Building a Smarter Home – Part 2: Home Automation

In Part 1 of this series I explored the need to start your Smart Home journey with a strong foundation: a good home hub to centralize all your devices. When all your devices from all the different manufacturers out there can be centralized in one hub, then we can start to make all of these devices interact with each other and control each other irregardless of who makes them, and whether or not they need a million different apps on your phone to control them all individually.

Today I’m going to share some simple automation ideas with you that I put in place in my home. Maybe this will strike up some ideas for you for your own home!

The key with automation is to not get too overkill with it. There’s a fine balance between automation helping you and being invisible in your daily life at home, and when it gets overkill, annoying and unnecessary. Some things just need to be done manually because the criteria of when they happen is too unpredictable.

I won’t go into how I build all this automation in this post. I’m building it all using the Samsung SmartThings platform, and also leveraging the WebCORE plugin and a plugin for my Nest thermostat.

Let’s look at automation ideas by category:

Safety and Security

  • When my wife or I arrive home after dark, turn on the outside lights when we enter the geofence around our home neighbourhood.
    • I’m using a Z-Wave switch to control these lights so I don’t need to put expensive smart bulbs outside. One $40 Z-Wave switch will control all three outside lights, in which I can simply use $0.99 LED bulbs!
  • After dark each day, turn on our living room floor light to 50% (using a Philips Hue bulb)
    • This automation runs whether we’re home or not, even if we aren’t home, light activity will make it look like we are
    • Our upstairs gets extremely dark otherwise, and if coming upstairs from downstairs after dark, having this light on adds to the safety of being able to find the nearest light switch without having to fumble in the dark. It also gives enough light for us to transit around upstairs if we need a drink, etc. without having to turn on the brighter ceiling lights. It sets a nice ambiance.
  • If our front door opens after dark, turn on the right side couch light for five minutes (using a Zigbee door sensor)
    • This is the closest light to our door since I don’t have the actual entrance lights on a smart switch. It gives us good lighting to come in to, especially if our hands are full, and doubles as a safety feature because we can easily see our surroundings on the main floor.
  • If our back patio door opens after dark and the kitchen lights are off, then set them to 50% (using a Zigbee door sensor + Z-Wave wall dimmer switch)
    • This is nice when we come in from the hot tub at night with our hands full of towels because it’ll light up the kitchen so we can see our way. It doubles as a security feature by letting us see inside the house, and also would hopefully scare away anyone if we ever forgot to lock this door and someone else opened it (they would likely think that someone was in the room and had turned the lights on, hopefully enough to make them run).
  • If the SmartThings security system is armed and a door opens or a motion sensor detects motion, turn all the lights on 100%
    • Hopefully enough to shock and scare away any would be intruders
    • If not, having the outside lights also turn on will make it easy for emergency services to see our house number
  • If any Nest smoke alarms go off, turn on all lights 100%
    • This will certainly wake us up if it’s overnight and allow us to immediately survey the house without having to start turning on switches as we go room by room
    • Having the outside lights also turn on will make it easy for emergency services to see our house number if they are needed

Comfort and Convenience

  • When we go to bed and activate the SmartThings goodnight routine with our Google Assistant, then set our preferred overnight temperature and arm the home monitor security
    • This is for energy savings + comfort
  • When our SmartThings good morning routine automatically runs (time will vary by day), then set our Nest to our preferred wake-up temperature and disarm the home monitor security
    • Purely for comfort
  • When both of our phones leave the geofence, lower the home temperature slightly and arm the home monitor security (and do the reverse when they re-enter)
    • Energy savings and security while away
  • If it’s after dark or early morning and the kitchen motion sensor detects motion, then fade on the lights (to 50% if morning, to 100% if evening)
    • This could arguably fall into the security category too, but my main purpose here is that we often have our hands full when transiting into or through the kitchen at night, and not having to elbow the light switch has been a tremendous convenience for us!
  • Google Assistant integration
    • Not so much an automation on it’s own, but being able to control all our SmartThings devices and routines in Google Assistant (we have Google Homes in all main areas of our house) has been fantastic. Expecting guests at night? I can have the outside lights turn on no matter where I am. Settling in for a movie? No problem, I’ll turn off all the lights from my chair.

With the expansion of some Z-Wave switches and some cheap motion and door sensors around the house, I feel I’ve built a smart home that’s just perfect for our needs. In most key areas of the house, having to walk over to a light switch is a thing of the past. On the flip side, some simple automation for safety and security will also have our back, although we hope to never need to use it, should a situation arise where we’ll be thankful for the lights taking care of themselves, and maybe even scaring away unexpected guests in the process.

My ideas are limitless, but without rambling on too much, I hope this post has helped inspire some great automation ideas that you too could implement in your smart home!