How To Paint Your Cabinets – The cheap kitchen makeover!

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The Obligatory Before and After shot

Background:

We moved onto the farm a little over a year ago. While we’ve loved it, we were slowly working on making the inside of the house our home. We moved from a somewhat larger home (Approx. 3000 sqft, PLUS and partially finished basement.) to our 2400 sqft Cape-Cod-style house. The house layout was good, but sadly our kitchen was rather, small. (Our old house had a kitchen that was 30ft long and took two full granite slabs to work the counter space.) Since I consider myself to be somewhat handy (Remember Men, if women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find ya handy.)  and we didn’t want to invest $5,000 to replace and hang our own cabinets, we decided to repaint them white to make the kitchen appear larger. After some google searching and some ideas, the following was my experience:

The Up-front:

  • Painting your cabinets is a painstakingly long chore. It took me 3 full weekends working 10+ hours per day and several days in between. THIS IS NOT A WEEKEND JOB.
  • Painting your cabinets: 80% prep work, 20% actual painting.
  • THE PREP WORK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. CRAPPY PREP WILL CAUSE A CRAPPY JOB.
  • Buy good paint, and buy 2 to 3 gallons of it.
  • You WILL need to prime your cabinets.
  • It’s 85% worth it to do-it-yourself. The 15% percent is deciding on whether or not it’s worth your time.
  • Despite what others have said, you don’t need a sprayer. It does make the job go faster if you have one, however there’s a learning curve and increases prep by 10-fold. We found foam rollers and GOOD brushes to be just as effective.

Cost:

  • Approximately $300 to $500 for painting.
  • Our project included new uppers, and a new microwave oven: ~$1,000

Difficulty:

  • Moderate, but definitely worth it as I’ve seen quotes in the $1500 and over for painting.

Painting your cabinets is a painstakingly long chore. It took me 3 full weekends working 10+ hours per day and several days in between. THIS IS NOT A WEEKEND JOB.

Alright, Let’s Dig Into It:

Step 1: Determining The Scope.

Your first step will be to plan out, both the project and the materials ad nauseam. I started by taking a look at what I wanted to accomplish with my kitchen.

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Our kitchen was always dark due to the back porch’s roof and only getting morning sun.

I wanted to lighten up the place, make the small kitchen appear larger, and give it some more “class.” In addition, range hood over our stove wasn’t even vented. It was just a fan to suck everything up and blow it right up into the room, I love to cook, so we wanted to fix that. Finally, we’re packrats so we wanted to make more shelf space.

To accomplish this, I wanted to add new cabinets up top, use a white-based color, and install a proper hooded vent. Mid-project, I determined that I hated the microwave in that location. Since we were doing this on a budget, I didn’t want to face the upper cabinets, just make nice cubby holes. Once everything was decided, I went to determining what I needed.

Step 2: Gather materials, more than what you think you’ll need.

Before I get into the list of what I need, I need to address the second part of the previous statement. I spent several hours, running back-and-forth between home depot getting parts, materials, and energy drinks. That was just wasted time. Wasting time is wasted money. In other words, if you make, let’s say $15/hour and you have to spend 2 hours going back and forth, that’s $30 dollars of your “time”, in a certain way of speaking. An extra gallon of paint may have costed me $50 dollars, but since I had to wait till the store opened, go there and get more, I wasted that $30. So, just be mindful and plan ahead. Extra paint isn’t a bad thing, running low on sand-paper will cause you to skip prep, and not enough energy drinks/coffee will make you rue the day you started the project.

Materials (With Our Pick in Parens):

  • 2 to 3 gallons of your primary paint color. Pick good paint. Don’t cheap out. I HIGHLY recommend Sherwin Williams. (Sherwin Williams SuperPaint OR Emerald)
    • If you’re doing white, don’t stress out about the “perfect” shade. You can go into any paint place and get samples for $3 to $5 dollars.
    • Also, what we found out with white is that we couldn’t tell the difference between White and Alpine Snow, or the color we decided to go with “Swiss Coffee”. All looked white to us.
  • Primer (Kilz, get it from home depot in the 2 gallon denominations, you’ll need it.)
  • A degreaser/deglosser. (We didn’t use this, I wish we had.)
  • Simple Green. (Don’t use normal soap.)
  • 4 to 6 inch FOAM roller. Has to be foam to get a smooth finish. (See Home Depot)
  • Good-quality paint brushes.
    • You’ll need at least 2 for painting, once again get the BEST. (Wooster Pro Set)
    • 1 for finishing, Best possible. (Wooster Pro, ask home depot for the best one for your finish.)
  • Sand-paper in the following: 80, 120, 220, 320+.
    • I’d recommend also getting the following:
      • Sanding blocks (they look like spongers) in 120 and 220.
      • A replaceable holder for the sand paper. Allows you to change out sheets easily and will save your hands.
    • You can save a lot of effort by purchasing an orbital sander. No need to get the most expensive one, should be $30 to $60 bucks. You’ll need sanding discs in the 80, 120, and 220. (Don’t go over 220, you need to do that by hand with the grain of the wood.
  • A “poly” of your choice in finish you desire: (Minwax Matte Polyacrylic)
    • You NEED to have a protective coating on your cabinets. If not, they’ll be easily damaged/stained.
    • Couple of finish choices:
      • Polyurethane -very difficult for a beginner but if you’ve done this before go ahead. They have a wider array of finishes from matte to satin.
      • Polyacrylic – I love this stuff. It’s easy to apply, very few bubbles, dries in a couple of hours. Also, we got it in matte. We didn’t want “shiny” cabinets. It does add a sheen but no more than eggshell paint. HIGHLY RECOMMEND FOR BEGINNERS.
  • Paintable Caulk
  • Masking Tape, specifically Frog Tape. In my opinion, frog tape is the best for painting. We’ve used the others, all of them. Yes it’s more expensive. Yes you’re going to need like 3-5 rolls of 1″ to 2″. BUY EXTRA. It’s extremely annoying to go all the way back to Home Depot cause you’re 10ft short on tape.
  • Plastic sheets.
  • A roll of paper for taping and coverage.
  • Tack cloth. (basically it’s waxy cheesecloth.)
  • Sponges, rags, washcloths.
  • Paint Respirator with appropriate filters.
  • Eye Protection

Optional for my project:

I hate it when Anna White says she does something that is Pottery Barn-level look for $35 dollars. She doesn’t list everything and tools which many people don’t have.

  • She doesn’t list everything and tool which many people don’t have. Here are some things that I would consider “optional”, since I made new uppers I’m going to list the tools I needed to do so. Why? Because I hate it when Anna White says she does something that is Pottery Barn-level look for $35 dollars. She doesn’t list everything and tool which many people don’t have. I’m not slamming her for this, it’s true that’s what she did and spent on that project. With that being said, I’ll tell you to get paintbrushes, I’m not going to ASSUME you need them or have them in order to complete the task. Since I’m focusing on painting, I’m just going to leave the list for the options:
    • A paint sprayer. (Difficult to use, I tried the first coat of primer and I hated it.)
    • A table saw.
    • Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
    • Pocket screws
    • 3/4″ Birch-faced plywood.
    • Drill
    • Levels
    • Wood Filler
    • ShopVac
    • Beer, lots of beer.
    • A Dremel Oscilating tool.
    • Time
    • Compound Double-Bevel Miter Saw
    • Miter Saw Box
    • Trim
    • 16g Finishing Nailer with 2″ nails.
    • Piping for exhaust from Microwave.
    • Maybe refill that beer.
    • Small moulding trim (something like quarter-round or shoe)

 

Phase 1: The Prep.

Now that we got everything covered, I’m going to go in order of what I did (including building the uppers) since that’s how my brain is wired and my pictures were taken.

  • Pick a 3-4 week period and don’t make plans. We almost didn’t hit our deadline of my sister’s wedding on the farm. I worked 14 and 16 hour days to keep up.
  • Remove EVERYTHING from inside and outside your cabinets. Everything. Even if you’re not doing the insides of the cabinets (Which I still think you should do). Clear off all your countertops. Move everything out of the room. Do not use your stove, oven, you’re going to be eating out a lot.
  • Clean your kitchen. Deep clean your kitchen. Simple Green all surfaces. Clean out the sink. Clean your fridge. Make it a good spiritual start.
  • Use a bucket of hot water and simple green concentrate together with either the back of the sponge or a separate 3M scrubby sponge. Use a concentrated amount of simple green. We’re trying to get all the years of dust and grime off these things. Scrub hard. Scrub Long. You’ll hate this part but TRUST ME, it’s very necessary.
  • Using a clean rag and a bucket of clean hot water to rinse the cabinets. Repeat again.
  • Allow everything to dry. You’ll be happy cause you have a perfectly clean kitchen.
  • At this point, if you bought a chemical deglosser, you’d be following those directions. To skip the cabinet uppers, scroll down to step 14.
  • I began by making new uppers. I made boxes out of the 3/4″ plywood and kreg pocket holes. I would then place it to check alignment. Note: When you measure this stuff, make sure you’re measuring the cabinets and NOT the faces. Cheap cabinets (like mine) are made from particleboard then faced with either laminated or real hardwood. We’re basically doing the same thing with the birch. Why birch? It’s not as porous as other woods and since we’re painting that’s good. I removed the original moulding from the top carefully as to not break it, I wanted to re-apply it to the top.20170521_131209
  • I then continued and kept dry-fitting all of my boxes around the top, making sure they aligned with the cabinet housing and not the cabinet faces. 20170521_180806.jpg
  •  Note: Walls are wavy and not straight, your cabinets were built with that in mind. You may need to put shims in to keep them flowing together. Don’t worry about small gaps at the end, we’ll take care of those later. I discovered as I was screwing the last cabinet of the day that my screw suddenly “stopped” followed by a hissing sound. Turns out my stud finder found a piece of copper pipe. This was a big issue so take your time. Also do stuff when stores are open. In my case, I had to cut a hole in the wall, repair the pipe, then mud it on. Costing me money but more importantly time.

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    Disaster Strikes: When you’re locating studs on the wall, try and anticipate where electrical and most importantly plumbing may be.
  • Once I had finished dry fitting and securing the cabinets, I worked on making the trim pieces for the front of the cabinets. Using the front vertical trim of the cabinet under it as a guide for width on each piece. I did the “outside edges” (meaning edges with no joined cabinet with thin pieces. The insides (where two cabinets meet) was a wider strip to cover both. Then I cut stripes for the bottom, these were 1″ in width and fit between the two verticals. All pieces were put in place by the finishing nailer. Once I had verified alignment,  I began finding all the studs, and using different screws of different lengths secured the upper cabinets to the lowers and the back wall. Using shims, I did my best to keep the top trim on the original cabinets and the bottom piece of trim on my new ones. There are discrepancies of course, no one has noticed and really the “farm house” style (meaning I can get away with imperfections) is kinda in, so there’s that. . Using the wood filler, I filled in all the gaps I had between the cabinets.
  • Then, the crown moulding as added back into place. This was kind of difficult cause the crown moulding needed to be nailed down to the top of the cabinet. Since I didn’t have the clearance necessary for my nail gun, I instead used a common board cut to length (actually, they had this already on the top of the old cabinets on the long run, and I repeated where necessary. You WILL have gaps if you do it this way. Not to worry, I used the small shoe moulding to create a more sophisticated transition, AKA, hide the imperfections. Any remaining gaps were filled with paintable caulk. 20170524_093840
  • The next step was to solve the problem of my flame hood and that huge black microwave sticking out. My original plan was to build new uppers over the oven  and simply have a black pipe going up and vent it out the roof. The previous owners simply had a shelf that the microwave sat on, and it probably stuck out just as far as the fridge. Extremely annoying and made that area small.
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    What to do about that range good?

    So, the wife and I worked out a solution. We got a KitchenAid MicrowaveConvection oven that was able to be vented. This was a must for me as I tend to use cast-iron and cook inside when making pan-seared steaks/fajitas. Smoke would inevitably rise into the sealing setting off the smoke alarms. Some microwaves will re-circulate the area using charcoal/grease traps but they’re no where NEAR as good as just pumping it outside. The flame good was removed and the new microwave set up.

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    The “fun” design part had to be modified and so were my plans.

    So, since I had to modify my original plan, had to make a faux top shelf for the microwave to mount through. Then we ran the piping outside using a Dremel, some aluminum tape and southern ingenuity. (Aka, the directions asked for parts no one had so we modified it to work.) We were then at a loss for the cabinet, but that’s okay, I closed it off in a sense with another board, made more trim and created a blank top. (We’re come back to that blank top.

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    Created a new panel for a design.

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    Using the shoe trim, I created another box to add some texture.
  • After finishing all new construction, it was time for sanding. Remove ALL doors. Remove the hinges from the doors/cabinets. On each door on the inside of where the hinge used to be, write with a sharpie the cabinet number and keep track of what door goes wear with a master guide on a piece of paper. Cover that number with a piece of frog tape. This is so later when you’re re-assembling everything you’ll be able to know which door goes where. Once you’ve got everything removed, now’s the time to sand, sand, and more sand. If you feel the de-glosser did a good enough job on your cabinets, you can use that but in order for primer and paint to stick well, it needs a rough surface. Use 120-grit and work your way to 220. This is the longest and honestly most difficult part. It takes forever. Your home gets dusty, luckily since I have a more traditional closed-concept home I created a dust zone and vented everything outside with a box fan. Take the doors outside to be sanded. It’s also nice to pickup little painting pylons from Home Depot or you can search on how to paint cabinet doors specifically so you can find various apparatus that work for you. I ended up taking bits of 2x4s with screws to have make-shift painting blocks. I then put sheets of plywood on saw-horses to make a useable table to paint on. For shaker-style cabinets, you’ll need to get into the crevices really well as dust/dirt/oil/grime really get down in their. 3M makes a sanding “sponge” with a sharp edge that works well for getting in there. TAKE YOUR TIME. THIS PART SUCKS.
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    You can see I combined my orbital sander with my shop vac to ease dust collection.

    We also covered everything with plastic as we were spraying. IF YOU’RE SPRAYING: COVER EVERYTHING WITH PLASTIC. TAPE EVERYTHING DOWN. 

 

  • The nearing the last stage of prep: Wait. You’ll need to wait overnight and stop all airflow into the room. This allows all the dust particles to settle, then my wife’s least favorite part, cleaning again. Except this time, use just plain water with a damp rag. Remove all dust. Then wait for it to dry again. Using the tack cloth, wipe all surfaces down. Then can get the particles the wet rag left behind. The doors get the same treatment outside.
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    Since is the the last time we’ll clean, make sure it’s a good deep cleaning again.

    Now you’re ready to finishing putting up all plastic.

  • Since we were spraying on our primer, we covered EVERYTHING we could. I’ll write a lesson’s learned article as well however, I over-sprayed causing a lot of drips which increased my time to re-sand, re-clean, and re-paint all areas. We also didn’t do a good enough jobs cleaning/degreasing which is why I’m telling you the emphasis on it. The paint will not stick over the oils and it’ll have a “bleed through” effect, where really its just where paint won’t stick and gets shoved aside. Spraying also took over 12 hours to fully dry. Honestly, it’s easier to just use a foam roller. Also, it’s tempting to get a “Nice thick coat” however, you’d be doing yourself a favor doing several light coats, (2 or 3) as it’ll dry quicker, it’ll be more even, and less of a headache. The doors get the same treatment outside. I don’t recommend during this during a hot-humid summer as it’ll take forever to dry and bugs like white. Fall/Spring is better.
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    Here we have a nice primed cabinets. We sprayed the first coat. Even with the prep we did it STILL wasn’t enough. We switched to foam rollers.

    After you finish priming, you’re going to use the 320 grit sandpaper and lightly rough up the primed coat. Then wipe everything down with tack-cloth. Fix any imperfections by completely sanding down the area and starting over. Where you have “globbed paint” it won’t totally be dried until a good 24-48 hours, so it’s easier just to start over from scratch than to fix it later.

  • After you’ve finished with your primed layer it’s time to start painting. Using your thinest angled brush, go over over all the inside corners of the cabinets. Next, use your foam roller to paint the insides. Remember, we’re doing several light coats. If you’re painting them white, you’ll understand what I mean when I say “White is White” earlier, you won’t be able to tell a big difference between somewhere you’ve primed vs. where you’ve painted. Using your brush, go over the and crown moulding. Pay attention to brush-stroke direction. You want to go with the natural grain of the wood for areas that will only get brush attention. Then go over the outside. The outside goes quick. By the time you’ve finished with your first light coat, wait 30 more minutes, everything will probably be dry enough for a second coat. Lather-rinse-repeat as much as you’d like. You want to build up a couple layers for nicks and scratches. After you’ve finished painting, rip everything off. You’d think you’re done but we’ve still got a couple more things to do. After you’ve got rid of all the plastic, you’ll see areas around the edges where the paint dried over the Frog Tape and when you peeled it off, it left areas where it ripped the paint off. That’s fine cause now we’re going finish it. Next, go outside and paint the doors. I hear both good things about painting doors horizontally (meaning flat) and some people making contraptions that they “hang” on. Just remember, doing light coats is your best bet.
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    Already looks MUCH better here but check out the right side. There’s where the paint ripped off. Some places it’s more dramatic than others.

     

  • Now, re-tape around the edges of your cabinets. Get a wet rag, and PAINTABLE white caulk. Anywhere there are gaps, you’re going to put caulk into them. This includes around the edges where they connect to walls. As I said before, walls aren’t straight, they’re wavy. Putting this paintable caulk in there will fix that and make each cabinet look perfectly fitted. Caulk take a while to perfect the technique, but you’ll want to make a small then bead of caulk, get your finger nice and wet with the rag, then run your finger along the corner. It should “smoosh” it into the crack and making a bevel. Wipe your finger off and repeat. BEFORE THE CAULK DRIES, go ahead and remove the frog tape. This will make a nice crisp line and the caulk won’t have the same problem as the paint earlier. After everything is dried, replace frog tape you removed around the edges. Then using your brush, go over where you’ve caulked or fixing the paint. Once again, BEFORE THE PAINT DRIES remove the frog tape revealing another crisp line. You should be okay with only 1 coat and we’re just blending but if you want, feel free to repeat.
  • Finally, finish your doors in the same manner. Doors are a bit trickier however because you have two planes in which you want coverage, the tendency with this is for you to brush from edge to edge. Every time you do this, you’ll leave a higher deposit of paint at the edge of the door. You’ll need to stay on top of that. Most likely, you’ll need to wait for them to completely dry, sand them down, wipe them off, and re-apply. I painted the door on top of of 2x4s that I cut into small chunks. My friend made a hanging system to do the same. There isn’t necessarily a more right and wrong way I can say however that don’t do it when it’s humid outside, it’ll take FOREVER to finish.
  • Finally, we’re in the home stretch and this is the easy part but most important for making your paint job last. Grab your finish, if you’re using the polycrylic, you’ll have a really easy time with this part. Polyurethane ,I find to be much more difficult. Basically, get the best brush you bought. You’ll want light coats on the fronts. You can go quickly by first doing all of the outer/horizontal surfaces. By the time you’ve finished, check the beginning part, it’ll probably be dry enough to go over.  (I used the polycrylic, polyurethane is going to take a lot longer.) You want to build up a solid coverage for this. The reason is that latex-based paints are great when stuck onto rough surfaces but the more smooth a surface (or you’ll like me and didn’t spend enough time sanding) it’ll be more prone to flaking off and bubbling. Also, it’s very easily nicked by putting in/out pots and pans. The polycrylic dries hard protecting that and from stains/scrubbing. So, same as before you may want to do 3 or 4 THIN coats. Places where it’s like to get a lot of splash, say under a coffeemaker or sink, you’ll want to go ahead and do more. If you have left overs, go ahead and keep adding layers to the door.
  • And there you go! You’re all done! Now add your hardware and mount your doors. Remember that tape we put in the holes of the doors earlier? If you peel that off, you should have everything you need to put the doors back in their correct locations. 20170611_191638

This was a long process and a very long article. So, it’s not here really for daily reading. The most important thing I want to get across is taking your time and doing the prep work. Also, like Reading Rainbow, don’t just take my word for it, browse around on Pinterest and other blogs.

My next article will be on my lessons learned on this project. I’ve somewhat integrated them into this, but there were a ton of “last minute things” I wish I knew.

Till next time!

-David

Forget Bugout Bags, Build an EDL Bag (Every Day Life!)

About 3 years ago, Atlanta saw some of the worst snow ever… well actually it wasn’t snowing that bad but there was a major problem, the sheer amount of traffic from delayed dismissal caused major interstates and highways to shut down. People were forced to flee from their cars due to the combination of gridlock, low fuel, and freezing temperatures. A co-worker’s trip home took 17 hours instead of the normal 1.5 hours. While this isn’t certainly a common experience I really think there are some things you should have in your car really to keep it ready for, well, life. The goal of this bag is to keep it as practical and as cheap as possible. You don’t need a survival knife with built-in compass, GPS locator, and fishing kit. We’re planning on those things like: “Susie’s soccer practice is running late, I need a quick snack.”, “there’s a flat tire and it’s pouring down rain at night”, or the worst “I have an interview and I’m missing a button on my dress shirt!”

A quick note: You don’t need to go out and buy all this stuff at once. You’ve obviously survived without some or all of it until now. The things you’ll put in your bag will stay there, so don’t put anything you’ll use elsewhere or need. Obviously, if you use it, it needs to go back to whence it came or be replaced. With that being said, don’t put anything in there you’re not afraid to get stolen. A backpack is a quick score for a thief. Start slow and cheap with the basics and what you have around the house. Remember: it’s your life and money, use what you got.

 

A Proper Backpack

 

Why: Imagine your car dies and won’t start back up. No cell reception to call AAA. You’re stuck with a 5-10 mile hike to the nearest gas station at night. Having all your supplies with you is a good idea.

I’m going to catch some flack because I’m not doing as I say however, you need a decent cheap backpack. I strongly recommend not getting one of those tactical bags with Molle webbing and modular attachments. Something like a traditional old L.L. Bean bag works just as well as those. However, I have an older “tactical” bag that I got for $15 dollars. The reason I say you shouldn’t use one is depending on the situation if you need to flee your car (let’s say zombies did happen) you looking like a boy or girl scout and seemingly prepared makes you a target. Looking inconspicuous is your best bet. In all reality, that’ll never happen so find whatever you have laying around the house with two straps works. (A gym bag works in a pinch but in my opinion having 1 strap is going to cause you some pain. However, to each his own)

 

1-Day’s change of clothes. (I’m cheating here as there are multiple items but you need to have 1-pair of underwear, socks, a shirt, and a small towel.)

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Good way to keep the back organized.

Why: You drank a little too much and you’re being a responsible adult and staying at your friend’s house, it’s a very hot day and you need to freshen up before going out later, or (happens to me often) you went to the gym and realized you forgot underwear.

I can’t emphasize how gross it is to put on your gym underwear after finishing your workout. If you’re going home it’s okay but if you’re about to go to work well… it’s not very hygienic nor comfortable for you or others. No worries! Just go get your spares that are in your car. There have also been times when I’ve been working late and instead of driving 1.5 hours home only to sleep and return to work in 5 hours I could simply stay at my in-law’s house which is closer. Having some spare clothes for the next day will help explain a few things the next day. Also, who doesn’t feel better in a fresh pair of undies?

The small towel can help on a sweaty day, dry you off if you’re caught in a rainstorm, or clean up spills. Don’t bring a huge bath towel but a hand towel should be fine.

 

One of those emergency ponchos that come in its own little baggy.

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While not very fasionable at least you’ll be dry.

Why: You have a flat and it’s pouring rain or you’re at your kid’s little league game and forgot an umbrella.

Look, Weather is dumb and Weather Forecasts are too. These ponchos are great to have in your car. For a few bucks, it’s a quick waterproof shell to cover you in both survival situations and everyday life. Don’t worry about those big bulky yellow ones. The small pre-packed ones are what you’re gunning for. They’re inexpensive so they’re good enough for a single use and you can either discard it or try to repack it if it’s in good enough condition. Chances are you’ll never really need this but I can promise you that you’ll be glad you have one. I have one of those pocket jackets that are “waterproof” which isn’t really waterproof as much as it’ll work until it’s soaked. The great thing about plastic? It’s 100% waterproof and as long as it’s not torn you’ll be dry. (Unless you’re a certain former President.) They even have them for kids! Granted you’ll look like a walking trash bag but hey, at least you’re dry at the kid’s game.

 

A few road flaresEmergency triangles, and Safety Vest: Or buy all three from Home Depot and cover more at once!

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Why: A deer runs out in front of you at night and you run into a tree or you get a flat.

In Japan, it’s law to have at least 1 road flare and emergency triangle in your car. Honestly, it makes sense and it’d be a smart idea if the US did the same. Why two road flares? You’re going to light one and set it 100ft from you down the road. This will catch any drivers attention. The road triangle will go 25-50ft from you and the final road flare you’ll put near you. This will alert drivers who have difficulty seeing at night, are driving too fast, or have their headlight out. People often think since they have headlights they can see but you’d be surprised (quite literally when they side-swipe you). The road flare near you will assist them in seeing you AND help you see. It’ll also help police/emergency personnel locate you and know you need assistance. Even if you call AAA or whomever to come and get your car you won’t know the exact mile marker you’re on so can help by saying “I’m putting a big burning candle there.” There’s also a bonus, road flares work even if it’s pouring rain (Actually some work underwater) and can assist in fire-starting. (So be careful). Speaking of, make sure you remember how long they last, there is a big difference between a 15-minute and 30-minute in how much you can accomplish or length of time waiting. As far as the safety vest, some flare kits already come with one but seriously, you do not realize how hard it is to see someone at night. Looking stupid for a short while is worth your life. They’re cheap and can be used even if you decide to go for a late night run.

These are going to go in with your car tools. They don’t need to go in your bag but I would at least keep 1-flare and safety vest in your bag. If you have small kids you need to walk with, get one for them too.

 

An old pair of shoes, tennis shoes will work but if you have a pair of waterproof hiking boots, all the better.

Why: Remember that 10-mile hike? Guess what sucks in heels or dress shoes. What’s worse? Having wet feet. Perhaps maybe a last minute decision to go for a  walk?

Again, don’t go out buy a brand new pair of shoes for this. We’re not hiking the Appalachian Trail or running a marathon. Use whatever you have that you don’t wear anymore. I have several pairs of running shoes that don’t provide enough support for running but for day-to-day but in emergencies work great. If they’re tennis shoes, treat them with some additional waterproofing spray. I recommend hiking boots only for the additional traction and coverage since they tend to be more supportive/protective but tennis shoes would always be a better all-around fit. I heard a few years ago during the Atlanta Snowpocalypse people had to walk a few hours home, if you were wearing dress shoes or heels would be murder not to mention freezing cold. It’s also nice if you’re simply out and a sudden change of plans means a lot of walking.

 

A small medical kit/hygiene kit.

Why: You’re out and about and get a cut, your allergies are bothering you, or worse more serious injury.

I cannot convey the importance of having a quality medical kit not only at home but in your car. You can go down to CVS and buy one of those “kits” that look sufficient enough but you need a couple more things:

A temporary splint/sling. (For when you hurt your arms or ankles having one of these can go a long way for your comfort or of others.

Insta-clot. With a little training, even something like a deep enough cut on your hand/arm/leg this can assist in stopping the bleeding (or even bullet wounds). These are great if you’re alone and run off the road. The ambulance might be awhile and you losing blood isn’t helping matters.

Waterproof Sports-tape and assortment of gauze pads. Let’s face it, band-aids never stay in the places we need them to like on your finger or knee. A small roll of sports tape can be used to tape an injured finger to another one or attach large gauze pads to big scrapes.

A clean cotton handkerchief or cloth. (For absorbing blood or tying a brace.)

This is also the one item which should break my rule of cheap and what you have. A quality kit with necessary items will cost some money. Do not go cheap, but instead pay attention to the amount of items contained in the kit. You can also assemble one yourself.

A quick hygiene kit can go a long way as well, Deodorant and Crest Wisps while not necessary aren’t bad ideas in case you forget or have an onion-infested salad. Feminine hygiene products should be in here too, regardless of your sex. I use tampons a lot as tinder for starting fires but they can also be used to plug puncture wounds and they’re generally wrapped in a protective coating. Plus, being a brother and a husband, sometimes you may get asked if you happen to have one. Anyone woman in need may question as to why but they’ll be thankful just the same.

A sewing kit with a few spare buttons.

91kuizjz23l-_sl1500_
Good Choice from Amazon but it has more than what’s necessary.

Why: You had one-too-many burritos and your pants button popped off. Or your off going to an important interview and you noticed a button missing on your shirt.

You’ll need a needle, some thread, and some buttons of various sizes and types. They have little emergency sewing/repair kits which work great. Make sure they have common thread colors like black, navy, and white.

Most dress shirts have two spare buttons at the bottom for emergencies just like this, but a lost pants button could be devastating.

Finally, a little sewing knowledge couldn’t hurt and you could do more repairs to other things, like a broken backpack strap.

A blanket and emergency blanket. (Once again, I’m cheating with two.)

 

Why: You’re driving late at night, it’s cold, and you want to take a rest for an hour at a rest stop/late night sporting event on a cool evening. You’ve been in an accident and/or having car trouble and you’re not in range to call someone.

Chances are the first example is the most likely to happen but the second could occur. In the introduction, I spoke about Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse. Many people left their vehicles because they were running out of gas and weren’t prepared for the cold. Contrary to what you’ve seen on TV, never leave your car at night or in the cold unless instructed to do so.  (Unless the safety of your car is in question such as an accident that causes fluid leaks.) Your car is probably the safest place you can be, even at night having a rigid structure, some insulation, and locks. If you’re stranded on the side of the road, and the gas station is 10-15 miles away it’s going to take some time to walk there. You’re better off sitting in your car waiting until morning. In the mean time put your emergency triangles out. Chances are someone will be along like the Police, who can assist you. In the meantime, especially if it’s cold, your car will at least be several degrees higher than the outside but that doesn’t mean you can’t get hypothermia or simply just be cold. I recommend grabbing a cheap small packable blanket like these AND an emergency blanket. Emergency blankets are great as they reflect body heat back onto you. The packable down blanket can also be added for comfort for any occasion. (I.E. outdoor sporting event where you just need a little more heat). Just make sure you can pack it in your bag with everything else as if you need to egress from your vehicle its small enough to carry. I also like wool-blend blankets like the army uses as they’re strong enough to put down on the ground while changing tires.

Tools: The Short Version

 

A small mechanics tool kit like this Husky 38-Piece set:

Even if you’re not a “car” person, simply having a small set of sockets and wrenches may mean a simple Good Samaritan who is passing by might be able to assist. I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to assist someone with a car battery at a parking lot only I cannot disconnect or tighten it due to lack of tools. Also, make sure you’re getting a mechanics set. Often times batteries and other random important cables are slightly different. (I’m looking at you 11mm wrench and sockets!)

Jumper cables (Bonus for small jumping battery though I cannot speak to their reliability)

I’m surprised how few people have these in their car.

Gloves:

Things are dirty, your hands don’t have to be one of them. I like Mechanix Fast Fit.

A small amount of food including 1 liter of water per normal passenger.

Granola and/or Protein Bars – Great for having a snack when you’re stuck in traffic or running late. Try to find ones that have a decent amount of calories and not very much sugar. KIND bars are nice since they’re all natural but really I’d get a couple of protein bars that have low sugar. Keep a few but be careful the ones that will melt. (Remember it’ll be in your car.)

MREs. While normally I’d recommend something like Mountain House dehydrated meals for hiking their downside is simply they need a fire. Quality MREs contain saltwater packets which you add and to create a chemical reaction that heats the food. A hot meal will raise your spirits regardless of the flavor. You only need 1 since food isn’t high on the priority list in most emergencies, unless of course, your emergency is you’re driving home late at night and taking a quick rest stop.

Water. You can survive a while without water. 3 days for most people before major health concerns occur. However, water serves many purposes. Clean water can be used to assist in cleaning wounds, cooking your dehydrated meal (MREs will GENERALLY have a saltwater packet or you need to purchase one), and simply you’re really thirsty and stuck in traffic. 1 Liter per adult is fantastic. If you can heat the water, Mountain House meals take 250-500ml of water this leaves you something to drink.

 

Anything else not mentioned!

The biggest thing is building a bag that works for you. I’ve seen some people carry Epipens, flashlights, firearms, and other various items which is 100% okay. I’ll more than likely get a lot of flack from the preppers which is also okay as well. My point overall isn’t to prepare your for the apocalypse, but prepare you for the things that will happen reasonably happen. There are quite a few important items I’ll follow up with in an appendix to this, I’ll also be sharing what I use in my every day life bag soon.

Got a recommendation? Something you don’t agree with? Something I missed? Great! Let me know below! Let’s talk about it!

Dave is going to be a Dad!

Good Morning Everyone!

David here with a quick update for those who have been missing my review on Home Automation Products, DIY culture, EDC, Woodworking, and most importantly beer.

We were expecting a new addition to the family for the past 9 months and now our first child is almost here! Honestly, I haven’t been updating a lot because I’ve been a combination of lazy and insanely busy with work an on the farm. I’m going to change that though and journal my life as being a new father and working around the farm. I want to shoot video but I have absolutely zero experience editing so we’ll just start with some simple guerrilla style shots here soon.

To celebrate the birth of my first child, I’ve been saving a rare bottle of beer that I can have with my wife (well, she only get’s a little bit, breast feeding and all) and I’ll be posting that when it comes. I’ve also written a new article on why I think Bug-Out Bags aren’t really necessary and you’re better off building an “Every-Day-Life” bag instead. (I’m sure I’ll get a lot of hate for that one) So stay tuned!

Thanks all and I hope this will be a fun journey!

Dave R.

Drunkenly Honest Review: Schlage Connected Camelot

It never fails, about once a month, as I fall asleep I have the same dream. I’m laying in bed, I think I’m awake (trying not to get too meta, but I’m asleep) and I hear a noise. My body? It’s almost frozen either in exhaustion or in unwillingness to go investigate the door I hear opening. I’m unable to move my limbs to go and defend myself as I hear the door open. Then a figure walks into the room… It’s my mom and she’s bringing me my tax return from 3 years ago in hopes of saving Earth from the alien invasion before work at 4AM the next day…

I know why I have this dream, I didn’t lock the doors. Or at least I don’t remember locking the doors consciously. So I get up, go check every door, then try to fall back asleep. I know I can’t be the only one who has this dream, but luckily there’s some hope with home automation. That hope comes from Schlage with the Connected Camelot-Series deadbolt.

bb5de73f-38f3-424e-b225-b2997a766171_400The Run Down:

  • Manufacture: Schlage
  • Locking Mechanism: Residential Standard Certification:ANSI/BHMA A156.40-2015 Grade AAA in Security, Durability and Finish/ Commercial Grade 1
  • Power: AA-Type Batteries (2)
  • Wireless: Z-Wave Only
  • Alexa Compatibility: Requires Hub, Lock-Only. (See Automation)
  • SmartThings Compatibility: Native compatibility
  • Hub Required for Automation: Yes and No (See Automation)
  • Phone App: None
  • Temperatures: Outside escutcheon: -35C to 66C,Inside escutcheon: -10C to 49C
  • Colors: Bright Brass, Satin nickel, Matte Black, Bright Chrome, Aged Bronze
  • Additional Features: Anti-Tamper Alarm, Programmable Codes, Auto-Lock
  • Price: Normally sub~$300 | On Sale: $170 – $200. (Includes Handle-Kit) ($180 for Deadbolt-Only)
  • Warranty: 3 Years

 

The Deadbolt/Locking Mechanism:

The first thing I enjoy about the lock, is well, it locks. This is probably the 10th or so deadbolt I have purchased. This is also the first Smart Lock. Until this time, I somewhat assumed all door locks were mostly similar. Turns out, there’s quite a bit of difference. Like cell-phone cases that are “MILSPEC”; deadbolts have certifications that really cause them to be more expensive due to increased strength, lock complexity, and parts. These grades are 1 through 3, with 1 being the highest and the most secure for residential-external doors. This deadbolt earns a grade 1 by the ANSI. I found when searching online that a lot of cheaper deadbolts were grade 3, using plastic parts and their reliability suffering because of that. After owning the Schlage for a little over a month, I have had 0 problems with it. (I’ll update this article as time goes on.) The locking mechanism was heavy and I feel it adequate for the job.

Installation:

As far as installations go, I was replacing a lock previously. It went as smooth as smooth can go. There’s really only a few longer bolts that are home-internal keeping it together. The key for this lock is making sure your weather striping on your door isn’t too bulky. When the door automatically locks, you’ll want to ensure it can do so with the door closed “naturally”, and by that I mean, some doors in homes you have to push shut while locking to make sure the alignment is correct. While this lock just the same as any other, you may encounter a problem with the alignment just based on your door. This isn’t necessarily a problem you cannot fix with the right know-how but it can be a major problem if the lock engages automatically and isn’t able to do so freely, it was retract and remain unlocked. There are a few configurations that all your to adjust the depth internally which I needed to do so. Overall I consider the installation to be “Easy” and the tools required would be a screwdriver/drill for existing holes. Intermediate if this is a new door installation as precision may be key.

Appearance:

The Schlage Camelot series carries a more elegant and traditional look. This is opposed to the Schlage Century which is basically the same thing but more suitable for modern aesthetics with sharp lines. As mentioned before, I purchased the model with the handle-kit as our old one was also on the outs. The “Aged Bronze:” has nice detailing with rubbed/weathered edges. From the outside/front: The lock is clearly visible with a lit touch pad. The touchpad is not illuminated unless you push a key. I’m guessing this is to save battery but if you come home late at night, you’ll have to tap it at least once to see the panel. In the sunlight, when illuminated it’s visible enough but it does get washed out if in direct sunlight making seeing the digits more difficult but not impossible. The back or inside portion is, massive. This isn’t uncommon for automated touchpad or push-button locking mechanisms but I find it to be larger than most of its brethren. This may be attributed to the built-in tamper alarm or superior construction but I would have liked to see it a bit smaller. The handle-kit comes in Right or Left configurations for the lever, or knob. Typically on sale is the left-facing configuration for doors which open to the left from the inside. However, when you’re ready to purchase please remember to take this into account. There is also a knob for those that want. I found that the model that goes on sale is the left-side lever. Luckily, that’s how my door was but I think it wouldn’t be hard to find a replacement part for it to keep the cost down.

“The back or inside portion is, massive. This isn’t uncommon for automated touchpad or push-button locking mechanisms but I find it to be larger than most of its brethren.”

Stand-Alone Operation

In the “Living in a Smart Home Series: Part 4″ I discussed how one of the biggest problems I have when purchasing new “techy” devices is it has to pass the spouse/guest test-factor. Meaning, if someone who is unfamiliar with my home, they’re still able to use their basic human programming to operate the home. I’m happy to say, this lock passes the test, before it was “connected” to my smart home. The deadbolt locks and unlocks from the inside like you would expect it to. The touch screen lights up when you push a button and you can input any code you wish, as long as those codes are 4 to 8 digits long. If you change the digit-length from say 4 to 6 or to 8, ALL codes are erased and all new codes  MUST have that length. We opted for 6 as generally speaking it’s unlikely for another to “guess” a 6 digit code without me knowing. You can also assign many different codes for each individual person or group of people. For example, our neighbor has a code specifically for them, as does my wife, and myself. As a stand-alone unit, programming these codes is somewhat easy if you follow the instructions. In case all codes are forgotten there is a permanent master code provided. (KEEP THIS!) However, I’m a big fan of having backup entries incase, lets say the batteries were dead. The key is always available for you to enter if you wish. The lock can also auto-lock when programmed to do so. This is a good feature if, lets say you’re often home alone and want the door secured even if you forget.  There is also a tamper alarm which is a great option if you do not already have an audible alarm, especially if you don’t have a home alarm . The button is internal and long-press can change the modes. The alarm is piercingly loud, similar to a smoke detector.  I personally don’t use this feature as it isn’t able to be armed via automation and my wife would have a heart attack if she sleepily wanted to let the dogs out. Overall, as a stand-alone touchpad lock I find this so be a great device and worth $180-$200 alone just for these features. Of course, I like to make things complicated…

“The spouse test…if someone who is unfamiliar with my home, they’re still able to use their basic human programming to operate the home. I’m happy to say, this lock passes the test…”

Automation:

Undoubtedly, this is why you’re here. As a home-automation enthusiast, I’m always excited when I get a new toy to integrate and automate. I can say with confidence, after installing and connecting this device, I’ve forgotten that I had it… which is a good thing. The Schlage Camelot features Z-Wave compatibility wireless. I find that Z-wave or similar protocols are superior to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Their range is slightly further, especially through walls, when compared to wi-fi. As far as bluetooth is concerned, connections are not always guaranteed. (Even my smartwatch fails to recognize my phone in my pocket.) The lock natively integrates with SmartThings using a standard device handler. This allows you to monitor the state of the lock. Using a hub, you can also have Alexa integrate with the device. This will only allow you lock the device. This is to address security concerns I’ve seen from people when talking about smart locks. If it were not this way, someone could stand outside your house and yell: “Alexa, Unlock the door!” and she would comply. I understand this might frustrate some people, and there are ways around this if you’re crafty but I would encourage you not to. (See Security) Out-of-the-box, integration and automation leaves something to be desired. You can lock/unlock the device during a routine with SmartThings. However anything deeper it going to require a custom smart app. (Which SmartThings has available, I’ll discuss that in the next article) I use the CoRE engine to automate the lock when my Smoke Detectors go off so that allows my neighbors to open the doors as necessary to help my furry critters get out safely. Overall, it wasn’t on Schlage to make this thing “smarter” even though they could have. There’s no phone app which I think is a good thing. You can do what you want with a custom device handler and smart app in the SmartThings IDE if you’re savvy but the basic functionality is there.

Security:

Let’s face it. This is a deadbolt and its first and foremost function is to secure your home. However, is it really secure? There’s a lot of people debating having more IoT things in your home and  having them not properly secured is a major risk. (Which, I would agree) I have a vision of a the 5 o’clock evening news running a story on how a hacker could drive by, push two buttons and your home is unlocked leaving you vulnerable. However, let’s face it, when it comes to a lock: They only keep honest people, honest. Most hackers COULD go around breaking into homes but a brick through a window is really just as effective as hacking and much faster. Most homes even have a window right in the front-door or to the sides which means they can just open the door through there anyways. Not to mention, picking locks is an age-old craft and it’s not difficult. Your best defense is to secure your networks and accounts with different, long, non-dictionary based password phrases. (IE: Cheez3tastiehazEYEone) If you’re contemplating home automation security needs to be a focal point however nothing is foolproof. Most hackers would rather have your credit card information or Gmail password to cause more mischief remotely than to find out who and where you live to steal some gear from your home and fence it.  If you have reservations than simply don’t connect this device and leave the Z-Wave features off. This device functions well without those features. Also, most Autmation Assistants (I.E. Google Home or Alexa) will not UNLOCK the device, this is for security however you can automate and run routines to by-pass this behavior. Certainly not-recommend in my opinion.

Wrapping-Up:

In a conversation the other day, I stated to another individual that this is best thing I don’t even remember having. It runs so seemlessly in the background that I never worry about wether or not it’s locked. My only reservations are the price and longevity. I’ve heard from a few people theirs have lasted more than a year with no problems and I’ve heard from some people who haven’t had as much luck. Luckily it has a 3-year warranty to back it and I strongly suggest keeping everything for it incase of problems. The locking mechanism is a little loud and might alarm pets but nothing too bad. Finally $300 dollars handle-kit is certainly more expensive that most other locks however, when it’s on sale for $200 or lower I highly suggest purchasing it if you’re in the market. If you only need the deadbolt, it’s about $180 and that is still a bit out of reach however most Z-wave Grade 1 locks are just as pricey, so I’d suggest waiting for sale or checking some reviews on other brands. Overall, I think you can’t go wrong purchasing this especially if you’re into automation. My next article will be on the Device Handler/Smart App I used to get this from a “Good Purchase” to an “Outstanding Purchase”. Till next time!

Final Verict:

  • Pros:
    • Fairly easy Installation.
    • Great automation features when used with SmartThings and custom Smart App and native functionaility.
    • Best-in-class grade locking and components.
    • Multiple ways to function the lock.
    • 3-year warranty.
    • Functions well on it’s own.
    • Great value at $180 (a Grade 3-deadbolt/handle is easily $100 alone)
  • Cons:
    • Expensive if not on sale.
    • Locking mechanism is a bit noisy.
  • Overall:
    • Great purchase for front door, but look for cheaper models for other home entries.

Living In a Smart Home Part 4:

The Smart Lock –  A good idea?

My significant other mentioned to me some time ago that the front door lock wasn’t engaging fully and freely. Indeed, when I went to turn the lock, it seemed to snag before the lock fully engaged. Also, our handle button is a bit sticky too. This seems to be a common problem as even in our old house, (in addition the the golden-brass color) also had the same problem. “Great! I said, “I’ll get a smart lock!” Then, quick as you could say “Alexa, buy me a smart lock” I was off researching which one was the best for my needs.

There are many advantages to a smart lock, and like all things, there are some disadvantages. We’re going to go over some of the key features I believe should be on your smart lock and I’ll give the recommendations I have if you’re looking for some. Once again, my buying-decisions are mainly based off of SmartThings compatability, so always do your research first.

First, my “Golden Rule”, it has to work for my wife. Meaning that my wife needs to be able to operate it and integrate seamlessly with her life. Understandingly, she gets frustrated when lights that she expects to perform automatically do not and also if there isn’t a button or switch to fix it immediately, it doesn’t make sense for it to be smart at all. With that being said, any smart lock I thought about had to have some key elements:

  1. It has to be aesthetically pleasing. (Rubbed-oil bronze in our case)
  2. It had to be able to be to work with a key. (Let’s face it, technology fails us)
  3. It needed to have a touch-pad with assignable codes, multiple even.
  4. It needed to integrate natively with SmartThings on the Z-wave protocol.
  5. It needed to be affordable.

My web search landed me in a place of somewhat confusion. Mostly, due to the word “Smart” now being a key-phrase in advertising. To me, “smart” means connected and programmable. As a buzz-word, it can mean something that ranges of “Clever-design” to “fully automated you’ll never need to touch your door”. Not to mention, going down to your local hardware store, you’ll need words like “Bluetooth” and “Wi-Fi” but the more important “Z-wave” or “Zigbee” phrases hidden behind “Wireless”. I’m not sure if this is because manufactures want to construe how these devices work so they can relate to terms people know. (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, one could argue, are in everyone’s vocabulary.) What I found was that there’s a lot so it was important that I ensure, once again BEFORE I bought something, that it fit my criteria.

Aesthetics of course being number 1, but also the most important aspects. This is my front door handle. It’s where people are greeted and arguably the first thing they see when they get to my doorstep. I didn’t want some gangly-box with glowing neon lights and retina scanner, I wanted something that says “oh, that’s an attractive door handle, and look you can enter a code in.” (Things you say as a suburbanite in their 30s.) I found that companies like Schlage and Yale all have pretty attractive handles so there was an easy path.

The second stipulation, the use of  a key, sounds like a no brainier but there are actually a few locks that eliminate the use of a key. While this sounds like a great idea at first, (No one likes a dangly-key-chain) the problem I would have is if the touch screen failed to work. I’m not sure what happens if it does and quite frankly I didn’t even want to find out. In addition, there are other”Smart locks” that only have a key and no touch screens, like the Kwikset Kevo. in fact I found one that isn’t really “smart”, you can just re-key it yourself. That gets me into the next point:

One of the biggest reasons I wanted a new lock, is: I tend to go out and in different doors. Living on a farm, sometimes I’ll walk out my front door and go in the side door which had yet to be unlocked. I don’t normally carry my keys so I wanted to be able to input a code to unlock the deadbolt. These type of locks have been around for awhile and isn’t necessarily a “smart” feature. However, like I mentioned above, the Kwikset Kevo doesn’t have one and it’s possible I don’t have my phone on me to unlock or “touch it”. The multiple-code feature is also good. That way I can give my farm-sitter a code and they’ll be able to come in and out securely, rather than give them a key.

The other elephant in the room is connecting with SmartThings and not necessarily an app. (I tend to hate single-purpose apps.) With the Kevo being bluetooth and the August being WiFi I’m sure some hackery can be done to get them integrated with SmartThings, but I’ve never really liked how things integrate with SmartThings when they’re not supposed to. As I said in my first article, it is best to make sure everything you buy is compatible with your unit, in this case Z-Wave is my go-to protocol and checking on the SmartThings app, I found the Schlage Camelot integrated well via Z-Wave. Why? Well really it’s the automation side. For example, when my security system arms every evening, it automatically locks all my locks. If my smoke alarm goes off and we’re not home, all the doors unlock making egress easier. If my wife and I are away the doors automatically lock (and we can check the current state of the lock) so there are lots of reasons this adds convenience. However, if it does fail, we still have 2 manual controls to lock and unlock (the touch pad and a key).

The final decision, price. When I found the door handle set I wanted: Schlage Connected Camelot with handle, I was kinda shocked to see the price at a bit north of $300 dollars. As a man on a budget I couldn’t really justify that cost immediately since my lock was still functioning and even though it was kinda janky. Luckily, Home Depot seems to put it on sale from time to time between $180 – $200 dollars. (In fact, depending on when you’re reading this article, it’s on-sale now until April 9th for $200.) This was a decent price since the same oil-rubbed non-smart non-touchpad designs usually run around $110-$140. So, if you’re going to get one I highly suggest putting an alert on SlickDeals.net for one using keywords smart lock, dead bolt, or the brand names like Schlage.

As you may have guessed, I found Schlage Connected Camelot and purchased it as my ultimate decision. I’m still waiting for the standard deadbolts to go on sale to replace them at the other doors. They’re going for $120 and I’m gunning to get them around $60-$80. While this one works great, there are plenty of locks out there that may suit your needs greater than this one so I’d really recommend making a list of features you want and TAKE YOUR TIME. Luckily I wasn’t in a rush and that saved me $110 dollars. If you’re curious about the Schlage Connected Camelot, a review of the unit will be going up soon.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful. As always, feel free to send me an email at manbeertech@gmail.com, via comment, or even on Reddit directly at kaizokudave. Till then, See you next time!

Drunkenly Honest Review: Coast FL72

So, I’m underneath the Honda Fit on an overcast day, searching for the dirty black oil plug. I’ve got a headlamp on, a nice Black Diamond ReVolt (although, it’s older) which is great for backpacking and fiddling around reading while outside. However my biggest complaint was that I couldn’t refocus the beam easily. While underneath the car I’ve got limited space and the beam is far to broad for me to see what I need. Fed up, I just took the darn thing off and used my Fenix flash light. I’m now on the prowl to find a new headlamp.

plain

Fast-foward a few weeks, the Wife and I are performing tactical Costco manuvers browsing aisle to aisle at Costco where I come acrss a pair of Coastal FL72 Headlamps in the tool aisle. Now, I’m a big fan of usually name-brand stuff or at least finding a cheap workable Chinese-knockoff, so I usually don’t pay much mind in this area of Costco. However, for $28 bucks for a pair of headlamps I figured I’d at least give them a try.

After getting home and trying to cut open the package for what seemed like 10 minutes I placed it upon my head. Wow, was I impressed.

First, let me talk about the operation. There are two buttons. One turns on the Red LEDs (Red-light allows you to maintain partial night vision at night) and the other turns the main lamp On. Simple as that. Pressing the button again goes to medium, then to low, finally one last press turns it off. Coming from my ReVolt, where I can push the button, hold it two secondsd, switch from two tiny LEDs to RED to the Main lamp, then hold again for the main lamp to dim, then forget how to turn it off turning on the strobe, this was a great improvement.

red
I don’t use the red LEDs often, but they’re a nice addition.

Next, the beam on the main lamp is able to be adjusted simply by twisting the lens. Well, really there’s not much to talk about that other than it can be done. Other headlamps allow this as well, it’s nothing new but for a $14 headlamp it’s a welcomed feature. It also pivots down to allow you to focus on working on something close up.

The brightness is up there boasting 405 lumens. Compare that to my $45 dollar ReVolt which only has 130, it’s almost too bright. The FL72 is easily adjustable with a simple press to go down to medium at 230 lumens or low at a 53 for general use. This blows away the my former pride and joy.

What’s best? You get two of them! I’m always forgetting where I placed my old one last. I keep one in my EDC bag and the other  in my toolbox in the house.

Now there’s a downside. Battery life. Because of the higher lumens, this light can only be on for 2 hours on high which is not a whole lot of time. You can get up to 20 hours on low which isn’t bad but compaired to the ReVolt which will reach upward of 300 hours (according to their website, I’ve had it for 3 years and I’ve replaced the batteries once) there’s no contest.

Overall, for $15 dollars a piece these are a great piece of kit for around the house or anywhere you can easily get to AAA batteries in case they’re low. Great for working in a dark corner or walking across the field at night looking for something you’ve dropped. (Guilty of that.) If you don’t have a Costco Membership, they’re ~$35 on Amazon for one, although at that price I would find something else. However, I wouldn’t take it backpacking due to the lack of strobe and overall battery life.

Final Vedict: No brainer at $15 dollars, but I wouldn’t pay much more north of that.

ManBeerTech is Evolving!

Hi all! I just wanted to take a second and write a quick post about ManBeerTech. When I first started it, I wanted a place where I could talk about Beer and Tech and honestly about Manly stuff, like ya know… beer and tech. However, like all things I’m growing to talk about other things too and like my website to be a reflection of my interests. So we’ll see things like:

  • Home Automation
  • Everyday Carry/Tools/Gear
  • Beer/Wine
  • Man-Advice (Or maybe advice to women from a man, who knows)
  • Woodworking
  • Technology
  • Common Sense stuff

I’m going to attempt to keep this more of a journal-style than a place for news. We’ll see how long I can keep it up but it’s important for people to have their own platform for conveying their interests.

As always, I welcome comments, questions, and concerns. While we may not agree on everything I’m sure we can have an adult conversation about topics. See-you soon!

-David

3-Way Smart Switches

The things no one tells you:

I’ve decided to take a quick break from our regular series: living in a smart home. This week I’m going to go over something that many people have asked about but also something I’ve worked on myself and had many questions during the installation: 3-Way Switches. I feel as though most home’s have more of these style of switches but that may only be due to the fact that most switches you either want to automate or control are 3-way as they’re typically in entry points of rooms and most rooms have multiple entry points. To preface, this isn’t necessarily an ultimate how-to guide but I will be explaining it along the way as best as possible. Ideally: YOU SHOULD BE READING THIS BEFORE YOU BUY. However, if you’re like me you didn’t bother searching for it until after you’ve bought them, you might be okay. So, strap in and hold on cause this one’s gonna be a long one.

Disclaimer:

This is only an amateur’s guide. I am not a professional electrician, simply a DIY enthusiast as many who read this are. Importantly, we’re working with a major shock hazard in your home. Please be sure to turn off circuits appropriately. However, I cannot gauruntee your safety and I do not how your home is wired. If you are unsure how or do not feel comfortable working on electricity I highly recommend you contact a licensed electrician to install your switches. If you continue reading and performing the installation, you would be doing so at your own risk and I cannot be held liable. Also, I recommend doing a regular switch BEFORE tackling 3-ways so you know what to expect. Utimately, you should contact a local professional for questions about proper code and wiring.

The Bad Kinda 3-way:

Now that we’ve tackled some of the legal stuff and the introduction, let’s get to learning. Once again, I highly encourage you to read this BEFORE you purchase switches, but I’ll give some pointers if it’s too late.

20170106_115425
This is what happens when you don’t look and plan ahead. 

 

Okay, cool… so what do you need to do first then?

Aside from you working with electricity and the dangers, the first thing no one tells you is to not buy your switches right away. The reason I explained in my last article still stands and that is that you should do your research first. Not only to find the best switch to fit your budget needs but more importantly which electrical connections are available. So, let’s go over your first steps:

  1. Turn ON the lights in the room and take note of which switch it is, especially in 4-way gang boxes. Also, locate the other switch that controls the same circuit and note of it as well. (Speaking from experience, I spent 3 hours installing and troubleshooting the wrong switch. I know it sounds dumb but when the power is off you cannot test this. Get a clear piece of tape and just mark under the switch.)

    dsc_0004
    A clear piece of tape is good for your memory.
  2. While the lights are ON locate your home’s circuit panel and cut the appropriate breaker OFF. The reason I do it like this is when you go back to the room, the lights should be OFF. This way you know you have the right breaker. DO NOT RELY ON THE MAPPING NEXT TO THE BREAKER.

    dsc_0008
    You can see I have made some additional notes. I’m not even sure what a Jazz Room is but my house certainly does not have one.
  3. With a screwdriver (typically a flat-head.) Remove both covers of the light switch(es). dsc_0005
  4. Many smart switches require a COMMON (aka Neutral) wire. They are generally white (but may not be) and there are generally a whole bunch of them connected together (or there may not be). If your switches are like mine BOTH SWITCHES will REQUIRE this connection.
    dsc_0009
    The elusive common wire bundle. (However, this a standard switch.)

    Typically a “remote” switch in my home does not have the common wire. While it’s not the end of the world this may prohibit or alter your purchasing decision. Head back to google and try to find some smart switches that do not require the common wire. Do some research. I cannot recommend any products as I haven’t used them and do not feel comfortable telling you so. In my case, I use GE Z-wave Smart Switches. These switches require that common wire. There are some out there that do not. However, I found many of them sacrificed something. So, see what works for you.

  5. There will also need to be “Traveler” wires that come off of your remote switch. Typically they are red but once again, they may not be.

    20161015_125739
    This is a great example of a non-standard 3-way switch in my home. None of these are standard colors. 
  6. You’ll also need to locate which switch has the power coming from this box. That is where you’ll put your primary switch. You can guess but be prepared for headaches. I recommend buying an inexpensive multimeter from your local home store to identify which one is hot. (More on this later)
  7. After you’ve done all that, replace everything and flip the breaker back on. Go online and buy your switches. For the GE Switches, you’ll need two. You’ll need the main switch that is their normal smart switch such as a GE On/Off Switch and also an add-on switch. These are what I use and can honestly recommend. The work natively with SmartThings and have some cool options.

    20161015_125412
    This way a 3-way “remote” switch to the “non-standard: switch earlier.  Noice there is no Common-Wire bundle, so in this case I could not use an Add-On switch without doing some additional wiring.

Okay Dave, I think I’ve got everything and ordered up my switches. Now what?

If you prefer videos, I highly recommend watching Jasco’s tutorials on YouTube just to get an idea of what you’re doing first. REMEMBER that they’ve minimal wiring in their boxes and they have it setup perfectly. Real-life isn’t perfect. My house had many different colored wires, so we’ll go over what mine had. Also, it’s important to look up other videos that simply explain how 3-way switches work. I personally prefer a more simple diagram since the lights are already installed:

yjotp

Here we see the HOT (aka Line) coming into the switch. From there, the circuit is designed so that no matter how your switches are toggled, they will complete or break the circuit. The reason I like this diagram is it also clearly demonstrates how the Neutral isn’t in the loop on the switches and are connected to the bulbs. Sadly, if your switches are like mine they will look like a rat’s nest.

Alright! Think I got it. Switches came in today, ready to install?

Yup! Hopefully, you have all the necessary connections (I’ll show what happens when you don’t) so let’s go through an installation. I’ll have a mix of photos since I’ve already installed all 3-Way’s necessary in my home but I’m adding the main switch to my bedroom. (The “main” switches are wired similarly except for traveler.) I’ll show you some of the add-ons as well. Since I enjoy nice ordered instructions:

  1. Once again, if they’re not already there. Re-label which switch you’re working on. It just helps.
  2. Cut the power from the breaker as before with the light on. This will help re-assure that you’ve got the power to the lights cut off. Remove the cover plate, then remove the switch.
  3. TAKE A PICTURE OF THE SWITCH. (It’ll help in case you have to abandon everything)
  4. Label the wires. Go ahead and grab either some white electrical tape or normal scotch tape will work. Wrap a piece around each wire and with a sharpie note which screws they’re attached to. (I label them: Top Left (TL), Top Right (TR), Bottom Left (BL), and Bottom Right (BR). Leave some space cause as we identify them we’ll note what they ACTUALLY are.

    dsc_0006
    Even though this is a two-way switch, I would still label the wires.
  5. Remove all wires and spread them out, now yell at everyone in the house to be careful and don’t go near them. Turn the power back on. Return to the wires, placing your Black lead on the multimeter on the GROUND wire (usually bare-wire OR green) touch your Red lead on the Bottom-Right wire, if you get a voltage reading of 120 AC volts that’s your Hot or Line, if there’s nothing, move to the other wires till you find it. It will go to the LINE plugin on your new switch. Go back and cut the power back off. Label your Line wire.
  6. Typically the other black wire above it will be your LOAD. You should also have a Red wire that is your TRAVELER. If you have either two Blacks or two Reds, you’re going to have to find out which is which. There are several ways to accomplish but really as in the diagram earlier, it doesn’t ultimately matter. (Once again, there are SEVERAL ways to do 3-ways. This is why when you go on Reddit everyone stays clear of giving advice because it’s a mixed bag. In the diagram above I actually have two travelers and the load is going to the lights off the auxiliary switch. So in my case, color doesn’t matter as long as it’s the same wires. To check this, wire-nut both wires together (not the LINE) and return to the aux switch. Using a continuity test (looks like a Christmas tree on your multimeter)  test the 3 wires in different pairs. You’ll see OL (Open Line) when there’s no circuit and you’ll see lights and/or a small ready when you’ve found the travelers. Add to your labels (on the aux switch) T1 and T2. The other remaining cable is your LOAD to your lights, label it so.
  7. Here’s where things get interesting. Now disconnect those two wires on the main. Connect the LINE wire to ONE of the wires and wire nut them together. Restore power. On the AUX side use your multimeter on AC Voltage, then put your black lead on the ground then your Red lead on T1. If there are 110-120volts, guess what? That’s now your new LOAD/LINE. If it’s on T2, that’s your new LOAD/LINE. (I’m using that phrase because the non-LINE wire on the MAIN switch will go into your LOAD port on the Smart Switch then it will become HOT when it has power. Speaking of power, go turn that off at the circuit breaker. So on the AUX side, take that wire (T1 or T2) and wire nut it directly to the LOAD. (Yes, that’s right it will not go into your add-on switch.) The remaining wire is your traveler. Add-on switches only have two connections. Traveler and Neutral. Finish wiring them as appropriately on the add-on side and main side. Traveler to Traveler
  8. BEFORE YOU THINK YOU’RE DONE:
    1. Connect the Bare/Green wire to the Ground on your smart-switch.
    2. Restore power and test to see if the switches are working BEFORE SCREWING THEM IN. I cannot tell you how infuriating it is to assume you’ve got it but you don’t. Once again, speaking from experience.
    3. Cut power and screw ONE switch in, test again. Also, experience speaking, sometimes you jog a cable lose especially when wiring the neutral in the wire nuts with 4 other wires.
    4. Do the final switch, yeah you got it. Test again.
    5. Now put the plates on.

Here’s a new MS-Paint rough diagram of what we’ve got going on now:

3-waysmart

The reason this works is because the Add-On switch has NOTHING to do with the lightbulb. Inside these switches are relays. Power is always going to them. When you work the Main Switch you tell the relay to connect/disconnect the circuit internally as opposed to the switches mechanical movement to complete circuits. The Add-On switch has a traveler line that is sending/receive a signal to the main to tell the Main Switch to turn off or on.

Whoa dude, that was a lot. Mine doesn’t look like that at all…

As I said earlier, 3-way switches are the bad kind of three ways. I’m going to apologize in advance that I cannot help everyone. Depending on the age of your house, if the builder was cutting corners, or they’re 100% up to current code you could see many different things and different wiring diagrams. My suggestion is as before:

  • If you don’t feel comfortable or don’t have necessary tools. Hire a pro.
  • Take pictures and label everything BEFORE you disconnect. It helps if you give up to be able to put it back as it was. (I still have a switch outside that I can’t get to work right cause I’m dumb and didn’t think about all this.)
  • Colors are never standard. While Electric Code is law, codes changes over time and rules have changed over the years. So, in your case think of Pirates of the Caribbean. “They are not really rules as much as guidelines that natural way of things.”
  • Speaking of code, if you wire something incorrectly or against code, you’ll have to fix it before you sell your home. You also knew about it and should be disclosed. So once again, look up your local code and try to make everything right. If it’s not right, call a pro.
  • When it doubt, Hire it out! It’s not worth it.

Got it, but let’s say I already bought the switches and didn’t notice I was missing a common.

As I said earlier, things should be done according to code. However, I made this mistake as well. Here’s how to get around it when you Add-On specifically doesn’t have neutral. Again, back to my awesome MS-Paint Diagrams:

3-waybypass

What I did was bypass the first switch and turned my Remote switch into the Main Switch. However, like a crappy Chess move:

  • You will either have a BLANK switch port
  • Or if you leave the existing switch there as a dummy, it does nothing. This confuses people especially guests and significant others.
  • Disrupts natural “flows”, by flows I mean when entering/exiting a room the light needs to be there. In my case, this works because the original room was a garage and it never made sense to between with.

Here’s the layout of the room which I got with doing this. Once again, I don’t recommend doing this but if you must and cause no one else told you:

familyroom_lights

In my family room, the Line goes into the original gang box then the travelers goto the other switch. However, the original gang box was inside the hallway, not in the room. So, when you wanted to get up to turn the lights on/off when watching tv, you had to go outside the room. So, you’d naturally go to the switch that’s inside room. When you come in from the Outside, I wanted the lights to automatically come on when the door is opened hence the automation portion but the light switch is still available there.

The only interruption to my original flow was coming in from the hallway. Bring in my Amazon Dot. While it’s annoying it’s not very often we need to turn the light on/off via that hallway switch (my wife didn’t ever do it from there either.) so after linking the switch through Alexa you can turn the room on/off or set the dim level from the comfy couch. This is the only reason it works with my family room. However, in rooms like my kitchen, I wouldn’t do this as you’re simply “passing through” most of the time to transition through the house and yelling at Alexa isn’t 100% guaranteed to work. I also can put a motion sensor in the hallway to have it automatically turn the lights on if entering but that requires some more advanced automation.

Okay… but what if…

As of right now, this article is 2,500 words. We had a lot to cover but I can’t cover everything. I’m SURE you’re going to have a lot of What-Ifs in this scenario. While I’ll do my best to help you I’m once again not a professional. Simply a DIY enthusiast. If you do have any questions I highly recommend going on Reddit.com/HomeAutomation and posting the question there. There’s TONS of helpful people (and a lot of know-it-alls be they good or bad) that can assist.

Also, I’m sure in writing this I made some mistakes, this document will be a “living guide” that I’ll update over time as people give me their input so feel free to leave any constructive criticism and I’ll do my best to keep it as relevant as possible.

Thanks for reading! Good Luck and See you Next time!

Living In A Smart Home Part 3:

Get Money, Buy Switches:

With big pushes from Google, Amazon, and many 3rd-party companies in the Smart Home realm we’re almost getting to the point where it’s actually useful. The purpose in this series isn’t necessarily a review or a how-to guide and you may certainly take it with a grain of salt. However, I wanted to write about the who, what, where, how and why in my home and maybe you’ll get some ideas of your own. It’s meant for the novice and the curious. It is for someone who is slightly tech-savvy and someone who isn’t tech-savvy. Feel free to use it as a “drunkenly honest” guide but remember that not everyone’s experience is the same and your applications may be different. With that being said, let’s get started with this entry!

Don’t make the same mistakes I did:

Last entry, I brushed upon your choice of Hub and +1. I recommended a hub by Samsung’s SmartThings. I just wanted to start out with a little support as to why. Receiving some criticism it can look like I’m favoring them and it’s pretty much true. I do obviously favor them cause I have them in my home. So far my experience has been generally positive. The devices I purchase for it work either out of the box or the community has written some impressive code to allow it. However, don’t take me as a professional blogger. I just do this in my spare time. I do not have the unlimited funds that CNET has. If I were totally unhappy with it, I’d change but it seems to fit the bill perfectly. Moving on from that choice I also recommended a +1, a smoke detector. Actually, I said to focus on a safety item. You’re more than welcome to purchase whatever you like. The reason I chose a smoke detector was to solve a specific problem, which was to be notified in case of a fire while my wife and I were away. As I said earlier, this blog is more of a journal-style and the things I encountered. Things I have deployed. Problems I have solved.

Dude, these aren’t problems… they’re wants.

A Reddit user stated that in the home automation there aren’t “problems”. I’ll respectfully disagree. It’s probably my mistake for not defining what I mean by problem but I implore you to take a “Problem” then “Solution” frame of mind. I’m referring to problems like in Math. (Boring, I know) “1 + 1 =” isn’t much of a problem, but it does have a solution. Part of my issue was shopping first. I knew I wanted automated lights, security sensors, automatic watering for my plants, automated sentry turrets… ya know the norm. What I should have focused on was solving problems. I would often see “Smart whatever on sale” and think, oh it just integrates into SmartThings, which simply isn’t true. There was a temptation to buy a whole bunch of switches and just change every one to be smart. (And not to mention costly.) There isn’t necessarily a need for that.

Okay, give me an example of a problem.

No problem! (I love puns) My first problem is my wife, (he said jokingly as his wife glances at him) not that she’s terrible person or anything but she’s actually the best case scenario for a good home automation setup and she keeps my grounded before I try anything extravagant. Whatever I do has to pass the “spouse” test, meaning if she can’t figure it out I am the problem. Specifically our front door was the problem. We came home late at night and our house was pitch black. She tripped over a shoe after trying to fumble to find which switch in a 4-way gang was living room light. Spoilers, it’s the one furthest from the door but try remembering that when you’re fumbling around.

Problem:

We come home late at night and it’s dark.

Solution:

Living room lights come on automatically when we enter the door.

Ah, but how to accomplish this? Well, my BIG mistake was going to buy a “Smart” lightbulb by Googling it. While this worked, it wouldn’t work with the light switch turned off. Remember my wife? Yeah, she turns it off and on to turn the light on and off. Guess what? She’s right. Home Automation and Smart devices need to feel natural. We’ve been programmed to turn lights on and off via a switch. We need to integrate our ideas with that. Hence the title of this week’s article.

Switches or bulbs?

In short, I will always recommend a smart switch over a smart bulb. There are a few exceptions though:

  1. You live in an apartment or rental and cannot make modifications.
  2. You do not feel safe or comfortable doing electrical work or do not wish to hire an electrician to do the wiring for you.
  3. You want different colored smart lights/moods.
  4. You have 3-way switches without the necessary connections.

This doesn’t cover everything of course, but those are some show stoppers when it comes to switches. (We’ll address #4 as it’s not always true.) Bulbs are great as well and I have no problems if you’d rather do bulbs just experience with people coming over is they’ll expect switches to turn on and off rooms, not apps or Alexa. There are other applications where bulbs may be a better choice, just not in any of the cases I personally have ran into.

Continuing our example, I ordered a GE-Z-wave On/Off Dimmable Paddle switch.

This was my first mistake and I lucked out. Always check your hub’s native compatibility list FIRST to ensure easy integration. I lucked out as it was supported by SmartThings, but I’ve ran into some trouble before. SmartThings is great cause chances are someone has already ran into the problem and there’s a solution but if you’re new I HIGHLY recommend checking first. When it arrived, I cut the power and took the plate off the wall.

Second mistake: BEFORE YOU ORDER: make sure you read about how they’re installed. In my case, GE’s Smart Switches REQUIRE a common-wire. (Generally white but could be any color). Once again, luckily I had that connection but I’ve got into 3-way switch installations without everything necessary being there. So once again, BEFORE YOU BUY: cut the power and verify you have all the necessary connections in both locations ESPECIALLY for 3-way switches. (I’ll write an article specifically about 3-ways since they’re very common in my home.) I wired it all up (well, I attempted to a few times and then found out what I was doing wrong) and was able to turn it on/off and finally sync it to SmartThings.

Using the Smart Lighting application on SmartThings I was able to tell the switch that anytime the front door was opened, between the hours of 5:30PM and 7:00 AM to turn on the lights. I’ll get into specific guides about this process later but in the main series I just want to address the big picture. We still had some problems based upon if the light was on already, however that came later.

Finally, I’d like to address one specific thing: It doesn’t make sense to automate everything or at least turn everything smart especially all at once. At anywhere from 30-50 dollars a switch that’s costly and you might not really see a benefit. A good example is my half-bathroom light. I COULD put a motion sensor in there and I could replace the switch to have it automatically come on when occupied then turn off. That’ll run me somewhere between $50-75$ dollars for the hardware. Or, I could just turn the light on and off when I go in like I’ve been doing for years. It sounds nice that you’ll save electricity but it’ll probably take a good long while before you see any return on that investment and most people have an instinct to hit the switch before you enter anyways. My recommendation is that you make sure that when you automate it actually makes sense. Use the problem/solution method, do research first, make a flow chart (coming later) on how that automation plays out.

Cool, but how did SmartThings know when the door was opened?

Sorry this one was a bit long but we had a lot to talk about. One thing I didn’t mention is how we got the door to be automated. While you can just buy a z-wave door sensor I went the more advanced route we’ll talk about next time: Your Smart Home Security System. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

 

 

 

 

Living in a Smart Home Part 2:

Home Is Where the Hub Is:

With big pushes from Google, Amazon, and many 3rd-party companies in the Smart Home realm we’re almost getting to the point where it’s actually useful. The purpose in this series isn’t necessarily a review or a how-to guide and you may certainly take it with a grain of salt. However, I wanted to write about where, what, how any why in my home and maybe you’ll get some ideas of your own. It’s meant for the novice and the curious from someone who is slightly tech-savvy and someone who isn’t tech-savvy. Feel free to use it as a “drunkenly honest” guide but remember that not everyone’s experience is the same and your applications may be different. With that being said, tet’s get started with this entry!

Your Next Step: The Hub + 1:

    Last post we spoke about Alexa’s integration and why I believe she should be your first step in th smart home. Wether you agree or disagree based upon what she can do is perfectly fine. It’s very debatable on what is the “center” of your Smart Home. While we could debate on Alexa being your first purchase, the next (or first if you disagreed) purchase will be your hub.

Wait… what’s a hub? I thought I just bought some smart light bulbs and there’s an app?

     Sadly, there is an app for that. I said “sadly” because I just bought an Amazon Dot that came with a TP-Link Smart Plug. It wasn’t a bad purchase and it’s certainly compatible with Alexa (which is fine if that’s all we have) but it isn’t directly compatible with my SmartThings Hub. That’s a bummer. There is a Kasa app, (pun intended?) but having to pick up your phone, look for the app, then open it to control one switch is the bummer. The “hub” is/can be the central location of your smart home. They’re designed to run automation and provide a central interface for you to control your various devices. While Alexa can serve is a “hub” of sorts, she doesn’t excel at it and you certainly don’t want to ask her to do everything unless you have her in every room. The hub is where you’re going to do most of your heavy lifting. When you come in the front door, don’t you want your lights to automatically turn on? Isn’t that the point?

Yeah, I mean, that sounds nice.. but why the +1? There’s a lot of them and they’re all like $100 dollars!

     They are! Well, they can be. Depending on your hub and where you get it it’s about $100 dollars. Wink, Iris, and SmartThings are seemingly the front-runners and while there are other alternatives I’m not 100% sure they’re for the non-tech savvy. Heck, even I’m scared to crack open my SmartThings hub and start fiddlin’ with the engine. The +1, is the important part. Your first truly smart device sets the tempo for the other devices you’ll be looking at. Chances, are it’ll be Zigbee, Z-Wave,  or worse, a native protocol (hence the apps earlier) that you’ll have to make sure not only your hub is compatible with but also all your other purchases going forward. We’ll talk about my recommendation but this is where your preferences / budget will need to come into play. I’m not going to presume to know it all, I don’t. There’s literally hundreds of options here. My best advice though: Think about your problem/s and find solutions. Look first. Ask questions. Then decide. Try and think about the future and what you’d like to accomplish.

Okay, Ok… so what so which Hub and which +1 do I get?

     Simple… SmartThings by Samsung. This is a personal choice and my opinion to the novice/enthusiast is that you can do a LOT of things. The SmartThings hub’s basic compatibility is really expansive. Namely, the most trusted Switches (GE Z-Wave) and other integrations with an open-ended API makes it the best choice for both the layman and the advanced. You can get the SmartThings hub from MANY locations, my wife and I were first looking at it as a solution for monitoring underneath our sink with a water sensor and integration with our Ring video doorbell. (Yes, I know.. we’ll get to the Ring later.) We got the Ring for safety concerns and we decided to put off the Hub until we were ready later to buy the kit with sensors. While we got the ring, we never did get the sensor kit cause we moved and wasn’t a big deal anymore. Recall earlier how I was saying think of problems you’d like to solve? After my wife and I moved to the farm, our needs and problems changed. While one of us is home 95% of the time, the other 5% was the problem.

Sorry man, don’t really care about your problems.. what about my +1?

     When we first moved it, we had an alarm system that was disconnected. I looked into hooking it up, it was about $20 dollars a month, included security monitoring and emergency contacts for fire. While $20 dollars is worth my family’s safety, the bigger problem was hidden fees with companies charging you simply to come out. If they monitoring company receives an alert, attempt to call but no one answers? They send out the Po-Po. Was it just a false alarm? $100 bucks. Man, that blows all because my wife and I were out shopping. When we really thought about it I’m more concerned for our furry animals while we’re out. The alarm system is great if you’re home but if there’s a fire and you’re gone? Well, I wanna know immediately so I can call my neighbors. So, our first purchase was a Smart Fire-detector, which was our best and worst choice. If I had to do it over again, I would do the exact same thing and encourage people to think, “Safety First”. Safety can be a broad term. Safety for me meant text/push notifications to my cell phone in case of a fire. It meant all the lights turning on if our security sensors went off at night, giving me a few moments to arm myself, investigate, and contact the authorities if necessary. It COULD mean, if you come home late at night, the lights to automatically come on when you get home. It’s up to you, but I would venture to guess most people’s first +1 should be a safety related item. If I had to give a recommendation, I prefer my Nest Protect, but I said I said earlier it might be a mistake since it’s not directly capable of being integrated with SmartThings. If you’re going for integration, First Alert makes a Z-Wave Smoke/Carbon Dioxide detector for around $50-$60 dollars on Amazon that integrates with SmartThings.

Cool! I’m going to buy that and 5 smart switches to put around my home! Thanks!

     Okay! I’m glad you’re enthusiastic about it but hold off for my next article where we actually start getting into it and what buying too much at once is not the Smartest.. (See what I did there?) thing to do. Till next time!