by Lance Somoza

Home Smart Home (Part I)

They say home is where the heart is. If that’s true, then a smart home is where the brain is. We are on the precipice of solving a truly first-world problem: never having to leave the couch. We’re at the beginning of an age when our homes will welcome us upon arrival and react when we depart.

My wife and I moved into a new house last year, and having a six month old gave us the perfect opportunity to dip our feet into the Smart Home pond in an effort to make our lives easier. When I say us, I really mean me. Bless my wife, though; she is amazingly supportive and immediately loved the house’s new smarts. Being able to turn out all the lights in the house while lying in bed taking care of a newborn is a mini-miracle for new parents. Seriously. If you know a new set of parents, buy them a smart switch to control their lights—they will love you forever.

This is Part I of ‘Home Smart Home’, a series on chasing the smart home dream.

Part I

This series aims to be informative about the huge selection of Smart Home options, ideals, and possibilities. I’ll talk mostly about my own experience with Apple’s HomeKit platform and its compatible devices, but you’ll find other components addressed as well. Now, for a general overview of Smart Homes and my setup…

Finding Its Way

The Smart Home market is a hot mess. There are so many options and paths to go down, it can be overwhelming to come up with a comprehensive plan. Just now, we are starting to see increased accessibility for the general public, and a tinkering dream for those who love to get their hands dirty and occasionally pull their hair out.

So where do you start? Well, you first need to ask yourself what you really want. It all comes down to platforms, hubs, protocols, and your existing computers/mobile devices.

HomeKit Platform

If you mostly have Apple iPhones, iPads, and Watches in your household, buying HomeKit-certified devices will probably be your best bet. Here’s why…

Upsides

  • iOS 10 and up has a built-in Home app and Control Center menu for easily adding, managing, automating, and controlling your devices. It’s not the end all, be all for automation, but iOS 11 has a couple nice additions.
  • Apple TV, iPad, or HomePod1 will act as a Home Hub, allowing you to control your devices from anywhere.
  • Using Siri to control your Homekit-certified devices.
  • End-to-end device encryption. This is important, even if security is never sexy. So many IOT (Internet of Things) or Smart Home devices are vulnerable to hacking, so Apple’s stringent certification process is a nice approach. It’s also why there aren’t a ton of manufacturers on board with HomeKit.
  • Quite a few unsupported devices can be added to HomeKit using Homebridge running on a PC, Mac, or Raspberry Pi.
  • You can connect many devices to both HomeKit, as well as Wink, Alexa, etc. at the same time.

Downsides

  • HomeKit is a closed system that requires Apple devices to setup and control.
  • It definitely has its bugs from time to time.
  • Not a ton of devices are Homekit-certified, although the number is steadily increasing.
  • Needs more control over automation.
  • Apple’s HomePod for voice control doesn’t launch until later this year.

Hubs

SmartThings, Wink, and other do-it-all hubs are popular for a reason. They bring together a majority of the popular wireless protocols in one package and offer great automation as a result. They also work with Android and iOS devices.

Other hubs may still be required depending on the product, and it can get confusing. For instance, Lutron Caséta dimmers require either a Lutron Caséta Bridge or a Wink Hub to pair with. Then, the Caséta Bridge will be able to integrate with HomeKit, but the Wink Hub won’t (unless you use the aforementioned Homebridge).

Voice Control

Amazon Echo and Google Home are primarily voice interfaces for your smart home. They only have a Wi-Fi radio and can only communicate with smart devices over the internet. They cannot communicate directly via other means (e.g. Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Z-Wave). They are extremely useful, though. I have an Echo Dot in my setup, and it’s faster and more communal than using Siri on an Apple device.

Apple announced its entry into this market earlier in the week with a speaker-first device called HomePod, set to premier this December. Apple has confirmed the unit will act as a Home Hub, and Siri is built in. This will definitely be the way to control your HomeKit devices via voice when it comes out.

Wi-Fi Devices

Some devices connect directly to Wi-Fi and don’t need a hub. This is usually nice, but may depend on your exact setup. For instance, my two Smart Plugs both connect directly to Wi-Fi.

My Current Setup

  • Schlage Sense Deadbolt
  • Ring Doorbell Pro
  • 8x Lutron Caséta Wireless In-Wall Dimmers paired to a Lutron Caséta Bridge.
  • 2x Kuna Security Camera Lights, 1 Kuna Companion Light
  • Cree Connected Bulb paired to a Wink Hub (first generation). This is used as my porch light (read why below).
  • Dimmable LED bar plugged into an iHome Smart Plug used under the bed as a nightlight.
  • Nest Thermostat connected to HomeKit via a Raspberry Pi running Homebridge2
  • 2x Nest Protect Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Detectors
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • 2x fourth generation Apple TVs (acting as Home Hubs for remote control).
  • Normal strand of patio lights connected to a Kogeek Smart Plug.

Helpful Scenes

Scenes can be created by a host of different apps, hubs, or platforms to trigger many devices at once. Here’s a couple I find useful (set up with Apple’s Home app).

Hey Siri, good night

Siri locks the front door, turns off all lights except: Turns on the under-bed nightlight (LED bar plugged into an iHome smart plug). Looks pretty cool under the bed.

Hey Siri, set the movie scene

Siri dims the living room lights and turns off the foyer lights. Simple, but effective.

Automation

Automation is the “killer app” when it comes to the Smart Home. The ability for your home to react to you and the world is the ultimate convenience, not to mention it being insanely-cool-sci-fi-futuristic. There are many simple and complex ways to achieve automation, and here’s a couple examples I find useful.

Using the Life360 app and IFTTT:

When the first family member arrives home, the Life360 app triggers a Lutron Caséta scene that turns on select lights via IFTTT. I love this setup, because it won’t do anything if I arrive home and my wife is already there (and vice-versa).

When the last family member leaves home, the Life360 app triggers a Lutron Caséta scene that turns off all Caséta dimmers.

Upon Arriving Home

Apple’s Home app prompts me to unlock my Schlage Sense Deadbolt right on the home screen (or on my Apple Watch). It doesn’t just unlock automatically–this is a security feature of HomeKit. With a quick tap, my door is unlocked.

Exterior Lighting

The Kuna Smart Lights, Cree Connected [porch] light, and patio light strand connected to a Kogeek Smart Charger all come on at sunset and turn off at sunrise. This is super convenient, and nobody ever has to flick a switch. I’m using Smart Bulbs/appliances outside because they’re more convenient for outdoor use, and usually cheaper than a smart light switch.

Hopefully you found part one of this series informative. Part II will focus more on lighting itself (requirements, options, etc.). Until next time…


  1. HomePod is coming December 2017. ↩︎

  2. I originally had an Ecobee 3, but it just didn’t work (kept power-cycling). ↩︎

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