Help me make my mom’s house smart
November 26, 2017 4:48 PM   Subscribe

My mom is recently retired and is interested in a Nest thermostat for her house. My sister and I are planning on giving her one for Christmas, and I’m thinking of additional ways to make her home a little better.

Some details:
- She is at the house on an irregular schedule. She doesn’t stay there every night, especially in the winter.
- The heat is electric and each room has its own thermostat, but we are primarily interested in managing 2 areas, the kitchen/living area and her bedroom.
- I would like to also give her the ability to turn on a few lights (2-3) remotely from her phone.
- We are thinking of a budget of up to $700.
- I am pretty good at setting up technology, so I don’t mind organizing something complicated as long as it makes her life easier.
- The house is at a lake outside a small city. About 30% of people live there year round, so it can be a little isolated in the off-season.

We basically want her to be able to come home to a warm house with a few lights on, and to be able to control those things from her phone. She is a retired college reference librarian, so she is comfortable learning new systems and technology as well.
posted by elvissa to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get a couple of Lutron Caseta dimmers and a hub for controlling the lights. Works with Google Assistant. There's nothing complicated about it.
posted by halogen at 5:05 PM on November 26, 2017

Best answer: Can you check with her power company regarding any Nest rebates? We just picked up two Gen 3s through MassSave for $99 each between rebates and Black Friday savings.

They (and lots of other smart home stuff) are also controllable through Amazon Echo and Google Home, both of which are on sale this weekend.
posted by olinerd at 5:23 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Those remote video doorbells are basically the best thing ever.
posted by bq at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2017

In addition to the previous (excellent) suggestions, you might think about how good her wifi is, and upgrading that for her if needed. Most of the smarthome stuff relies on wifi, so having it be rock solid will make the experience much better.
posted by primethyme at 7:09 PM on November 26, 2017

I use TP-Link smart bulbs (which don't require a bridge but connect directly to your wifi), with an amazon echo dot. I can control them either through the echo dot ("Alexa, turn on the reading lamp") or through the alexa app or through their native app (called "kasa"). I do all three as appropriate!

Amazon's Echo can also control your Nest if you want it to (although I found the app easier since I always have my phone on hand).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:40 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roost batteries for her water heater and smoke alarms.
posted by Duffington at 10:14 PM on November 26, 2017

These switches control my porch lights and they are blissfully low engagement. I touch them at daylight savings (to turn daylight savings mode on/off, not even to change the time) and at Halloween when I am done handing out candy. The rest of the time they turn on at local sunset and off at $late and then come on again at $early and stay on until sunrise. I just sent my parents a couple of these switches for their place.
posted by janell at 11:17 PM on November 26, 2017

AskMe pointed me to LIFX bulbs so that I could come home to a few lights on, and I love them. No hub, they connect to my WiFi network, and I can schedule them on my phone or turn them off and on from my phone when I need. I can set the brightness and tone of the light too.
posted by gladly at 7:30 AM on November 27, 2017

Best answer: The Nest might not be your best option here. In addition to remote control, it also attempts to "learn" your schedule. If your schedule isn't predictable, you might get some odd results. You may be able to turn off the learning feature and just control it manually/remotely. Another popular option here is the Ecobee thermostats -- they're generally cheaper than the Nest (though all bets are off re: holiday sales). You can also get extra sensors for them so they can regulate temperature in areas where the actual thermostat isn't. That may or may not be useful based on the house's layout and HVAC system.

Which lights do you want to turn on? How old is the house? If the lights are already on wall switches, replace those instead of the bulbs so you still have analog control over them. The Wemo switches are fine if you don't want a hub, but you could also get Z Wave switches and a SmartThings hub. If the wiring is older, you may not have neutral wires in the switch boxes, so you'll have to be careful about which switches you buy. Many of them require neutral wires.

Whatever components you choose, look into using their native apps or IFTTT to setup a geofence system using her phone -- once she gets within a certain radius of the house, the thermostat turns on the heat and the lights come on. That way she doesn't even have to think to turn them on in advance.

If she's away from the house for long stretches, you can get things like leak detectors and smoke alarms to alert her if something goes wrong while she's not there. If it's vacation home that other people may need to access, a smart lock (or even just dumb lock but with a keypad) is an awesome addition too. You can get one with a key backup if anyone's worried about getting in if the electronics fail.
posted by natabat at 9:29 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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