Back in the late 90s, my wife and I owned a small 3-bedroom house that was mostly fitted with X10 switches, lamp modules, etc. Everything mostly worked, most of the time (I’ll have to tell you the story of when my kitchen light popped on by itself late at night and I thought my house was on fire). We sold that house in 2002.
About two weeks ago, I started adding some automation to our current house. I wanted to share my experience so far in the form of numbered bullet points. Maybe someone will find it useful, maybe I’ll learn something. Who knows?
Damn, it’s expensive. I started with an Echo Dot, a SmartThings hub and 1 switch. That was pretty cool, maybe I’ll add another switch…and another, before I knew it I had 20 controlled devices.
Not yet ready for most - While the first switch and such worked just fine, some of the later devices really gave me problems. Firstly I bought a GE Fan Switch. I had to install a user-created device handler just to get it to work. I’d think the manufactures of the switches should provide it. I get that they can’t support all the z-wave hubs, but isn’t SmartThings one of the top brands? The next difficult device was a ZL7432US in-wall micro switch. This little sucker needed a device handler, a smart app and some virtual switches to make it work. Good thing I’m a software engineer by trade. Geez.
Too many cloud accounts - I have 4 accounts already. I needed my Amazon account and a SmartThings account when I first started. Not too bad. Then I decided I “needed” some color changing bulbs. Z-wave ones were really expensive, so I bought some wifi ones that were quoted as working with Alexa. Well, turns out they do work, but you need another account with “Magic Hue”. Can we be sure about their web security? Then I decided I had some lamps that I wanted to be able to turn off an on. Again, wifi plugs were cheaper than z-wave so I bought a couple. You guessed it, another new cloud account “Smart Life”. Ugh! I guess I brought this one on myself by not getting the more expensive z-wave devices or Phillips Hue (Do you need a Phillips account?).
Addictive - While this kind of goes along with expensive, I thought I’d bring it up. After telling Alexa to turn on my kitchen light while laying on the couch, I figured out that I actually had to get up and go put the coffee cup under my Kuerig and press a button to make a cup of coffee. I then found myself wondering if Keurig made a z-wave brewer. Man, I’m crazy.
That’s my experience so far. Call it advice from a newbie.
My #1 piece of advice to anyone, both newbie and experienced user alike, is to always research before you leave the house or hit the “Buy” button online when it comes to smart home tech. When I first started, I did the same as you. I must have had (at one point) at least 10 different brands of switches, hubs, bulbs, and outlets. It was CRAZY. Also, like you, I had to have cloud accounts for nearly everything.
After doing this for a few years, I’ve settled into my comfort zone, so to speak. I know what to buy and where to buy it from based on knowing the ST platform. I now know what will work (both with a built-in DTH and a custom one) and where I’ll run into issues with a product. I rarely buy anything that’s WiFi only because I know it’s going to end up being either a cloud-to-cloud integration OR require a 3rd party handler to get it to fit into my system. I just pretty much avoid those at all costs (Yeelight, I’m looking at you).
BTW, There is a solution to the Coffee maker , but it’s (you guessed it) expensive! It’s an add on actuator, a tiny robot finger, which does nothing except press a button when it receives the network request. People do use these when they have an expensive coffeemaker that they love, but it isn’t automated. These work well, I have them in my own house, but they cost about $49 per button pusher, and then you need to do something else so they can talk to Wi-Fi. The easiest is to buy their $80 bridge, which is what I did. But if you’re technical, you can also install the bridge software on something else, and they currently are working on a beta which will run it on the phone.
Anyway, I myself am quadriparetic, so it’s worth it to me. There also some people who have big expensive pieces of equipment like an air-conditioner or intercom where they have added them just because it was easier and cheaper than other alternatives.
For other alternatives, see the “small appliances“ quick browse list under project reports in the community – created wiki.
Hey Davin, great thread, another newbie here, tho you’ve already surpassed me in device count! I started simple before Christmas w/some plugs to control all the Christmas lights. Got a single switch after Christmas and looking forward to adding more, but taking it slow by necessity - refer back to your comment on price! So far I’m mostly really pleased w/the stuff, only real issue has been a couple of phantom state changes on the switch (but never on the plugs … interesting). I gotta say I totally agree w/you about not ready for most - I’m a tech guy so I don’t mind fiddling but I’m disappointed at how many issues this stuff seems to have after so many years on the market. Would have thought it would be more robust by now. (Oh, and I started w/X10 back in the 90’s too … but quickly punted. Man was that a pile )
The device seems to be working, but the device handler isn’t. I can click on the device and then turn the child endpoints on and off ok, but when I add the Multi-Chennel Control SmartApp, the “switches” it creates don’t work. If the light is on, they will turn it off but the app still says the light is on, and therefore, I can’t turn it back on.
Last night I gave up on the Vision relay for my pool light and color wheel. I installed a regular paddle switch in the location where the switch was for my waterfall pump. On the load side of the paddle switch, I branched off to a regular (dumb) switch to control the color wheel. This switch will be left on most of the time, it’s just nice to be able to turn it off if you want a single color. I could have installed 2 separate smart switches, but 99% of the time when you want the pool light on, you also want the color wheel on.
Astute readers will ask, “What about the waterfall pump now?”. For that, I installed a GE Z-Wave Wireless Smart Lighting and Appliance Control which is in an external enclosure. This thing is beefy and really cool. I had to re-route and add some flexible conduit, but I think it really turned out well.
Lastly, I installed a few more switches inside. Did you know that the GE switches don’t work when the little plastic “tab” at the bottom isn’t pushed in all the way? I must have pulled the wires out 3 times trying to figure that one out. Doh!
I’m up to 6 paddle dimmers, 3 paddle switches, 1 fan control, 1 appliance control, 3 add-on switches, 3 Magic Hue Light Bulbs and 4 wifi outlets.
That tab is called an “air gap switch.” Its purpose is to allow someone working on the electrics to disconnect the wall switch from the circuit temporarily. That’s why it needs to be pushed all the way in for normal operation.