Indoor Camera looking outside
Indoor Camera looking outside

Smart Home Addiction

Back when I started adding a simple motion sensor and a Hue lighting bulb to my home, I had no idea I would become addicted to it, and the ever-increasing complex setups in my home.

Back then, in 2016, it was as simple as it is possible to be: a motion sensor in the bathroom would register when someone — including the dog — would enter the bathroom and switch on the light. OK, that was, a) very basic, and b) not even remotely smart. Let’s push it a tad further and reduce the brightness during nighttime. Furthermore, do not trigger the light when nobody is at home, the poor dog having to cope with a dark bathroom when we’re away.

Move on, nothing to see
Move on, nothing to see

When is a Smart Home smart?

Having something turn on or off because a sensor has been triggered isn’t smart, and has been around for decades. Heck, I could probably argue that the wall switch is exactly that, a trigger. But that’s not smart. Adding additional sensors and define rules which uses different measurements for firing a trigger, and we are slowly getting closer. Like adding a light sensor measuring the ambient luminance, and only switching on the light when it is considered too dark in a room. And yet, I refrain from naming that smart because that’s what we’re doing all day long — switching on the light when we need it (if it’s not muscle memory to flip a switch when entering a room). Still not too smart, now, is it?

My personal definition of the smart part in smart home is: doing something you, in theory, can do yourself, but would require way more effort in doing it. An example: I have a conservatory in my home. If the sun is shining, it can get hot in a hurry, which is very much appreciated in winter, but less so in summer. Now, for the smart in smart home: an hour before sunrise, the weather forecast for the day is checked for max temperature and if it is supposed to be at least partially sunny. If it gets hot and sunny, the windows will be opened while the outside temperature is at its lowest. I could do that — checking the weather forecast, set an alarm to wake me up very early, and open the windows manually. I might even be willing to do it, once. Or, if I’m desperate, twice. But not every day.

Measuring climate
Measuring climate

Dumb things in a Smart Home

Location-based triggers can be particularly useful. You arrive home, some lights are greeting you, while the heating turns on in a cold winter night. Very romantic, I’m certain.

Now, one problem: In my case, location depends not on my location, but those of my iPhone. Unfortunately. At one day I got home, somewhat late, and my partner was kind of un-amused about our glorious smart home. All because her iPhone went to a repair shop and all the lights at home stayed stubbornly dark. This unfortunate event happened when our home was pretty much plastered with lights, switches, door/window sensors, and motion sensors. Some devices — tv, stereo — wouldn’t work if the home was convinced nobody was home. Just remember to have some books and candles available.

I brought her wrath upon me myself, since I was the one programming the home to ignore any switches while nobody is home. To immediately remedy the very un-smart solution, we were getting an Apple Watch each and be done with that. Now, however, that dealt with the problem in a rather wasteful and expensive way; while not being a solution at all. I could add a handful of cameras and using HomeKit’s person recognition abilities to ascertain who’s arriving. Or something more esoteric, even if I have no idea what that would be.

Smart things in a Smart Home

There’s basically nothing you can at least coerce into being monitored or even regulate in a smart home. You got an EV? Check. Lights? Check. Sockets? Check — and so on.

You might even save money by controlling any HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) device in your home. With some ingenuity, there is almost no limit to it. In some cases, it is even vital for keeping things working. I do have, apart from the robot vacuum, a handheld vacuum which is battery powered. Unfortunately, it has a rather cheap battery management system which tends to not balance the energy flow to the individual cells depending on their charging status. So, if one cell is a bit worse for wear — they do degenerate over time anyway, but not all cells do degenerate in the same way at the same time — the battery management isn’t aware of it. Meaning, after just three dozen charging cycles the battery won’t charge anymore. Knowing about that, I added a metering socket and looked at its charging cycles.

My handheld vacuum's charging cycle.
My handheld vacuum’s charging cycle.

That’s quite typical, and since I wanted to cut charging at 85%, that’s what the rule is doing: once power consumption plateaus at 32w for eight minutes, the socket powers off.

Want something more interesting? OK, let’s go.

Check my calendar for any appointments for which I have to drive to them. Calculate travel time, preheat the EV 15 minutes before I have to leave home. That would work, if not for two obstacles: me being lazy in entering addresses, and the car rarely having a connection while in the garage. Suffice to say, it could work. In theory.

Why easy if complicated works as well?
Why easy if complicated works as well?

And now for that addiction

Especially the paragraph above shows what I mean. Why on Earth would I throw a lot of money on a problem I created by spending a lot of money on a not-so-smart home? Because, once you start going down that road, you are hooked. It is addictive as hell, like back when I first discovered spreadsheets — I was convinced everything could be represented in a spreadsheet (thankfully, reality showed me the error of my way real fast). Once you have enjoyed the small benefits — adaptive lighting when you take a dump, for example — you don’t want to go back. At home, we haven’t used a light switch since moving in, two years ago (helps keeping the existing light switches clean, not to mention the surrounding wall).

I started with HomeKit, but it used to be limited in its capabilities, while accessories are quite expensive. Added HomeBridge as a backend, using a Raspberry Pi to control the vacuum robot and use dead-cheap ZigBee stuff. To get more flexibility for automations, I switched to HomeAssistant. Now, I tinker with the system every couple of weeks, adding more and more complex rules. It’s not all about the expenses, but also the time I spent refining it. Watch out for the Go-fund-me campaign for my detox.

Facing the world

Visiting friends or staying in a hotel turns into a challenge: every single time, I’m stuck in a dark bathroom for minutes, trying to figure out where to find that damned switch. Scanning for those light switches used to be something akin to a spinal reflex when entering a room, now I’m not doing this anymore.

Technology of the ancients
Technology of the ancients

Manually adjust the heating? Not me. Thus, I’ve become the epitome of the well-off, over-civilized button-pusher. Well, actually not-button-pusher.

Be warned. You might get hooked as well. Or not.

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