My Automated Home – January 2017

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It’s been nearly a year since I last posted a rundown of all of the smart home tech I’m using in my house.  Here is a list of everything I have in place and some of my wishlist items and projects for the year to come.

Garage

What’s Installed: 

Smart Features In Use:

  • Auto on lights.  The wall mounted control boxes have motion sensors with nearly a 180 degree field of view.  The instant someone walks into the garage through the main doors or the door to the house the lights come on.  This is an awesome feature, as the garage is one place where you are very likely to be carrying things and not have a free hand to turn on the lights.  This can be toggled on or off, if for some reason you love the dark.
  • Auto closing doors.  Another optional feature, you can easily program the doors to close after 1, 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity (as detected by the motion sensors).  This can be overridden with a hold button on the control units.
  • Remote opening/closing doors.  This requires the MyQ internet gatewayand the Chamberlain MyQ app.  This alerts me when a door has been open for a prescribed amount of time, in my case four hours.  It also gives me the ability to open the garage for guests or deliveries, or close it if I left home and forgot.
  • Blue Link Apps and Alexa Skill.  With the apps on our phones and the Alexa skill installed, we have a number of options to remote start, lock, unlock or find our Sonata.  Check out my review of Blue Link here.

Integrations:

  • It’s been three years since I bought my openers and almost a year since I last updated this column, and still, MyQ doesn’t work with anything.  Chamberlain/Liftmaster claims this is a security measure, but I think it’s also partially because they don’t care.  The one thing that does work with MyQ is, oddly, Nest.  This is supposed to give your thermostat a better idea of whether you’re home or away, but I’ve never noticed any improvement.  I can also control my thermostat from the MyQ app, for all those times I’m remotely operating the doors and also want to check the heat I guess.
  • Hyundai Blue Link has an Alexa skill that is useful when it recognizes your commands.  You have to pay a yearly fee to use Blue Link, and there are three tiers to the fee structure, so depending on what you want it could be $99-$299/year.  Having used this for a couple of months I won’t be paying the fee when the trail period is over.  It’s just too slow to use routinely.  If there is one integration that MyQ should allow, it’s integration with cars!  Unfortunately that’s not the case.

Kitchen

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • Insteon Scenes. We currently have scenes for Nighttime, which turns on all of the downstairs lights at dusk and turns them off after we go to bed, Movie Time, which dims the den and living room lights, turns off the kitchen lights and stops the Sonos, and Dinner, which turns off the den lights, dims the living room and kitchen lights and plays a preset station on Sonos.
  • Turn lights on at dusk.  Through the Insteon app, I configured the kitchen lights to automatically turn on at dusk and turn off at 11:30 PM in case we forget to turn them off at night.

Integrations:

  • All of the Insteon devices are controlled by our Amazon Echo.  I have groups configured for “den lights,” “living room lights,” “kitchen lights,” “downstairs lights,” and “the whole house.”  This allows us to use natural commands to control each room, the entire downstairs or the whole house, which is the downstairs plus backyard lights.  I had issues getting Alexa to recognize groups called “everything” or “all of the lights” so I went with “the whole house.”
  • The Insteon hub can control the Sonos to a degree, and we are using it in scenes, but the Echo cannot trigger the scenes or control the Sonos.  The same goes for the Nest, which is integrated with the Insteon hub, but not controlled by the Echo in that manner.

Dining Room

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • Daily schedules.  It took a lot of tweaking at first, but this has been in place for almost two years running the same schedule.
  • Monthly reports.  The reports are kind of weak, but I look at them each month hoping they will provide better insight.  Usually it will show my utilization, my leaves earned and then some generic possibilities as to why I used as much or as little heat as I did.  I expected more out of these.
  • The app.  This really only gets used if we are away for an extended period and on our way home.
  • Google Now.  Sometimes I’m too lazy to check, raise or lower the heat so I just ask Google Now to do it.

Integrations:

  • MyQ.  Yeah, so my thermostat can apparently talk to my garage doors and they can try to figure out if I’m home or not based on an open/close cycle…or something.  I still have not seen any value from this.
  • Insteon.  If/when I create a “Vacation” scene I will incorporate the Nest.  Otherwise I have no reason to be adjusting my heat all that often.
  • Protect.  The protect in the center hall of my first floor is acting as a motion sensor for the thermostat because no one ever walks through the dining room.  This seems to be helping it figure out when we are home or away.  I had to disable the motion sensor because I now work from home and don’t always want the heat on simply because I’m home.
  • Echo.  Google finally allowed Alexa to control Nest devices in mid 2016.  This is helpful to a degree, but to date Alexa can’t tell you the current temperature of the house using ANY thermostat.  This is a huge limitation in my eyes, so I continue to use the Reflect skill to get this information from my Nest and Honeywell thermostats.

Den

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • Insteon Scenes. We currently have scenes for Nighttime, which turns on all of the downstairs lights at dusk and turns them off after we go to bed, Movie Time, which dims the den and living room lights, turns off the kitchen lights and stops the Sonos, and Dinner, which turns off the den lights, dims the living room and kitchen lights and plays a preset station on Sonos.
  • Harmony Activities.  Without our Harmony remote my wife would never watch TV.  Or she would kill me.  Either way, it wouldn’t go well.  The Harmony controls our TV, cable box, Roku and stereo completely seamlessly.  Hitting an activity button turns on all the proper devices and sets the right inputs without anyone ever having to know what to do.

Integrations:

  • All of the Insteon devices are controlled by our Amazon Echo.  I have groups configured for “den lights,” “living room lights,” “kitchen lights,” “downstairs lights,” and “the whole house.”  This allows us to use natural commands to control each room, the entire downstairs or the whole house, which is the downstairs plus backyard lights.  I had issues getting Alexa to recognize groups called “everything” or “all of the lights” so I went with “the whole house.”

Living Room

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • Insteon Scenes. We currently have scenes for Nighttime, which turns on all of the downstairs lights at dusk and turns them off after we go to bed, Movie Time, which dims the den and living room lights, turns off the kitchen lights and stops the Sonos, and Dinner, which turns off the den lights, dims the living room and kitchen lights and plays a preset station on Sonos.
  • Protect.  The protect works as a motion sensor for the Nest thermostat.  I also enabled Pathlight, to light up the short hallway if it is too dark, but the light isn’t very bright and I’d rather save the battery power, so I’m going to disable it.
  • Echo.  Virtually every feature that can be used, we are using.
  • SmartCam motion recording.  Since Samsung quietly pushed an update that destroyed the connection to Google Drive, I’m recording any motion events locally.
  • IFTTT.  Because Hue has no built in feature to turn lights on at dusk and off at a particular time (this drives me insane), I have a couple of IFTTT recipes to accomplish this otherwise simple task.

Integrations:

  • The Echo is the hub of our smart home.  It currently controls all of our Insteon, Hue and Wemo devices, and has triggers set up for the Nest and Honeywell thermostats.  I also created a couple IFTTT recipes to give it partial control of the RainMachine sprinklers.

Outside

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • The Wemo switches are all configured to automatically turn on at dusk and shut off at 11:30 PM.
  • The Wemo at my back door has a long press action that turns on both Wemo switches.
  • The LED entry lights were basically set it and forget it.  The switches controlling them are always in the on position, and the lights come on at dusk and shut off at dawn like clockwork.
  • The LED flood lights for the driveway only operate when motion is detected and only when it is dark.  They get the job done and cost a fraction of what our old always on incandescent floodlights cost to run.
  • The RainMachine is installed in my basement, but obviously controls the exterior sprinklers.  After the initial setup, I haven’t interacted with it often.  It determines when to water and how much.

Integrations:

  • The Wemo’s are all flawlessly controlled by the Echo.  I can turn on “the backyard lights” to access them all at once, or I can toggle them individually with separate groups I set up.  They are also included in a group with my Insteon devices called “the whole house” to allow me to toggle my entire first level and backyard at once.
  • The pool light now has an Insteon dimmer that can be controlled via the Insteon app or Alexa.  I can set the light anywhere from 10% to 100%.  This is part of its own Alexa group as I don’t always want it to turn on with the outside lights (ie mid winter when the cover is on and there is a foot of snow on the pool).
  • I created IFTTT recipes to operate the RainMachine with the Echo (see below).  For now, the most important rule was being able to tell Alexa to turn off the sprinklers, in the event we were using part of the yard when they came on.  I also built a fun way to politely ask people to not walk on my front lawn…also below.

Upstairs

What’s Installed:

Smart Features In Use:

  • The Honeywell thermostat has been running the same program for almost three years.  I also configured it to send me and my wife hot and cold alerts when the temperature is above 80 or below 60, so we can do something about it.
  • The Fire TV stick now comes with Alexa, and when it is paired with an Echo through the Alexa app, you can control your devices with voice commands through the remote.  This has been awesome for all those times when I am just falling asleep and the dog decides she needs to go out.  Turning on the lights before I go downstairs has eliminated a lot of cursing when tripping over dog toys.
  • Adding Echo Dots to my master bedroom and office mean no more yelling downstairs to ask Alexa for things and brings all of the awesome features of the Echo to the two most used rooms on the second floor.
  • The Hue Wireless Dimming Kit comes with a wall mountable remote that has been installed in our nursery.
  • Although the baby has yet to be born, she’s already involved in the smart home revolution.  There are two HD, night vision cameras with full pan, tilt and zoom control in the nursery, wirelessly controlled by a 5.1″ touch screen monitor.  The idea is to later transition the cameras to the basement playroom…after we finish the basement, of course.

Integrations:

  • As mentioned above, the Echo/Fire TV integration comes in handy.
  • The Honeywell thermostat kind of works with Alexa.  There is a skill and I can control it with voice commands, but nine times out of ten it just doesn’t work.  As with Nest and all other thermostats, not being able to ask Alexa what the current temperature is happens to be a serious limitation.

Other

Wishlist

  • I’m still waiting for the day that Chamberlain/Liftmaster allows anything to work with MyQ.  Many companies have compromised and allowed only close or lock commands to be issued to doors or locks, which makes sense to me, but not to Chamberlain.  Even having to say a PIN would be acceptable.  Some day…
  • I am still looking for a good motion sensing dimmer for my hallway that knows not to turn on during the day.  I may have to check out Hue or Insteon’s offerings.
  • I’m expecting a lot from the previously announced Echo/Sonos integration and hope it allows for Echo whole house synched playback.
  • I’d still love to see the Sonos Connect come down in price.  The idea of linking my 7.2 two room stereo system with my Play:1 is appealing, but $350 is a little steep.
  • I have five ceiling fans that I would love to control with Insteon fan controllers.
  • Smart blinds for all of my first floor windows would be awesome.  We get a lot of sun and this would really help regulate the house temperature during the day.
  • I will be installing Insteon sensors on all of the first floor doors this year.
  • After a few friends have had water heater issues in the past year, I plan to put Insteon moisture sensors in the basement.
  • Now that I have a Ring doorbell, I’m going to take a look at the Ring Stick Up Cam to monitor my driveway and possibly one for the pool.