SmartThings Community

Top Level Priorities Checklist: what to consider before you start selecting smart home devices (2019)

I first wrote this as a response in another thread, but I thought it might be better as a standalone.

Before you start selecting devices, it can be helpful to take a few minutes and think about what your own top level priorities are and how your own household will interact with the smart home system every day. This can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. :sunglasses:

Just as an example, here are my own top level smart home project specifications.

  1. Where do you live? I live in Northern California. Temperate weather most of the year. :sun_with_face:

  2. Anything unusual in the architecture of the home that might affect radio signals? it’s a typical glass and wood single-family home. Not much brick, no adobe, no plaster walls with chicken wire lathing, no fancy leaded glass. But we do have underfloor heating, which means extra water pipes in the walls. And there is some metallic wallpaper.

  3. Household makeup? we are three housemates in a very busy house with lots of friends and health aides coming and going, not all of whom have smart phones and many of whom are just temporary visitors. The health aides, in particular, are mostly technology-averse. No little kids right now. No family members with cognitive challenges. We do have pets.

  4. What’s your budget looked at three different ways: initial outlay, replacement set aside, and per month cost I have a budget of up to $500 per room and up to a total of $5000 for the whole house including the hub and voice assistants. I expect each individual device to last for three years. So after the initial Outlay, I have a replacement budget of about $140 a month. But that has to cover not only replacement Devices, But also paying other people to install them. (I am quadriparetic and cannot, for example, replace batteries in a sensor myself.)

  5. what are your expectations for reliability? Are you looking for a “set and forget“ system, or are you willing to tinker with it pretty often? I want a maintenance free operating period Of at least six months and preferably 12. I’m OK with up to 30 minutes a month of “apply this update“ maintenance as long as I can defer it to a convenient time. I only have one techie aide and he only comes on Tuesdays.

  6. how much integration do you want among your different devices and systems? For example, do you want your security functions fully integrated with your home automation functions or are you OK with using different apps in order to get more features? I do not require integration with my other systems, although I prefer things which work with both echo and HomeKit. I can be flexible on that if it meets all of my other requirements.
    .
    Just as an example, I have a hands-free trashcan in the kitchen which has its own voice control built in. I love this thing. :heart_eyes: It doesn’t integrate with anything else and it’s expensive, but it works great, looks good, and is the right size and shape. So the fact that I have to remember a different wake word is fine with me.

  7. do you use an android or iOS phone? Any special requirements? if use of a mobile app is required, it has to work with voiceover on an iPhone. If a tablet app is required, it Has to work with an iPad Mini in landscape, because the iPad is mounted on my wheelchair.

  8. any specific network infrastructure requirements? I don’t have any specific requirements with regards to wi-Fi versus Ethernet, cloud vs local, Or battery powered versus plug-in. I do require that batteries last at least six months.

  9. will any of your smart home devices be outdoors? If so, are the locations sheltered? I have a few outdoor use cases, including a video doorbell in a sheltered location, Smart lighting with motion detection under the roof eaves, and an unsheltered gate sensor. But again it’s California, so no weather extremes for these. No outbuildings.

  10. List no more than three highest priority use cases that you want to solve in the first phase my highest priority use case is a totally handsfree smart lock with the ability to set temporary schedules for up to 15 people. Up to 20 would be even better.

  11. Device selection often depends on a trade off between price, support of complexity, and reliability. That is, simpler, more expensive devices are often more reliable. Being very honest with yourself, how would you prioritize price versus support of complexity versus reliability. Also, are you willing to pick from a preset list of specific device models, or do you want to be free to choose from additional brands?. My top two priorities are reliability that meets the six-month MFOP goal and that anything for daily use be able to be operated completely hands-free. That includes the door lock and the mobile app. I have both Alexa and Siri available everywhere in the house, So Those can be used to meet the hands-free requirement.
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    I am willing to give up quite a bit of support of complexity and device choice in order to meet these two requirements. And I am willing to pay more to meet the MFOP requirement As long as I stay within the budget described above.
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    (note that as of this writing, March 2019, smartthings does not meet either of these requirements. :disappointed_relieved:)
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    Oh, and fire safety is a huge issue for me as I would require assistance to evacuate the house, so I will pay extra for better engineered devices.
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    If you don’t know what “support of complexity“ means in this context, see the following FAQ:
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    How to Get Started Creating Complex Rules in SmartThings (2017) (SmartThings Classic)

  12. Aesthetic/Style requirements? aesthetics are not a super high requirement for me. I don’t care if the switches match the outlets or even if the switches match each other. :grin: I don’t feel the need to hide everything away inside cabinets. I prefer switches that my service dog can operate, but that’s not a requirement, just a preference.

  13. All at once or install in stages? different people have very different philosophies when it comes to The degree of automation they want at any one time. In particular, some people are fine with doing one room at a time, typically starting with the entryway, then the room where the main television is, then the kitchen, then the master bedroom. But other people find it makes them crazy unless they do the whole house at once. (I’m not recommending that, I’m just saying I respect the fact that that’s an issue for some people.)
    .
    I am also personally fine with, for example, only automating one light switch in a room so that there’s one light I myself can turn on and off while my able-bodied housemates can use the regular switches for everything else. We’ve done quite a bit of this for budget reasons. But there are probably more people who like to do all the lighting in one room rather than a little bit of lighting in multiple rooms. It’s just a preference in yourself that you should be aware of in order to increase your long-term satisfaction with your home automation project.

Anyway, those are my project parameters. Reliability and hands-free operation top my list. I know my budget. I’m fine with doing the project in stages. I know my aesthetic requirements. (Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I select for functionality. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:) I don’t require full integration of all systems. And we have a lot of different people coming through the house.

But I hadn’t thought through all of that when I started, and I spent almost 2 years and almost $2000 on a system that I then ended up replacing because it didn’t meet my top requirements. That part was sort of OK because I had intended the initial phase as a pilot anyway, but I still wasted a lot of time and money that I didn’t have to if I had realized upfront for myself that reliability and hands-free operation weren’t things I could just take for granted. They are specific features and I had to look specifically for them in each new purchase.

So, just an example to help spark some ideas in doing your own planning . :sparkles:

And once you are clear on your own preferences and priorities and you want to start thinking about individual devices, take a look at the device class features FAQ. It contains discussion or links to discussions about specific device classes, like good outdoor motion sensors, smart RGBW controllers for dumb LED strips, sirens, etc. just a list of what features different models might have and why they might be important to different use cases. :sunglasses:

Bulbs, switches and sensors, oh my....what to buy (device class features)

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I’ll play, and add on a couple of ideas that came up while going through yours…

1. Where do you live? Coastal Texas, 1 mile off of Galveston Bay. It’s stifling hot / humid from pretty much April 15th through October 15th. The remainder is somewhat temperate to cool. Never gets cold, never gets really dry. This is why smart dehumidification and air conditioning are included in my projects list.

2. Anything unusual in the architecture of the home that might affect radio signals? I am in a ranch style home with a garage workshop that has a dedicated sub panel, and lots of wiring / drops to the various machines, and there is all that cast iron in there… The garage doors are insulated with foil backed insulation thus can interfere with WiFi signal going outside. House is clad with half brick, half masonite siding (being replaced with Hardi Panel). I have lots of category 6 cable, and 2 WiFi routers, one on each corner, one as a main, the second as a WiFi access point to reinforce the network. There is some metallic wall covering as a backsplash in the kitchen (brass). One of the rooms is a home office and recording studio, and is insulated all the way around with Rockwool to inhibit sound transmission. This has yet to seem to cause any RF problems but time will tell.

3. Household makeup? Adult couple, no kids. Working with our church on the possibility of adopting. We have pets. Disabled relative stays with us.

4. What’s your budget looked at three different ways: initial outlay, replacement set aside, and per month cost Initial outlay for basics of system. I had $1,235.00 reimbursement from Lowes for Iris components not carried over that funded the initial setup. Anticipated monthly outlay not to exceed $150.00 / month during remaining setup phases. Once I reach what would be considered ongoing maintenance and saving for replacement system phases, I will switch to paid monitoring and anticipate a $100.00 / month budget. I may be unreasonable with this, but I expect my system to last 10 years + functionally.

5. what are your expectations for reliability? Are you looking for a “set and forget“ system, or are you willing to tinker with it pretty often? I want a maintenance free operating period Of at least six months and preferably 12. I’m OK with up to 30 minutes a month of “apply this update“ maintenance as long as I can defer it to a convenient time. The OP summed it up. I expect maintenance, but I don’t want to pour all my time into it.

6. how much integration do you want among your different devices and systems? For example, do you want your security functions fully integrated with your home automation functions or are you OK with using different apps in order to get more features? I want integration as tight as possible. I am happy with say my Ring system being somewhat integrated, but having the intercom / video features separate. What I am not good with is fishing around for 10 different apps to control the various functions of my HA / Security. For one thing, I don’t see security as being separate from home automation. For example, and I have said this repeatedly in other threads, alarms should trigger LOTS of lights automatically, hence the tie in… Also Alexa integration is a must. While I am on premisis it will be primary interface with the system. I do have some devices I don’t care about integrating. My coffee maker for example. I have a Ninja Coffee Bar, which is great, I have my schedule preset with it, and I just push the delay brew button while I am loading it at night before I go to bed. When I get up in the morning I have fresh brewed coffee waiting for me. Now if I could automate putting the sweet and low, and milk in I would be even better!

7. Do you use an android or iOS phone? Any special requirements? Android. No special requirements aside form the fact it needs to work with a larger screen. I use a Galaxy Note 9 which is what they used to call a Phablet. Bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet. I call it a perfect size that keeps me only needing to have the one device…

8. any specific network infrastructure requirements? Nope, other than some of the hardware I want to implement requires Zigbee repeaters close by the devices. I do require that batteries last at least six months. The batteries on my Iris stuff lasted for almost 3 years before needing to be replaced, and then shut down but that is a totally separate story…

9. Will any of your smart home devices be outdoors? If so, are the locations sheltered? Yes, and no they aren’t particularly sheltered. But sort of. My cameras are all outdoor cameras for that reason, My video doorbell is in a recessed entryway, 1 of my spotlight cameras and my floodlight camera are well under the soffit. The other spotlight camera is exposed, and the locations for the Wyze cams I am planning are mostly exposed. I have planned for that with the weather proof enclosures, and careful routing for power.

10. List no more than three highest priority use cases that you want to solve in the first phase. My first phase was to carry over what I had with Iris, which was full perimeter security, video monitoring, which was massively improved, and hands free automated HVAC control.

11. Device selection often depends on a trade off between price, support of complexity, and reliability. That is, simpler, more expensive devices are often more reliable. Being very honest with yourself, how would you prioritize price versus support of complexity versus reliability. Also, are you willing to pick from a preset list of specific device models, or do you want to be free to choose from additional brands?. I don’t mind tinkering to get something working IF it is affordable, and reliable. I am willing to trade my labor for this. From my perspective my top priorities are affordability, features, and reliability. If I can’t afford it, it doesn’t do what I need, or it won’t do what I need long term, it is a useless waste of time and money so why bother? I am willing to give up quite a bit of support of complexity and device choice in order to meet these requirements.
Oh, and fire safety is a huge issue for me as I would require assistance to evacuate the house, so I will pay extra for better engineered devices.

12. Aesthetic/Style requirements? Again, I am married. I defer to my wife on matters of aesthetics unless it interferes with function. For example, when I mounted the ADT SmartThings security hub, I mounted it on the front hallway wall, with the wire running down the wall, with the understanding that I would cover the wire with a small raceway, and paint the exposed wire and raceway to match the wall. She doesn’t mind the hub itself, it is the presence of the power wire / wall wart she is less than fond of, and honestly I am no fan. If I could have found an in wall box like they do for flat panel TVs that would have fit behind the hub, I would have used one of those and run a romex to it for power so the power line could have been fully concealed. Both her and I have chosen to go with Decora style switches / outlets just because we both think they look better. The ZigBee antenna on my ceiling fan controller (soon to be controllers) could have been a problem had the ceilings not been painted bright white.

13. All at once or install in stages? Stages, simply put, I can’t afford to bite off all of it at once. If it isn’t obvious, part of the reason I have been digging into so many questions and trying to spawn discussions of my project is to help determine / plan my needs for each stage and hopefully avoid implementing the wrong products for the task at hand.

14. Is this a stand alone project, or is it related to another project? Okay I added this line. But it is important to note this is all related to a full home remodel. Our home is now 35 years old, and showing its age and having lived through at least 3 tropical storms and 3 hurricanes that I can remember. The remodel is not all inclusive, but sort of is. We are fixing every wall blemish from the previous owners (somebody in the house liked to punch drywall a LOT!), replace / ugrade the siding and windows, upgrade the plumbing and lighting fixtures, paint every wall, and ceiling, upgrade / replace the HVAC, and redo the flooring. New cabinets built by yours truly, and stone countertops. We are adding a radiant barrier to the attic, and blowing in LOTS of insulation. We are also either refurbishing family heirloom furnishings, or building some of our own. I.E. I have a nautical theme going on in one room, and have built “lighthouse” bedside lamps for this room. A live edge fireplace mantle is being prepared from a Pecan tree my neighbor downed 2 years ago. Takes a long time for a 4" thick slab to air dry!

15. What are the usage scenarios of each space you want to work with? For example you want to voice control a bed side lamp. People naturally will try to manually turn the lamp off if they forget it is automated which can prematurely wear out a smart bulb. Thus this device would be better managed by a smart plug. Not looking for answers written here, write them down for yourself as you plan out your project. I am finding in most of my spaces, it makes more sense for example, to use smart bulbs and disable the ability to turn off the switch, than it does to use a replacement smart switch for lighting. This is also helpful in that it minimizes implementation cost, and the labor involved in implementing. I get my features I want, I lower my cost, and improve my reliability, win, win, win…

16. What is the long term goal of this project? Aside from security, and safety, I am hoping to add a good deal of energy efficiency to my home through this work, and simplify using hte home. As I mentioned above we have a disabled family member that stays with us, and I am pretty close some times myself with a bad L4-L5 / sciatica that depeding on conditions leave me with some big mobility problems. (Can’t stand up without pulling myself up, say from out of the car…) Also wanting to improve in home comfort, and entertainment / environment. I like to have my favorite iHeart radio station playing when I come home from work. Done!

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Both of your two additions are really good questions as well. :sunglasses:

  1. integration with other projects. There are a lot of additional things to think about if you’re in the middle of A remodel and will have open walls and can more easily run new wiring.

You can find discussion of some of those issues by going to the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki, looking down near the bottom of that page for the “project reports” section, and then choosing the “whole house” list.

https://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=How_to_Quick_Browse_the_Community-Created_SmartApps_Forum_Section

In my own case, we haven’t done any open wall work, it’s just all been retrofit except for a couple of wall switches where we had to change the wiring slightly.

  1. The long-term goal question is a good one also. In my case it’s really simple: greater independence for me, which means hands-free operation. :sunglasses:

By the way, I started out with the same assumption that you have, that most everything would last at least 10 years. Like it was a plumbing project.

Instead, though, I have found that because the technology keeps changing so quickly it’s much more like cell phones or tablets. It’s not necessarily that the devices won’t last (although a lot of them only have one year warranties), but rather that the whole industry shifts to new features that I want. Or new price point.

One of the most obvious is voice control. When I started back in 2014 there were very few voice options. Now there are many great voice control options, and that’s very important to me, so I really have changed a lot of what I use every day.

Similarly, I recently replaced a linear actuator system to operate the microwave with a $60 Amazon basics voice enabled microwave. Way easier to use, looks a lot better, and did I mention way easier to use? :sunglasses: Plus it doesn’t change the way the able-bodied people use it, including my aides, where I was always having to explain the pushbutton system with the old setup.

I set up the linear actuator system about two years ago, so I am replacing it a year earlier than I planned, but the cost of the voice enabled microwave at $60 is so much lower that it still fit my planned budget.

Plus I find I’m less tempted to spend money on the new shiny stuff when I know I’ll only have to wait a year or so to fit it into my regular budget.

If anything I have does last longer than three years then that’s just a bonus and give me a little extra money to play with for brand new stuff. But I just don’t think you can plan for these systems the way you would for most regular home-improvement. They are too high-tech and the industry is evolving too quickly for a 10 year plan. :rocket:

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Oh I get it, but your plumbing concept is spot on though. If it involves pulling the wall apart, or assembling / disassembling something major, it had BETTER last at least 10 years!

With my back / sciatica issues, as long as I can get UP and over to devices I can use them. so no need for a voice operated microwave for example. But if I am on anti inflamatory medications and laying on the hot pad watching TV for example, and I am getting too hot, I don’t want to, or at least really shouldn’t try to move at that point, so… Alexa turn off the hot pad, or Alexa play blah streaming show…

I get how fast the tech / industry changes. By the same token I will give you a good example. I have a 3.2ghz quad core desktop PC with 32GB of RAM, I built it in 2009. It still will outrun most PCs built today although admittedly the video controller is lacking for gaming, it runs my applications for audio and video editing perfectly. So 10 year life for tech? Not unreasonable.

Counter point. My laptop is 4 years old, and dying a miserable death. I don’t expect it to make it another year…

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As a follow up I just wanted to put a couple more ideas out there for those that are looking at or in the middle of an trying to make the most of a smart home project

Project planning will go a long way to ensuring that you can actually get your goals met as long as he can organize them into manageable bite size pieces.

Before making any purchases Start off by taking an inventory of what Your home technology situation is where you want to go and what your budget is. In my case I already have very fast Internet at 350 mbps, A fairly new cable modem and very strong Wi-Fi. I also have cabled ethernet throughout my house in WI fi repeaters in the weak zones basically I have a Wi-Fi router on each of the opposing corners of the house that gives me he complete envelope of Wi-Fi. I already had the ring video doorbell 2. And very few but I had a couple of the old 2nd generation Iris sensors and a 3rd generation Iris smart plug to carry over. I also carried over the Honeywell Wi-Fi smart thermostat.

Determine what you want to accomplish 1st .This means what do you want to get done with your initial budget? In my case I wanted to replace the function I had of my Iris system before he extended the function. That meant replacing the hub the cameras and all of the door and window sensors.

Break down your updates into phases per monthly budget sized bites. This is the phase I am in now where I am determining what exactly I need in the long run and the costs. There are several ways I can choose to go about this but generally speaking with the budget allocated to the project you can choose to pick say you have a $150 to spend a month you can choose to pick up oh I don’t know 3 ceiling fan controllers or Several boxes of smart bulbs. If you have items that are him go over that budget may be hold the budget over for 2 months till you have enough.

Work slowly and carefully until you get things done
I’m seen this time and time again with all sorts of projects where people over spend and don’t really have the budget either financially time wise or physical energy wise to get what they’re trying to do done. Taking a piece of the time with what you can afford in money in effort and in time period don’t let the rest of your life suffer because you are trying to get something done now.

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I have a perfect example on the work slowly and carefully comment. My budget for the initial phase is already gone I have the camera set up I have be monitoring service through ring set up from the cameras and I have my whole house Perimeter protected with the ADT smart things set up. My carried over items are done and integrated. I also have the ceiling fan controller for the front bedroom done and integrated and working exactly how I want.

I am now technically into the 2nd month of smart things as I started this in February. I have the limited budget in mind and have the 1st set of smart bulbs implemented 4 of them into fixtures. I now have all of the remaining smart plugs that I intend on order and I have the remaining a 19 style smart bulbs on order. That will wipe out my integration budget until the middle of April when I will order the be are 30 smart bulbs and one more of the ceiling fan controllers.

The continuing steps will be between $100 to $150 at a time. The multi zone AC system is on a separate chunk of budget but I am going to need to either go slightly over budget or nudge budget from one month to another to get the thermostat I want.

I am tracking all of this in a Google document spreadsheet each phase is its own worksheet.

The biggest drawback to this approach is that prices are subject to change and unfortunately technology can change before I’m done. A good example is I need the by to full on echo devices and to echo subs one set full living Room 1 set for the master bedroom the problem is the Eco subs are about a $130 the echo itself is just under $100 now I can do those 1A month over 4 months but honestly by the time I finish getting them they may have moved on to the next version

Another example of rolling things into multiple months is the Amazon fire TV recast since we do not do pay TV anymore but still want DVR function. This will allow us to record over the air TV and rebroadcast it throughout our network. The version we want is the four tuner model which runs about $250. That means that’s 2 months worth of budget well after taxes and everything anyway.