As someone that embraces tech and loves to use technology to simplify life, it was inevitable that I would be diving into home automation at some point. Also known as domotics, smart home or smart house, it’s been around for years. It not been until recently, IMHO, has it gotten the point where it had practical AND reliable applications. We are talking about more than dialing your phone with Siri or asking Alexa (Echo) the weather. I am talking about saving you time and simplifying life at a reasonable cost.
Simplifying is the operative word here. Too often new tech, while cool, brings with it lots of complexity and unreliability. Remember the first cell phones in the 80’s? The had to be installed in the car, you could barely get a signal and the cost to make a call… OUCH! But the 2 pound handset held up to your ear and that curly, pigtail antenna on your car showed the world you were really cool (unless they had one too, in which case they knew you were a poser).
If you’re are a techie then trying to make bleeding edge technology work has high entertainment value (My nephew). Most people want to plug it in a have it work and work every time. I have to say home automation is just about there in Sept 2017. I am going to take your through a series of posts that will outline my journey into domotics and how it has worked (or not worked) for me starting with a single problem I wanted a solution for.
Let’s see if home automation could save me from going up and down a flight of stairs to just turn on a fan.
The problem – I have a whole house fan that is located on the second level, a part of the house we go to maybe six times a year. For those who are unfamiliar, a whole house fan is a high capacity exhaust fan in the ceiling rafters that sucks air out of the house and pushes it into the attic. The idea is you open windows around the house in the evening and let the fan draw in the cool air and at the same time cool the attic off and reduce the latent, radiant heat that can keep the house too warm all night. You usually have it on for a short time up to a few hours. In my case the problem is not where the fan is located, its where the controls are… In the upstairs hallway. I know, boohoo, I have to go up the stairs to turn my fan on and off. But because of that we did not use the fan that much. It bugged me enough that I invested time trying to find a way to wire a remote switch on the main level. It was near impossible, short of opening up the drywall and creating quite the mess.
This is where I turned to home automation. I by started looking at remote control switches. Ceiling fans have remotes so there must be a way to remote control a simple 120V wall switch. While there were some solutions they were definitely “one offs” and not the clean solution I was hoping for. At this point I called my nephew for a consult. (I used to hand build HIS computers, now I ask HIM my tech questions). The consensus was home automation with a switch, and an app. But wait, you also need a hub and there were a half dozen brands and technologies. Simple went right out the window!
With spring coming and I wanted to use my darn whole house fan so I set out to get a basic system on the most common standard, figuring I could build on it in the future. I opted for a Samsung Smartthings based system that utilizes Z-Wave (common), ZigBee (not so much) and Bluetooth. I added a GE Z-wave wall switch and I was off to the races! I hardwired the switch, got the hub to talk to my wireless router, downloaded the app and voila, I had a remote controlled fan for $150… SO COOL!
Did it meet my test of simplicity and reliability? Well sort of. Not everyone can wire a 120 volt wall switch and the software setup was a little more involved than a router but it was not too bad. With the learning curve now shortened, adding more home controls was easier and less expensive, but that a story for another post.
Stay tuned for how I am bringing together home automation with my EXTEME DIY Media Room project and integrating Alexa (Echo) and Logitech Harmony remotes.
Do you want to get the most out of home ownership? Are you planning on buying or selling in the near future? Wouldn’t is nice to work with a Realtor that did more than just pass a test and actually knows something (a lot) about houses, remodeling and construction? Whether you are just updating and remodeling or buying and selling, I can likely guide you to the right resources and save you THOUSANDS, just email or call me.