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Automating Your Home

At its simplest, smart home technology makes it possible to control your home environment by mobile app, voice, computer, or other dedicated services. But the magic of smart home devices is in their capacity to automate everyday repeated activities.

Here are some examples:

  • Every day at sundown, the path lights on the lawn turn on.
  • When you unlock the front door using your smart lock, the front hall light turns on.
  • When someone rings the doorbell, your smart speaker announces that someone is at the door, and you and your housemates receive a notification on each of your smartphones.
  • When you say, “Good morning,” your smart speaker turns on your TV, sets the thermostat to 73 degrees, and turns on your bedroom and hallway lights.

Depending on the manufacturer and the device, these automations may have different names. They may be called Routines, Smart Actions, Robots, or Shortcuts. These are all names for the simple concept of automation: setting up your device(s) to respond a certain way to a certain trigger – without your direct input every time. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are two of the largest services for controlling smart home devices. Both services call automations “Routines.”

Scenes: A Type of Automation

In certain apps you may come across the term “Scene.” Scenes are most often lighting conditions you create and name in an app’s settings so that you can set a mood or look for your room (hence the name “scene”). You can easily recreate the scene by activating it in your app or using your smart speaker.

For example, think of the way you prefer your lighting at different times of day. In the morning you may want the living room ceiling lights at full brightness and the lamps turned off; during the evening you may want the overhead lighting dimmed 50% and one lamp turned on; and when watching TV you may turn the overhead lights off and turn on both lamps. Instead of readjusting each light every time, you might setup three different scenes. You could name them: “Morning Time,” “Evening Time,” and “TV Time.” You could set up “Morning Time” to trigger at 9 a.m., “Evening Time” to trigger at sunset, and “TV Time” to trigger by you saying “TV Time” to your smart speaker.

How It Works

All automations/routines operate the same way: if this (trigger), then that (action/actions). Meaning, when one thing happens (the trigger), it causes another thing to happen (the action or actions) automatically. The most common triggers are:

  • Time of day (these are usually called Schedules)
  • Commands (via voice, app, or a service)
  • Device change of status (for example motion detected or door unlocked)
  • Change of location/Geofencing (based on your phone GPS, for example when you get within 100 feet of the device)

Actions can be stacked (multiple actions with one trigger) and examples of actions include:

  • Changing a device status (on/off/dim, armed/disarmed, heat/AC, etc.)
  • Saying or showing information (your smart speaker/display says, “Hello John,” or shows your last email)
  • Changing a mode (for example, arm the alarm system)
  • Sending a notification (email, text, pop-up, call or notify a service)
  • Activating other routines/automations or scenes

So, one trigger can make multiple different actions, scenes, and other routines occur under one routine you set up.

What You Need

Many automations are possible if you only have one device, using its mobile app – for example, you might set up your smart lock to lock your door automatically at a certain time of day. This is possible using the smart lock’s app and doesn’t require any other services to operate.

When setting up automations between multiple devices by different manufacturers, however, you need a central way to communicate and control the devices. Consider the example where unlocking the door causes the front hall light to turn on. Let’s say you have a Philips smart bulb and a Schlage door lock. The Philips bulb is controlled by the Philips app, and the Schlage door lock is controlled by the Schlage app. You have two options for getting them to communicate:

  1. Use the service available with your smart speaker. For example, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are each able to control both the smart bulb and the smart lock in our example under one service. They both are also capable of voice control. However, they may be limited in the number and manufacturer of devices they support.
  2. Use a device called a hub. SmartThings is one of the leading hub services, and it can be controlled by Alexa and Google Assistant (giving you voice control). You can build a SmartThings automation to control hundreds of devices made by different manufacturers.

Here’s a video outlining an example of a more complex automation:

Less Complicated Than It Sounds

Setting up automations is not as complicated as you might think. Just keep in mind that an automation is built by simply specifying:

  1. Your trigger
  2. The resulting action(s)

Then it’s just a matter of figuring out which app/service to use to set it up. If you simply want to automate one device, you can often use the settings in that device’s app (such as using the Philips app to automate your Philips bulb to turn on at a certain time of day). If you want to create an automation between more than one device, you may need a separate service’s app, such as the app for a smart speaker or a smart hub.

Here are a few websites where you can learn more about creating routines using a separate service:

Automation Ideas

Here are a few more examples of home automation to get you thinking:

  • At 9 p.m. every day, lock the side door, rear door, and front door, turn off the outdoor lights, close the smart window blinds, and set the thermostat to 65 degrees.
  • When a motion sensor detects motion in the upstairs hallway after 7 p.m., turn on the hallway light.
  • When a contact sensor on the front door detects that the door has opened, receive a notification on your smartphone and announce that the door has opened on the smart speaker in your home office.
  • With one voice command such as, “Goodnight,” trigger the smart speaker to play white noise, turn off the bedroom light, turn on the overhead fan, and turn on the air purifier.
  • When a moisture sensor detects a leak, a smart light bulb turns red.
  • When you leave the house, turn off the smart plug where the space heater is connected.
Devices for Goals

Once you know your goals, explore which devices can help you achieve them.

Devices for Goals