How-to: Home Automation for under $4,000

Home automation is something that sounds amazingly appealing, like a chance to live in a futuristic world where your home takes care of itself and you get to relax. Unfortunately...

Home automation is something that sounds amazingly appealing, like a chance to live in a futuristic world where your home takes care of itself and you get to relax. Unfortunately there’s no one stop shop for connected devices that makes this dream a reality. Fortunately there is a way of purchasing the right components that means you’ll get the most beneficial features without having to stress about it.

Below is a list of connected experiences most people want and the right products to pull it off. The great thing is it doesn’t have to cost $30-40k to do this, for less than $4,000 you can have that house of the future in 2017.

The other great thing is that the manufacturers of these products understand most people can’t build a new home, so they all work great for existing home owners and some will even appeal to renters.

Experiences

Forget alarm clocks, you want to be woken gently. When the ambient light of a sunrise reaches a point where your body understands its time to wake, you’ll spring out of bed feeling refreshed, rather than regret another day has broken and work awaits you. With smart lighting, you can achieve this anytime of the day (Philips Hue). Inversely, it can also help you get to sleep by slowly fading down to 0%.

When you leave for work at 8am, the last thing you want to worry about is cleaning the house. Most of us can’t afford a house cleaner, but we can afford technology. This is when we engage the services of the robots. Leveraging a weekly schedule, the connected vaccum cleans your floor while your at work, returning to its base to recharge.

While your at work, you get a notification on your phone from your Video Doorbell (Ring) to let you know there’s someone there. You tap the notification and see there’s a delivery man, you enable the microphone and talk to him from your desk. Instead of him leaving a delivery ticket for a parcel, you ask him to leave it in a secure place instead. That latest eBay or Amazon order will be there waiting for you when you arrive home.

Your kids arrive home at 3:30pm and while holding off invitations from a vending machine across the hall, you receive a notification (August) to tell you they are home. You stop stressing and return your focus to your important business meeting at 4pm.

You get home around 7pm, and as you approach the house, your connected garage door (GoGate 2) knows your car is approaching (Automatic) and the door opens automatically, all timed perfectly meaning your not waiting a second longer than you need to.

You collect your package, say hi to the kids. By 9pm you head into the home office, where your motion is detected and your lights are turned on, no need for a switch. At 11pm you leave the room for bed and the lights turn off automatically.

When the weekend arrives you have a party and need to change the mood of your home. Changing the accent lighting (Philips Hue lightstrip) hidden under the edge of the island bench providing static or cycling colours.

Remember these multi-coloured lights are capable of receiving commands not just from you directly, but from connected events (that’s the smart part) like the fact your phone just arrived home using location services or the time of day just reached 11PM so the light comes on to 20% brightness. Lights can be changed individually or in groups.

Even better, if you add Amazon’s Echo to your home, you open the door to voice commands.

You say: “Hey Alexa, change all lights to party”. The lights under the bench, as well as the lamps in your office and rumpus, as well as the Hue Go on the outdoor table, all start colour cycling in time with the music creating a unique atmosphere that makes your friends jealous.

Sunday arrives and its been a tough week, so you need to chill out with a movie. You settle into the lounge and say: “Alexa, watch Netflix”. The blinds close (AXIS) and the TV turns on, changes HDMI inputs to your Xbox One and fires up the Netflix app (Harmony Elite).

Products

While there are standards that these connected devices all work on, each manufacturer is building their own mobile application to control their devices. This is really clunky day-to-day. Instead, what you want to do is sign up to the free (and amazing) service – IFTTT (If this then that). Its the most basic form of programming, delivered in dead simple web interface.

Once you’ve given permission for the device to connect to IFTTT, the website will guide you through building what they call ‘Applets’. There’s also a mega community of others which you can leverage, so if you find yourself with similar needs to others, setup will take seconds.

Its fun to experiment like changing your smart bulbs a different colour everytime someone replies to you on Twitter. Or to mute SONOS when your at home and the phone rings. You will however need to find what works for you and what can be automated. Its incredibly hard to automate on a schedule for randomness, that’s where voice comes into play.

Now for the disclaimer.. you can always add more products, you can find alternatives that work just as well for you, this is simply a list to get people started and understand that home automation is available if you know where to look and what will combine to deliver the right experiences for your home. Of course if you want to replace every light and automate every blind in your house, you’ll be up for more money, that decision is yours, experiment first, decide if it works for you, then buy more.

Lighting products

With smart lighting there’s a lot of choices, but I strongly recommend you pick a brand and stick to it throughout your house. A couple of reasons, while its technically possible to buy some of one brand and some of another, it’ll dramatically simply the setup if they’re the same and there’s often discounts for buying 4x or 10x packs.

Phillips Hue (A$199.00 starter pack / A$124.00 Lightstrips Plus 2.0)
The Hue range from Philips is continually growing and offers a range of products. Of course there’s the smart bulbs that fit existing lamps and screw or edison-type sockets. There’s also LED light strips as well as portable products like the Hue Go and the Hue Bloom.

With Hue, you’ll start by buying a starter kit which comes with a couple of bulbs and a bridge, you’ll get very familiar with these in IoT. The bridge is connected to power and to your router via ethernet cable, from there it makes all your connections to your bulbs wireless.
http://www2.meethue.com/en-au/

LIFX
The other brand I’d recommend is LIFX. These are even simpler to setup as the bulbs each contain their own wireless connectivity, so there’s no bridge or hub.
http://www.lifx.com/

AXIS (US$159.00 / A$207.06)
This smart little device clips over the chain for your blinds and enabling the up and down motion to be done from your phone, or on a connected schedule. The device is recharged by a small solar panel that faces outside, grabbing free energy from the sun.
http://helloaxis.com/

 

Entertainment products

Amazon Echo (Amazon – US$179.00 / A$233.10)
Speaking to your technology may not be immediately comfortable for all, but the difference between the Echo and your mobile, is that the voice works reliably. This means you can yell commands from across the room and it’ll work.

One of the strongest assets is that this can be paired with IFTTT which lets you control basically everything else that supports this services (almost everything on this list does). For not much money, this will be one of the most functional improvements to your home.
http://www.amazon.com/echo

Logitech Harmony Elite (Kogan – A$369.00 + delivery).
The IR blaster to end the all. This device also features a hockey puck controller, but allows you to turn any normal command to your home entertainment products into a macro, or multi-step process you can call on at any time.

To watch Netflix, the TV would have to turn on, switch to the right HDMI input and press the right sequence of buttons on the remote to make the app fire and resume your movie, with the Harmony Elite this is possible and combined with the Echo, this can be done with voice.
http://www.logitech.com/en-au/product/harmony-elite

 

Security products

Garage Door (GoGate A$250.00)
Remotely control your garage door, ifttt compatibility allows you to automatically open / close as you arrive and leave home based on your phone’s location information, or integration with Automatic. 
https://www.gogogate.com/ifttt.html

August Door lock (US$229.00 / A$298.22)
This won’t suit every door, but for those with kids who often loose keys, or family members who need access to feed pets while you’re away, August is a smart door lock that adds internet connectivity to your door. 
http://august.com/

Ring Video Doorbell (Ring – A$299.00)
Answer your door from anywhere in the world. This doorbell is equipped with a video camera and lets you talk with the delivery to discuss packages.
https://ring.com

 

Othe products

Automatic (US$129.95 / A$169.23)
Knowing more about your driving is one thing, but telling your connected home when you’re coming or going allows the magic to happen. This device connects to your ODBII port and can send event information like ‘ignition started’ to IFTTT, enabling your garage door to pickup on that event and automatically open. 
https://www.automatic.com/

iRobot Roomba 980 (A$1,499.00)
There’s plenty of models available and plenty of competitiors like LG, Samsung that make their own. iRobots has been in the game the longest and their new top of the line 980 now has a camera that doubles as a security camera so you can check in on your pets. https://shopirobot.com.au/products/roomba%20980

D-Link Smart Sensor Kit (A$149.95)
This kit features a compact motion sensor, which can be configured to turn on or off the power on 2 smart plugs. These also support IFTTT which opens up millions of creative possibilities, especially scheduling power on/off times to reduce your power bills.
https://www.dlink.com.au/home-solutions/d-i-y-smart-sensor-kit-6987

 

Total cost

If you purchased each of the items above (not inc delivery), you’d spend $3,797.56. As a percentage of the cost of a home, its tiny. As a figure on its own, it is substantial and just keep in mind, one of the huge benefits is choosing just what you and your family needs. The other great thing is you can start with one or two important items and add to it over time, buying progressively, rather than the big bang approach.

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Home AutomationHow-to