Drunkenly Honest Review: Yale RealLiving Z-wave Deadbolt

Let me first preface this review by saying: I purchase all products by myself. It’s never given nor subsidized. With that being said, usually when I purchase something I really like, as in the Schalge Connect Camelot  that I reviewed back in May, I tend to stick with that brand or device since it’s a known quality. However, that is an expensive lock that I put on my front door. I needed something for my side and rear doors and honestly I didn’t really care about its looks I was going for more of a economy lock. That’s when I found the Yale RealLiving Z-wave Deadbolt.

At around $70 dollars cheaper than the Schlage, I thought it would be a good choice for my alternative locks. I’ve had it installed now for approximately 2 months. So, let’s find out how it stacked up!

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While in my opinion not as attractive as the Camelot, it still is a decent design.

The Run Down:

  • Manufacture: Yale | Model:YRD210
  • Locking Mechanism: Residential Standard Certification:ANSI/BHMA A156.115
    Grade 2 Certification
  • Power: AA-Type Batteries (4)
  • Wireless: Z-Wave Or Zigbee (Zwave reviewed)
  • Alexa Compatibility: Certified, Lock-Only. (See Automation)
  • SmartThings Compatibility: Native compatibility
  • Hub Required for Automation: Yes and No (See Automation)
  • Phone App: None
  • Temperatures: Information not contained in website or product catalog/manual
  • Colors: Satin Nickel, Polished Brass, Oil-Rubbed Bronze
  • Additional Features: Anti-Tamper Alarm, Programmable Codes, Auto-Lock
  • Price: Normally sub~$160 (Home Depot) Approx. $120 or less on Amazon.
  • Warranty: 1 Year Warranty for electronics, lifetime limited for finish and mechanical.

The Deadbolt/Locking Mechanism:

First off, this deadbolt only has a “Grade 2” level of certification. After some discussion and some research from my Schlage, Grade 2 is suitable for home (non-commercial) and apartment external door installations. This is suitable enough for my application, especially since the doors in questions have gigantic windows in them. (Remember, locks only keep honest people honest.) Working the lock action does well, and it is as mooth as any other lock I’ve used but it doesn’t “feel” as secure as a Grade 1. However, for $70 dollars in savings, that’s okay. Over 2 months of ownership it hasn’t failed or jammed to lock.

Installation:

Installation went well. It was more simplistic than when I did my Schlage however since there was already a deadbolt hole it’s a simple replacement. I didn’t need to adjust the lock throw for depth. However, the door jamb is a bit “off” and I did need to file it down. That isn’t a knock against the deadbolt. Even before I did that adjustment, the lock would still automatically engage albeit not completely. Overall no major issues if you’ve done one before.

Appearance:

Available in 3 finishes, I went with Oil-Rubbed Bronze since the door hardware was already so. The lines are well rounded but I wouldn’t consider them attractive, they have a more utilitarian aesthetic. It will work fine as a supplemental door lock that people do not normally see however, this is a matter of opinion. Once could easily put this on their front door in a traditional home. I do not feel as though it would look as attractive on an upscale home. The buttons illuminate when it is first pressed for ease. The YALE “button” at the top is simply a logo that will only flash if the battery is low, it tricked me a few times when going in. The buttons are white with black numbers, which actually is better in direct sunlight when compared to a “touch screen” which tends to get washed out. This was great as in the afternoon sun hits my house I can still see what is where. The inside of the lock isn’t nearly as large as the Schlage which is nice despite it needing 4-AA batteries. It does feature a tamper alarm, which is a bonus. Overall I found it suitable.

Stand-Alone Operation:

The Yale features a key-lock which is fantastic. I’m a big proponent on things having a mechanical override which it comes to Smart Home or Stand Alone installations. Batteries die, Z-wave can fail to connect, so always have your key on you if this is a primary or only door. The lock can be programmed with a 4 to 8 digit code. Programming the lock is fairly easy and the manual includes a flow chart which was far more helpful than Schlage. Unlike the Schlage, the device does not have a “default” PIN/Code. This is actually nice since upon reset you’re required to create one. When my Schlage is reset, I need the default code which is located on the inside panel.  Does this pass the infamous spouse test? Sadly not on its first go around. In fact, it doesn’t pass the me test. Since this door isn’t the main entry, I don’t use the keypad often. Of the few times I’ve had to use the code, I have failed to remember you have to push the asterisk key “*” after entering the code. I tend to hit the pound key for some strange reason. However, with a bit of practice it’s not bad. My wife has failed to use it every time she’s attempted and I’ve had to remind her as well. This is a mistake on my behalf, I’ll recommend if you buy one lock brand, stick with it as the user interface from device-to-device can confuse others. Automatic re-lock is not available without a Network module, something I’m not sure why isn’t there by default. While I don’t normally use this feature, when my little one is old enough to open doors, we’ll be turning that feature on to assist in keeping her contained in the house. Overall it’s locking functions work well without being integrated into a Smart Home Environment. The only major complaint (perhaps it’s a bonus?) is the batteries that it comes with are Nickel-Metal Hydride, which are rechargeable however, lower capacity than that of alkaline. I’d recommend stepping up to some Eneloop rechargeable or regular alkaline batteries.  The batteries died within the first 2 weeks, which we’ll get into in the Automation section since that may be due to it’s wireless connection.

The only major complaint (perhaps it’s a bonus?) is the batteries that it comes with are Nickel-Metal Hydride, which are rechargeable however lower capacity than that of alkaline. I’d recommend stepping up to some Eneloop rechargeable or regular alkaline batteries.

Automation:

The Yale has both a Z-Wave and Zigbee connection module. Which is great if you tend to have a preference for Zigbee, however I find most capable hardware platforms should include both. (I’m looking at you Echo Plus!) However, it’s nice to have the option whereas the Schlage was Z-Wave only. The lock natively integrates with SmartThings with ease. I’d recommend using the User Lock Manager Smart App to keep codes and features consistent across multiple locks. It will automatically lock given a schedule .(Which is great because I would always forget to lock this door in particular.) There is no app to control the lock, which again is my preference but I could understand if some prefers to use one. It has native compatibility with Alexa. However, I have not attempted to lock the doors using her. Due to its integration into Smart Things, there are several great smart apps that can take advantage of advanced functionality, but if you’re not on that level, at least you can unlock/lock it from the SmartThings App. Overall it’s functionality is the same as Schlage when connected. Which is great for it being less expensive. My only complaint is the battery. The packed in NiMH batteries worked fine but ran down quickly. It takes 4-AA batteries and they’re easily replaceable however it’s not as good as my Schlage lock when it comes to battery life. I’ve had the Schlage in place now since around March, and it’s still at 95% on it’s original batteries, according to my smart app. However, the Yale has went through it’s pack-in batteries in approx. 2 weeks and is now reporting 45% battery remaining with alkaline batteries installed. My only explanation for this difference is proximity to the hub. It clearly has a connection and device polling is successful, however it may have degraded connection and has to use more energy to maintain it’s connection with the hub. It should be able to snag a z-wave mesh signal and go back to the hub, but even for me, that is some weird Z-wave voodoo that we don’t have control over so I cannot tell you how it’s connecting. Before you go purchasing a $100+ dollar lock, keep in mind that you can’t change a door’s location and you may want to ensure your hub is located close enough. For what it’s worth, there is a door sensor located directly above it that runs off batteries and I’ve never had a misreading or had to change it’s single AAA battery in about a year’s time.

Overall it’s functionality is the same as Schlage when connected to SmartThings. Which is great for it being less expensive.

Security:

Due to it’s ANSI Grade 2 certification, it’s obviously “less” secure but once again, that’s relative. According to some research, Grade 2 means it’ll take 5 massive blows with a hammer, my guess is that is before it begins to “fail” mechanically. However, once again locks are only there to keep honest people honest. If they have a hammer, they can just smash my adjoining windows with far more ease. Automation is a great advantage of this lock, but that does leave some vulnerabilities. It works great as a stand alone lock if you prefer, however it has some less-expensive non-wireless cousins that you should go for instead. I feel as though the lock is competent enough to serve as a primary lock, for the price, it’s a decent buy, as far as connected deadbolts are concerned.

Wrapping-Up:

In summary, the lock is “fine”. The connected functionality is great, but I cannot get over the lower battery life despite it having 4-AA batteries compared to the Schlage. Once again, this may be a placement issue but it is still disappointing. The regular price at Home Depot is $160. I wouldn’t spend this much especially since the Schlage Camelot (deadbolt only) is normally $180. On Amazon I see the average price around $110, which is where I suggest you look unless there’s a sale somewhere else. The only other major complaint was I could not find temperature ratings. This is important if you live in an area with more severe hot/cold seasons. However despite it’s short comings, at the price point it is coming in at, I’ll be purchasing another for my rear kitchen door if I see it drop below $100.

Final Verdict:

  • Pros:
    • Just as capable when connected with SmartThings with other locks.
    • Great price at the $100 vs other connected locks.
    • Physical Buttons that are easily read.
    • Physically looks appealing.
    • Can serve has primary home or apartment lock.
  • Cons:
    • Seemingly poor battery life.
    • Operation can be confusing for others.
    • Noisy operation.
    • Could have a better ANSI rating, does not communicate it well.
    • Temperature could be an issue.
  • Overall:
    • A solid purchase for alternative door entries, while ANSI grade could be higher it could also be worse. (I wouldn’t consider a Grade 3 for a home lock)
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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!

 

 

 

 

What does End Of Life mean for Nexus?

So recently, this happened: Google posts End-Of-Life time frames for Nexus devices. Of course, the vocal minority is in a rampage. Everyone is very quick to read the headline and automatically hit reply without actually reading the article to see what is actually going on. So, let us stop the quick judgement and really explore both what does End-Of-Life mean, and how it relates to the Nexus program.

What Does End-of-Life Mean?

Well, according to submissions in Wikipedia, they describe “End-of-Life” as the following:

“End-of-life” (EOL) is a term used with respect to a product supplied to customers, indicating that the product is in the end of its useful life (from the vendor’s point of view), and a vendor stops marketing, selling, or rework sustaining it. (The vendor may simply intend to limit or end support for the product.) ”

So, with that in mind, the concept of End-Of-Life is often used in the tech industry for many products you may not realize. Cisco, Microsoft, and yes, even Apple have End-Of-Life dates for many of their products. (Feel free to reference the Windows XP fiasco.) Generally speaking, this is done when a device, such as a router or switch, needs to be phased out and replaced, either to make way for a newer model or a shift in technology. This does not mean that the businesses need to upgrade their hardware, they also implement something called “End-Of-Support”. End-Of-Support is a period of time after EOL has been exceeded that a product will still receive stability updates or parts/service may be still obtained. Eventually, the cost of support those devices will outweigh the benefit of keeping them. At this point, they will only give “best-effort” service. (Otherwise known as, “eh… if we feel like it” service.)

Yeah, don’t care ’bout that, what about Nexus?

Well, directly from their site, (which you read because you’re an intelligent person) they clearly state: “No guaranteed Android version updates after”. Examining that statement, they’re saying, “Hey.. we’re not going say we are or aren’t, but don’t expect them.” This is what we can call setting a standard for your expectations as a consumer. The Nexus program, for some time now, has had this 18-month support timeframe though it was never really quantified until you see the date. However, where most people quit reading was the 3-years of security, bug-fixes and hardware support they offer. To put it to something relate-able, most computers come with a 90-day warranty and 1 year of tech-support. Windows even has dates set that while they’ll still support the product with critical updates, adding new features isn’t in their best interest.

But… Apple always gets the latest version of iOS, why doesn’t Nexus?

Easy, to quote Steve Balmer: “Developers… Developers, Developers, Developers Developers.” Well, really development in general. Apple has a closed ecosystem. Inside their sandbox, they give you all the details for application development and it is either their way or the information-super-highway. This leaves them with fewer and more standardize hardware models. There are 13 iPhones, 7 iPod touches,12 iPads, and a few other devices. Also, Apple’s software updates don’t always include the latest features either.  While Google may only have 8 in the Nexus lineup,  TheNextWeb has an article stating there are 18.796 distinct Android devices. Wow, that’s a lot to keep up to date. Remember though, Google isn’t really a hardware company, it’s a software and services company. Their product, isn’t necessarily the Nexus, it’s Android. This was more clearly defined back in the day when Nexus phones were more-or-less developer phones and reference devices for how “vanilla” Android should look. However, as time rolled on, so did Google. Hardware/software are usually developed hand-in-hand, it doesn’t make sense to revisit older devices every 6 months, especially when that phone didn’t have a large market share to begin with.

There’s a simple fix:

Stop whining. I do apologize for being blunt but we need to take a step back and look at the broad scope of things. We first complained about fragmentation in Android’s early days. OEMs we’re all over the place in Android versioning, there were few if any updates, and support was severely lacking. Now that Google has enforced rules for device certification and moved its proprietary services in a “walled garden” similar to Apple, we complain that it’s not open. The Nexus program has gone from a developer-tool to a fully fledged prime time consumer phone. Google is a company, companies need to make money. Their image is important and in order to keep up with the industry, it has to advance. If you’re concerned about the time frame of support, don’t buy last years model when this year’s has been out for 6 months. (Nexus 6’s are really cheap are great though, especially for the low-prices.) When you bought the phone, you thought it was the greatest thing and it did everything you want it do. Did that somehow change in the new version? Is it worth it to upgrade? Those are the questions you should ask yourself. You can certainly go buy a car, that is “new” but it be a model that’s well over a year old, the trade off is you’ll get a car for cheaper even though next year’s model might have a “killer” feature. Most of the time, you can wait, or if your budget doesn’t allow, just stay N-1 (meaning current revision, minus 1) for awhile. Or simply switch if it means that much to you. Remember, you’re in control of your money and mind, it’s up to you to make informed decisions.

Till next time….