Check out my last smart home post, Making My House a Bit Smarter with SmartThings, to see how things got started.
I’ve been slowly making additions to make my home smarter over the past year. I received an Amazon Echo for my birthday this year (thanks Jess!). Out of the box, it has the ability to communicate with SmartThings, so I decided to see what I could hook together. My first foray into voice control was configuring the Echo to turn my already-connected smart bulbs on and off. To set that up, I had to give them a name in SmartThings, and then hook the “smart home” section of the Echo app software at my SmartThings account. The echo then does a quick search of my connected devices to see what things it can control. It quickly found all of my connected “things,” and let me select the ones that I wanted the Echo to have access to. I can now control both lamps by asking Alexa to turn on or off “lamp right” or “lamp left” (the names I gave them when I set them up in SmartThings). I currently have both of those lamps on a timer sequence set in SmartThings, so they are usually alreaady on when they’re needed, so adding voice control wasn’t really necessary outside of novelty purposes. But it’s still pretty cool to be able to call out to the Echo from across the room to turn a lamp on or off.
After getting a couple more OSRAM smart bulbs for Christmas this year (thanks Matt!), I started to look into some other uses for them, and to try and find opportunities to better integrate the Echo with house controls. That search led me to our kitchen. There are currently two sets of lights in my kitchen, some inset overhead flood lights, and some hanging pendant lights over the counter. We regularly use both of those sets of lights to light the kitchen and living room areas much of the time. Being able to control those lights with an app and by voice via the Echo would be the most beneficial addition. I started to investigate individual smart bulbs for all of the kitchen lights, but quickly determined that going that route might be overkill, and expensive. There are seven separate bulbs (overhead and pendant) in the kitchen, and I didn’t really need to be able to control each bulb individually, nor could I justify the price for an expensive smart bulb for each fixture. Both the ceiling floods and the pendants have their own single switch, so instead of smart bulbs, I started looking for smart switches. I landed on GE Z-Wave Wireless Lighting Control Smart Toggle Switch 12727. I wanted something that had a similar look and feel to the current switches in the house. I believe GE makes several different version of the switch if you need a different look or switch type. Installation was pretty straightforward (always remember to disconnect the circuit before doing electric work… safety first!). The most difficult part was getting the new switches to fit into electrical box, since the smart electronics take up a bit more room than the standard switches I was replacing. Once I got them in there and connected to the existing wiring, the SmartThings hub found them right away. I could control them using the SmartThings app, and set up some timers sequences and proximity actions to turn the lights on when we arrive home after sundown using the location of our phones. Once I did a simple refresh in the smart home ares of the Echo echo app, it found the new SmartThings, and I could turn them on and off with my voice using the Echo. I can now ask Alexa to turn on “kitchen pendants” or “kitchen ceiling.” I also have the lights grouped into a “room” in SmartThings, so Alexa can also turn or or off the entire kitchen with the “turn on kitchen” command. We probably use that command now more than anything else we ask of Alexa. It’s really handy when we’re coming into the house with a lot of things in our hands and can just ask Alexa to turn on the lights.
The other somewhat recent addition to my smart home is TV control. I’ve been using a Harmony universal remote for several years. The one I had previously started to go bad, so I ended up purchasing a newer Logitech Harmony Hub Companion All in One Remote Control. My original need for that remote was just to get a working universal remote (so I don’t need 4 separate remote sitting on the coffee table), but it turned out that the Harmony Hub can also communicate with the Amazon Echo… so why not add it as a skill?!? The setup for the Harmony hub was actually a little more difficult, but that’s mainly due to the complexity of the Harmony software’s ability to control hundreds of different options on many devices. Once I got the Harmony hub and the remote configured, I just needed to make sure the items I would want to control via voice had a name that was easy to call out to the Echo. I think that the Echo can connect with Harmony natively, but I still connected it through the SmartThings Hub (they all talk the same language). I just figured it would be easier to troubleshoot if everything was running through SmartThings. I didn’t even try to connect the Echo directly to the Harmony using the native interface/skill, so I don’t know how easy or difficult that process is. The only command we really use regularly with the Harmony is “turn on tv” or “turn off tv” and it works well. I also want to put in a plug for how great the Harmony systems is on its own. The remote is nice and slim, and uses RF instead of IR, which is great so you don’t need to be pointing directly at the device you want to control. The hub comes with a mini IR blaster that sends the signals to your devices. I have the hub box hidden behind the TV out of the way, and the IR blaster pulled out in front to send signals to the TV and Xbox. It works really well.