The internet of lights
December 29, 2015 5:56 AM   Subscribe

My wife is tired of coming home to a dark house, and I want something to fiddle with. I'm thinking about getting a "smart" setup of some sort to control the lights (details inside). What's the best overall solution? We're exclusively a Mac/iOS household.

We have plenty of low tech solutions (timers, sockets with photo triggers, motion sensors) but I specifically want a connected solution, because of fun.

Right now we have a WeMo socket that turns on a light depending on sunset, and turns it off at bedtime. I'd like to control a mix of table lamps, switched sockets, and a couple of three way switched lights. I'm agnostic about whether I get a solution that controls the switch (or a socket) versus the bulbs themselves (presumably I'd have to control the bulb for the three way switches, as I'm not aware of any smart switches that control those).

What I want:
- A minimum of systems. I don't want to have three different apps and interfaces to control my lights;
- Homekit compatibility to control via Siri;
- Ability to trigger macros (e.g. all on/all off);
- Ability to control remotely (don't want just a local network);
- Ideally, ability to have some random mode for when we're away;
- Color is a plus, but not a requirement. It would be cool though to integrate with ifttt;
- A couple of the applications will be outside (exposed to cold and heat and humidity, but not water;
- Minimum hassle. My wife and I will have whatever apps, but guests and cleaning people won't. I don't want to have a lot of hassle when I want a lamp on or off off the schedule. The WeMo socket has a physical switch on the socket itself, but that won't work for sockets that are behind furniture, for instance. I don't have an ideal solution here. It's really annoying with timers, often.
- I don't care if I need a hub.
- I'm not price indifferent, but I'll pay for convenience and quality.
- We currently have an Amazon Echo, but not yet a new Homekit Apple tv.

Is there any solution that meets all these criteria? If not, what gets me closest?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I actually ruled out networking features based on cost and apparent transience and unreliability of various implementations of smart-home systems in the past.

That said, and I recognize this differs from your spec, I installed several of these:

The $50 price point is just what Home Depot sells them for, I recall finding mine mostly at about $25. That's a dealbreaker for some folks based on the price expectation of $3 for a standard wall switch.

I also purchased several astronometric wall-wart timers with similar featuresets to the Honeywell, and several bare-bones wall-wart timers that do not have fancy programmable UIs and vacation mode and such. I still look for more of this last variety at Value Village and Goodwill, where they run 99 cents to two dollars.

I ended up using the simple timers and the wall-switch timers much more than the astronometric wall-warts. The primary issue on the astronometric timers was that it was relatively uncommon to be able to define an on off time in terms of plus or minus from dusk or dawn - dusk comes early at midwinter in Seattle and cloud cover means the dusk inside my house is earlier than that. So it was easier to just set a given table lamp for a 3pm illumination and a 10p off time than to try to figure out how to work with dawn and dusk.

The wall-switches work great. I have one on dusk-to-dawn controlling outside lighting, one controlling a bank of outlets in a main living space, and one controlling a suite of entry lights at the door we use the most.

Taken together, it solved the issue of my wife's fear of the dark and resolved my continuous hunting for and turning off lights left on in empty rooms, which had evolved into a constant battle and point of contention in our relationship. Unfortunately, it more than doubled our electric usage, presumably because I stopped turning the lights off.

Good luck to you.

Regarding iOS / Mac integrated home automation systems, when I did my research, there were at least two providers, all offering a range of own-brand in-wall components including wall switches, outlets, fixtures and so forth. The individual unit components generally networked via wifi and featured both iOS and browser (so Mac and PC) integration. Price points on the individual units were $75-$100 each, if I recall correctly, and contributed materially to my decision to drop the idea of networking the devices.
posted by mwhybark at 8:14 AM on December 29, 2015

Dammit, editing timer closed on me as I rewrote my intro graf:

I had a similar problem and intended solution about four years ago. I actually ruled out networking features based on cost and apparent transience and unreliability of various implementations of smart-home systems in the past. I apologize for this being an answer that explicitly *does not* answer your question, but assuming you're interested in an alternative solution that drops the networking component but which achieves the lighting-management objective, I felt this might be worth sharing.
posted by mwhybark at 8:21 AM on December 29, 2015

My brother has done his entire house with Phillips Hue lights + Apple stuff + Amazon Echo. The first time you say "Alexa, lights to 50%" and it happens, you feel like you're on Star Trek. It's pretty great.

I don't have the Echo, but I have had a lot of joy with the Hues and the phone app and the Tap switch. For example, changing the color temperature at night to help with sleep, and turning my whole bedroom into a giant sunrise alarm in the morning. The Tap switch is programmable so not everyone needs the app. The Hues are also possible to trigger with geofencing. My lights come home when I (well, my phone) enter the neighborhood and turn off when I leave. I can also set them to trigger using IFTT or pre-determined programming patterns.

The stock Phillips app is not great BUT they seem to be pretty open with their API, so there are a lot of good third-party apps on the market. (I use one called iConnectHue.)
posted by oblique red at 8:30 AM on December 29, 2015 [9 favorites]

Seconding the Hue lights, I recently got them as a birthday gift and already am clamoring to get more bulbs. They're expensive but they really are like magic. They've made my dark, depressing apartment much improved during a particularly dismal Seattle winter, I have a lightstrip in my bedroom that I am loving as a wake up light. They work well for nearly everything you've specified: Siri, macros, remote control, minimal fuss.

I'm pretty sure there's some way to make them go on and off randomly (with IFTTT or maybe third party apps, I use the iConnectHue, like oblique red above), at minimum you could just set up a few alarms for different days that turn them on at different times.

The outdoor part is tricky, they're not recommended for outdoor use but I get the sense a porch light would be fine. Here's a thorough review from someone using them outdoors during winter in the -20 to 70 range that says the bulb is doing fine.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:48 PM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out They make home automation controllers, software and apps. I have used them for at least 10 years. With Homeseer software you can do a lot more than just lights, such as security, notification, etc.

My driveway is 1/2 mile long, but I have a macro when someone first comes through my gate, it rings devices in the home, turns on exterior lights if it is dark, emails me to my smartphone a notification and photos/video clips of who is entering driveway. I have motion-detection in my garden, so that when deer attack it automatically turns on spotlight and sprinklers that scare off deer.

I have all kinds of fun with the program. It can control lots of different devices and technologies, most popular is z-wave but it is expensive. I use X10 devices quite well and they are dirty cheap.
posted by nogero at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2015

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