One of my most popular posts is a tutorial I wrote two years ago about automating a gas fireplace and I get a lot of questions about home automation, so thought I’d write an update to that tutorial and review some products I’ve bought in the last two years.
My Original Goal
When I originally started seeing all the home automation products that were coming out, my original interest in them was to see what kind of data these devices gathered about their owners and I ended up giving two presentations on this topic at the Strata Conferences in New York and London. With all that said, for my research I wanted to be able to control the functionality of my home with my phone. After buying a bunch of devices, I was really disappointed. At the time, I wasn’t able to automate any lighting because my home was built in the 1920s and none of the light switches had a neutral wire–a requirement for Z-Wave switches. After we moved to a newer home, and I started automating lights and installing other automation devices, the thing that really frustrated me was the difficulty in getting all the devices to work together. I had high hopes for IFTTT, (and still do) but at the time, it seemed like it was a half-assed workaround.
I also was very disappointed with the available security systems. At the time, the choices were pretty much limited to systems which required you to pay rather steep monthly “monitoring fees” to some company and use rather low-tech devices, or half-baked products that did appear promising but seemed to be MVPs at best.
So what changed? I can answer that in one word: Alexa.