New home, New Tech

The last two months have been crazy. I had contemplated selling my home and moving a little closer into town sometime “in the next few years” but when a home in my ideal subdivision suddenly came on the market in my desired price range my timeframe was suddenly accelerated. Within a matter of days, I had made an offer on a new home, the offer was accepted, and I had my existing home on the market for sale. It’s been a whirlwind of activity I’ve now moved into the new home, closed the sale of my prior home and am working on getting settled in.

In preparing my old home for market, I had to remove many of the “smart home” upgrades I had installed over the years. My Realtor informed me if I wasn’t going to leave items behind, I shouldn’t have them visible while showing my home to potential buyers. We debated briefly whether leaving items behind would make my home more appealing to buyers. In the end, I decided to remove all the non-structural upgrades since they didn’t bring enough value to justify having to re-buy most of the items again to install at the new home.

Over the course of a weekend, I removed items such as a Nest thermostat, Hue bulbs (except those installed in lamps I’d be taking with me), Ring Doorbell (pro tip - don’t forget about the power adapter installed in the doorbell box - I did but thankfully the folks at Ring were kind enough to send me a replacement!), Chamberlin MyQ Garage Door Opener and other upgrades installed throughout the house. Back in their place went the original builder-grade fixtures that were installed at the time of construction. (Which thankfully I had the foresight to save.)

Alexa, Can You Hear Me?

Until most of the technology of my smart home was gone, I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend upon and appreciate it. It felt as though I had stepped back in time and my home suddenly felt a little less comfortable than before.

The first thing I missed was the automatic lighting. In the evening, my Hue light bulbs would automatically turn on lighting my foyer and driveway. This was nice because it would always give the appearance that someone was home, and would mean I’d never come home to a dark house. I found myself walking into the house wondering ‘why is it so dark in here?’

I soon came to miss my Nest thermostat. Not only would the Nest learn my preferences and schedule and adjust itself to adapt, but it would also conserve energy by not heating and cooling the house when I was not home. While my “dumb” thermostat is programmable, it’s set to a simple schedule that I never precisely follow. I’d pull into the garage on a warm Spring day after being gone for hours and wonder why my HVAC was running. Of course, my dumb thermostat had no idea I was out running errands and had been cooling my empty house the entire time. Perhaps it was just coincidental, but I noticed my utility bill was a bit higher that last month in the old home than normal.

I also came to realize how often I call out to my Amazon Echo to make adjustments to my home. Although I try to buy smart home devices that are both Apple HomeKit and Amazon Echo compatible, using the Amazon Echo has become my preferred method for controlling my Internet of Things when I am at home. I will frequently call out to Alexa to ask her to adjust the temperature or to turn on a light. Frustratingly, the last month I was in the old home she would responded with, “I can’t find the device…” Of course, she can’t, it’s packed away in a box somewhere.

An Opportunity

One of the many joys of moving to a new home is that it gives me an opportunity to reevaluate some of my technology choices. The “smart home” landscape continues to evolve and I may make different choices as I outfit my new home.

Despite the evolution of wireless technology, including the popularity of “mesh” wireless networks like Eero, one of my first renovations, even before moving in my furniture, to my new was to hire a contractor to install Ethernet wiring throughout. This was a day-long project that cost about $1,500 running cabling to about a dozen different locations around the house back to a central "networking closet". (The prior owner used it as a coat closet - what a waste.). I have never regretted having an “ethernet backbone” in my home.

One area where I plan to look at alternative options is in security systems. I’ve always had a security system installed by a traditional contractor that requires long-term contracts. These systems are expensive and often not upgradable. I’m intrigued by the cost savings offered by DIY systems like SimplySafe or the features offered by more modern systems like the Canary or the newly announced (and HomeKit compatible) D-link Omna 180 Cam.

While the Nest thermostat was best in class at its time, it’s not HomeKit compatible and it’s acquisition by Google means it likely never will be. Perhaps it’s time to consider alternative options like the Ecobee 3 which offers standalone sensors and HomeKit support.

I’ll keep you posted. Look for an MPU episode with an update on home tech in the near future.

What’s Next?

I still feel like we’re in early days for smart home technology. Security and interoperability remains an issue. While I try to buy devices that support both Apple’s HomeKit platform and Amazon Echo, it’s not always possible and I’m just not sure which technology will take off.

There is one lesson learned from this crazy month. I didn’t realize how much I came to depend on my smart home technology until I lost it.

This article first appeared in the May Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly. Find our more at https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits