smart home

My (Sort of) Smart Home

My family has been living in our new house for almost three weeks now and it’s starting to feel like home! There are a lot of things I like (OK… LOVE) about our new house. One of them is that Doug and I have turned it into a mini- smart home. Please bear in mind that neither of us are “techies.” Our version of a smart house is far more basic than what experts would consider a smart home. A Mensa-level smart house, it is not. But, we’ve done some small, easy things that have made our lives just a tad bit smoother. I thought others might benefit from what we’ve learned so here goes!

The Basic Products

In 2017, I wrote this post about how to turn your house into a smart home over a weekend. It included a basic rundown of some of the most popular smart home systems that we used in our house in Old Town. I won’t explain them all again, but I encourage you to read it to get an understanding of some of the base products that will make your house work for you!

Examples include the Nest Thermostat, Nest Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors (HIGHLY RECOMMEND for those with kids – both for peace of mind as well as easily silencing alarms when you burn something in the kitchen), Smart Locks / Doorbells / Alarms / Security Cameras, Smart Lightbulbs, Plugs and Switches. Of course, every smart home needs a device like the Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home.

One update to the post is that we now have the Nest Smart Lock, which was not yet available at that time. I love about this lock because it creates hundreds of different codes to give out to different people that need to access a home (sitters, houseguests, contractors, cleaners). Instead of giving out keys, you provide people with codes. When someone uses the code to enter the house, you’ll receive an automatic alert. You can restrict entry times and revoke the code at any time. The Nest Smart Lock offers us much better control over access to our home.

Setting up “Routines”

While the products on their own are certainly good enough, it’s how you use them together that really changes the game! Essentially, you can set up commands when you get to a specific location (for example, home), at a certain time of day, and/or with your voice (among other options). In our house, we’ve set up a lot of different “routines” in the Alexa app for various situations. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I’ve included a description of a few of my favorites.

Good morning” commands

  • Our Room: When I say, “Alexa, Good morning”, the following things happen:
    • Our lights automatically come on to 30% brightness
    • Alexa reads me the weather, my first appointment for the day, the New York Times flash briefing and other news stories
    • There are many other things we could do with this… for example, start your coffee machine if you are using a smart plug for it, turn on your TV, read you an audible book etc.)
  • Kids’ Rooms: When I say, “Alexa, Wake up Brooks” or “Alexa, Wake up Wesley,” the following things happen:
    • Their lights automatically come on to 30% brightness.
    • Their sound machines turn off (they are plugged into a smart plug)

“Good night” commands

  • The same things happen in reverse. The kids’ lights and sound machines turn off and a brief nightly news briefing is read in our room.

Other Light Commands

  • Exterior: Coming home to a dark front door and having to fumble for your keys is a major hassle. Our exterior lights connect to smart light switches so we can program when they will be on and off. I know this one is pretty basic, but I love it! You could also set it to when you arrive home to turn on your exterior lights so they aren’t on unnecessarily.
  • Interior: We also have certain lights in our house timed to turn on and off based on when we will be in the rooms. Not a game changer either, but again, makes life just a little easier and we never accidentally leave the lights on (and waste energy).

Smart Plug Commands

I feel like there is a whole world of things that could be controlled via smart plug that could make life easier and reduce your energy output and costs. I’m just leaving that thought there for you to explore what would make YOUR life easier! You just plug that device into the smart plug so when you turn the plug on, it turns on that device. Think coffee machine, TV, sound machine, fan, bubble machine for kids…I mean, anything!

New Alexa Products

Most of these devices really need to work with a smart home hub like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. As I mentioned, we are an Echo household. In addition to the standard “Echo” and “Echo Dot” devices Amazon has been selling for a few years, they now also sell the “Echo Spot” and the “Echo Show.” The echo dots work just fine in most scenarios (we use them in the kids’ rooms), but we added a Spot and a Show when we moved to our new house.

The Echo Spot is a small sphere with a display screen, which I have on my nightstand. During the day, it displays the time digitally along with the weather. At night, it auto-dims to a soft light that won’t keep you up. You can ask Alexa to show you your kids’ rooms if you have a camera set up or watch the news or videos.

We have the Echo Show set up in our kitchen. It has a 10-inch display screen, so it is great if you want to watch cooking videos for recipes or distract your kids by having Alexa play their videos! I also love being able to ask Alexa who’s at the front door since it works with our Nest doorbell.

The Bottom Line

That’s all we’ve done so far, but it feels like progress! These commands were all very easy to set up. Once you’ve purchased the Alexa (or Google Home) hub and the corresponding devices like smart bulbs, switches or plugs, etc. you’ll just need to tap the app a few times to get rolling.

The light bulbs and plugs are very easy to set up. The switches take a little bit more work as there is a bit of wiring involved. Set-up of the bigger systems like the Nest doorbell, door lock, cameras, thermostats or smoke detectors are also slightly more involved. They can also start to add up financially. I recommend a slow switch to smart products over time depending on your needs. I promise, it will make a difference.

That’s all for now – I’ll report back as we continue to make our home smarter and greener, and our lives easier!

For more of our home improvement ideas, click here!

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