 lights when motions is sensed after sunset. Upstairs I have the hallway lights turn on at night for 5 minutes and the stairway light turn on for 1 minute when motion is detected. I have my computer lights in the master bedroom turn on at night with motion until 9 pm, at 9 pm the master bedroom lamps turn on and the computer lights turn off. My garage light turns on at sunset until midnight.

Wink also integrates with other products for automation. I can use the motion from my Ring doorbell to turn my porch lights on at night. When my outdoor Arlo cameras detect motion, outdoor lights turn on. When my indoor Canary camera is set to away (it does this automatically based on your location), my Arlo outdoor cameras arm, door sensors arm, and the motion detectors arm.  If there's smoke in the house, my Nest smoke detectors will turn all the lights on and turn off the air conditioner (to keep the fire from spreading). If my garage door is left open I get a notification. Another neat thing I can do is use my Amazon Echo's to turn lights on and off (the one's that aren't automated). A voice assistant should be one of the first things your purchase for your smart home.

There's three ways to make a smart home automated through Wink. You have robots (setup through Wink), IFTTT, and Stringify. IFTTT and Stringify are 3rd party apps. I use all 3 for different things. I have around 100 robots setup to do various things, many IFTTT robots, and a few Stringify recipes.  For example,  I use IFTTT (if this, then that) to turn all my lights off, turn on door triggers, and arm my Canary camera at night. I have a recipe setup through Stringify that arms the Arlo cameras when the Canary camera arms. I wouldn't really call a home smart without all of these services.

If you're thinking of setting up a smart home I'd recommend starting out with a few items and slowly add more. This way you get a chance to see how all the products you purchase work without being overwhelmed. I can say I definitely recommend Wink as a good smart home hub.

Helpful Links (you can get most of the devices on my list from (List of products that work with Wink)

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