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.
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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!

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!

Living in a Smart Home Series Part 1:

Making a House, a Smart Home

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!

Alexa… Write this entry…

Last year, my wife bought me an Amazon Echo for Valentine’s Day. Since then we’ve been using the Echo almost daily. However, like most things when we first got it we were excited and used it to answer questions randomly and made sure to use it. Now, she’s a glorified music player and egg timer in the kitchen. It’s by no means a bad thing. The Echo’s speaker is decent enough to give a good sound and setting timers is a breeze when your hands are full. The cost, being anywhere from $180 dollars normally down to ~$150 dollars on sale is comparable to a lot of Bluetooth speakers in that same price range. However, when we moved to our new house I started integrating with Samsung’s SmartThings. Slowly replacing light switches, adding in a Logitech Harmony remote, and several Amazon Dots (even a Amazon Tap) our house is slowly turning into a fully-featured smart home.

 

When she listens.. she’s great until she’s not:

“Alexa, play some music…” is probably the most common phrased uttered in my house out loud. This is probably the best service Amazon offers. When we’re in the kitchen making some Pizza Rolls our hands are generally full and finding a phone, hooking up a Bluetooth speaker or walking to our “Smart Panel” isn’t a very solid option. Alexa allows us to use voice commands for entertainment and control over our smart home and I would recommend an Alexa device first in your smart home.

     “Whoa, an Alexa-device first? What about a Smart Hub to control the lights?”

Great question random internet person! Why would I tell you to start with her? She can’t do a whole lot to your smart home without the other pieces, I.E. a hub, lights, smart remotes, etc.  Well, she does a million other things (exaggeration, she probably does hundreds or thousands of things) on her own. Namely, she gives your home the Star Trek computer theme. Smart Hubs are a GREAT start but you’ll need more than one component. A hub isn’t good unless you have things to manipulate with it. Alexa on the other hand can integrate with your Pandora account, set alarms, timers, reminders, to-do lists, a few shopping shortcuts, (I’ve yelled Alexa order more toilet paper on one occasion) and quick answers to questions like: “How many tablespoons are in a cup?” and “Which show is better, WWE RAW or the Bachellorette?”.  She can answer very simple questions but is limited on web searches. However, since Alexa has an open-ended API, (programmer speak meaning people can write stuff for it whenever they want) she can get new “Skills” like playing jeopardy. Put in a central  location in your home, you’d be suprised how much she’s used and how when you go into other rooms you’ll miss being able to shout things at her. Speaking of shouting…

The title of this is: She’s great until she’s not… So, what gives?

Well, I just said being able to shout things at her, Alexa listens VERY well when the environment is quiet. Too well, sometimes for some peoples taste but she picks up on Alexa rather keenly. There are occasions where she makes things difficult. For example, when she’s playing music somewhat loudly you’re going to have to overcome the volume to turn down or up the volume. When you tell her to “Play some Music” she tends to think your listening habits are the thing you listened to last time. Occasionally, she’ll mess up a timer with things like Fifty-minutes and Fifteen-minutes. She’s not perfect, but she’s close to it.

That’s cool, but she’s pricey…

Yeah, she is. She’s normally around $180 dollars on Amazon. We got her when there was only one option for a voice enabled speaker. However, with entries from Google Home and two other devices (The Dot verison 2 at $50 and Amazon Tap at $129) you’ve got some options. The Dot is a great beginning point. It’s basically a voice-enabled hockey puck with a speaker, Bluetooth connectivity, and audio out. Use this one if you’ve already got a decent speaker to connect to, (in example, our living room already had a soundbar we used for playing music) or just want to have voice-enabled commands. (We use our second Dot to automate actions in the Family Room such as turning the TV on/off or turning the lights on and off.) Google Home is another alternative at a cheaper price point. While I haven’t used it personally it’s better in someways than Alexa being connected to Google’s massive search engine. One thing I do not like, is the keying phrase of Google. Saying “Ok, Google” I find to be very difficult. It’s not that difficult where I wouldn’t and there’s a reason for having to say Ok, Google (Accuracy of trigger word) but it’s very harsh. Alexa, somewhat rolls off the tongue and you actually feel like you’re working with a companion not just shouting orders to a box. However, Alexa does get confused sometimes when I say my dog’s name, Lexie. (If your name is Alexa, you can change the key-phrase to Echo in the app).

Okay, so Let’s say I ordered one… or I don’t want voice in the home, what do I do next?

Simple, now you’re ready for the Smart Hub of your home. Which will be my next entry. Until then, if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them! I try and answer everyone’s questions and comments so feel free! Until next time… Alexa, Goodnight!