Geekiness and life on the third coast

Building a truly smart home

This year’s home project is to make the house smart. The goal is to use lots of cheap, easily installed, dumb sensors the aggregate of which creates an intelligent home.




– Okay
Kevo smart lock It needs batteries to run, can be flaky and noisy locking and unlocking, but it’s really nice to have one less key to keep on me. ( It randomly locks me out when I’m going for a run or to check the mail )


– Excellent
Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat The temperature is much more even throughout the house. I love the screens and running the fan to filter the air automatically.

If you want to install a smart thermostat but do not have a C Wire it’s very easy to add one. You can buy 5-wire thermostat wire at your favorite hardware store, it’s about $20 which was about 3x as much as I needed to add wires to two thermostats. We duct taped the end of the new wire to the old and slowly pulled it through the walls. Cut a much longer piece than you need and take the time to untwist it so it doesn’t kink inside the walls while you pull it through. Honeywell and several do it yourself sites have photos of where to hook up the 5 wires on the furnace/AC end.

Ecobee I replaced the 2nd floor thermostat with an Ecobee. There are lots of tiny rooms up there ( all designed to be bedrooms ) having multiple sensors across the rooms lets me set the temperature in the room I’m using to be comfortable. ( master bedroom at night, home office days etc )


– Excellent
Ring Doorbell This is wonderful, no more opening the door to talk to door to door sales men.


– Fail:
– I’ve recently begun setting up hydroponic gardens. I wanted them automated, but the builtin in timer switches wouldn’t work, these all needed to plug into something. GE has a 24 hour basic plugin timer, it’s about $3.50 at your local hardware store, $8 online. A couple of those let me automate the lights and water pumps. Despite being blinding to humans the LEDs weren’t bright enough for the plants to grow properly.


– Better
Samsung Smart Cam You can set up another Gmail account and have it upload all the photos to Picassa which is a nice way to keep them and view them when you’re not home. This camera is flaky as hell and goes out when I most want to capture images. I’m looking for a better option. ( on the upside it didn’t burn down the house like the Samsung washers and phones )


– Meh
Pocket Sentry Motion Cam let me use 2 old iPhones (3/3G) and set up motion sensing photo taking security. No internet interface if you don’t want one. Every afternoon when the sun would hit the window it was glare out and in the summer the phone would stop working till it cooled down.


– Excellent
– Replaced halogen under the cabinet lighting with LED and hooked up motion/light sensors switches to them. I really like these, there are three and it’s enough to light up the entire kitchen.


– Excellent
– I replaced a light in a niche with an LED a few months back. This week I found my first programmable ( 7 days, 24 hours ) light switch and hooked it up to turn on the niche light at 7am and off at 10pm. Off the light went at 10pm, but not all the way. It turns out many 3 way switches, dimmers, motion sensors and smart home switches leak enough trickle charge to keep the LED on at a very low light. As far as I know there is no danger in this, it can be a bit unsettling. If you are using LEDs and smart switches they either all need to be compatible or you need to be comfortable with a little light trickling out. These switches can also be set to random to make it appear someone’s home while you’re out of town.
( Parts: Indoor Digital Timer by Defiant ) (* it forgets its settings every time the power goes out and it’s really difficult to read the screen to reprogram it, I still love it, but am watching for a better version )


– Fail
– I put solar lights on the upper window ledges in the two story room, it’s free ambient lighting, no wiring required. I used outdoor lights, the ones they have for gardens, didn’t use the stakes. The window ledges are large enough to hold them comfortably. Watch the lumens when you buy solar lights, I’ve been able to find 6-8 lumens for the same price as 1.2 lumen lights. The windows receive different amounts of sun so lights the were always a different brightness.


– Excellent
– Motion sensor lights in small rooms that are used for a short time: bathrooms, hallway, garage, laundry, walk in closets.
( Parts: Lutron Occupancy Sensor single or three pole $20-$30/ea )

– I couldn’t get the wall switch motion sensor to work master bedroom closet. The switch is jumpered off another light and there’s an outlet jumpered off of it. So I swapped out the light fixture and used a motion sensing bulb, but that didn’t work either. I guess the odd wiring setup interferes somehow? idk? I’ll come back to this one.
( Parts: Polar LED bulb with motion sensor, or AmerTac Indoor Motion Activated Light Control )


– Okay, some of them make a whistling noise while the water is running
– LED temperature sensor in shower. The lights are blue when the water is cold then turn purple, orange, red, flashing red as the water heats up. This requires no battery, you may need an extension arm to mount it in your shower. This is very nice, no more jumping into a cold shower. I liked the rainfall shower so much I upgraded to the 12″ one.
( Parts: VDomus 8″ Wall mount LED Color Changing Square Overhead Showerhead $35/ea )
LED temperature lights in shower


– Excellent
– LED plugin night lights that turn on only when the home is dark.
( Parts: Maxxima 10 LED Night Light with Sensor, 4 pack/$13 )


– Excellent
-LED plugin night lights that turn on only when dark and motion is detected
( Parts: Amerelle Night Light, $10/each )


– Meh on the laptop, Excellent with an old iPad or iPhone
– iTunes on an old laptop has been setup to play music ( both mine and internet radio ) through the house stereo. Apple has an iPhone/iPod app called ‘Remote’ that allows you to control iTunes from your iPhone or iPad. The house came with a built in stereo system that has speakers in the master bedroom and all the public rooms.


– Useful
– Temperature sensor in attic that transmits temperature to indoor station.
( Parts: wireless weather sensors and base stations, $10-$200 )


– Flaky
– Water sensor alarms: one in the first floor bath, one in each overflow tray for the AC condensers in the attic, all of the above have flooded in the past.
( Parts: Swann Anti-Flood and Water Leakage Alarm $20/ea )


– Fun
– LED temperature sensors in the bathroom sinks: These require no batteries, running water turns the light on. The color changes from blue to red as the water heats up. These were trivial to install in facets with screw in aerators.
( LightInTheBox LED Kitchen Sink Faucet Sprayer $4/ea )


– Excellent
– Motion sensor night lights up driveway and front walkway. It’s deliberately overly bright in your eyes to discourage unwanted visitors after dark.
( Parts: Utilitech 360 Degree, Dual Detection Zone, LED motion sensor night light ~$130 )


In progress:

I picked up a Windows IoT Pack from AdaFruit, haven’t had time to play with it yet.

Mosquito control: Moved to here, it was getting lengthy


– Temperature sensor to turn on/off oil filled radiators we use for heat in cold rooms in the winter.( might have to home brew this one )
– Ceiling fans that turn on off depending on the temperature of the room
– Interactive sensors for pets to do idk yet?
– Garden soil moisture and temperature sensors to turn on irrigation when needed and only when needed.
– Send distilled water from AC condenser to garden for irrigation, not down sewer
– Have water sensor turn off AC if pan starts to fill (one completed, will do next one when compressor needs replacing)
– Natural gas generator that turns on when we lose electricity
– Ambient data, weather, traffic etc
– Weaponized robot to defend home from salespeople and missionaries ( have English Mastiff to keep strangers away in the meantime, ‘ least when he’s awake, which isn’t often )
– Acquire military drone to keep squirrels out of gardens ( may have to settle for a house cat for this one )

This page will be updated as projects proceed and new ideas come to me.

Other home projects:
Saving energy in older New England homes
How efficient is your home?