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The last thing you want to think about when away from home is whether you left the coffee machine on or left a door, maybe a garage door, open. Whether it’s for security or just peace of mind, it’s worth putting systems and processes in place so that you can spend less time worrying about what’s happening at home and more time enjoying your time away. In this post and video, I’ll share how to build a smart home for travel (and your daily life).
Smart home doesn’t just apply to security
A lot of times, we think about smart devices at home in the context of home security. And, honestly, in the last few years, we’ve seen so many of these types of security devices become commonplace in homes. For example, it seems like everyone has a Ring doorbell camera nowadays. Companies like Ring and SimpliSafe even have full alarm systems, which is giving traditional alarm companies a lot of competition.
However, making your home “smart” doesn’t have to be all about alarms and cameras. In fact, I would argue that there is so much more potential to help make your home life and travels so much easier and safer through some simple automations and connections. And since most of you are spending more time at home because of the pandemic, now might be a good time to think about upgrading parts of your home.
My smart home setup
I thought I’d share the smart home upgrades I made at my place that helps me keep tabs on things at my house, whether I’m upstairs or even away from home. These upgrades and automations may reveal some of my OCD tendencies. Although, to be honest, I feel like they have given me peace of mind and incrementally saved me time.
The first set of smart home upgrades are contact sensors. For reference, I use Wyze Sense contact sensors for the job. They cost about $5 each, so they’re not a big investment. I use them to help track when things are left open or even to trigger certain lights in my house. While doors and windows are obvious places to use contact sensors, there are a lot of other uses for these devices. For example, I’ve set them up on my refrigerator and freezer doors and scheduled a notification to occur if either is open for more than five minutes. It might seem like overkill, but in the past year, I accidentally left our refrigerator door cracked open while rushing out to work. While most of my groceries were okay, I hated the thought of all the wasted energy.
A Reminder for me to close the garage door
I also mounted a contact sensor on the railing of my garage door. I then set a notification to occur if the garage door is left open for ten minutes. This has come in handy several times, and because of it, I decided to add a device to trigger my garage door to close. More on that later in this post.
Automating lights and turning off the coffee machine
The next set of devices are switches. These are often Wi-Fi connected devices that supply power between a device and an outlet. They typically have one function, which is to turn on or off.
There are so many of these devices available today from a variety of brands. In this example, I’m also using Wyze Plugs, which only cost $8 each and integrate with their other devices. I have my plugs set-up with my living room floor lamps and my coffee machine. The floor lamps are triggered during certain times of the day if motion is detected, which I’ll cover next. The coffee machine plug is set to only turn on during the morning hours, and this is because I have a bad habit of leaving it on all day. It’s not as dangerous since I’m working from home at the moment. But when I used to commute to work, there were many times I wondered if I had left it on. This ensures that even if I leave it on, eventually, the plug will automatically shut off electricity at a certain time.
Smart garage door
Remember how I mentioned that I set-up a contact sensor to alert me when the garage door is left open? Well, I accidentally left it open and was alerted while driving from Los Angeles to Orange County a few months ago, so I had to make a trip back to close my garage since I didn’t want my camera gear to be left out and stolen. I decided at that point that I wanted to take it to the next level and have the ability to remotely operate the garage door through Wi-Fi. What I found is that there are a lot of expensive commercial systems out there that can do it. However, I didn’t want to invest in an expensive set-up, especially since we rented our house. I ended up stumbling upon an article on how to do it for only $15 using a device called a Shelly 1.
Shelly 1 switch
The Shelly 1 is similar to a plug switch but is meant to integrate into traditional home electrical set-ups where you may not be plugging into an outlet. Since I just needed a device to complete an electrical circuit, this solution worked perfectly. You can even use a DC power adapter from another unused device to supply the power as I did. It did require some set-up, but it honestly was much easier than I expected. And for only $15 or $20 worth of supplies, it was a very cost-effective way to make a smart garage door opener.
The next set of sensors that I use are motion sensors. I have a few of these in places where I don’t want to place a camera but still want some activity to trigger other actions. For example, I have one in our living room, garage, and stairwell that is used to trigger the lights. This is all done through Wyze motion sensors and smart light bulbs. The Wyze light bulbs are also fairly inexpensive compared to other devices. I especially like having my garage and stairwell lights automated since I’m often carrying things to and from the garage. Whether it’s a load of laundry or groceries, it’s just one less thing that I need to touch or activate. The lights are also set to turn off if no motion is detected after a set period of time.
Package delivery notifications
Another thing that has proven to be helpful is attaching a motion sensor in our package delivery box. We have a box that we set-up outside our front door for packages. I placed a motion sensor under the lid, which then sends a notification to my phone whenever it detects motion. I also set-up an Alexa rule that announces when a package has arrived. This adds both convenience and security since I know when a delivery has been made.
Canary Security camera
I do have several cameras in my house. I have an old Canary home security camera in my living room that monitors my house for activity when we are out. It uses a geofence to detect when people are home and has several different sensors to measure things like temperature and air quality. I did a review on it several years ago if you’re interested. However, there are so many new systems out there nowadays, so I don’t know which one I can recommend today if you’re looking to invest in a security system.
I also have two Wyze cameras set-up on our two main entry points. These are set to record whenever there is motion. The cameras are also the hub for the various contact and motion sensors in the house. Again, I do like the Wyze brand because of the cost and lack of restrictions. Each camera is only $20, which is a bargain. The cameras also allow you to record locally onto a MicroSD card that is accessible via the app. Wyze also has a cloud recording subscription that is optional and inexpensive. However, for my purposes, the local recording works great and means I’m not stuck paying a monthly or annual fee.
Nest Smart Thermometer
Lastly, I do have an old Nest Smart Thermometer that I use. I won’t go into the details, though, as there are millions of videos on it already available. But it’s just another device that interacts with my home set-up and allows me to adjust my home temperature via an app and through Wi-Fi.
Smart homes are useful for daily life and travel
As you can see, all of these upgrades have practical uses when I am home and also when away. I’m obviously not traveling right now due to the pandemic, but I figure that some of these features will be helpful in the future. Most smart home devices have a “vacation mode” or equivalent setting that can help look as though you’re home when you’re actually away. And being able to check-in on what may be happening in front of my house or adjusting the temperature in case there is a heatwave seems like a great use of the technology.
Many people focus on the security aspect of a smart home, but I honestly think that they offer so much more than trying to catch an intruder. And as you find yourself spending more time at home, I’m hoping this video might inspire you to start building a smarter home, especially one that can help save you time and stress when at home or away.
Tips and considerations when building a smart home
In addition, here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you do decide to build a smart home:
1. Use strong passwords and enable security settings:
While making your home smarter is convenient, there is one drawback — security. Any device that is connected to the internet is vulnerable. That’s why it’s important that you use complex and unique passwords for any system that you use. Also, I recommend enabling two-factor or multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
I know I’ve covered it in several videos, but I highly recommend using a password manager for your passwords. For example, I use 1Password, and it helps me to create random and complex passwords for any site and service. When I need to use it, I just enter my one password and the software helps me to log in. There are many password management apps out there, so consider using one if you’re someone who struggles to manage and create unique passwords.
Secure your home network
It probably goes without saying, but you’ll also want to protect your home network from others. There are many security features and firewalls that you can implement, and each router is going to have a different process for setting up these features. However, at the very least, you want to password protect your network so that others are not able to join your network and control your devices.
2. Set-up dual wireless frequencies on your home Wi-Fi:
One thing that I learned through this process is that many of these smart home devices operate at 2.4 gigahertz, rather than a more common 5 gigahertz frequency on newer routers, and this means that you could easily run into connectivity problems. However, a lot of new routers can run dual frequencies, which allows devices to connect through either the 2.4 or 5 gigahertz frequency. If you encounter connectivity issues, then you’ll want to check the frequency broadcasted from your router.
3. Use a common smart home platform across all devices:
Once you start building a smart home with different devices, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll have to use various apps to control them. However, companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google have smart home platforms that often integrate multiple devices. For example, I use the Google Home app (iOS | Android) to control most of the devices in my house. I still need to use individual apps for more advanced features like setting up rules or triggers. But for most basic functions, I can control it from Google Home.
4. Use switch covers:
If you use any devices that run on an outlet or light that is connected to a wall switch, then you might want to use switch covers to prevent them from being turned off. For example, I have a few outlets that are connected to a wall switch that I’ve covered. Also, since my stairwell lights are automated using the smart bulbs, the wall light switches need to be kept on. I bought these cheap magnetic covers that prevent me or others from turning them off.
Do you have any smart home devices? What home automations or smart features have you found to be most useful? Please share in the comment section below. I love getting inspiration for new ideas.