Our Somewhat Smart Vacation Home
We have a vacation home where we currently spend at least two months per year over two visits. The house has two main levels, with our master bedroom suite upstairs. We also have two more of the uplight “cans” my wife likes in our downstairs living area – kitchen, dining, and living room combination.
Before implementing Smart Home technology, I would head upstairs before dark to turn on outdoor lamps and the ones on our nightstands. Occasionally I’d get up in the middle of the night to notice I had forgotten to turn off the outdoor lamps. Or we were out for the day and got back after dark with no lights on, although the two uplights were plugged into a mechanical timer.
Our WiFi service is only turned on when we are present (and we’re only charged for that amount of usage) so other applications, such as security monitoring, is not feasible.
I decided to get WiFi bulbs even though it would cost more than alternatives, as I didn’t want to deal with a hub. I got a bunch of TP-Link LB100 WiFi Bulbs. Initially, I had a small issue having to do with the fact that the vacation home is in a different time zone than our primary residence.
Because I was already using the TP-Link app (note: does not integrate with SmartThings (bummer) but does with Alexa and Google Home) with the TP-Link HS100 Outlet in our primary residence when I installed the first bulbs in our vacation home they did not go on when I expected.
I assumed the app would use the location of the phone when adding the devices, but it used the same location as the existing outlet. There wasn’t any documentation I could find addressing my situation so I contacted support. It took a while, and I don’t remember all the details, but it was sorted out and works fine now.
The bulbs are basically the only devices at the vacation home, so far, although I left the Amazon Echo Dot (I used to bring it back and forth) and subsequently the Amazon Echo as well. I also left a Roku Stick streaming device for entertainment which was also previously transported back and forth.
Several of our other devices were obtained in part because of our extended stays at our vacation home and additional trips we may take.
Every so often a package shows up unexpectedly. One time just before we were leaving for our vacation home, a friend from that location wanted to send us something to take for them. It did not arrive by the time we had to leave.
After I found that the motion sensor could not be used through the window (nor outdoors) to monitor our front door, I decided to get an outdoor camera. I chose the very popular Arlo (wireless version). It comes with a big hub (pictured below) that connects to your router!
It does integrate with SmartThings which has a “monitoring” capability. The camera acts as a motion sensor. It is a bit challenging to understand how to integrate the two services. The Arlo app has a number of standard modes such as Armed and Disarmed but apparently allows third parties, such as Samsung SmartThings to add their own mode.
I have this setup so that when no one is home, the camera is activated. The way this works is that our phones are configured to be “presence sensors”. SmartThings knows when a phone is within the defined area (known as a “geofence”). When both phones are gone (like we’re on a trip), a SmartApp senses this then sets the SmartThings mode to Away, the monitor to Armed(Away) and activates the camera.
When at least one phone arrives home, the SmartThings mode is set to Home, the monitor is Disarmed and the camera is deactivated. There is another SmartApp that runs at sunset (plus an hour) that sets the monitor to Armed(Stay), the mode to Night and activates the camera. I disable this when we’re away for an extended time. There’s another SmartApp for the morning to turn things off, essentially.
It took a lot of thinking and experimentation to get it working the way I wanted, and there’s probably a simpler, more elegant way of doing it. On our first trip after installing it, I got an alert while at our vacation home and looked at the recording to see our house cleaners arriving. We had forgotten to cancel the normal service.
I also got an alert when they were finished and saw that they had left our garden gate open. We have deer roaming our community so this was a concern. We contacted friends who found that they had also forgotten to lock our front door.
In my story about adding light switches and the Samsung SmartThings hub I discussed our kitchen remodel project. Apparently, the contractor was required to replace all our smoke detectors as part of that project. One of them is wired and not battery operated. It turned out that he did not replace that one. Rather than get him to do it, I decided that it provided the opportunity to get a connected one and chose the Nest Protect.
I had been thinking of getting more of these, but battery operated, to replace two existing basic smoke detectors. One is located by the garage entry and the other in my office which is in the front of our home. The wired one is in the middle. The feature I liked was that if detection happens by any of them, all units will announce the name of the one which detected the problem. It also turned out that the two installed ones only had a few years before requiring replacement.
But the price had increased since I bought the first one. Then I saw that Costco was offering a two-pack for the same price (each) I had paid, so I got them. A couple of months later Costco had them on sale – oh well.
The last device (five of them) somewhat related to our travels was discussed in the previous story – water leak detectors. Although we had normal ones installed, I was concerned that no one would hear it if one sounded the alarm. With these smart ones, I get an immediate alert on my phone. I can contact our community’s security team, or a friend/neighbor, to investigate if we’re away.
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