How important is automation for you in the 'smart home'?

I was lying in bed thinking about this at 4AM (I guess that’s what happens when you can’t sleep and your workday revolves around smart home tech).

I have a bunch of smart home products and I like to think of my home as pretty well connected, but I don’t actually rely on much automation. I have a couple Hue routines (mainly to please the cat when no one is home) and my August smart-locks unlock when my wife and I get close to home, but that’s really about it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I actually prefer the immediate control that this tech gives me over the automation capabilities. I like being able to control my home remotely, all in one centralized place (and I much prefer to actually interact with software via my phone or watch, rather than voice control). I’m a fiddler (not :violin:, but I like to fiddle with things) and I’d rather be the IF-THEN statement.

What’s your relationship with automation vs. control? Does one define the ‘smart home’ more than the other, for you? What do you have automated in your home?


Home automation is important if it saves me money. My Ecobee does just this and does a great job of it by running the AC when our KWH cost is low and not running it as much when the KWH cost is high. We use 95% of our power during off peak times because of this. I’d like to incorporate more home automation in our smart home but so many products are gimmicky and I have a hard time justifying the cost. As an example smart locks are a cool technology but many of them cost $200 per lock. I don’t see the value in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on smart home tech that has such limited functionality, an uncertain future, lack of updated firmware (security issue), and a high price tag.

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I have lots of connected devices, most Zigbee lamps, but lots of other stuff as well (Ecobee 4, smart outlets, ZWave dimmer switches, connected rooftop PV system, etc.). I do use automation, mainly for turning lights on and off in rooms I’m entering and leaving, lights coming on and going off on a schedule, a siren which goes off if the front door opens at night, etc. I use a Wink 2 hub which, unlike the others, will still perform automation tasks even if the internet connection is down. The response is nearly instantaneous, either with GE (made by Jasco) and Wink (made by Dome). Here’s a little video:

Jeff Broido

My home automation is around connecting different devices that otherwise would not talk to each other.

For instance, I have my Nest thermostats talking to my boiler for heating (thats the ‘normal bit’ HVAC wiring)… but I also have it talking to a computer, which then uses IFTTT to control WiFI enabled window air conditioning and supplemental room heaters.

This helps me better manage the energy usage and make the house itself more comfortable.

A few other cases, I have light switches with automation pieces that allow the Alarm system to turn on/off lights based on certain sensors… again all about convenience and comfort.

I’ve been thinking of getting automated blinds and adding those, but so far not found something I’ve wanted to integrate into the system… but I’ve been doing things ‘slow and steady’ vs buying a bunch of connected devices that in the end really aren’t.

A lot of stuff I’ve read about with home automation doesn’t particularly interest me. What does would be recurring tasks that can be done for me, like cleaning out the kitty litter box and picking up dog poop.

I’m intrigued with technology that lets my refrigerator talk to my microwave, and my microwave talk to my coffee machine. But I really have no need for my kitchen appliances to get together at night for a jam session.

On work days, I’m perfectly happy with the old-fashioned timer on my coffee machine that has coffee waiting for me when the alarm clock goes off. An enhancement to that might be the ability on weekends to detect that I’m 10 minutes away from waking up and turn on the coffee maker then.

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I’ve been into automation since the early X10 days.

Today, it’s all be replaced by a variety of automation hardware - Ecobee, TP-Link switches, Wemo switches and plugs, Alexa, cameras, etc.

It all plays together via a lot of IFTTT routines.

What I benefit most from it is cost savings. Heck, if it wasn’t for automated routines that turn off a lot of lights in our house it’d be lit up a like a Christmas tree half the time even when nobody is home, because apparently in my household switches only get used to turn things on, but never off.

And convenience also plays into it a lot as well. I love being able to sit on the couch, realize there’s a light on somewhere that’s bothering me, and just asking Alexa to turn it off. On the flipside, IFTTT has my outdoor and driveway lights turn on just as I’m pulling into the driveway after dark via a geofence routine.

A friend of mine has a litter robot that is a self cleaning litter box. All she has to do is empty the bag once a week. It’s actually called litter robot but is quite large. Works well and has a wifi version as well!

I have a litter robot - great for minimizing the work. Still waiting for Sense to detect it tho’…

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Thanks for all the insight, guys.

There’s some good points here about automation really mattering when it comes to saving money, like with smart thermostats and tech like Rachio. That makes a lot of sense. Alas, I couldn’t get ecobee working in my home due to some oddities with how the HVAC system was wired.

And I would really, really, really love to automate the cleaning of my cat’s litter box. I need to look into that!

I have lots of home automation/smart home stuff going on in my house (and adding almost weekly). I do use a combination of IFTTT and “app” based controls (such as Samsung SmartThings, EcoBee, etc) to control my stuff. My biggest frustration with it is the number of apps I have to control things with.

That said, the new Google Home app is actually pretty sweet. (if you don’t have it yet, just Google for the latest APK to install) as it finally incorporates control of all your devices linked to your Google Assistant on the home screen. So now I can actually use that App to manually turn my lights on/off, etc all within 1 app, instead of my Hue lights in 1 app, my TP Link lights in another, etc. It basically has the same interface as what the new Google Home Hub is going to have (which I have pre-ordered and should be arriving on 10/22).

I do have lots of automations setup such as turning specific lights on with motion sensors, ensuring lights are off when nobody is home (happens in my house all the time too @oshawapilot), etc.

@RyanAtSense this is the one my friend has. Not cheap but she says it is worth every penny! Alas, I have dogs, so manual poop scooping for us still

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My main use case for automation is controlling my HVAC. I have a gas boiler as my main heat source, and a mini-split system for cooling and occasional heating. These are controlled with a Nest thermostat and a Sensibo setup, respectively. I have a bunch of automations in Home Assistant to make adjustments to these two systems (see below), with the ultimate goal of me not having to think about my HVAC at all.

I also have things setup so the garage door automatically when my wide arrives home, which is handy.

I work from home so I’m a bit more limited in what I can use as anything based on geofencing has a much more limited use case during the week. I don’t know if I’d say I’ve “automated” our home, but here are some of the things we do with the smart home gadgets we have installed.

  • Monitoring liquid propane tank levels to trigger auto-delivery at specified tank levels.
  • Monitoring/alerting on UPS state changes due to power outages. Can also safely shut down home automation server if UPS battery is about to die, then the server BIOS is set to automatically power back on when AC power is restored.
  • Paging us if garage doors or exterior doors open.
  • Managing smart-lock codes based on house cleaner schedules.
  • Paging us with what lock code was used so we know who (in theory) entered the home.
  • Ensuring doors are locked when the alarm is armed.
  • Ensuring lights/TV/other stuff are off when the alarm is armed in away mode.
  • Turning on additional lighting when the alarm is disarmed.
  • Turning on additional lighting at night when the garage doors are opened.
  • Creating lighting scenes activated by double/triple tapping certain light switches.
  • Turning fans/lights on/off together in the bathroom for showering and then after showing delay the fan shut off.
  • Creating holiday scenes by combining z-wave light controls and Philips Hue bulbs

My next goal is installing a z-wave water shut off valve on our home’s main water feed, a z-wave high load shutoff switch for our well pump, and installing leak sensors in key locations.

Very important for me. I use Home Assistant to manage my zwave/ecobee/myq/security environment and it’s nice that I can see current and daily power consumption from Sense, but it would be nice to be able to use device startup/shutdown to trigger events in this kind of setup.

I tend to agree - I’m a software engineer, so quite happy with the technology, and I have a bunch of smart home devices around the house. As far as automation goes, it has to make life simpler rather than more complex - and most automation fails that test, simply because in almost all real world situations there are few cases where a simple if…then…else works. There are too many corner cases, and they will infuriate you where the automation when it works simply fades into the background. There is much less benefit to automation than there is downside to bad automation :slight_smile:
Just my $0.02…

guilty as charged.

i too like the smart tech for the ability to instantly control things. automate things? not so much…

i have honeywell connected thermostats (all 8 of them); i have a whole lot of ethernet flood and spot cams with offisite recording; a personal weather station connected to my smart irrigation controller; dual sense monitors and 6 tplink plugs and a basement flooding notification system.

i am of the belief that automation to a high degree only will make your life more boring, prone to repetition and will take away a small part of your daily diversity.

come to think of it - i like to to tinker for the sake of tinkering - figuring out how things work, building new systems and… not to really improve my life by using what i created.

I’m just beginning to play with automation… I’ve got a few wifi plugs, some wifi switches, and some zigbee-based temp/humidity sensors… other than tinkering and discovering where I’m going with automation, I have very specific goal or 1st step to setup… I will share…

my goal: automated whole house fan
tech: wifi switch, ifttt integration
method: ifttt will monitor my attic, garage & exterior temp sensors… when exterior temps are colder than nest thermostat inside home, and at least one window (required by whole house fan) is open - then nest thermostat is OFF & wifi switch to whole house fan is ON and runs fan for 1hr with 45min break, then reset event… now, if temps outside are higher, text message to household members to close windows, then when all windows closed, wifi switch is OFF and thermostat is ON & cooling to schedule…

overall, my goals are ambitious… my Abode Security system has full automation abilities with z-wave and zigbee builtin… recognizes some wifi devices and full ability to nest & ifttt… it uses internet, but has cellular backup connect… builtin battery backup with 12hr runtime… and no monthly monitoring charges unless you want professional monitoring… I’m exploring its full capabilities, and enjoying the new possibilities I’m dreaming up…

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I’d recommend looking into Home Assistant. That way you can monitor stuff locally (on a Raspberry Pi) instead of relying on IFTTT which won’t do you much good if your internet is down :slight_smile:

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yes, I have seen that, and I have a spare raspberry pi lying around… I am just playing with IFTTT because I have z-wave & zigbee builtin on my Abode Security system, it integrates with IFTTT and has its own automation called CUE… IFTTT and CUE are nearly identical, and CUE might be cloud-free, I haven’t gotten that far into it… just figuring what the best options are without having to setup yet another RF signal to compete with the rest…

I do appreciate the “heads up”… just exploring the best options and setup for my home… thx…

My wife and I are so accustomed to lights coming on when we walk into a room that we notice every time we are away from home. We have seven IR motion sense wall switches in our home. There are a few adaptations I made to make these “dumb” switches pleasingly useful.

  1. Masking the sensors with white tape so that they only turn on the light when needed. The bedroom lights do not go on as you walk past the door on your way to the garage. The masks are almost invisible.
  2. Switch covers for bed time. The bedroom and bathroom lights SHOULD NOT come on when we roll over in bed, or get up to go to the bathroom. This would wake the S.O. up as well. I bought switch plate blanks and used packing tape as a hing, little velcro strips to secure the door open or closed. We use these to control when we do or do not want lights to come on automatically.

Not all “smart” features need be internet connected (or expensive).