SmartHome Makes School Mornings Easier

One thing all parents can agree on is that anything that can help to get our kids out the door to school on time is a good thing. 

Anyone who’s done any reading on parenting is familiar with the idea that a routine is the best thing you can do for your kids. So I decided to put together a smart home routine to give my kids some visual cues to get out the door on time. 

In an effort to make getting out the door just a little bit easier in the morning, I’ve setup a home automation trigger that causes the living room lights in my house to go to a specific color at 7:20am.  I then told the kids that when the lights go purple, it’s time to brush teeth and get their school bags ready because it’s almost time to go. 

It’s such a simple thing, just a light changing colours and yet I’ve already seen a difference my kids behaviour in the first week. I can’t promise it will work for your kids, but hey, it’s worth a shot right?

The Pieces

You’ll need the following pieces to get this working. 

  • AppleTV gen4
  • Philipps Hue color bulb

To be honest, you could probably pull this off with just IFTT and the Philipps Hue Light bulb, but I’ve got the AppleTV and this IS a HomeKit focused blog right?

Setting HomeKit Automation

I’m assuming you’ve already got the Philipps Hue coloured light bulb and the Philipps Hue bridge already available as an accessory in your Apple Home app. 

The Scene

The first thing we’re going to do is to setup the desired scene that we want to trigger upon our condition. In Apple HomeKit speak, that means setting up a scene.

We’re going to open up our Apple Home app and click on the + sign in the top right corner. Then we’re going to tap on the Add Scene button.

NewImage

We’re now going to name our new scene Time for School. Making it clear and  descriptive is always going to be helpful not just when we select it during the add automation step below, but also in the future when you decide you want to modify the colors. Next we’re going to tap on the accessories button.

NewImage

Now we’re going to scroll through the available HomeKit accessories to fine the specific lights we’re looking for. Remember, we want to use the coloured lights so I’m going to select the three coloured lights I have in my living room.

You have assigned all your HomeKit accessories to Rooms right? 

Once you’ve picked the lights you want, you tap on the Done button.

NewImage

We can see that the three accessories are now selected and assigned to the Time for School scene.We need to make sure they are selected so that when the scene is activated the lights will turn on. Looking good! But we’re not quite finished yet. Remember we want these lights turn to a specific colour, right?  So for that, we’re going to tap and hold each of the lights to set the colour.

NewImage

 

You’ll be presented with the accessory page where you’ll be looking for the color button. Of course, you’re going to want to tap on this button.

NewImage

You can now select from one of the options shown, or you can tap on the edit button in the middle to select your own custom colour. When I discussed this with my kids, they wanted purple as the heads-up colour. So I’m going to tap on the edit button to bring up the colour wheel and select the appropriate color.

NewImage

This might not be obvious from the picture, but this is as easy as just dragging your finger to the specific color that you want your lights to appear. Then you click the Done button. Repeat the colour steps for the lights that you’d like to use for this scenario.

Hint: You’ll want to test this out while watching your lights. The color on the app is not always the color of the bulbs. Make sure you’re happy with it. The good news is you can always come back and change it later!

NewImage

Once you’re done, you can select the Test this Scene button to make the scene is what you want it to be. Once you’re happy, select the Done button.

Hint: I usually don’t select the Show in Favourites selector for scenes which I’m going to automate. I want to set it and forget it. No point in taking up valuable screen space on a scene which I’m automatically triggering, right?

NewImage

 

The Automation

 

Now that we’ve setup the scene, we need to add the automation. For this, we’re gong to tap on the Automation icon at the bottom of the Apple Home app. We’re then going to scroll to the bottom of the list and tap on the Create new Automation button.

NewImage

Next we’re gong to select the A Time of Day Occurs trigger option. 

NewImage

We need to leave at 7:30am in the morning, so I’m going to give my kids a 10 minute warning. So we’ll set up the time of day trigger to occur at 7:20am only on weekday mornings. Once you’re happy, tap on the Next button.

NewImage

Now we’re going to scroll through the list and select the Time for School scene that we created above. See how helpful it is when we use good descriptive names?  Once the Time for School scene is selected, tap on the Next button.

Hint: We could have skipped the scene step above completely and just assigned the accessories directly to the automation. In my experience, this makes it hard in the future to figure out why things are happening in your house. I’ve found it much more useful to add the scene with a descriptive name which I can then edit and change in the future as my heart desires. 

NewImage

Now is the last step, we simply verify that the automation is happening at the right time and that the right scene is assigned. As you can see, the Time for School scene will activate weekday mornings at 7:30am. If you’re happy tap on the Done button.

NewImage

People tend to meet your expectations

I’m a firm believer that people, even little people, tend to meet your expectations. As long as they understand what those expectations are. In my house, the lights go purple and the kids understand that I expect them to start getting ready to get out the door.  We’ve only had this going on for a week, but I can tell you that we’ve certainly had better mornings since I put this in place.

Interested in trying this yourself? Reach out and let me know how it goes!

Lutron Caseta – Let there be Light!

The Lutron Caseta is my go-to standard for lights. It’s easy to get up and running. It’s blends into the house and it’s supports a lot of other partners so I’m not worried about moving to another SmartHome ecosystem if I decide I don’t like what Apple HomeKit is doing.

Product

Installation

Ecosystems

Protocol

Rating

 Lutron Caseta Lights System + Lutron Smart Home Bridge Pro  In-Wall, Plug for Lamp NewImage

NewImage

NewImage

  Lutron Clear Connect RF + Wifi/Ethernet  4/5

From the product webpage

You can build your smart lighting system with as few or as many products as you’d like. A kit is the easiest way to begin, but you can also purchase products individually and mix and match them. And you can add more products to your system at any time. The products listed here are available online, at select retailers, your local electrical or A/V distributor, and lighting showrooms. Get inspired! Whether you are just starting out or adding to your Caséta set up, explore the Caséta Advisor for ideas on using Caséta in different rooms throughout your home.

 NewImage

Product Specifics

You can see the entire line of Lutron Caseta product here. The specific products that I have installed in my home are the following

Smart Bridge with HomeKit technology L-BDG2-WH

This component is what makes the Lutron Caseta system Apple HomeKit compatible. Exactly as the name implies, the Smart Bridge plugs into an RJ-45 port on your network to create a connection between your IP network and the Lutron Caseta Clear Connect RF environment.

In-wall dimmer for wall and ceiling lights PD-6WCL-XX

The Lutron casita in-wall dimmer replaces the switch in the wall. Some basic electrical knowledge is required for this installation. Be warned.

Plug-in lamp dimmer for table and floor lamps PD-3PCL-WH

The Lutron Plug-in lamp dimmer is also exactly what you think it is. You plug this device into the wall, then you plug the lamp into this device.

Overview

Lutron has been in lights for a long time and it shows with this product line. I already had Lutron light switches through most of my house so the installation was amazingly straight forward. They also looked like they belong and there wasn’t a visible difference as I gradually installed more and more of these throughout the house.

The main reason I really like the Lutron is the cost savings. These are definitely one of the most economical ways to turn whole rooms into SmartZones while saving a few dollars. We did a bunch of renovations a few years back and I have a bunch of in-ceiling lights.  (GU10 bulbs).  A single Lutron Caseta in-wall switch can drive 8 of these GU10 bulbs for a cost of about $60 dollars.

I have probably 40+ of these bulbs spread out throughout my house. Although I love the Philipps Hue solution as well….

Philipps Hue Bulbs 

White GU10      Cost: $25 each       Total Cost:  $1000

Color GU10.      Cost: $50 each.      Total Cost: $2000

Lutron Light Switches

(5 switches):    Cost: 65$.   Total Cost: $325

As you can see, the Lutron comes in a lot lower than the Philipps Hue bulbs when the quantities start to add up. There’s definitely some sacrifice in flexibility as each switch controls a zone of 8 bulbs as compared to the Philips Hue system where you have individual bulb control.

Setup

The Lutron system was really easy to setup. The setup guide was easy to follow and with a little help from Youtube and a HomeDepot home improvement book. I had the light switches installed in no time. As you can see in the video, connecting the bridge and adding the switches to both the Lutron App and the Apple Home app was a breeze. This is one of the places where Apples attention to user experience and  app interface is REALLY appreciated. As you can see in the setup videos above, discovering the bridge was simple and I was easily able to create all the rooms and put the light switches in the appropriate room.

Aesthetics

The Lutron Caseta lighting system looks like it belongs. This is where Lutron’s pedigree really shines through in that this has been their core business for years. During the conversion between the old Lutron switches and the Caseta  Smart switches, no one really noticed that there was anything special about the caseta versions. Personally, I want my SmartHome to be invisible. It’s there when I need it, but I wanted the smart aspects to fade into the background and only become apparent when the magic is happening. The Caseta definitely scored high marks in this regards.

Usability

The Lutron Caseta system IS a light switch. Using the casita in-wall switches feels exactly like a light switch should feel. Unlike the bulb and light socket options, you don’t ever have to worry about turning off the switch and losing power to the light socket or bulb.

Note: If you’re using the light socket or bulb lighting systems and you flick the switch, you end up turning off the power to the light which leaves you just talking to your self with nothing happening.

The Lutron app is pretty good and the system integrates seamlessly into the Apple Home app available on iOS 10. There are the occasional minor naming mishaps upon first discovery ( see the video ) but once it’s up it’s incredibly stable.

The one major place where Lutron loses marks for me is the lack of available motion sensor to trigger the lights. This is a major oversight on Lutron’s part and should definitely have been part of the system. I did contact Lutron on twitter and was given the following answer

You can either:
1.Use the LRF2 sensors with the Caséta Wireless dimmers or switches, and not have them as part of the bridge/app.
2.Use the Caséta Wireless dimmers or switches with the bridge/app, and not work with the LRF2 sensors.

There’s still no great HomeKit motion sensor (Elgato Eve has a 2 second delay!) so this is kind of a big deal. I was able tie together some HomeKit triggers using a combo of the philipps lights and the philipps motion sensor, but I just don’t feel like I should have to hack a solution into place for something that should be there.

I also have one lamp which I used with the Lutron Lamp Dimmer and it just worked. I didn’t realize this when I bought it, but the lamp dimmer also acts as a bridge/repeater extending the range and reliability of the Lutron Clear Connect wireless system.  Based on the size of my house, I have no idea if I actually need a repeater, but I can tell you that I haven’t had a single problem with my Lutron lights responding.

Portability

The Lutron Caseta system is really flexible and can be leveraged in a bunch of different use-cases. My kids grandmother recently remodelled her apartment and they wired all the light switches to a central location near the front door. Of course this resulted in some bruised shins trying to navigate the new apartment at night. We installed a Caseta Wall switch with the Pico remote and suddenly she could turn off the lights to the kitchen once she got to her bedroom. Avoided running the wiring and also scored points with the baby sitter which is ALWAYS a good thing.

The Lutron Caseta system is also compatible with various other ecosystems and platforms inclusion: SmartThings, Nest, GoogleHome, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa as well as others. If I decide to move from the Apple HomeKit platform to another SmartHome ecosystem, I’m not worried that I can take my light switches with me.

SDK

The Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge Pro has an “SDK”. I use that word in quotes as there “API” uses Telnet. Not exactly a secure protocol. It’s nice to know that it’s not only networking that still seems to use screen scraping as the method to access gear remotely. I haven’t coded anything using this API yet, but I also don’t really want to as it uses Telnet.

Pros

The Lutron Caseta has a lot going for it

  • Cost-Effective
  • Looks Great
  • Flexible Deployment options
  • Good HomeKit Integration

Cons

The Lutron is not a perfect product, but the negative can be worked around.

  •  No Motion detector
  • Telnet “API”

Final Thoughts

The Lutron Caseta is my go-to standard for lights. It’s easy to get up and running. It’s blends into the house and it’s supports a lot of other partners so I’m not worried about moving to another SmartHome ecosystem if I decide I don’t like what Apple HomeKit is doing.  The usability is seamless. It’s just like using a light switch so there’s no frustration when the kids turn the lights off. It’s not as flexible as the Philipps Hue lighting system but it just works.

Comments or Questions? Please feel free to post below.

@netmanchris