Last spring, my fiancée and I bought a house. We lived in an apartment for two years, and experimented with smart home stuff, but wanted to do a bit more with our house. We’ve had enough people ask about our setup that I figured I’d write a blog post.
If you’re new to this stuff, you’re probably overwhelmed by the competing (and often overlapping) technologies that are out there. Between Apple Home / HomeKit, Google Home / Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, etc., it gets confusing very quickly (though it sounds like that will get better eventually). In our case, we made the decision to go with Apple Home / HomeKit – I’m not crazy about Google and Amazon’s invasive privacy practices, even if their voice assistants are better for it. Since we have iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Apple’s standard made the most sense for us.
First, we bought a bunch of Belkin WeMo Mini smart plugs. We’ve attached these to various appliances: lamps, humidifiers, noise machines, etc. They’re great for anything that resumes whatever they were doing when you unplug, then plug them back in. They didn’t support HomeKit at first, but a firmware update added that later.
For rooms that had built-in lighting, we bought a WeMo Dimmer Switch and a WeMo Light Switch. The dimmer switch received HomeKit compatibility via a firmware update, but the light switch required a new model – so be sure to get the second generation switch. Note that these require a neutral wire, so if your house’s electrical wiring is very old, you should check before buying – we weren’t able to use these everywhere, unfortunately.
For the front door, we bought a Yale Assure Lock, along with an indoor handle. We chose this model specifically because of the keypad (you can generate an unlimited number of codes and expire them whenever you want), the ability for it to auto-unlock as you approach the door, and the ability to auto-lock. You can receive notifications whenever the door is locked and unlocked, too. Some models do not have physical keys, but we wanted one in case the batteries died or the lock malfunctioned.
For the side door, my brother Paul gave us his August Smart Lock Pro, which we used with the standard deadbolt we installed last spring. This integrates with the same app we use for the front door, as well as HomeKit.
We also replaced the thermostat with a Honeywell Lyric T5+. Replacing the thermostat was surprisingly easy, and gave us immediate benefits: we can control the thermostat from anywhere, set up a geofence so it turns back the heating/cooling when we’re not home, and schedule times for different temperatures. Its HomeKit support hasn’t been the best – we’ve found that it will drop off of HomeKit, but not the Wi-Fi, so we know it’s not completely offline. We’ve considered replacing it with an Ecobee thermostat, which includes extra sensors for around the house – maybe in the future.
Outside, we bought a few Arlo Pro 2 cameras. Initially, these didn’t support HomeKit, but Arlo added support via an app update. Each Arlo camera appears in HomeKit as both a camera and a motion sensor. They run completely on batteries, so you’ll need to take them down every couple of months to charge them. This gives you a lot of freedom to mount them where they’re needed, though – you don’t need to plan around outdoor outlets. A big selling point was the free 7 days of recording, though we upgraded to a paid plan for more storage and notifications with video previews. Initially, we used the magnetic outdoor mounts, but switched to the Wasserstein Arlo Mounts instead – that way, when we take down the cameras for charging, we don’t need to do so much adjusting when we put them back up.
Although we use Spotify for music, we found that having various devices that can play music – TVs, sound bars, individual speakers, laptops – made for an inconsistent experience. A few months ago, prices dropped on Sonos One speakers, and we bought one out of curiosity. Long story short, that grew to a full house of Sonos speakers. It really helped that Sonos and IKEA have a partnership, so we picked up several SYMFONISK bookshelf speakers, as well as a couple of SYMFONISK table lamps. We even mounted a Sonos One in the bathroom with a ALLICAVER wall bracket. It’s very hard to describe the feeling of whole-house audio, but it’s pretty neat to walk from room to room and your music is playing everywhere. Every speaker supports AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, though we’ve found the Sonos and Spotify apps to be more reliable for queueing up music.
After buying a couple of SYMFONISK table lamps, we realized that we’d need smart bulbs. Up until this point, we’d managed to use the WeMo switches with standard LED bulbs, but cutting power to the SYMFONISK table lamps would mean no music. At first, we tried IKEA’s TRÅDFRI, but found their bulb selection to be very limited – we didn’t want to buy into a system that would only be useful for two lamps. This brought us to the Philips Hue bulbs.
I could write an entire post about Philips Hue alone, but in short: we’ve been very happy with it. There’s a wide selection of options, which is great, but also intimidating. They make smart bulbs in every size, so they’re flexible enough that you can expand in the future. Each bulb comes in two different types: bulbs that can switch between white/yellow light, and bulbs that support colors like red, blue, green, etc. For our case, we’ve found that the white/yellow bulbs have been fine for us, and haven’t been able to justify the cost of the colored bulbs. All bulbs support dimming without the need for additional hardware.
It helps to figure out how many bulbs you need, then buy a kit (which includes the hub) and the right amount of bulbs. You can also buy wireless buttons and dimmer switches, then pair them to any bulbs. The entire system is very flexible. Of course, everything integrates with HomeKit.
The end result is that we can tell Siri to unlock the front door, we can have all of our lights turn on when we arrive home, we can have motion sensors in the Arlo cameras turn on Philips Hue lights, and more.
Paul gave us a bunch of additional accessories that we’ve slowly integrated over the past couple of weeks, so if there’s interest, I’ll write a follow-up post. Let me know if you have any questions!
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