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