Testing the best smart plugs and outlets

I’ve started to read into what kind of smart power outlet to buy but there are so many outlets on sale that I got lost in the details. I couldn’t decide from what I read which one to order. So I’ve ordered 8 different types…

I’ve started to read into what kind of smart power outlet to buy but there are so many outlets on sale that I got lost in the details. I couldn’t decide from what I read which one to order. So I’ve ordered 8 different types…

One of the early predecessors of smart devices is the timer plug, which has been around for decades. You can buy the simplest types – a round-shaped plug with a mechanical watch – for about USD 5. The more complex electric ones that can be programmed to different settings cost about USD 25. We’d had a few of these at home (for example the timer for the light in the fish tank), so I got curious about what the latest generation of this device, controllable via a cell phone, can do.

How I tested?

For this review, I installed every device once. Then I reinstalled each of them in a different network. I marked down the time and the number of trials needed for the second installation in my summary table. Unfortunately, reinstallation didn’t work wonders for any of the devices. The problems I saw at the first installation would reoccur.

I compared the following features and characteristics:

  • Price: all devices were purchased at the same time, in early May 2018.
  • Number of attempts to install the device: how many times I had to start from scratch.

  • Time spent setting up the app: how long it took (in minutes) for the operating plug to show up in the app.

  • Wi-Fi: is the device Wi-Fi enabled? Those that are often send out their own open Wi-Fi signal – I’ll discuss this later in detail.

  • Bluetooth: it is most often used to speed up installation.

  • Remote access: you can check the device while you’re away simply using the cell phone network.

  • Manual switch: does the device have a physical button to switch it on and off?

  • Energy use monitoring: kWh meter.

  • Cost estimation: does the app offer the option to set a kWh/HUF input?

  • Everyday scenarios: for example, “I got up.”/”I’m going to bed.”

  • Timer: Can you set the plug to turn on or off in a given hour, on a given day?

  • Presence simulation: The outlet turns on at random times for random periods to simulate that you’re home when in reality you’re away. You should connect a lamp to the outlet so that the switching on and off is visible.

  • Timed shutdown: the outlet can be set to turn off after being on for a set amount of time.

  • Sunrise/Sunset: the device checks for the time of the sunrise and sunset for the location programmed.

  • Event control: for example, if the kWh meter reaches a pre-set number, the outlet shuts off.

  • Software usability: my own subjective opinion on a scale of 1-5 (1: it makes my head hurt – 5: kicks butt).

  • Sofware language: the language of the text in the app.

  • Nest: communication with this system: www.nest.com
  • IFTTT: communication with this system: www.ifttt.com
  • Amazon Alexa: does it work with voice control?

  • Google: does it work with voice control?

  • Apple Siri: does it work with voice control?

  • Apple Homekit: communcation with this system: developer.apple.com/homekit/

 

That damned security risk

Before going into details, let’s tackle an important conceptual question. If you control the power outlets remotely, do you open up the house to all sorts of security problems?

Let me explain:

  • for these devices to be controlled remotely, they first ask for permission to join the internal Wi-Fi network (the home network).

  • after that, the device connects to a server in the cloud (online), run by the manufacturer, and communicates with this server.

  • the bigger and more well-known the manufacturer, the more you can trust it to protect its server properly. But you also need to pay attention to how long the manufacturer offers support for the device. Once the support period ends, chances are the server will no longer be properly protected, either. And then if a hacker gets into the manufacturer’s neglected server, he/she can easily get into your home network, too. Why is this bad? Because on your home network, you have more vulnerable devices. These include the network drive where your pictures are stored, the webcams, even the baby monitor.

  • moreover, devices connecting to the Internet require regular updates, which are easily forgotten when you’re busy with your life. Yet these updates are very important for cybersecurity.

  • another important issue: some of these devices have their own Wi-Fi signal; you set them up using Wi-Fi. With such devices, once you installed them, you must check that the Wi-Fi signal is no longer broadcast. If it isn’t, you’ll have nothing further to do.

  • Maybe you can detect my unease to let a device like this connect to the Internet. What is the solution then? I limit the device to the home network, and I’ll check in from the outside using a safe VPN connection. Once the VPN is activated, the mobile network opens a checked gateway to home, and my phone will think that it’s at home. Unfortunately, setting up your home VPN requires quite an effort or a good friend who knows this stuff.

Phew, this is solved then. And I can switch the power outlet on and off on my phone even from work! But what happens if your significant other also wants to enjoy switching the device on and off remotely? Well, that’s not going to happen. Without the manufacturer’s central server, these plugs can only be paired with one device.

In summary, you have a choice to make:

  • you allow the power outlets to go “outside,” which means you’ll have an ID/password pair that you can set up on your phone as well as on your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s phone

  • you won’t allow the power outlets to connect to the internet directly, meaning you can only control them with one device. If this device is the tablet you hung on the wall at home, you’ve lost the remote access function.

Choose the option you prefer… finding a really good solution would be a lot of complicated work, and even then it would come with many compromises. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First let’s take a look at the power outlets tested.

A comparison of power outlets

Product

Belkin WeMo Switch

Edimax Smart Plug

Elgato Eve Energy

Emos Wi-Fi Plug

Hama Wi-Fi Plug

iSmartAlarm Smart Wi-Fi Plug

myDLink Smart Plug

tp-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug

Price

USD 36

USD 44

USD 50

USD 46

USD 31

USD 43

USD 37

USD 37

No. of installation attempts

3

2

1

1

2

2

3

1

Time spent setting it up

15

10

3

2

4

4

18

4

Wi-Fi

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Bluetooth

x

x

x

x

Remote access

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Manual switch

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Energy use monitoring

x

x

x

x

x

Cost estimation

x

x

x

Everyday scenarios

x

x

x

x

Timer

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Presence simulation

x

x

Timed shutdown

x

x

x

Sunrise/Sunset

x

x

x

Event control

x

x

x

Software usability

4

1

5

4

3

3

2

4

Software language

English

mixed

Hun

English

English

English

English

Hun

English

Nest

x

IFTT

x

Amazon Alexa

x

x

x

x

x

Google

x

x

Apple Siri

x

x

Apple Homekit

x

A description of smart power outlets/plugs

BELKIN – WEMO SWITCHimg_5282 (1)

Impressions:

Setting the timer is a piece of cake – as long as you’re good at detecting invisible icons. That’s because the days in the setting are not visible until they are selected. You also need to figure out by trial and error that selecting days means stopping rather than allowing the timer. The default setting is the same time for every day. This is useful, but it was unclear.

Remote access: Remote access is only allowed if you enable it.

Pros:

  • the function of being away but pretending to be home works really well. It takes setting the timer once to set when to have this function on. This can be switched on and off quickly.

  • as an extra, the power outlet can be set to shut off automatically. You can set the number of minutes after which the outlet becomes inactive. This, possibly combined with a motion detector, may come in handy for controlling the reading light by your favourite armchair. You’ll never have to use the switch here again.

  • it can communicate with nearly everything. For Homekit access, you need a dedicated Belkin device.

  • although this is only a power outlet, WeMo offers a whole range of devices to automate your home.

Cons:

  • for some reason or other, it took ages for the plug to find the Wi-Fi and my phone. I was really close to giving up on it and marking it as “failed to install.”

  • no energy use monitoring

Conclusion: if a power outlet requires so much effort to set it up, that’s an F from me. I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

EDIMAX – SMART PLUGimg_5280 (1)

Impressions:

You’ll need a lot of patience with this one. For some reason, the software spends more time showing you the hourglass cursor than actually working. The Hungarian and unknown Asian characters together would unsettle even the most patient ones of us.

When trying to set the timer, my reaction was, “no sane person would come up with something like this.” (well, this was what I meant but my words were a bit less sophisticated.) For every single day, a hidden menu option had to be turned on to start setting the timer. It took about 10 minutes to get rid of the “timer off” sign this way. As you can guess, the timer is rather simple but at least it’s easy to understand: you set on what days (or everyday) the device should turn on and off and when. That’s it.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • The energy consumption function allows you to turn off the power outlet if the consumption reaches a pre-determined value. You can choose a daily, weekly or monthly value here.

Cons:

  • Unusably slow software: I did figure out at the end why it was so slow. For every data request, the software sends the request to the server in the cloud, which then communicates with the smart plug. The data take the same roundabout way in the other direction, too. The server is likely not optimised for access from Hungary.

  • The software’s firmware update didn’t work.

  • It can send you emails on all sorts of statistics of your power consumption, but for that it requires your email password. I strongly recommend not to give out this information to an app like this.

Conclusion: the app was made for patient people who think they will live for 300 years. I wouldn’t buy it again.

ELGATO – EVE ENERGYimg_5281 (1)

Impressions from use:

The software was not made for a single power outlet but for a whole apartment. In accordance, you have to programme everyday scenarios because it’s not the device you’re setting the timer for but the scenarios. This is quite a drag for one device but wonderful for your whole apartment. When programming events on the timer, you can set it to check not only the time but the outlet’s usage or the volume of the usage (kWh consumption, Voltage, Amp).

Remote access:Not included by default.

Pros:

  • the software works like a charm. You can program all sorts of things, and then you can use them very easily.

  • since it’s compatible with the Apple Homekit system, you can add a “guest” to control the device at home. You can control via the Apple system who has access to what.

  • it checks consumption and estimates costs

  • the smallest power outlet I’ve found

Cons:

  • it relies on Bluetooth communication, so the area it covers can only be extended with additional devices (such as Apple TV). This is not a problem for small apartments. But if you live in a larger home or one with more than one floors, this may give you some headache.

Conclusion: if I can make the Homekit system see it through the additional device, then this is a great plug (further testing is required). – I’d buy it again.

 

EMOS WI-FI PLUGimg_5287 (1)

Impressions:

Setting it up was easy-peasy.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • simple as can be

Cons:

  • very few extra functions such as event control.

  • you can get more bang for your buck with other devices

Conclusion: given the price, this should be much smarter – I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

HAMA WI-FI PLUGimg_5284 (1)

Impressions:

The software is very buggy. For example, I set the time for the timer, then went on to choose the days. Once the days were selected and I went back to the time, I saw that the software forgot the time that I’d already set. Another problem I encountered was that sometimes a setting didn’t appear to be saved when in fact it was. So I’ve set the same timer setting three times.

Remote access:You have to use it.

Pros:

  • price.

  • if you don’t want to change the settings too often, then the software is easy to use.

  • this was the only device in the test that came with a Hungarian manual.

Cons:

  • software bugs

  • certain functions were only included so that the manufacturer can say they are included (everyday scenarios)

Conclusion: this is the bare bones version of the smart power outlets. The only reason why I wouldn’t buy this again is that I’d either buy an old-school mechanical timer, or I’d skip two dinners and buy a smarter kind.

 

ISMARTALARM SMART WIFI PLUGimg_5288 (1)

Impressions:

It kind of works as it should but the software didn’t leave an impression.

Remote access:You have to use it.

Pros:

  • worked as promised.

Cons:

  • you can get more bang for your buck with other devices

Conclusion: given the price, this should be much smarter – I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

MYDLINK SMART PLUGimg_5283-1

Impressions:

I plugged this in the power outlet and started the installation. Then suddenly it asked for a PIN code that’s printed in tiny fonts on the inside of the plug.

I was surprised to see a temperature function. But it’s unclear what temperature it checks. I’m guessing it’s its own inner temperature because the display said 36 degree Celsius in a 21 degree Celsius room. This does not make sense.

The timer allows you to repeat turning on and off. In theory, this would simulate your presence when you’re away. But the time periods are always the same, so in practice this doesn’t work well.

For event control, it offers two options: reaching 30 kWh or reaching 90% of something. I have no clue what these are.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • it’s appealing because it appears to have a lot of functions.

Cons:

  • it’s appealing and then you’ll see that most functions are half done (e.g. event control). A big disappointment.

  • they couldn’t pay me enough to go through the installation again.

Conclusion: Hell no, I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

TP-LINK SMART WI-FI PLUGimg_5285 (1)

Impressions:

All of them should be like this.

Remote access:Remote access is only allowed if you enable it.

Verdict: A big YES: I’d buy it again.

 

 

So which smart power outlet / plug is the best? Which one should you buy?

The winner of this roundup is clearly the tp-link Smart Wi-fi Plug.

The Elgato-Eve Energy would be the runner-up for its flawless software and perfect design. As I said, further testing of this device is required. It’s worth giving this a shot for the Homekit compatibility. If it works, you don’t need to open up your home network and you could still control the power outlet from more than one phones. Third place is not awarded to any of the devices unfortunately. As seen above, all have major issues.

PS.: The goal of this piece was to help you guys. Not buying any of the six not recommended plugs will save you quite some trouble.

 

Guide to cleaning robots

We have been using cleaning robots at home for 15 years, so in this article i will share my experiences of them in general instead of focusing on specific models.

We have been using cleaning robots at home for 15 years, so in this article i will share my experiences of them in general instead of focusing on specific models.

Here are the different types of cleaning robots:

  • robot vacuum cleaner (we have been using one for 14 years)
  • robot duster (we have been using it for 5 years)
  • robot mop (we have been using it for 10 years)
  • robot window cleaner (we have been using it for 4 years)
  • robot swimming pool cleaner (we have been using it for 4 years)
  • robot lawnmower (we haven’t used it)

Robot vacuum cleaner

Most robots still work based on the principle of chaos, that is, they move ahead for a while then change direction. With this method they can vacuum a room quite thoroughly in 1-2 hours. This method slightly fails along the edges, as the robot moves along as long as it bumps into something or hits the corner of the room. In a 10 m2 room 1 hour is enough, but in a room larger than 15 m2 it should run a 2 hour-long programme. Many of the robots now know how to get back to the charger. We haven’t used this function because the robot is normally left in one room per day. After usage the dust bag is emptied and the appliance is put on the charger. If you want to use the robot mornings and evenings as well, it is worth using the automatic charging function, as after the morning session you only need to empty the bag once you are back home and the new session can immediately start. The robot is very thorough, therefore emptying the dust bag is highly recommended before usage. The vacuum intensity can by increased by using brushes which also need cleaning after 2-3 occasions. This is a bit more time consuming as hairs get stuck everywhere due to the winding motion.

If it is possible the area to be vacuumed should be well defined so that the robot will not get stuck. For that you should use the virtual wall you get with the robot. It cuts the route of the robot with infra signals. If you do not have an infra wall, cushions or a chair laid on the floor also does the job.

The latest robots map the room first and then begin to clean systematically. From my personal experience I would recommend this function only if there are a lot of obstacles in the room and this type of robot doesn’t cost much more than traditional models working with the chaotic method.

The battery normally lasts for 3 years and with well-known brands (e.g.: iRobot) spare parts are available. One of my robots was 10 years old and I basically got back a new one from them.

An example of this type of robot: https://www.irobot.com/for-the-home/vacuuming/roomba

Robot duster

We love the robot duster the most as it is easiest and simplest to clean and maintain. It functions as a self-propelled dusting cloth. The robot provides the self-propelling part, you have to install the duster before switching the appliance on. We use a simple furniture cloth on every surface (parquets, hard finish) that is not carpet. The chaos concept also works here but we also noticed that on large surfaces the robot works according to the logic of moving along and turning back. With a long programme a 20 m2 surface can be easily cleaned.

It is important to note that this way of cleaning isn’t equal to mopping the floor.

Here is an example for this type of robot: https://www.irobot.com/for-the-home/mopping

Robot mop

This type of robot is very sensitive about being maintained as it uses water. Usage means two distinct steps: first the robot is on and in the second step it is not on but the surface is drying. The latest models have a function for drying but I personally would buy this model only if I did not have to pay any extra. The most common technical problem is connected to the water pump. It is highly recommended to check the instructions as it is not obvious what parts of the appliance you need to clean. The robot is very thorough, it completely removes split fruit juice without leaving sticky stains behind. It is very important to use only non-foaming detergent! We often use warm water with low vinegar content.

An example of this type: https://www.robotguru.hu/irobot-scooba-450-felmoso-robot

Update: as far as I know, iRobot doesn’t produce its models any more. I assume because of maintenance and failure issues…

Robot window cleaner

The robot window cleaner works on the basis of creating vacuum between itself and the window pane and sustains vacuum while moving around. It is wired and the battery is to ensure that the appliance cannot fall off in case of power failure. It does not take into account obstacles, so it always looks for the top corner and horizontally moves forward and back it when cleaning the window. In my opinion it cannot cope with a round shape window. Detergent for cleaning goes in the pads at the bottom of the appliance. I normally apply some detergent on the window too. The result is reasonable as dust disappears but some marks are left behind. We made a mistake of using the robot on the external surface of the windows. The external side is much dirtier due to insects so the robot doesn’t work properly and vacuum force might disappear. If there is no vacuum, the robot falls off. Unfortunately our robot never recovered after an accident despite having been serviced. Therefore, based on our experience the price value ratio of the robot is really low as after one accident it cannot be used anymore.

Here is an example of the robot: https://www.ecovacs.com/us/winbot-window-cleaning-robot/WINBOT-850

Robot pool cleaner

This is also a wired appliance so you must bear in mind that it has to move without obstructions. The material of the cable enhances smooth operation on the surface of the pool, so I always place the cable on the water surface as much as possible. The robot works with a long operation time, much longer than other robot cleaners. More expensive versions also cope with steps and the side walls of the pool. Our appliance can clean about 30 cm of the sides, but it does that well. It continuously sucks water and filters it through a cloth bag. This bag needs cleaning after every use. The appliance was designed to filter small particles of dirt maximally, so it is not recommended to use it for cleaning your outdoor pool after winter.

Here is an example of the robot: https://www.irobot.com/for-the-home/outdoor-maintenance/mirra

Robot lawn mover

When choosing the type you must pay attention to the size of area the producer recommends it for. This recommendation should be taken as the maximum capacity of the appliance. Why so? Because this type of robot operates according to the idea of continuity. The running time of other types of robots is not much longer than a couple of hours, meanwhile, a robot lawn mower operates “continuously”. It always mows a bit, based on the principle of chaos, so it has to work relatively long and regularly in order to maintain the whole garden. Though we do not own this type of appliance, I cannot image it being used if you are a dog owner. Constant noise, even though not loud, can be disturbing in some cases. If you accept these inconveniences, you will have no problem with the results: you will get a nicely mowed lawn.

It is crucial that the operation area of the robot should be confined with wires before usage. Laying down the wire is not overly complicated task, no one should be afraid of it.

IMPORTANT QUESTION: who is the robot cleaner recommended for?

It is for those who don’t want to complete cleaning in one big project but are willing to “organise” it. Robots demand storing-charging and cleaning and maintaining, these jobs also require some level of organisation by the user.

Smart ventilation – let’s have fresh air in the house at all times

All in all, if you live in a smart home, you shouldn’t just focus on comfort functions. You should also be concerned with life quality and air quality.

This topic is only partly connected to smart homes, as the air quality within the home is pretty much determined by the materials used for insulation and by the equipment operating in the home.

We used to live in a traditional house, categorised for energy efficiency as A/B. We had plastic doors and windows. Airing the rooms was a daily task all the time, because the brick walls didn’t provide adequate air circulation, and the plastic windows hermetically sealed the rooms. When the rooms were aired, the CO2 content went down and you could feel the stuffy air being replaced with fresh air. The main disadvantage of this constant window-opening practice was the temperature fluctuation. In the winter, this meant higher heating bills; in the summer, overly warm rooms.
Then we moved to the smart home I’ve been describing on this blog. This house has a continuously running ventilation machinery to always provide fresh air in the rooms. The chart below shows you the advantages of the system.

img_4309 (1)

You can tell when we moved to the new house; that’s when the relatively high and continuously changing CO2 level switched to a constant and low value. The physiological effect of this is that you no longer breath in stuffy, smelly air – whether sleeping at night or going about your business during the day, you have FRESH air. Let me describe the process without going into too much detail:

  • air keeps coming in from the outside
  • air keeps going out from the inside (the two must be balanced)
  • going through a heat exchanger, the heat of the air inside warms up/cools down the air coming in
  • the air is filtered through with 2-3 air filters. These must be replaced every 6-9 months (this costs 50-75 USD a year)

This sounds great but… sometimes what sounds good in theory, may not work well in practice. We have the misfortune of living in an area where people use solid fuel-fired boilers. So on windless days in the winter smoke settles on the street. It’s particularly bad when your neighbor uses a fireplace from the 1800s to burn every piece of trash he finds, and he has a chimney no taller than 4 m to let the smoke out. So, one day, after the wonderful ventilation system let all the smoke inside the house, we came up with a solution: we decided to add active carbon filters to better filter the air in the heating period. Unfortunately, on those days when the weather was really windless and the neighbor burnt really stinky stuff, not even this solution worked. Even though it looked like it could withstand a chemical attack… So we finally realised that the only thing we could do is to set a timer for the ventilation system, which until then worked continuously. Now we turn it off between 4 pm and 10 pm. This was the time period when the smoke was particularly unbearable. Of course this is only needed when the external temperature goes below 15 degree Celsius.

Why am I saying this? I just wanted to warn you guys that while the fresh air effect of the ventilation system is great, you always must pay attention to every factor. If you want to use something more sophisticated than your senses to measure the air quality, you’ll need smart gadgets.

netatmo1-100663890-large (1)

I’ve grown to like the Netatmo product family because

  • it has a clear and informative interface

img_4310-copy

  • its rain forecast is based on local air pressure data, so to me it seems more precise than anything I’ve tried
  • if you want to monitor more than one locations, you can easily do so on your phone (e.g. your vacation home)
  • it measures CO2 data
  • it stores historical data, so if you need to look something up for some reason, the data are there at your disposal
  • it checks sound volume, so it can act as a burglar alarm
  • it can be connected to external services. For help with this, check out  https://ifttt.com/netatmo

All in all, if you live in a smart home, you shouldn’t just focus on comfort functions. You should also be concerned with life quality and air quality.

Door locks in the Smart Home

When considering door locks, I came up with a list of door types in the Smart Home, differentiated by their functions.

When considering door locks, I came up with a list of door types in the Smart Home, differentiated by their functions. Then I selected the adequate lock after analysing usage habits. The types are:

  • interior doors with normal catches
  • interior doors locked to keep children out
  • interior doors allowing entry for me only
  • garage gate
  • yard gate
  • front door

For the first type, in order to enable easy opening, I wanted no lock, only a handle.

Interior doors with locks

For the second and the third types, the goal was to find a solution that allows you to open them without having to carry anything with you. This ruled out keys right away. You have to keep an eye on keys, and sooner or later you’ll misplace them. Modern, touch-enabled locks will not work, either, because you’d have to take a sensor or a phone with you. This just isn’t practical. And I’ve found finger print-enabled solutions too expensive. So what’s the solution? Code handles. You won’t be flooded with options for this one. I’ve found the manufacturer of the perfect handle for interior doors with locks, and this is the Assa Abloy code handle.

IMG_4270
Its operation couldn’t be simpler. When you hold the handle, the keypad is at hand, and you can enter your 5-digit code in seconds. For us, the only problem was coming up with several codes that are easy enough to remember. Finally, I’ve taped a number to every handle, and used a particular logical sequence to work out a code from that. For example, you press that number twice, then press the number to its left twice. This gives you a combination that’s different for every door yet easy to remember. This works best as a way of childproofing, but only until about the age of 10, when it doesn’t keep the kids out any more. This means that, unfortunately, for the rooms where I want access only for myself, I had to come up with a unique code that I had to memorise. The batteries in the handle last for over 6 months even with intensive use. Since we installed these handles two years ago, they’ve never stopped working. They also come with an automatic locking function. With this, you’ll never leave the door unlocked because it automatically locks after 30 seconds. Of course, the door is only locked from the side of the code handle. From the other side, you can simply open it. This answers the frequently asked question of what happens if your child accidentally locks himself/herself in: nothing, because he/she can simply come out by pressing the handle on the inside.

Garage gate

In addition to the usual remote-control operation, you should enable controlling the garage door via the Smart Home system. This comes in handy when, for example, the remote is on the car key but you’re taking the bike and not the car. In this situation, all you need is your cell phone. We also put a button for the garage gate on the wall inside the garage for the kids. This way they can open and close the garage gate without a phone.

Yard gate

From a functional perspective, it’s very similar to the garage gate. The most important difference is that the garage gate is an entry to your house while the yard gate only allows visitors in the yard. Our yard gate can be opened with a proxy key and through the Smart Home system. The proxy is a type of key you can give to your children before they get their first cell phone. You can also give the gardener a sensor, so he/she can work even when you’re away. You’ll need the Smart Home control here because once you decide that you’ll let in the person at the gate, you should be able to open the gate from inside your house. And finally, all you need to gain entry to your house is your cell phone.

I’d like to briefly address the weakest link in controlling the house from the street: the Wi-Fi signal. There are three options to access the Smart Home system when you’re standing outside:

  • running outdoor Wi-Fi if the Wi-Fi signal from the house can’t reach the gate
  • logging into the Smart Home system via VPN and opening the gate from there
  • opening up the house to the Internet (not recommended)

Front door

Regarding the front door lock, the main issue was the cleaning staff. As we didn’t use locks that opened/closed with keys, I couldn’t simply give a key to the house to the cleaning lady. The sensor that opened the yard gate could have been set to open the front door, too, but as such gadgets are easy to misplace, this solution would have been a security risk. I ruled out a Smart Home-linked lock because one, I didn’t want to give the cleaner access to the Smart Home system, and two, what if she doesn’t have a smart phone. After much searching, I’ve found a lock that works with a code and a fingerprint: Burg Watcher. The lock uses batteries both for the lock and on the keypad side. In our experience, the batteries on the keypad side lasted for 6 months, while on the lock side they worked for more than a year. The only downside of this lock is that it’s affected by dew. Under dewy conditions, the fingerprint scanner becomes unreliable. When this happens, you must use the code to get in.

Other things I wouldn’t mind trying

I’ve looked at many a smart lock but found no distributor for them in Europe. For some reason or other, the Apple Store, for example, sells smart locks only on its American site. Looking further, I’ve found this article that compares locks that are available in the market. You’ll find further ideas and aspects to consider here.

Smart Home case study: outdoors

Outdoor automation

Cameras

Modern IP-based cameras (for example Trendnet) can record in HD quality with a distance range of 30-40 metres even at night. Moreover, you can easily automate their control even without calling a technician by using a NAS device (such as the Synology J series). You can set many different sensor modes and recording modes. The camera footage should be continually screened on old tablets that are attached to the wall in some of the more high traffic areas of the house (for example the lobby or the kitchen). As for recording quality, I would suggest 1 fps rate. This produces okay-quality still images while requiring less storage, allowing you to keep the footage for as long as you need. You should also put up a sign, clearly visible from the outside, that your property is under CCTV surveillance/it has an alarm system/it has a dog that bites.

Garage gate and yard gate

Opening and closing doors/gates are essential functions of controlling your Smart Home. For example, when you open your garage gate, it’s good if your garage door also opens. Don’t use an IR gate as the emergency mechanism to stop the closing of the yard gate. If you have foot traffic by your house, people walking by may inadvertently keep the yard gate open for a long time.

Garden lights around the entrance

Using a motion sensor to turn the light on/off here is a no-brainer. You’ll probably need a sensor by the front door and one by the yard gate. The distance between the gate and the door can be covered by correctly timing the lights. Up-to-date systems “understand” sunrise and sunset, so if you set your motion sensor to only turn the light on when the sun is no longer out, the light will not be unnecessarily on.

Lights elsewhere in the garden

Security cameras come with night vision, so just for the cameras, you don’t need to have the lights on. Gardens don’t need constant lighting because you’re not out there all the time. In my house, you can control different mood lights for the garden manually at the Smart Home control unit.

Driveway heating

The problem is that if your driveway has thicker pavement, regular heating cables will not be able to heat it through. Even if you’re using thinner pavement, it takes at least 3-4 hours for the heating to start melting the snow. You can automate the driveway heating by connecting it to an outdoor temperature sensor. But I have yet to figure out how to tell the system when icing begins. So for now, I continue to use the device own internal sensors and controls. 

What doesn’t belong to the Smart Home system and why?

Alarm system

For the alarms, I’ve chosen a stand-alone system. We only have data exchange between the Smart Home and the alarm system. This means that once the alarm is turned on, the Smart Home manages the additional functions:

  • automatic moving of shades
    presence simulation by randomly switching lights

Irrigation system

Modern irrigation systems do pretty well watering your plants on their own in accordance with precipitation levels and the season. Since I needed a controller unit for the sprinklers to coordinate different irrigation zones anyway, I didn’t see the point in combining the irrigation system with the Smart Home.

Heating the house

The expectation for the heating system is to provide a constant temperature in the house with the help of thermostats. This means that there’s no point in using the Smart Home to control the heating. If your house has modern insulation, using the “holiday function” only makes sense if you’re away for weeks. And this can be turned on manually.

Coming up next: what’s in store for the Smart Home? Can this all be taken any further?

Smart Home case study: kitchen

Today the kitchen is seen as the center of the home which has to meet a lot of requirements at the same time. This means that automation and manual operation live together. Everyday scenarios are set based on that.

Everyday situations in the kitchen

Daytime: this is the default setting

  • The lighting should only be on if the outdoor light sensor deems it necessary. If possible, you should have some basic lighting that you can enhance with spotlights. In this scenario, the spotlight is not needed.

Flood light/spotlight needed: manual operation

  • Regardless of the time of the day it switches every light on

Sleeping/Night time: based on the time period

  • Only the night light is on. You’ll really appreciate this setting when you go to the kitchen for your midnight snack and you don’t have all the lamps shining in your sleepy eyes. You need this lighting during power failures, too.

 

 

Extra tips

  • The kitchen is the centre of your home which is why you the universal chargers for your gadgets (minimum one per family member) should be placed here. Let me give an example.
  • The number of kitchen appliances is rising, so min. 10 sockets should be available at the worktop, 6 definitely won’t be enough.
  • Additional local lighting is essential but they can also be manually operated (e.g.: cooker).

Utility room and/or larder

In a lot of households it is in the kitchen. Should it be a separate room, you should take into consideration the following aspects:

  • lighting controlled by a motion sensor,
  • socket with timer function for the iron + extra lighting+ tv, should the ironing take too long
  • humidity sensor might come in handy.

Coming up next: outdoor tips

Smart Home case study: bathroom and restroom

Everyday scenarios in the bathroom and in the restroom

Daytime

  • the lighting should only be on if the outdoor light sensor deems it necessary. If possible, you should have some basic lighting that you can enhance with spotlights. In this scenario, the spotlight is not needed.

Spotlight needed

  • the system turns on all lights regardless of the time of the day.

Night time

  • only the night light is on. You’ll really appreciate this setting when you go to the restroom at night and you don’t have all the lamps shining in your sleepy eyes. You need this lighting during power failures, too.

 

Extra tips:

  • water sensors to detect leaks can come in handy. They should be placed away from the bathtub so that they don’t get splashed.

  • the occupied sign is useful even in the family. Choose a door knob that can signal this.

  • if you use an electric towel warmer, it should come with a timer. You can set it to turn off automatically for example after 60 minutes.

  • Firing up your sauna should be connected to your smart home system. Even infrared saunas work better if they run for a few minutes before the session. Finnish saunas need 30-60 minutes to heat up before they can be used.

 

General lighting is controlled by the presence sensor. The presence sensors should be set at the sensor or at the home management system with delayed activation. This way lack of movement will not trigger the OFF mode immediately. For us, a delay of 120 sec works best.