If you’ve been playing along, you’ll know we live in a Craftsman Style Bungalow that’s close to 90 years old. It’s got fantastic character, wonderful personality and a lot of (let’s nicely call them) quirks. We love old houses. One problem… our old house is dumb. That’s okay though, back in the late 1920’s when the house was built, WiFi wasn’t really a priority and video doorbells hadn’t really caught on yet. It’s like they were more concerned with built in bookcases and crown molding than a learning thermostat. The good news is, turning your dumb house into a Smart Home is easier than you think. Thanks to The Home Depot, we’ll show you how we brought new tech into our home without jeopardizing the look and feel of our traditional style house. *Links below will be affiliate links.
Let’s check some basic boxes before we go anywhere. You need WiFi (and internet) in your home and you need the bandwidth to manage several devices at once if you want this all to work properly. When I went to check our current internet package with Verizon Fios, I quickly learned we were still on the original plan we had set up when we first moved in close to 8 years ago. It was so slow that we got a free upgrade two tiers higher than what we were currently running. Hooray for the upgrade, but disappointing for the blogger. Another thing you might have to consider is how much range your WiFi has in your home and if devices placed farther away from your router are receiving enough of a signal.
A little WiFi Extender like the TP-Link AC1200 can really boost your coverage an extra 50 to 100 feet just by plugging it into an electrical socket and pairing with your network. This little unit alone gave me WiFi in the shop 20 yards away from the house. Boosters have their limits though and with the addition of a lot of new Smart devices, the basic booster needed an upgrade so we jumped to the Netgear Orbi Wireless Ethernet Router. What’s sometimes called a “mesh network’ you hook this up to your internet and it significantly boosts and maximizes your web speeds. Plug the various satellites (1 satellite and 1 base unit covers 3500 square feet) into an electrical socket and you have all the WiFi you’ll need for full home coverage. Oh and it also helps if you have a smart phone that’s iOS or Android compatible. Most of these products have individual apps that need to be set up with a phone, so just be aware.
GET SMART WITH ME…
Talking with my wife we prioritized what sort of smart device upgrades we were looking for. Okay, so maybe I just listened to her requests over the last few years on what needed to get done around the house and I came up with the Lazy Guy DIY Hierarchy of needs… We went with: Security, Environmental Controls, For Convenience & then (my favorite) For Fun!
While it’s never happened to us (that we know of) package theft is a problem anywhere you live. Also, we get a lot of solicitors in our neighborhood, which… good for them keeping door to door craft alive, but how many magazine subscriptions or essential oil sets can I really subscribe to before I eventually stop answering the door? The alternative (actual door answering) is that awkward… sorry… not interested.. get off my lawn! So often times, we just don’t answer the door anymore. Which is bad if someone you legitimately want to see shows up. So our first upgrade was the Ring Video Doorbell 2. This model is wireless, can hook up to a power source or can run off of a battery. Someone walks up to your door, rings the doorbell and presto! You get a notification and video on your phone where you can talk to the people or just watch them without them being the wiser from anywhere that you have a phone signal. We were watching a holiday parade the other day and the notification went off showing me who was at my door. Solicitors again… this time they were ignored halfway across town. You can also set up motion alerts where you can be notified even if the doorbell hasn’t been pressed. You set up the time of day you want things monitored and use the actual live video footage to select your monitoring zones so cars driving by won’t trigger your alerts, but someone walking up to your porch might (that package thief isn’t going to ring your doorbell to start video before they rob you so better start recording). The setup took a matter of minutes. I set up the app on my phone, registered the product and had it working in less than five minutes. All the pieces needed to install it by my front door were included and I was up and recording in less than 15 minutes from opening the box to the test ring. An add-on worth considering is the Ring Chime or Chime Pro. Just like a normal doorbell uses a separate device to ring inside your house, this little wireless unit (by plugging into an electrical outlet) plays a chime of your choice to let you know someone is at your door just in case your phone isn’t handy. The Chime Pro has a WiFi booster that extends the range of your Ring products in case you need notifications farther away from your front door than the normal Chime unit can handle.
With the front of the house covered, how about the backyard? We kept things in the Ring family and went with the Outdoor Spotlight Cam. You have the option of going wired or battery powered if you’re feeling really sneaky. We opted for the wired version that easily plugs into an outside receptacle and follows existing cables on the exterior of our house and discretely attaches below the roofline. Much like the video doorbell, it captures motion on whatever timeframe and scale we set it to. Without subscribing to additional storage, we can review and download any motion triggers for free that have occurred within 48 hours of recording. The big difference is you have greater coverage with this unit and the option to have a flood light pop on when motion occurs. Just like the doorbell, you have the option to speak to whoever or whatever is out there through the unit. I know what you’re going to ask and I’ll answer it, you can set the sensitivity of the motion alerts (from small animals to humans) so while our chicken is roaming around in our backyard during the day, I’m not getting blown up with notifications while she goes about her business. Some strange dude walks into our yard… I’m gonna know. The zone selection for motion is even beefier on this model than the doorbell as I can set multiple trigger zones like our gates and essentially draw a line around our fenced in yard so our neighbor’s kids won’t trigger alerts playing in their own yard which is visible within the camera view (creepy). This unit also syncs with the Chime and Chime Pro where you can set a different notification from the front door so you’ll know easily whether the British are coming via land or sea.
So now we can tell who’s at our doors or coming into our yard, how about if we forgot to lock the front door or less ominous, need to let someone into the house like a pet sitter or repair man? For that we installed the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt with Alarm. With a physical key or your unique passcode (like the air date of my favorite episode of Chuck) you can easily (but securely) unlock the door to your house with the press of a button (technically a digital touch screen). Leave the house and forgot to lock the door? With the right set up (more on that later) you can Fort Knox your home with a button on your phone. Let’s go back to letting people in… remotely unlocking a door has safety concerns, but how about temporarily issuing an unlock code to my sister or HVAC repair man that let’s me know when they come and go? Then I can easily revoke access on my phone (she had her chance to be key worthy). Installing was a little more strenuous because I have an older door with dated hardware. I had to use a hole saw and a spade bit to widen the holes to assemble, but if your door was built in the last four decades you’re probably fine. Programing the lock was as easy as punching a master code and setting a passcode that my wife and I could remember. Phase 1… good to go. More later.
The first time I saw a Smart Thermostat I was immediately jealous. I think at the time our HVAC controls still had a push lever for adjusting the temperatures and even after moving into this house that had a touchpad for controls, that stylish look of a Nest was enough to bring out envious glances from any homeowner (just makes you want to rip it off the wall and take it with you). Well it’s not all about superficial looks with the Nest, it’s also about having a Smart Thermostat that cannot only be controlled remotely, but also learns your habits to help your HVAC become more efficient (and save money!) by adjusting temperatures based on your daily routine. We went a little different and opted for the more muted Nest Thermostat E. Instead of the shiny metal encased black display with a bright blue digital font, the Thermostat E is a poly-carbonate case frosted white with soft orange and green text. The idea is that it blends in with your walls and can easily be forgotten rather than looking like a modern focal point. The display isn’t as flashy as the 3rd Generation of the Nest, but the E is more budget friendly with similar features. Before deciding on which Nest you want to go with, you will need to make sure it’s compatible with your current HVAC unit. Nest has a simple guide that allows you to take a picture of your current wiring on your thermostat, click the buttons for what were surprisingly easily identifiable options and then get the go ahead as to which unit works for you. The install couldn’t have been easier. Turn off the power to your HVAC and thermostat (test it to make sure it’s definitely off) and then start unhooking the wires running to your old thermostat and attach the included labels for easy install. Take the old unit off the wall, attach the Nest base plate (with included level) in its place and start matching apples to apples with your labeled wires to the clearly marked connections on the new Nest. Download the Nest App to your phone, flip the breaker and within minutes of running through the set up guide, you’ll be using your new thermostat. The Nest will even confirm which wires you’ve connected and which are missing if you accidentally forgot to install one all the way like I did. Start to finish (including set up) 30 minutes. I found the install easy, but I’ve had buddies that needed a little help.
High up on my wife’s list of priorities had to do with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Especially for when we’re not home considering we have a house full of pets. The Nest Thermostat can alert us to rapid temperature changes, but that’s only near the thermostat. We picked up the Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector to fill that void. It comes with a battery or hardwired version and yet again works off of WiFi. It can easily distinguish between fast moving or slow burning fires in terms of urgency and can differentiate smoke from steam (if you’re a fancy cook or like hot showers). It’s got a 10 year life-span and easily gives updates to your Nest application for checkups. Accidentally burned dinner and don’t want to find a ladder or chair to stop the beeping and flashing lights? You can temporarily mute the unit from your phone. Most importantly though, the unit lights up in the event of an emergency (different colors for carbon monoxide and fire) and helps illuminate the path to assist you to safety. Oh and it’s a nightlight too! Install is once again as easy as putting in batteries and attaching it to the ceiling. Setup is a breeze with the Nest App and pairs with the Nest Thermostat.
One of the easiest (and cheapest) Smart Home upgrades is popping in a Smart Plug or a Smart Switch. The WeMo Mini Smart Plug goes right into an electrical outlet, syncs to your phone and then lets you easily turn on and off whatever device you have plugged in. You can put it on a schedule or let’s say turn on a lamp with the press of a button when you’re on vacation.
The same is true with the WeMo Wireless Light Control Switch. Switch off the panel, connect the wires (this might be a little tricky depending on your existing wiring) and then you can remotely control and schedule that light from anywhere with a phone. But that’s too easy. This is child’s play… I want something cooler…
For Fun (and Awesomeness)
In the critically acclaimed film “Demolition Man” staring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes set in the year 2032, our villain Simon Phoenix shows off the wonders of a voice automated home. “Illuminate!” The lights turn on and the fancy fireplace flamed up. I want that. Times 10. I want a Jetson’s home. Guess what? I’ve got it. You need a hub though to control it all and for that I’m using the Wink Hub 2 and my small army of Amazon Echoes and Echo Dots. I’ve already been gathering the Echoes because you can get great deals on them during holidays, plus they are great music players around the home. I use one in the shop paired with Bluetooth speakers for tunes, reminders and even ordering more supplies. But that’s not good enough. I can go basic:
“Alexa, lock my front door!”
“Alexa, adjust the temperature 2 degrees!”
“Alexa, turn on Kesha and my party lights!”
Still not good enough. You’re not using these products to their fullest yet. How about I walk downstairs in morning, go into the kitchen and quietly say, “Alexa, let’s start our day” (you choose your own voice commands). My coffee maker turns on, the lights in the den flip on to a nice dim setting and my TV turns on to my desired channel. Thanks to Alexa App or the Wink 2 App I can set up combination commands. That’s just for starters, I can set up the command to say “Alexa, goodnight” and my Ring security cameras go into their nightly monitor mode, my lights turn off, my Schlage deadbolts lock and my Nest thermostat adjusts to a temperature to conserve energy. How about vacation mode? Nest Thermostat adjusts, Ring cameras turn on motion alerts, Schlage deadbolts lock and my lights turn on with my set schedule throughout the day to make it look like someone is home. There are more and more smart appliances these days as well like ovens you can pre-heat from the other room. If you can connect it, you can control it from your Smart Hub. Don’t worry, it’s not evil Skynet taking over, it’s an awesome smart home is what it is.
I’m not done with the Wink products though. While the Wink Hub 2 works a lot like the Alexa App minus the voice activation, it does a little more than organize your commands and maximize the efficiency and connectivity of your smart devices. When you pair it with the Wink Relay, you don’t even need to have your phone or an Echo near you. You’ve got a wall mounted touch-screen control center. Check and mate Jetson’s home. So you’re saying you don’t even have to talk to control the house? I can get out of bed and touch the Relay’s screen on my way downstairs to a preset control and have everything ready before I even leave the room? Let’s be honest, if I voice command my Echo and start talking to some chick named Alexa while my wife is sleeping, she might not appreciate it. Still not done though, while being able to set up my security from a control panel upstairs is nice, also being able to see my Ring security feeds or video doorbell when I don’t have my phone is even better. If I’m feeling really lazy (and let’s be honest, this is Lazy Guy DIY) I can set up the sensors in the Wink Relay to detect me walking into the room and have it automatically turn on my lights and adjust the temperature for me. The future has arrived my friend. The install for the Wink Relay is on the higher end of difficulty only because you connecting lights and power and then syncing to your Wink 2 hub. If you can install a light switch you can install this. Let’s be honest, they make this smart home stuff easy to integrate.
This sounds like a lot of work, but honestly, I’m shocked how easily it all came together. Devices paired within seconds and given my preemptive internet upgrades, I’ve experienced no real lag. The amount of combinations are endless. If you use something like the Philips Hue light bulbs, you can have your lights turn different colors for alerts such as a fire, a break in or motion detected in your yard (or mood lighting…”Alexa, Barry White time!) You don’t always have your phone on you or you might have small children, if everyone knows red lights mean there’s an emergency and you need to get out of the house, that Smart Home is now a life saving home too.
*This post has been sponsored by The Home Depot. Products links above are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, a small commission may go to this site at no additional cost to you… so buy everything!