Three Easy Ways to Get Started With Home Automation

| How-To

Lately I have written a fair amount about home automation, discussing hubs and resident devices and intricate setup steps. This makes home automation sound kind of intimidating, but there are some good ways to dip a toe into home automation without having to spend loads of time deciding on types of switches or configuration options.

Philips Hue

I've talked about why Philips Hue lights are a good idea, and the biggest reason is because it's easy. Basically you plug everything in, download an app, and you're ready to go. There's even an option in the official app (as well as an IFTTT action) for having the lights automatically come on. Here's how to set that up:

Launch the Philips Hue app and go to Scenes and create a scene that turns on the lights you want to have on when you come home. Tap on the three lines at the top left of the screen, then tap on Geofencing and you'll see two options: Arriving and Leaving. We'll set up arriving. In this screen, select your location and you can even flip a switch for only having the lights turn on after sunset.

Philips Hue app setting up geofencing.Setting up geofencing with the Hue app. 

Now whenever you come home you'll have a light (or lights) on automatically. Never coming home to a dark house is a really nice thing to automate.

WeMo Switch

Another option for automation is to use the oddly named WeMo switches made by Belkin. Again there's very little setup, and you don't have to worry about walking through confusing configuration screens. A WeMo switch is like a middleman for your outlet. Just plug in the switch, plug something into it, and you're all set.

A WeMo switch from Belkin. Just plug something in and you're ready to go.

In the WeMo app you can automate having a particular item turn on and off at a set time. Here's how:

Launch the WeMo app and tap on Rules, then tap on the plus to create a new rule:

Options for setting up a rule in the WeMo app.

Select "By time, sunrise/sunset" and then choose the device you want to turn on. I have a water boiler connected to one of my WeMo switches, and I want it to come on at 6:20 so that no matter how much water is in it, I can get boiling water at 6:45. Select the time and days you want (you can disable weekends for example) and your rule is ready to go.

Now every morning when I am ready to make a beverage I can just make it, I don't have to turn the water boiler on and wait for it to get hot first, which can sometimes throw off my schedule. This works with curling irons, basic coffeemakers, tea kettles, and more. If there's anything that needs any sort of "ramp up" time, this is an easy way to eliminate that moment of forgetfulness.

WeMo Lighting

WeMo also now has a line of lighting similar to the Philips Hue bulbs. They are LED lights with a hub that allows you to control the lighting remotely. Unlike the Hue set, these are only white bulbs, not color changing. This also means the starter lighting kit is about US$50 instead of about $170 for the Hue gear.

Using the same WeMo mobile app you can control the lights, setting them to a particular brightness or having them come on automatically when the sun sets. Creating a rule works the same as for the WeMo Switch I mentioned above.

WeMo light bulbs with hubWeMo light bulbs and hub. Inexpensive and easy to set up.

These may seem like small things to automate, but the nice thing about setting them up is the convenience. Not walking into a dark house is really nice, and eliminating anything from my morning routine only makes it easier to get going, which is a huge plus. Turning on lights automatically seeems like the least exciting thing you can do with home automation, but it is far and away the one I use most.

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No programmable light bulbs for me: they’re expensive & burn out. I’d rather plug the lamp into a programable device and use cheaper bulbs.

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