BRIGHT IDEAS

Irish Examiner - Magazine - - Home Contents - NOEL CAM­PION

Turn your lights off with your phone — simple. And it only costs a few quid with no messy wiring. Noel Cam­pion shows how to move into the ‘in­ter­net of things’

I’ve al­ways wanted to in­vest in smart home tech­nol­ogy but al­ways thought it was too ex­pen­sive and only re­ally prac­ti­cal in a new home build. The con­cept of us­ing de­vices that could talk to each other, con­nect to the in­ter­net and per­form au­to­mated tasks has al­ways fas­ci­nated me, but the wiring, spe­cial­ist ex­per­tise and ex­pense was off-putting. These days, you don’t need to do it all in one go or even get a spe­cial­ist in­volved, be­cause most de­vices are now wire­less. With a lit­tle re­search and knowhow, you can pick and choose the smart de­vices you want and most of the time, you don’t have to be too worried about mix­ing brands ei­ther. So, you re­ally don’t have to be a mil­lion­aire to have a smart home, nor a com­puter sci­ence de­gree to be able to get it all to work. The great thing is that you can start small and add new smart de­vices as your bud­get al­lows.

There are lots of smart bulbs out there in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar Philips Hue sys­tem but I opted for LIFX bulbs for a few rea­sons. Ini­tially, I bought a sin­gle RBG or full colour LIFX bulb to test and see what I thought of them. The rea­sons I chose them over their com­pe­ti­tion is LIFX bulbs are self-con­tained and in­clude a WiFi chip so there’s no need for an ex­tra bridge de­vice like the Philips Hue sys­tem. At full bright­ness (1100 lu­mens), it only uses 11 watts and, based on 3 hours of use each day, LIFX claim you should get 22.8 years life­span out of a bulb.

In­stal­la­tion is as simple as fit­ting a nor­mal bulb, down­load the free LIFX app (IOS and An­droid), con­nect the bulb to your WiFi us­ing the app and then you have con­trol over the light. You can con­trol bright­ness from 1% to 100% and us­ing a colour wheel within the app, choose from one of 16 mil­lion colours. I can even con­trol ba­sic on/off light func­tions from my Ap­ple Watch.

Within the app you can also turn on and off lights, set sched­ules – have a bed­room light turn on with your alarm in the morn­ing, or turn on at night when you’re away for se­cu­rity. You can do all of this from the app re­gard­less of where you are in the world too.

I also up­graded my heat­ing ther­mo­stat to a smart stat from Ne­tatmo. There’s lots of choices here in­clud­ing Nest, Hive and Tado but the Ne­tatmo met all my re­quire­ments. In­stal­la­tions will vary but mine was simple enough so I was able to do a self-in­stall. With the Ne­tatmo re­mote ther­mo­stat setup and in­stalled, I can con­trol the heat­ing via the re­mote and wire free ther­mo­stat that can be placed in any room or by

us­ing a free app. The soft­ware makes it re­ally easy to set sched­ules and has op­tions like away mode and frost guard.

A simple smart plug like the TP-Link 110 can re­motely con­trol any­thing con­nected to it from any­where in the world. I picked a cou­ple of them up and use them on var­i­ous ap­pli­ances that I want to con­trol re­motely. With the TP-Link 110, I can also mon­i­tor the en­ergy usage and the free app Kasa, will dis­play cur­rent power in watts, to­tal con­sump­tion for that day in KWH, the daily av­er­age KWH and to­tal con­sump­tion KWH over the last seven days or over the past 30 days.

You can sched­ule the Smart Plug to au­to­mat­i­cally power elec­tron­ics on and off as needed, like set­ting lights to come on at dusk or turn off at sun­rise or turn de­vices on and off at dif­fer­ent times to give the ap­pear­ance that some­one is home.

A lot of what makes all of these de­vices work so well to­gether is the soft­ware and the IFTTT app (If This Then That) pro­vides con­nected de­vices to do amaz­ing things. With this soft­ware, you can cre­ate ap­plets or just down­load ones that have been cre­ated al­ready. I use one that turns on my hall light when I’m within a cer­tain dis­tance of the house. It also works with my Ne­tatmo Ther­mo­stat so I can use an ap­plet that will no­tify me when some­one changes the ther­mo­stat’s tem­per­a­ture. Or, if the tem­per­a­ture drops be­low a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture on my Ne­tatmo out­side weather sta­tion, it will turn on my TP-Link smart plug. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less with IFTTT and the more de­vices you have, the more pow­er­ful it can get.

Fi­nally, I bought three Echo Dots from Ama­zon. These are not avail­able in Ire­land yet so I had to get them from the UK. These small WiFi con­nected de­vices can talk to all my de­vices and al­low me to con­trol lights, smart plugs etc with voice con­trol. I also got Alexa to play my favourite ra­dio sta­tions or mu­sic from my Spotfy ac­count. So, don’t fear tech­nol­ogy, go out to­day and get smarter.

Ne­tatmo Smart Ther­mo­stat and Boiler Con­trol with Smart­phone and Browser Con­trol. €219

LiFX Smart Bulb €79.99 (colour) maplin.ie Also avail­able di­rect from lifx.com where they have a spe­cial of­fer on a pack of six white bulbs. TP-Link HS110 WiFi Smart Plug with En­ergy Mon­i­tor­ing. € 49.95

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