Dwelling Wise: Smart Home Hopes and Plans

We’ve been creeping towards a smarter home for a long time. It started when we installed Lutron roller shades in our new Sun Room. I didn’t realize it then, but these shades came with a pro-grade smart home hub. Then we tried Alexa – she’s a bit dimwitted but compared to Siri she’s a PhD. An August lock here, a Ring doorbell there, a MyQ garage door thing… all seemed fine, even if all these gadgets were separate islands with their own control apps.

About 2 years ago I decided I wanted to use that Lutron hub to automate more stuff. But their pro-grade system, called RadioRA 2, uses proprietary programming software that they only offer to certified dealers. Turns out, I didn’t have to sell anything to be certified, just pass their online certification course. It was actually pretty challenging, with a lot of assumed knowledge of electrician stuff. But I got my RadioRA 2 Essentials certification and with it, some software that let me program the hub to do a lot more than just raise and lower 5 shades in parallel.

I had our electrician install 3 RadioRA 2 dimmers to control the track lights in our home theater. After I programmed them to the hub, and activated the Lutron Alexa skill, I could say “Alexa, turn on dim” and three tracks smoothly glowed on, in perfect sync, together. I was hooked. So was Kate, who didn’t have to squint at a bank of dimmers to figure out which buttons to press to turn on the lights.

Home automation is my new obsession. That’s why I am learning to program in Python. I started by upgrading our lighting throughout the house with efficient, high-quality LEDs as you may have seen with my posts about LED lighting. Now that the lights themselves are up to snuff, I’ve begun automating them, replacing old dimmers and switches with RadioRA 2 controls that can handle the challenging demands of LED lighting, and also give me the tools to manage it all through home automation.

So what should I do next? How should it work? What do we really want and need? How should I turn vague ideas into detailed plans and implementation? Figuring that out draws on all my career experience as a product manager and wannabe tech nerd. I knew it would be good for something!

So what matters? Why make our home “smart”? What works and what doesn’t, so far? What are the goals?

Have Fun!

Home automation is right up my alley. It is not so completely new that I have to implement base-level software, protocols, hardware gadgets, physics and math… all the stuff that makes it hard to accomplish anything at all as a hobbyist. But it is new enough so that really, nobody yet has a handle on what the “best” way to do stuff might be. And “best” is going to vary, depending on peoples’ specific wants and needs. So I can think about just OUR home, what matters to us, and what would be fun to do, and leave all the rest for others to worry about.

Home automation is also just the right “difficulty” level to keep me endlessly engaged and solving problems, learning new frameworks and libraries and tools, and not just software stuff but real-world “things” and how they work. And my product management expertise is just what is needed to tie it all together. A great recipe for tons of fun!

Keep the “Homey” In Our Home

We named our home “Mystic Harmony”. Yeah – it is new-agey but it also is about being right on the Mystic Lakes, with the view, and nature right outside, and everything carefully designed and selected over years of our lives to reflect who we are at a very personal and deep level. We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this place, and if we’re going to smarten it up, we want the smarts to enhance what we love about our little corner of paradise.

Help Us “Age In Place”

I could add gizmos to make everything in the house controllable by software. But if there are 400 different gizmos, each with its own name and parameters, and a ton of automations, with more names and features and times and purposes, and different ways to invoke all this stuff – voice, apps, computer dashboards, triggers and sensors and automatic stuff…. it all gets overwhelming very quickly.

Neither of us is getting younger, and in particular, Kate can’t remember a vast collection of commands and invocations and such – nor should she have to. So, I need to focus on some simple but powerful approaches that harness the power and promise of a smart home, without making us feel dumb. So far, the stuff we like the most happens by itself, automatically. Or is just so damn convenient and simplifying. The more of that I can do, the better.

Be Fun!

So yeah – I will have fun doing it. But using our smart home should also be fun – just make us smile that we can get things to work just right for us. And make our guests smile, too. Though some will doubtless be thinking: “Cool! But…. really?” Which is fine!

Dwelling Wise

I’ll be writing about my experiences and what I learn along the way to making Mystic Harmony a whole lot smarter. As with everything on this blog, it is more for my entertainment than to build an audience or prove anything. Writing it down forces me to think it through. That has always been true for me in my career as a product manager – writing those long, descriptive emails with all the bullet points was the actual work of solving the problems. Often, just trying to put it down so it made sense helped me probe the edge cases and make the results a lot better. If I can explain this stuff to you (even if few read it all the way through), I think I’ll end up better meeting these goals. I do hope you’ll join me in enjoying this little adventure though – it would be fun to bounce ideas and solutions off of like-minded friends.

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