Building My Smart Home

I’ve had surveillance cameras for years, but no home automation. I’ve finally started installing home automation devices and do not have a lot done so far. During this limited time, I found things that work well and some things I wish I had done differently.

First, I needed a hub to control everything. It was a tough decision for me to go with the Amazon Echo over the Google Assistant devices. I selected the Echo since I do most of my shopping on Amazon. I am happy with the performance of the Echo and I am also constantly surprised at the many other things it can do in addition to turning things on and off, such as make it sound like someone is home, tell stories, jokes, my audio books from Audible, etc. I purchased two Echo Dots and placed them in the living room and master bedroom. I may purchase a couple more Echos to place in other areas of the house. I often find myself wanting to ask Alexa things when I am not near an Echo dot. I may buy the full-sized Echo since it is much louder.

I chose TP-LINK Kasa smart switches to control lights and a ceiling fan. I really like them and wish I could replace most of the switches in my house, but that would be prohibitively expensive. I will slowly add them a couple at a time. I will also stick with one brand so all switches can be on the same phone app. I would prefer not to have a mix of apps to get to devices to set schedules or groups. I just received a two pack of the three-way light switches for my staircase lights. Some reviewers said both switches don’t need to be installed. Reviewers said one regular switch and one smart switch may be used. This would leave the other switch to be used elsewhere. This will be great if it works since a two pack of three-way switches is cheaper than buying two regular switches.

And if you are wondering, Kasa switches do not toggle up and down in a clicking manner. They are in the on position and may be switched off and on from the switch by pressing the off/bottom section of the switch. The switch will press down, but go back to the on position. You may still use Alexa to turn the device off and on that is connected to the switch after manually using the switch. This means that someone that does not want to use Alexa may use the switches the old fashioned way.

I have a couple smart outlets that just plug in to a regular outlet by another brand. They work with Alexa, but require a separate app. I bought these before buying TP-LINK devices, but will stick with TP-LINK from now on.

For home security, I have Iris by Lowe’s, which is more than just a security system. It can connect to smart home devices and automate your home. I really want a single solution, but I do not know if this is possible so I am sharing my smart home automation between Alexa and Iris. I must say that I found the Ring home security system only after I purchased Iris. I would have likely purchased the Ring system, but I am not going to toss out my Iris system that I have only had about a month. I am also happy with Iris, but I feel Ring is a better choice. I wrote a post on this if you want to know more.

Iris will work like a regular home alarm system in many ways. You add the sensors you want, such as door/window and motion. You may also add moisture detectors and other non-security devices. One issue is that Iris does not come with an audible alarm or cellular backup by default. You may add these separately, but it would be nice if they were included as with Ring. You may add monitoring for $15 per month, but I find the robo call from Iris sufficient. I labeled the number as “Home Alarm” so I am sure to answer it.

There are other little bonuses with using Iris. Rules may be created to notify or do certain things (a bit like IFTTT discussed below). I have Iris set to notify when the alarm was activated or deactivated and to notify me if done by certain people. This way I know when a specific person is in my house. The various Iris sensors and devices report their temperature. I like knowing if my office with a lot of computer equipment is getting too warm. Very useful!

As mentioned above, Iris works with a variety devices and one of these are smoke detectors. I have a Ring Protect smoke detector and I really like it, but it was expensive. I have a lot of smoke detectors in my house and it would cost a small fortune to replace them all with Nest. I purchased a First Alert 2-in-1 Z-Wave Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Alarm for $36 on Amazon and it works with Iris (Iris uses Z-Wave wireless). This will enable Iris to notify me if this smoke detector is activated. If I like it, I will replace my other smoke detectors since they are expired (smoke detectors have a lifespan of about ten years).

A home wouldn’t be that smart if it used regular deadbolts. I purchased the Kwikset SmartCode 914 Keypad Smart Lock (Amazon Key Edition) so I could receive Amazon deliveries in my house when I am not home. This version of the deadbolt came with a surveillance camera (required by Amazon) and the deadbolt connects to the app via the camera. This is because the deadbolt uses Z-Wave wireless, which is different than WiFi. Iris uses Z-Wave and could be used to control the lock, but I do not know if I can connect the deadbolt to both the Amazon camera and Iris. I must have the deadbolt connected to the camera for the in-home delivery, so I will be testing if it may be used with both. I will update this page with the results.

I previously had another Kwikset deadbolt that used codes to unlock the door, but it was not wireless. This meant I had to remove a plate from the inside portion of the deadbolt and manually enter or remove codes. The SmartCode 914 Keypad Smart Lock can be programmed and also locked/unlocked from the phone app. I ended up moving the old deadbolt to a different door.

On a side note, most of my friends think I am crazy for allowing in-home delivery. The Amazon camera records all deliveries and other motion at the door from the inside the house. The delivery people do not even step inside. They open the door with a onetime code and reach in to place the package on the floor. You can tell they are going out of their way for their feet to not even break the threshold. You also know a delivery is coming because the app notifies you. I am comfortable with this delivery method.

One of my first smart home devices was my Nest thermostat and I love it. I didn’t always feel this way because the thermostat had some serious firmware issues that made it almost useless. These issues were resolved and it works well. I can use the app or Alexa to control the temperature in my house. It also has a learning feature, but I do not care for it because my schedule varies. I hate being up later than usual and having the air conditioner shut off. I don’t realize this until I am uncomfortable and discover Nest shut off the AC because I am usually in bed by this time. I prefer to manually adjust the temperature.

If That Then This – also known as IFTTT. This is a way of making devices working together. I signed up for this service, but I have not done anything significant with it yet. I am not using Iris to control smart switches or outlets since mine are WiFi and not Z-Wave. I would like Iris to be able to turn on lights or other things if the alarm is triggered. I am hoping IFTTT can do this since it is supported by both Iris and Kasa. I will be exploring this in the future.

Some other things I want to implement are remotely being able to remotely open and close the garage door, have the front door automatically lock when the alarm is set, play sounds from the Echo if the alarm is activated (look up Burglar Deterrent for Echo on Amazon), and more.

I look forward to a future where I can check every aspect of my home. What is the temperature and even the humidity? Are the doors closed and locked? Are the windows closed when the heating or air conditioner is on? Is there a water leak? Is there movement in the house? I will update this post with things I add and what does or does not work for me. I hope this help others to avoid issues and not waste money.

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