Beginnings of a Smart Home

Beginnings of a Smart Home

From a static apartment with nothing in it, we’ve slowly grown to a somewhat smart home. It’s starting, beginning, but growing a little at a time. While I won’t be going into great details here about specific devices we’ve used (yet!), I will be reviewing the parts at later dates. What worked, what didn’t, what could use some updating? I’ll answer it all soon enough.

The Hub
Because we are already an Apple-centric home with iPads, iPhones, and Macs, I decided to stick with that and keep using Apple products for the most part. For the central hub of our home, I got a HomePod Mini. It works great as a smart speaker, commands work for the most part, though I do need to figure some things out. When I added Apple Music, it changed things as well, and now I can just tell it to play some genre and it’ll find that music or a radio station or something related to it and just play it.

For a hub, there are a couple of things I need to work out. I’ve figured out the Home app, HomeKit compatible things, but details are still being ironed out. I set up scenes on my iPhone, but for some reason my wife can tap on them to get them to work but cannot just ask Siri to set the scene to “Day Time,” for example. I’m not sure why that doesn’t work, but I’m looking into it.

I’ve added two different types of device, four lights and two motion sensors. They are all the same light and both the same motion sensor.

In one setting, we have a lamp that has three bulbs, so we have three smart bulbs in it so I can control the brightness individually or all at once.

The other setting is our stairs. Our apartment front door opens up to stairs that go up to our level, and there is a light switch at the bottom and the top that was frequently not being properly used. I set a motion sensor at the bottom to turn on when the door opens, and a second at the top when we start walking down the steps. The bottom one works great. By the time I get the door open, the light is on.

At the top of the stairs though, not so much. It’s not nearly instant, but instead I can get the fourth step before the light turns on. The light is also at the bottom of the stairs and doesn’t light the upper half very well.

To fix that, I want to add a rope light along the edge of the stairs and connect it to a smart outlet or plug so it turns on when motion is detected as well, highlighting the edges of the stairs and making the whole path well lit.

I did measure the stairs and its about 15 feet from top to bottom. So with two sides and across the steps at the bottom, it will be about 33 feet/10 meters, which happens to be what they often come in. I can power them from the top of the stairs where there is an outlet, but they will have to come around a small wall and down the stairs. It should be possible without too much exposed extension cord, but a white cord shouldn’t be that noticeable anyway.

Other devices, other protocol
The other devices we’ve installed so far are a Ring doorbell on the front door, and a Nest Learning thermostat on the air conditioner/heater. The Nest has been great, the Ring doorbell has been used mostly for voyeuristic purposes as we watch who happens to be walking by at 3am in the morning on a weekday.

I did try setting both up in HomeKit using HOOBS and Homebridge, but the end result was not to my liking. The standalone apps, while not ideal since I can’t ask Siri to change the temperature, will have to do for now.

Ring has said they were adding HomeKit support years ago, but its gone nowhere and since they are owned by Amazon now, its likely Siri will never interface with them as long as Alexa can.

Nest integration in Homebridge and HomeKit was a little better, but I didn’t tool around with it enough. I may revisit it in the future though, it would be nice to ask Siri to turn the temp down and have it just work though.

Future Plans
The next major update I want to work on is a smart lock. There are a couple of manufacturers of HomeKit-compatible locks, so I’ll have to figure out which one seems better and go with that.

I’d also like another HomePod Mini for the bedroom, and then a third for the second bedroom. They are only $99 at Target though, so not a huge obstacle, but more than we’d like to spend right now.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what else we can or should do. We are renters so we cannot run new wire, change out outlets, drill holes in the wall, or things like that. We are limited, but that’s the point of this project.

Coming next, about once a week, will be reviews of each device individually we set up and how well its been working in the time since.

Written by 

Eric is a dedicated technophile and strives to make things in Sleipnir as innovative, simple to use, and convenient as possible. He has worked a variety of jobs, from construction and manufacturing to working as a civilian in a law enforcement agency. He is an avid tabletop gamer and builds websites in his spare time.

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