Gaia x GTFO = Discounted GPS!


Smart ideas for the Smart Home

 When the internet of things was in its early years the concern about hacking run rampant seemed to dominate the conversation.  In addition, did anyone really want to swap a lock and key for a smart lock that just hit the market?  But as the years have passed, the technology has matured and improved, and having a Smart Home finally seemed like a rational idea.

Make sure that any product you choose is compatible with whatever smart home system you are using--Google Home/Nest, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Samsung Smart Things, etc.  This may become less of a concern once the new smart home standard, Matter, is introduced.  But for now definitely check.  Most products are compatible at least with Google, Amazon, and Apple, but sometimes the only work with one or two.  It's probably also best to choose one ecosystem and stick with it.  That way you can avoid becoming this person whose editor obviously tasked them with making up an article about how challenging it is to manage a smart home.

Everything I operate works with Google Home, which means I can control all of my smart home devices from one location--the Google Home app, and everything discussed here is from the perspective of that interface.  That said, every brand of product will have its own app that is required for setup and sometimes additional features, so even though I do everything through Google Home I still have around 10 apps for different products installed on my phone and tucked away in a folder.

Even though you can control everything from your phone/tablet, it can also be handy to have a hub device like the Google Home mini or Nest Smart Hub or Amazon Echo.  Those devices really harness the power of voice commands in a way that my phone has never been able to replicate.  And voice control is often where the smart home features shine..

The easiest place to start is smart bulbs and/or plugs because they require no hardware installation and as long as you have a smart home you can control them remotely.  There are many brands available on marketplaces like Amazon, but stick to reputable names like Phillips, GE, Feit, (all my lights and plugs are Feit) and others that you recognize.  Setup is easy by following instructions in the manufacturers app, as is connecting the product to Google Home after setup is complete.  

I full-on scoffed at the idea of voice control of lights...I mean, how hard is it to flip a switch?  But then our living room lighting scheme became dominated by lamps rather than overhead lights and being able to create a routine in Google so I can turn off three lamps from anywhere in the world with an internet connection by saying "Ok Google, turn off the lighs" instead of flipping three switches became appealing. 

Light bulbs and plugs alone go a long way to make a home smart.  The brightness and color of bulbs can be adjusted to customize your room.  We put one in the nursery and set it to red and 10% brightness for nighttime bottle-feeds.  Or you can enable effects for holidays like Halloween and Christmas.  Using routines I have my front door light and backyard string lights (on a smart plug) come on at sunset and turn off 30 minutes after sunset every day--Google is the one keeping track of sunset so there's nothing more for me to do.  If something happens I can just say "Ok Google, turn on every light" and every light on a smart bulb/plug/switch turns on.

A Roomba is also an easy addition and is another one of those additions that seems absurd to buy until after a month has passed and you realize you haven't run a vacuum once.  Using voice commands you can start, pause, or end a cleaning session and send the Roomba home.  But you can also schedule days and times for the Roomba to clean, making it a very hands-off home helper.

After bulbs and plugs, the device probably next easiest to install is a smart lock.  That can be done with as little as a screwdriver or two.  This is the one smart device I'm still a little hesitant to fully trust so in choosing a smart lock I opted for one that also has keyed entry to make sure we can always get inside if the battery dies or something.  So far, though, it's worked perfectly.  The Yale app has an option to auto-unlock based on proximity, so I rarely even have to enter my code.  It can also be set up to automatically lock itself after a chosen period--which is helpful for those times a trip to the front yard with a toddler turns into a 45 minute walk around the neighborhood.  Using Android Auto in my car, I can lock and unlock the door by voice (of course voice activation works with any enabled Google device).  Installation was very easy and after the initial set-up and connection to Google there have been no problems at all.  This is another product where I'm only comfortable using a recognizable brand:  August/Yale, Nest, eufy Security, SimpliSafe.

Devices like the Nest thermostat or smart switches require a little bit more know-how or a professional due to the electrical wiring involved.  The smart switch is just a more permanent version of a smart plug.  While the Nest thermostat is, well, a thermostat.  Honestly, I still haven't figured out how to voice control the Nest...but also I have only really wanted to use voice control with it a couple times out of pure laziness.  The reason voice control is so rarely necessary is because it is so inherently smart.  You can create a detailed schedule of temperature settings throughout the day.  You can let it learn from your adjustments and location what temperatures to set itself at throughout the day.  You can set up home/away temps so that based on your location it knows not to waste energy cooling an empty house.  The Nest was actually my first smart device because it was already in the house...technically I guess this was my gateway drug.

Not every smart TV is going to play with your ecosystem.  But using a device like Chromecast with Google TV you can turn it into a really smart TV.  This device lets you both cast directly from your device and also enables numerous apps through the TV that might not be available on your TV's operating system.  It also enables voice control, which can be handy when your hands are full and you need to get your toddler's favorite TV show to come on...the TV can go from being off to playing as easy as "Ok Google, play Trash Truck on Netflix."  The included remote paired almost instantly with my 10-year-old Samsung soundbar, which enabled us to pack away the two remotes we had to use before and replace them with the one Chromecast remote.  This dongle breathed new life into our TV and has been the only interface we've used on our smart TV for the last year or two.  There are frequent articles these days complaining there have been no updates and breathlessly exclaiming it's an obsolete device...again, this is either nonsense created to have content or is the genuine feelings of someone who is just miserable.  There are zero things about using this Chromecast device that feel dated or otherwise requiring update.  It works absolutely perfectly.

One of the best parts of having a smart home is Google Home's routines.  Using a wide variety of triggers, you can easily cause your devices to do various things.  Triggers can be voice commands, times of day, sunrise/sunset, or when an alarm is dismissed.  Some routines I have set are:

  • When I say "Ok google, I'm going to work" all the smart lights in my house turn off except one lamp in the living room, the Google Home mini plays NPR (to keep the dog company), and after 1 minute elapses my front door locks itself.
  • Every day at 30-minutes before sunset my front door light and backdoor string lights turn on for 45 minutes.
  • Every day from 9:00 PM until 5:30 AM the smart plug glider chair in my daughter's room turns on so for the rare occasion where she wakes up and needs to be held we can recline and extend the foot rest--but during the hours when she's awake the chair has no power so she can't extend it.
  • When I say "Ok google, I'm going to bed" the TV and all the interior lights turn off.
Other things you can do are have Google send a text--perhaps good as an emergency contact. broadcast to your family that you're on your way home, get info about your commute, and pretty much anything that you could also do as independent voice command.

The smart home ecosystem continues to grow.  There are the obvious additional devices like security cameras, smoke/CO detectors; and the less obvious things like stoves and refrigerators.  We recently upgraded our ceiling fans and didn't choose smart fans because, you know, who needs them?  But fans these days are all remote controlled, which is a pain to keep up with.  Also, it didn't take long to think "man, I wish I could adjust the baby's fan without waking her up." Or to think "sure would be nice to have the fan come on automatically every night at 10 PM and turn off at 6 AM so we're not accidentally leaving it on all day or, the worst, when you get comfy in bed and realize the fan is off and that's going to make things too warm so you have to get back up.  


Gaia x GTFO = Discounted GPS!


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