It’s been just over a year since my last post about smart home stuff, and I wanted to write about some of the stuff we’ve changed since then. Here we go!
Plugs and Bulbs
First off, we’ve phased out nearly all of the WeMo Mini Smart Plugs. They were fine overall, but we switched to Philips Hue bulbs wherever possible. We still have a few plugs on hand, but we don’t use them for lights – we have a noise machine plugged into one, and we used another one for the Christmas tree last December. They’re great in a pinch!
In the box of stuff my brother Paul gave us, he had included a Philips Hue color bulb with a bunch of the white ones. We liked using the color bulb so much, we ended up replacing nearly every Philips Hue white bulb with a color one. This wasn’t as expensive as we had anticipated, as I set up an alert at SlickDeals and watched for them to go on sale.
By switching almost every bulb to Philips Hue, we gained the ability to dim almost every lamp. In the bathroom, we combined three bulbs into one within HomeKit, and stuck a Hue Dimmer Switch to the wall. In the garage, we used motion sensors instead. We haven’t made full use of the color bulbs just yet, but I’m thinking about the kind of automation where it’d be useful to change every bulb in the house to red (or make them flash).
As an added bonus, Philips added support for iOS 14’s Adaptive Lighting, which we’ve really grown to love. Imagine f.lux or Night Shift for all of the bulbs in your house! On sunny days, we don’t usually need the lights on until the evening, but the adaptive lighting is especially nice for when it’s overcast outside.
Last fall, we bought some Philips Hue lightstrips and put them in the front windows. This allowed us to do some really creepy stuff at Halloween.
Since Philips has published an extensive API, there’s even a Python library for setting custom colors. More to come there.
Water Leak Detectors
Beyond that, we’ve added some smart water leak detectors from Moen. Luckily, we haven’t needed them so far, but it’s been a relief to know that we’ll be alerted if something happens in the basement. In addition to email and push notifications, the detectors sound a loud alarm. In the future, we might add the smart water shutoff, too. Although these don’t support HomeKit, Moen’s system appears to be very reliable.
The Arlo cameras are still going strong, but they dropped out of our HomeKit with one of the app updates. Arlo support wants me to factory reset the entire system, which includes going outside and pressing a button on each camera to re-add it (not to mention losing all of the fine tuning I’ve done). I’ve been putting that off, so sadly, we haven’t had HomeKit support for a while now. As I mentioned in the previous post, we had used the Arlo cameras’ sensors to trigger outdoor lights to turn on when motion is detected, and that won’t work until I redo it all.
I had to contact their support team for another issue with the app over the past year, and it was very frustrating as they failed to understand my issue despite many emails back and forth. I even sent them a video demonstrating the problem! I think we’ll replace this stuff eventually with a different brand.
Otherwise, the cameras have worked well, and the subscription service for the enhanced notifications and storage has been worth the price. We’ve really disliked taking down the cameras to charge them, so we mounted some solar panels to keep them charged.
As I mentioned in the last post, we had been somewhat disappointed with our Honeywell Lyric T5+ thermostat. Since then, it’s given us more trouble: HomeKit is completely unreliable, so we’ve completely given up on that, despite being the main reason for the initial purchase. Moreover, the thermostat frequently drops off the wireless network entirely, probably once every week or two. This requires pulling it off the wall and reattaching it. It always feels like I’m going to snap one of the pins by doing that, but I haven’t found any other way to reset the thermostat.
The worst part has been the geofencing, though. When we both leave the house, it’s been great for turning back the heating/cooling (and returning the prior settings when we’re headed home). With the pandemic over the past year, sometimes one of us will go out while the other stays home. Although we’re both signed into the Honeywell app with our own accounts, sometimes it will “forget” about one of us. We’ve had a few times where one of us goes out for errands, the Honeywell app erroneously sends a notification that everyone is away from home, and it cuts back the heating/cooling to save energy. The fix is to open the Honeywell app, sign out, then sign back in. It’s annoying, and if you don’t catch it quickly, the whole house becomes uncomfortable. Despite these flaws, we hadn’t planned on replacing the thermostat so soon, but we got a deal on an ecobee SmartThermostat last week. Goodbye, unreliable Honeywell thermostat.
I don’t expect that we’ll buy another Honeywell / Resideo product again, especially after their poor handling of the Azure outage earlier this week (which affected our ability to use their app to adjust the thermostat). Honeywell’s status page listed everything as “OK”, but their Twitter account had reposted Microsoft’s notification about the Azure outage. That’s it. They didn’t reply to anyone or provide any status updates until the next morning, and Honeywell’s service was down for longer than the Azure outage.
While I’m discussing Honeywell, when we bought the house, we splurged for a fancy Honeywell doorbell. At the time, it was the most expensive one at Home Depot, but we justified the cost because it supported MP3 doorbell chimes! I made a bunch of custom ones with a ringtone app. It worked great up until last summer. The doorbell button doesn’t seem to ring when pressed, so we’ve had a few people press the button but we never show up to the door. I replaced the battery, but unfortunately it didn’t help. Today, I replaced it with an Arlo audio doorbell, so unfortunately no more of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” or Toto’s “Africa” when visitors arrive. 🙁
Another smart home accessory we’re using are Roborock’s S4 vacuums. They’ve been fantastic! Generally, robot vacuums hover between two major product types: the low-end ones that roam around your house randomly for a couple of hours, bumping into everything, and the high-end ones that map out your house and clean efficiently. The Roborock’s pricing is solidly in the low-end tier, but they support mapping! This has been huge for us, as they clean in under 30 minutes each day, and the app allows us to set “no go” zones very easily in the app.
Unfortunately, HomeKit doesn’t support robot vacuums at the moment, but Roborock added Siri support for the most common commands, including starting and stopping the vacuums.
Last spring, we needed a way to automate the water sprinklers for our lawn. The Eve Aqua works well for that. It supports HomeKit, though connectivity can be spotty, since it’s located outside and your home hub (in our case, an Apple TV) is located inside. We briefly considered an Eve Extend bridge, but the problem wasn’t serious enough to warrant spending more money – and anyway, it sounds like Thread is the way forward, even though it’ll be a while before we adopt that.
Paul had sent an Eve Degree (now known as Eve Weather), and we put that up in the attic to monitor the temperature and humidity. The Eve app’s historical data has been very nice to have. Afterwards, we went to buy another one for outside, but found that they’re not cheap! Instead, I faked an outdoor HomeKit temperature sensor with Homebridge and the Weather Plus plugin. After posting last year, I briefly tried using Home Assistant, but didn’t find it intuitive or useful – maybe another time.
Also, when we bought the house, we were made aware that we have radon in our basement. It seems to be a common problem, but we didn’t have any metrics to know the severity. There aren’t a lot of radon monitoring devices on the market, but my manager at work recommended the Airthings Wave Plus after using it in his house. It’s been very useful in determining all types of air quality issues in our basement. Since it syncs data to the app via your phone’s Bluetooth, I recommend picking up the hub. This will prevent gaps in your data, and allow you to monitor things when you’re not at home. Although Airthings doesn’t support HomeKit, their app is pretty good – and you’ll want to use it for the alerts and historical data.
One of the oldest smart home items that we own that’s still in use is our Withings WS-30 bathroom scale. I need to give Withings a lot of credit here – I bought this in 2013, and it still works great. These days, it’s hard to find technology that lasts for a fraction of the time, especially smart home stuff.
Originally, I had chosen the Withings scale for its integration with Fitbit’s website – I could weigh myself and see the data alongside my step count. I’ve since moved on from Fitbit to an Apple Watch, and Withings now supports Apple Health (HealthKit) with their Health Mate app.
I wrote to their support team with an app support issue, and they graciously helped me, despite the fact that I haven’t spent any money with them in years. I really appreciate that.
What Hasn’t Changed
I got a bunch of comments about our Yale Assure lock last time, and wanted to confirm that we’re still very happy with it. It’s expensive, but it’s absolutely been worth the cost to us. The only issue that’s cropped up was that we had to readjust the module for detecting whether the door is open or closed, but that was our fault – we didn’t follow the instructions closely enough, and it was installed incorrectly. Despite that, their support was friendly and helpful.
Also, we’re still pleased with our Sonos setup. Every room in our house has a speaker. It’s made mundane tasks (such as folding laundry or doing dishes) more bearable, and has helped me concentrate while working remotely. Waking up to a different playlist each morning has been a much nicer experience than using ringtones on our phones. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, IKEA has had issues with keeping the SYMFONISK line in stock, but they have added some cool accessories for changing their speakers’ colors to red/blue instead of the stock black/white.
I hope you found this useful! Please reply below if you have any comments or questions and I’ll do my best to help. 😄