Living in a Test House
We have two different video doorbells installed right next to each other near our front door.
When delivery people come to the door and see two different doorbells, they generally ignore them and knock instead. Inside, we get two alerts. One plays an electronic song on a tinny speaker near the door, and the other one tells us on Alexa that there’s motion at the front doorbell. By that time, we have already heard the knock and picked up whatever was left.
We also have three kinds of outdoor cameras, two different voice assistants, three different smart garage door openers. We have too many brands of smart plugs/outlets/switches to count as well as different kinds of smart light bulbs.
We have a connected water shutoff system with leak detectors, but we also have two other brands of leak detectors that don’t talk to it. We have a smart sprinkler system that talks to a smart water monitor on our irrigation system, and a separate smart water monitor on our main water line that doesn’t talk to the other one.
We have a great home entertainment system with a fancy receiver and premium speakers that supports 4 and 8K content, but we still use our old AppleTV from 2015 that doesn’t broadcast in 4K because it’s much easier to use.
We have two Alexa devices in our bedroom, one that comes from Amazon and another from a different company, and we had to change the wake word on the Amazon one so I can dismiss my alarm without waking my husband up, and without setting alarms on both systems.
We have a set of room presence sensors in almost every room that are supposed to sense when we come in and tailor the room to our needs. But we stopped using them when we had to change smart home hubs last year and haven’t started using them again. It’s too complicated for me to set up and my husband has moved on to other gadgets.
For stuff we turn on and off everyday, we generally ask Alexa to do it. Alexa, turn on “kitchen”. Alexa, turn on “my nightstand”. Alexa, turn off “my nightstand”. If we forget, all the lights go off at 11p.m., which is great for me because I’m usually already asleep, but not so good for my night owl husband.
It’s best when I just walk into a room and the lights come on and go off when I leave, great for the shower, the closet, the laundry room. But it’s not so great for my office when I’m at my desk and the light goes off after about 15 minutes, then I have to wave my arms to get it to come back on. I love that the bathroom lights go off when I leave but not if I’m in the tub and I am left in the dark.
Everything in our smart home needs to have a name. We have so many devices connected to Alexa, some we don’t use anymore, and when you don’t use something very often it’s hard to remember what it’s called. Those times it’s a lot easier to just go turn on the switch, except when that switch does something you don’t realize, like turn off the ceiling fan that works automatically with our smart thermostat.
Even if you can figure out what something is called, sometimes devices are only linked in one person’s Amazon account and you have to say “Alexa, switch” to bring up the other person’s account.
If whatever you are talking to still doesn’t turn on, you know something is wrong. It could be any number of different apps that you then need to go investigate. Or, just forget about it and try later, or use the switch.
Since we are considered smart home experts, lots of people ask us what they should buy, and where they should start to make their home smart. The more things we install and play with, sometimes I feel the farther out of touch we are with reality. No one wants to go through all the testing and configuring and tweaking that we have. It’s hard to detach myself and objectively think, if I was starting from scratch, what would I buy, and what platform would I commit to? Would I have the patience to set up routines and devices to interact with each other?
If my husband wasn’t here, would I even have a smart home? I’m not so sure sometimes. Then I say, “Alexa, turn on kitchen,” and the lights from all the different switches magically come on and the smart light bulbs adjust to my circadian rhythm.