In this post, I’m going to talk about my adventures with home automation. It may sound negative, but I’m just painting a true picture of what I discovered.
When I say home automation - I mean basic home automation - I’m talking about using Alexa to do simple things - like switching on a lamp or lights in a room.
This isn’t a how-to guide. There’s so much out there and it varies depending on what tech you use and how you go about it.
The simplest way, I think is the most expensive - to get started you could get a Phillips HUE lights kit - this comes with a controller and some WiFi bulbs - you can then make Alexa aware of these new devices and control them using voice commands - i.e. “Alexa turn on living room lamp”.
With this approach, you may end up with different controllers for different technology, hence why I believe its more expensive.
The cheapest way is to get WiFi lightbulbs and use their own apps to set them up, then add them to Alexa. But this way you will end up with various different apps on your phone for all the different tech you automate.
My current setup
I have two amazon echo dots, one in the kitchen and another in my office (this one used to be in the living room until we upgraded it to an echo) and an echo in the living room.
I have two Sonos play 1 speakers in the kitchen and a Sonos amp in the living room connected to the surround sound speakers.
The new living room TV is also connected to Alexa via an Alexa skill - this is a fairly new addition - we can ask Alexa to pause/resume YouTube/Netflix etc without having to reach for the remote control and we can switch the TV on/off (but don’t tell the kids).
Recently I got five smart plugs that control a lamp in the hallway, our tortoises’ vivarium, an outside tree light, my office heater and one for the Christmas tree and outside lights (which is now in the loft until December!). These have all been added to Alexa and can be controlled via the app or a voice command. I have also created routines for those devices - for example, the hallway lamp comes on in the evening - saves us turning on the hallway lights (about 10 spotlights!).
In the living room, we have a lamp with a Z-Wave Plus Aeotec LED WiFi bulb - I tried a cheaper alternative before, a TP-Link, but every time we wanted to use it, it couldn’t be ‘seen’ on the network.
The echo dot in the kitchen is mainly used to tell Alexa what music to play on the two Sonos play 1 speakers, which are set up in stereo mode.
How it’s going so far…
So far this has been a stressful adventure into home automation and I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Why has it been stressful? Well, I have this love/hate relationship with technology - I love when it works, absolutely hate it when it doesn’t work as it should.
The most frustrating thing about home automation so far for me is that it’s not 100% reliable. Devices will sometimes stop working and you don’t know whether the controller has a problem or its a problem with Alexa. Currently, we can’t turn the TV on/off via Alexa - we don’t know why, Alexa says to check network connection on the TV, but that’s fine because Netflix works.
It relies on WiFi and an internet connection, for Alexa to be able to control a device that was set up via the controller, it needs to do this via the internet - for some reason they don’t do it through WiFi even though it means they are in the same network. This isn’t an issue for someone that lives in a city or town with really good internet - we live in the countryside and internet access is not the best.
It’s not ready for everyone…
Home automation is really popular at the moment but I don’t think its ready for everyone yet. Asides from it not being cheap to get started with, it’s also not very plug ‘n’ play and forget about it.
One thing to consider when going down the home automation rabbit hole is how this will affect the other members of your household. For example, I named the lamp in the downstairs hallway, “Hallway Lamp” but none of the other household members knew that’s what it was called - I’ve heard them trying various different names.
Ideally, I need a tablet with some sort of dashboard, accessible to everyone so they can interact with the automation manually. This isn’t as simple as you’d hope.
The Vera controller app does not have great UX or a nice design, also for some reason, you can’t do everything via the app - that you can if you connect directly to the controller via a web browser - not even to add a new device.
Finally, to get into the more advanced side of home automation, it appears you need to be an electrician.
My plan, when I started this venture, was to be able to switch on/off the main lights in some of the rooms and the hallways. This proved to be more difficult than I was hoping for because it involves electricity and I’m not an electrician and looking at the wiring made no sense at all to me, especially when you have a 3 way light switch on one side of the room and a 2 way on the other.
I bought some of these Z-Wave Fibaro Single Switch, but they won’t fit in a standard box behind the light switches. I also bought some of these Z-Wave TKB Double Relay Wall light switches but again, too complex for me to figure out.
I’d like to get some of the main lights automated - especially the outside lights, but I’m going to wait for the next time I have an electrician coming round and will get them to wire some of the Fibaro modules in for me.
I’ll probably get a few more smart plugs, but first I need to sort out my WiFi - I think this is one of the main causes of issues. I’ve bought a Ubiquity WiFi AP, but there’s a lot of moving of equipment that needs to happen before I can set it up.
So have you ventured into the home automation rabbit hole yet? Let me know how it went.
I know, I know, another post that isn’t about web design stuff. I’ve just not been doing much web design stuff worth mentioning or writing about. But now I’m back to work and have a freelance project too, I’ll have more to write about.