Friday, July 15, 2016

My Smart Home - Insteon

There are a lot of smarthome devices and suppliers out there.  They all do things differently and have different devices that they're compatible with.  With all those choices out there, how do you pick a good one?

For me it came down to one question, "How many work with Windows Phone?"  At the time I started, the answer was pretty simple - Samsung Smartthings or Insteon.  Samsung was pretty new with Windows Phone support and with smarthome tech in general and Insteon was well established and even sold their stuff in the Microsoft Store.  They also had one more big advantage, they have a controller for ceiling fans.  With the way my house is set up, that actually is a big plus for me.  So, about a year ago, I ordered my starter kit:  an Insteon Hub that came with 2 plug in on/off switches, a leak sensor, an a motion sensor.  I also ordered a wall dimmer switch.

Installing it was an adventure.

Hooking up the Hub was a bit of a pain since they recommend plugging it right into the wall (Insteon uses both WiFi and house wiring to transmit its signals) so I had to rearrange things a bit to get that done.  That was the hard part.  After that I plugged it in, set up an account and I was good to go.

Installing the wall switch was where things got complicated.  I'm a bit nervous about electrical work (I know enough to be dangerous) but I got a simple volt meter and a youtube video and went to work.  My plan was the following:

  1. Turn off breaker
  2. Pull out the switch (but don't disconnect the wiring)
  3. Turn on the breaker
  4. Determine line and load with the volt meter
  5. Turn off the breaker
  6. Disconnect the switch
  7. Find the neutral wire 
  8. Connect the Insteon dimmer switch
  9. Turn on the breaker
  10. Pair the switch with the Insteon Hub
It was a great plan.  Here's what really happened:

  1. Turn off breaker
  2. Pull out the switch (but don't disconnect the wiring)
  3. Turn on the breaker
  4. Determine line and load with the volt meter
  5. Turn off the breaker
  6. Disconnect the switch
  7. Find the neutral wire (not connected to the original switch but shoved into the back of the housing)
  8. Connect the Insteon dimmer switch
  9. Blow half of the ground wire off of the Insteon switch because I didn't realize the switch next to the one I was replacing (in the same housing) was hot and the ground wire touch hot.  However, that popped the breaker so, apart from scaring me to death, it all worked out.
  10. Cram the switch into the housing (really tight fit).
  11. Turn on the breaker
  12. Find that nothing works and figure out that I had switched line and load (line is hot, not load).
  13. Turn off the breaker
  14. Switch the wiring to the proper placement
  15. Hope my adventure didn't fry the switch
  16. Turn on the breaker
  17. Pair the switch with the Insteon Hub
So, apart from almost electrocuting myself and popping a breaker and getting the initial wiring wrong, it went in pretty smoothly :-)

A nice perk for me was that I could control my new Insteon Wall switch (and my plug in switches) via my Amazon Echo.  Once I added my devices via the smarthome section of the Alexa controller, I could say "Alexa, turn off the dining room light." and it would turn off.

The kids thought that was amazing.  I have not seen lights turn off an on so much since my kids were 3 and discovered how to use a light switch - only it was way worse because I have 6 kids and they all wanted to try it.  Over and over and over again.  It was a little frustrating but, at the same time, fun because they were enjoying it so much.

In fact, after a few months of use, I realized that the center of my smart home was not my Insteon Hub but my Amazon Echo.  The Insteon app allowed me to set up schedules and remotely control my switches but the true game changer was voice commands.  It's so convenient and actually useful to control lights with voice commands.

There were other cool things I could do.  At Christmas time I programmed one of the plug in switches to turn on my Christmas lights at sunset and to turn them off at 10:30 PM after everybody had gone to bed.  Later I put a fan in my garage to blow the hot air out the garage to help it stay cool as it gets really hot in the summer (significantly hotter than outside due to the sun shining on it).

All in all, this has been a great investment.  The response time from the Amazon Echo is less than two seconds and the same from the app.  The app does crash on occasion and I had issues with setting a scene with sunset/sunrise times on Windows but I was able to fix the problem by redoing it on Android.  Mostly, it just works and I don't have to think about it and really, that's the best part of all.

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