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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Drunkenly Honest Review: Schlage Connected Camelot

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

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

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

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

 

The Deadbolt/Locking Mechanism:

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

Installation:

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

Appearance:

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

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

Stand-Alone Operation

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

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

Automation:

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

Security:

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

Wrapping-Up:

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

Final Verict:

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

Living In A Smart Home Part 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!