My kids are always, I mean always, leaving the lights on in my house. Try as I might, I can’t break them of the habit. I’ve read about smart homes with light switches I can control from my phone, and I’d love to find out more about them. Help! Should I look into them? Are they expensive? Do they actually work? What equipment do I have to buy in order to remotely control the lights in my home?
I hear you, loud and clear. Getting kids to turn lights off is right up there with cleaning one’s room, feeding the animals, and hanging up a wet towel after a shower. But there’s hope. I recently did a project with a friend at their house where we “smartened” up the light switches, and now controlling the lights in their house is as easy as texting your friends and telling them to read my column. See what I did there? Both things are easy …
There are various options on the market for connecting light bulbs and/or switches to your home network and Internet. Once connected, these devices are then accessible via an app on a smartphone from anywhere in the world. There are smart bulbs, wired-in devices that connect to your existing switches, and smart switches. For our project, after considerable research, we decided to install smart switches in the house. We had many discussions about which company to buy them from, and which brand or system to buy. We decided on using Insteon products. The “we” mentioned was more of the singular “we,” as my buddy wanted me to decide and program the system for him.
“We” (this time the singular “we” is him, happy to say) bought an Insteon hub, which controls all of the switches, and also bought enough dimmable switches (Insteon model 2477D) to swap out all of the switches in the house. On sale from smarthome.com, the switches cost $34 each (normally $50), and the Insteon hub to “control them all” is $80. I have seen the switches on eBay for $29 and the hub for $60, but it is Ebay, and those were used units, so that might not appeal to everyone, but I’m always willing to mention options that might save on the budget.
The hub was easy to set up, and an app on my phone communicated with it easily. Once the light switches were installed, it was time to program them. This is where things got a little confusing, but one of the only things this geek loves to do more than save you money is to help explain things I’ve learned from my own trial and error that should save you some headaches.
Programming switches is an easy task when using the Insteon app. Your phone will detect the switch, ask you to name it (Kitchen light, for example), then allow you to change attributes such as “On Level” (how bright the lights should be by default), “Ramp Rate” (how quickly the light turns on when the button is pushed), “LED Brightness” (for the LED lights on the switch itself), and more. Insteon buttons can be grouped into Rooms and Scenes. This is something that tripped me up a bit. Intuitively, I assumed I would group the buttons in a room within the app, then control them all at once. This is not the case. That functionality is handled as a Scene. The room function is more useful to organize where the switches themselves are located and in order to control them individually. The amazing things about setting up scenes is having the ability to link together switches in different parts of the house that aren’t physically wired together. Want to turn on your front deck light and your back door light at the same time? Make a scene and add those two devices into it. Then just simply turn the scene on or off as desired, either with the app or with the switch.
Scenes and switches can be set on a schedule, which can solve your “lights left on” issue. Just schedule all of the lights to turn off a few minutes after everyone typically leaves the house. Of course, you can manually turn single, multiple, or all the lights on and off with the app on your phone. We (plural — this was too much fun to do as the singular we) hung out in the driveway turning on and off various lights, acting it out like it was some sort of magic trick.
Insteon has other products I’m planning on looking at in the future, which include their water leak detection/alarms, outlets, garage door adapters, and the integration of the Insteon universe with Amazon’s Echo devices and Google’s Home devices
Sorry for the long-winded answer to your questions, but hope this information helps. At the very least, I hope it brightens your day.
Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Dear Geek.”