I love the idea of Smart Homes. I am a geek after all! There’s a few barriers without considerable investment to shoehorning this kind of thing into belligerently traditional non-smart home infrastructure, and of course the perennial problem with tech, especially the early stages of it, of compatibility or multiple choices of ecosystems, and of course the cost.
As someone already pretty deep into the Apple ecosystem, and the stronger focus on security it offers HomeKit was always going to be my preference over the other frontrunners in Alexa and Google Home. The drawback to this being a more limited choice of compatible kit, and a sometimes convoluted set up process. What I’ve found since playing with this is the default Home app used to configure it is actually pretty hobbled when it comes to tweaking your automations.
But there is a workaround to that, more on that later.
I do have a light in my office that connects to a Nest Home Mini just to control on/off and dimming, it doesn’t really interact with anything else so I’ll pass on that. I only bought it as it was a cheap way to better light my office which obviously in recent times I’ve been spending a lot more time in, and since it had smart capabilities I couldn’t resist picking up a cheap Nest Home Mini to play with it.
I’ve always wanted to start with my lights at home – partly because of having a pet bird and being able to control her lighting on a schedule is appealing for times (hopefully soon) when I’m likely to be out the house more at work or socially. Her UV light is sort of semi-smart being on a WeMo plug with a schedule, but obviously as autumn and winter comes I need to think about the normal non-UV lighting too.
Having scoured various options I plumped for LightwaveRF being the solution I wanted.
A couple of years ago an email enquiry even resulting in a chap coming round with a sales pitch. It’s not cheap, I pondered it but even with a discount for attempting the whole house was a bit much to find. I guess spending 6+ months at home makes you consider your environment more so I reconsidered this the other week!
I opted for switches rather than bulbs for a number of reasons – your bulbs can be as smart as you like, but if you turn off the switch then they’re off (I find this with my office light), and you’ve got strong muscle memory to simply flick off a light switch as you leave a room rather than asking a Virtual Assistant to do the honours.
Also, smart bulbs are expensive – most of my home lighting are recessed GU10 bulbs. Whilst there are options out there with Hue and Lifx offering options that work with HomeKit, with a switch I can use regular dimmable LED bulbs which is much more cost effective when you consider I have ten lamps in my lounge alone. The advantage individual bulbs would have is that you could have colour temperature / RGB colour options, or even do funky things by only lighting some of the bulbs or varying the colours of them etc.
I didn’t really want to do that – being able to control on/off and brightness was my only real drive.
Probably the main catalyst was succumbing to the whim of getting a video doorbell, I picked up a Eufy wired doorbell – currently this doesn’t connect to HomeKit (hopefully it will in the future), but it did signpost me to their internal security cameras. I use cameras at home to monitor the house when I’m not in, again, largely precipitated by being able to keep an eye on the pet birds as well as being mindful of security.
I replaced my ye old and slightly rubbish first generation Hive cameras with two very reasonably priced Eufy pan and tilt cameras, added them to HomeKit with no problems then realised as well as being security cameras (I set them to not do anything when I’m at home, based on Geofencing linked to my phone), but when I’m away they kick into actually acting as security cameras when I’m not at home.
Whilst the panning and tilting is cool, the field of view of these cameras is sufficient and it’s a bit freaky having the cameras following you around even when they’re not in active recording mode, so I disabled that.
By using HomeKit for this and being able to invite people to join your home, the same goes for others who might be spending time at home – if they have an iPhone of course – which is one of those nuisance limiting factors that plague these different systems.
So anyway, having a motion sensor in my living room made me start thinking about Lightwave switches again. As the living room simply has a single switch, it was the easiest starting point so I started stalking eBay for starter kits to save a few quid and eventually won one. Lightwave requires a hub, I connected that up to the router and set about wiring up the switch – I won’t detail that, follow the instructions, it’s pretty simple for one way lighting!
The initial barrier was occasionally a single lamp in my living room would light up – LED lamps obviously require much less power, and with dimmer switches sometimes even when off they let enough through to cause some flickering or single lamps to come on. Not a good start! A quick google led me to pick up an inexpensive bypass – it was actually designed to work with the Z-Wave dimmer system but does the same thing.
It was simply a case of wiring this behind one of the GU10 lights in the circuit, and recalibrating the Lightwave switch in the app – and voila, no residual light when powered off or flickering, and lovely smooth dimming working through both the Lightwave app and – once added – the Home app utilising HomeKit.
I think it’s the first time I’ve had decent dimming since switching the lights out from the halogen bulbs when I moved in to LEDs. Which then leads to doing clever things utilising the motion sensor.
A lot of this is kinda ‘because you can’ rather than making a game changer in your life – but it’s nice to have. I set up an overnight automation that if motion is detected (the motion detection on the indoor cameras are set to low sensitivity to try to limited false triggers) then the lights will come on to 40% if they’re not already on. When motion is not detected, and the lights are at 40% or less, then it will switch them off.
If everyone in my home leaves the immediate area based on Geofencing then the lights switch off. Then I’ve also set the lights to incrementally dim over the course of the evening to start to subliminally remind me that it’s getting closer to bed time. It remains to be seen whether this makes any difference or not, but it’s kinda cool regardless!
So that’s a total of seven automations:
- Motion detected in Living Room, only when somebody is at home and only if living room light is off – turn lights on to 40% – so this means if one of us staggers downstairs at night the lights will turn on, obviously there’s a chance that a random movement or lights throught the window could trigger this.. so…
- No motion detected in Living Room, only from 01:00 to 18:00 and living room light is on at 40% or less – turn lights off – if the lights are on at 40% then the chances are it was triggered by a movement, if that movement stops then switches the lights back off – if it’s less than 40% then it’s likely to be post 11pm when the lights dim to 20%
- When the last person leaves home, only when living room light is on – turn off living room light – of course, having smart lights means you can check via the app if you’ve left them on – but why not just get the technology to compensate for potential forgetfulness?
- At 8pm, only when Living Room light is on – set lights to 80% brightness
- At 9pm, only when Living Room light is on – set lights to 60% brightness
- At 10pm, only when Living Room light is on – set lights to 40% brightness
- At 11pm, only when Living Room light is on – set lights to 20% brightness
Setting up automations in the Home app is really easy, but doesn’t give you all of the conditional tweaks that you might want (at least not that I’ve found), but if you download an app called Controller even with the free version you can both set up or customise existing automations to add conditions around presence, time or values for accessories. Home tends to focus on just one element rather than combining them, which is where the really clever stuff kicks in.
I can kinda understand that – but they could have an ‘expert’ mode or similar to manage these kind of automations in the native app rather than having to nip out to hack it, once you’ve done that, you can actually adjust the condition parameters in the Home app.
As a proof of concept I’m happy with my results – and definitely the bird room is next, the only reason that I didn’t start with it is because it’s a triple switch and Lightwave triple switches are double-width so there’ll be some work to do on extending the back box behind the existing switch in there. When I start considering upstairs there will be the combination of extending back boxes AND 2 or 3 way circuits to contemplate – so I shall see how I feel about that later! That’s the joy of a modular system.
That was a bit waffly but buried in there might be some helpful nuggets for anyone contemplating something similar! There’s something really satisfying about how the lights fade in / out when they’re turning on or off or changing brightness, and of course in addition to all the automations you can simply ask Siri to control them too!