When it comes to new tech I’m half gung-ho about new technology and half Luddite. I hate being the early adopter suffering through half-baked new technology. Having said that I got the SmartThings system nearly three years ago – very early in the smarthome trend. While the early years were rough, without question I can say a smarthome has been a money saver and comforting when away from home.
There are many smart thermostats (Nest, Ecobee, etc), that heat/cool when you’re home and reduce usage when you’re away. But most of these smart thermostats have limited knowledge of when you’re actually home and cost $200-300.
My goal was to have a unified system of smarthome stuff, so I decided to keep the “smarts” out of the thermostat and into the SmartThings hub. I decided to get the much cheaper, though far less sexy 2gig CT100 thermostat. SmartThings is set up with geofencing, so once everyone goes far enough from home the system goes into “away” mode, lowering the temperature of the heating. Then when anyone gets close to home again, it preheats the house so we’re not coming home to a cold home. It also adjusts the heat based on time (night/morning) but again, only if we’re home.
One bonus of the 2gig CT100 is it can be powered by the common “c” wire or by batteries if you don’t have a “c” wire – while most smart thermostats need a “c” wire. This can make install much easier if you lack the right wiring.
Needless to say this setup is a lot better than the old programmable thermostats – while you may have a set routine during work hours, just think about evenings and weekends. A dumb programmable system will heat your home at 6pm on Thursday when you’re still out having happy hour.
Smart thermostats can easily save $150/year, so in your smarthome toolkit this is the easy win for saving money and energy.
I’ve largely stayed away from smart lighting, simply because of the lack of savings and vampire energy. A smart switch is $30-50 dollars, not to mention electrician install cost if you’re not DIY electrical savvy. While turning off the lights is always a good thing when unneeded, it is worth keeping in context that a 12 watt LED bulb running 24 hours a day will cost $12 per year in energy (assuming you pay the national average of 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour). So basically a smart switch would need to switch an LED light off for 3-4 years to reach ROI – while I do forget to turn off the lights sometimes, its not that often.
Its also worth keeping in mind each smart switch draws power (a.k.a. vampire energy) that a normal dumb switch does not. A WeMo smart switch draws “less than 1.5 watts” but it does so all day, every day. (In fairness WeMo uses WiFi which is higher power than zwave, which is more commonly used with hubs, but I couldn’t find reliable standby power info for a zwave switch) In other terms if you install a dozen WeMo smart switches and they turn off the one bulb you forgot to turn off…the smart switches are drawing more power than they save.
Having said all that, I did one bit of smart lighting – I put a motion sensor light switch in the garage. It is always nice to come and go with a well lit garage. Even trips to the garage with your hands full (e.g. trash day) are easier when you don’t have to fumble around for the switch.
A burst pipe can be a bad day, even with good homeowners insurance. A burst pipe will cost on average $15,000 to repair and while insurance will likely cover it, your rates will most likely go up. Not to mention a slow leak likely won’t be covered and can be easy to miss. A SmartThings water sensor costs about $40 and while they aren’t the flashy smarthome toy, they saved me once already. One night I had a washer hose break, it started to get the laundry area wet. A few minutes later I was notified, I shut off the water, got the towels out and dried the area before any damage occurred – no insurance claim needed.
If you don’t have a smarthome system even a “dumb” water sensor with an audible alarm can be of benefit.
Smart home systems can monitor doors and windows for openings and impacts. Motion sensors, alarms, cameras, and even professional monitoring are available. While I can’t say if its as good as a system from the “big guys,” I like it better – arm/disarm is handled by presence rather than a beeping keypad, cameras record every alarm event, and I’m notified immediately. While its very different than a professional security system, those are not without flaw (specifically police response is often poor due to false alarms) – so for me DIY is good enough.
We have a chest freezer (great way to stock up when food is on sale) but after a while I got worried what would happen if the freezer broke, the circuit flipped, or we otherwise lost power when I was away. Enter a SmartThings multisensor with a bit of soldering.
The good thing is the multisensor can monitor temperature to 0F…but the standard AAAA alkaline batteries won’t hold up at that temperature, but a AA lithium battery will. A quick trip to Radio Shack got me a AA battery holder with leads, soldered those into the connectors for the AAAA battery, tossed it all in a zipped freezer bag, and I had a smart freezer monitor.
I was actually a bit surprised the sensor transmits so well through the metal freezer casing, but it has been perfectly reliable and the battery life is stellar – it runs for years without a new battery.
Little Things and Customization
So off the topic of saving money and energy are the little things a smarthome system can do. For example alert me when the garage door is left open. I’ve yet to leave the house and actually forget to close it, but I’ve often worried I did. You could even connect a switch to close the garage door, but I don’t yet trust the security of such systems to control doors (there’s the Luddite again).
SmartThings even lets you program your own “smartapps” in a Java-like language, so for example I wrote an app that runs the vent fan in the laundry room when the CatGenie litter box is running a cleaning cycle.
Peace of Mind
Bottom line, would I recommend a SmartThings smarthome? Absolutely if you’re tech savvy, maybe if you’re not tech savvy. While it takes a fair bit of work – there’s a lot you can do to save money and power, protect your home, and improve your peace of mind.
For the less tech savvy, an internet connected smart thermostat is pretty easy to use along with “dumb” leak sensors. That combo can help save you a lot of money without getting too geeky.
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