First Foray into Smart Homes

I started to explore smart home technologies a few years ago starting with the Wink but found myself sorely disappointed. The idea was neat but not practical; it’s always easier to get up and turn off the switch than to look for a phone, search for the Wink app and turn off the appropriate lights. A few weeks ago, I got my hands on the Amazon Echo Dot and it’s made a significant difference. Here’s some details of my setup.

Wink Hub

The Wink Hub was the first real smart home device that I ventured into. The reason why I ended up with the Wink Hub was that it was cost effective ($50 if you bought it with GE Z-Wave Led bulb) and it connected to Z-Wave. After doing some research, I found that I could get my Z-wave devices locally at my Home Depot or through Monoprice. My MVP ended up being a number of lights in the main floor as well as my front door lock. I later extended to the lights in my basement.

Lights and Dimmers – these were straight forward enough. Once installed and paired with the Wink, these worked easily with no real issues. However, these tend to be quite expensive and I’ve never seen them go on sale.
Door Lock – this is exposed a serious shortcoming of Wink for me. The lock I purchased had the ability to control lock codes via Z-Wave commands but Wink does not have the ability to control the lock that way. If I had to do it over again, I would likely have considered this Schlage Lock as it looks like it has got better integration with providing user codes.
Garage Door opener – This paired pretty easily with my garage door opener.

Robots – one of the nice things is that you can do some basic programming with Wink. One simple instance is that whenever you open the garage door, it will turn on the light in the mudroom making it easier and safer to enter the house.

Harmony Hub

I’ve been a big fan of Harmony remote controls for a while and was very excited to upgrade to their hubs when it first came out. Recent upgrades have allowed for API access that allows Amazon Echoes to connect and control the entertainment devices.

Echo Dot

The Echo Dot provided a lot of neat tricks but none more interesting that the ability to control the house via voice. As mentioned in the introduction, the Echo Dot dramatically changed how we used the smart home features of our home. It’s a lot easier to tell Alexa to turn on and off devices than to whip out the phone to control devices. I cannot emphasize enough on how much voice changes the simplicity of smart home integration.

The other big value about the Amazon Echo is that it turns out to be a pretty decent smart home aggregator. It is able to integrate across a whole slew of smart home products and that list is still growing. You can create group of devices across multiple .

Belkin WeMo

BestBuy had a sale for about 40% off so I picked up a few over the Christmas break. WeMo switches are Wi-Fi based and also integrate with Alexa. Setting it up took a bit more work as you have to connect to each switch individually via WiFi before it shows up on the WeMo app. One thing to note is that it takes a few minutes to reconnect to the WiFi every time it’s disconnected. While it’s being connected, it cannot turn on the lights.

Yonomi

Yonomi is an Android and iOS app that also aggregates other smart home services as well. It acts as a robot functionality for Alexa. It also extends Alexa functionality for Harmony Hub by allowing access to all Harmony Hubs in the house as well as additional functionality such as the Z-Wave lock that isn’t otherwise reachable.

Other areas where I’d like to expand into would the thermostat next but it’s working well for the things that I need it to do at the moment.