Last week, I ran into a couple of posts over in the Home Automation Subreddit (1 and 2) that were ‘discussing’ (Reddit comments are either all in agreement or angry tirades, there is no middle ground) the difference between true home automation and a home that is merely controlled remotely. These threads got me thinking, not only about the differences between these two descriptors, but also about the stages that we DIY Smarthome aficionados go through as we make our homes smart.
First, though, a quick recap of the linked threads in case you didn’t actually click on them (’cause who does that?). This will also help define a few things so that this article can proceed in an orderly fashion.
- ‘Home Control‘ is a system that allows the occupants of the home to control switches and systems in the home with an action: an app on their phone, a voice command to Amazon Echo, a button mounted on a wall or counter.
- ‘Home Automation‘ is a system that responds to changes in its sensor grid and takes action without any input from a human. This is a ‘true’ Smarthome according to those Reddit wonks.
With that out of the way, I want to take a walk through ‘typical’ Smarthome adoption stages (typical because it’s pretty much mine and I consider myself, if not ‘typical‘, then certainly not ‘atypical’).
I’m certainly no psychologist, but this all strikes me as similar to the supposed five stages of grief. So, let’s go with that and see where it takes us.
Stage 1 – Denial: This one ‘thing’ makes sense and that’s where I’ll stop
For me, this was a Nest Thermostat. I had just bought a new home and upgraded the HVAC system and everyone was raving about how wonderful the Nest was (and mostly still is). It will save me money and use less electricity and burn less coal and the fuzzy bunnies will be happier. Really, it was the right thing for me at the right time. Furthermore, the Nest is properly ‘smart’: a truly autonomous device with sensors and code that acts on those sensors whether I do anything with it or not. Did it save me money? Probably, but I wasn’t really keeping track. Mostly, it was cool (puns are always intended) and had an LCD screen and an app on my phone.
Stage 2 – Anger: Why isn’t everything like that first thing I bought?
So I had my heating and cooling figured out. But what about other systems? Why can’t I control my lights from my phone? My garage door? My sprinkler system? My home entertainment? My (daughter)? I have to stand up and walk over to a switch/button/child and tap it? NEVER AGAIN! I bought a few light switches and then a few more and then a garage door switch and then some motion sensors and then… and then…
Stage 3 – Bargaining: I’ll just do this one more ‘thing’
This stage and stage two have a fuzzy boundary, especially for me as I don’t have a spouse to keep me in check. I do have a budget, but it has some flexibility (I’m trying to save electricity, so I just won’t pay that, right? That’s how this all works, right? Right?) Really, what started to put me in check were wiring issues in my home (darn you three-way switches… and thank you GE and Z-Wave for coming up with a solution) and the beginning realization that…
Stage 4 – Depression: Many of my ‘smart’ things are kind of useless
Did I really need to have a smart switch on my daughter’s bathroom fan? She never turned it on anyway. And then there was the switch in the spare bedroom that never stayed connected (tried two different switches and neither was connect: Faraday in the gang box.) How much money and time have I blown on this crap? I don’t want to think about it. Also, all I’ve really done is moved the switch from the wall to my phone. That really doesn’t make anything too much ‘smarter’. Groan.
Stage 5 – Acceptance: Only some things should be ‘smart’, but those should be really smart
I like to think that I have actually reached this stage. I’m not sure as I’ll occasionally get the what-if-I-do-this? bug. Instead, I’ve been trying to optimize what I have. Set up the proper rules so that I don’t have to haul my phone out of my pocket. Smooth out my device names so that they work better with my Amazon Echo. Sync my bedroom lights with the alarm on my phone. That kind of thing. This stage is an on-going examination that has helped me maximize what I have and sell of some of the uselessness (motion sensors). It also has unearthed some issues with my investments: what products really are reliable (Z-Wave) and which ones are kind of sketchy (WeMo).
Stage five is where it’s at. Maybe some of you have been able to jump there without going through the rest of the steps, making the most out of each smart system as it crosses the threshold of your home. I’m glad for you, but that’s not me. I don’t regret (anymore) any part of the journey as I think that I’ve learned more along the way than if everything had been set up and working from day one. And, really, that’s why I’m a DIY Smarthome person: I want to know how it all goes together.
My time is up, so I’ll get off the couch and go to the recovery room. Thanks for listening. schmoid out.