Saturday, December 31, 2016

Harmony Hub is Awesome

We got a new wireless 4K Sony TV which made me think there should be a way to control it from my phone.  Well there was an app for our AV Receiver but not the TV.  That was cool but not enough.  I took the harmony 900 remote and set it up.  It worked for most things and could setup activities for TV, Netflix and BlueRay.  

From there I started wondering why should I touch a remote, when I can tell the women of the house to do it.  No, not my wife but Alexa.  She generally follows direction better anyways.  
After some research, Alexa can't talk to the devices directly but a Harmony hub is the tool for the job.  Black Friday sales really help because I found them 30 dollars off.   $99 regularly. Gotta get two right?  One for living room and one for bed room.

The setup is really awesome and has come a long way since the harmony 900.  Down load the app. iPad is best but phones work too.  First it searches your network and finds devices.  My tv and receiver setup automatically.  Then, just add Blue ray and Direct tv.  
I am not going to go into the setup of activities because it is easy.  The only trick is to go into the receiver device and set it to stay on unless directly turning it's power off.  This helps transitioning through activities smoother.  

Favorites are the secrete sauce and you must set them up.  Setup every channel you watch normally.  The thing to recognize is favorites are device specific, once you set them up they will sync to their cloud but only download to other devices if you reset them and sync changes again.   This is important for Alexa.

If you have multiple hubs, you can switch between hubs from phone or iPad.  

At times my IR devices don't turn on and off but if I get close to them, they work fine.  I am not sure why that is yet but it's not a big deal.

Also, once you set everything up, you can control your hub remotely but I am not sure why you would want to but guess who needs that ability, Alexa.   

I will talk about Alexa integration in a later post.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Alexa and IRIS

It was really easy and fast to setup Alexa to integrate with IRIS.  Just add the skill, login and discover devices.  You need to thoughtfully name your devices or it will feel weird to talk to Alexa.  Example, if you called your lights switches: Light Master.  You would say Alexa, turn on Light Master.  Instead you want to call them Master Bed Room Light.  This is because you might have a Master Bathroom Light one day.

I created an Alexa group called Girl's Lights.  Then, I added the upstairs switch, and both girls lights.  The girls use this a lot before they leave each day.  Alexa, turn off Girl's Lights.  "OK".

If you change the name of a device in IRIS, you have to remove the IRIS skill and the forget the old device.  Then, run tell Alexa to discover devices before you can use the new name.    

I was not able to get my Honeywell WiFi Thermostats to work from Alexa through IRIS.  She just said, "I can't find a device by that name in your account. " I just removed them from the IRIS skill devices and used the Honeywell skill.

There is not really much to say about IRIS and Alexa integration.  It was pretty straight forward and basic.

IRIS Advanced Features

IRIS is really good for most uses.  It is serving us well.  I did sign up for their Premium plan before we went on vacation.

Why did I decide to pay $10 a month?  I wanted to get notifications when our garage door opens but this is part of the basic account.  You only need premium if you want multiple people to be notified.

I did setup a lamp to come on at sunset and off at sunrise each day.  I did not need Premium to do that because it is just a schedule.

It is nice to have longer than 24 hours of history when you are on vacation but most days, you don't need it.

Scenes and Rules are only available with Premium.  I wanted to have a rule that turned on our inside lights when the garage door opens, but after contacting IRIS support, this was not an option in their rule templates.  I use schedules for each device to do everything I need.  Scenes would make it a little easier but not required at this point.

A problem I am having with IRIS is the rules.  They are just templates and not very flexible.

After writing this, I am probably going to turn off the Premium service for next month and see what I am missing.

It is unfortunate that you have to pay for Premium but get very little coolness for it.

Garage Door Controller

Next on my list was a way to control and see the garage door status at our house.  It is an easy use case because everyone has left home and wondered, did we close the garage.  At my old house, our neighbor would call every couple months to tell us our door was open.

After a little research, Lowes has a Z-Wave device like this Linear Go Control but a different model.  I hope it is only a model number difference and not only compatible with IRIS.  I will find out one day.

The garage door opener install took me a couple hours.  It took that long because the first one I opened, which looked opened when I bought it, did not work.  When I opened the second one and installed it, it took about 15 minutes.  You just add the device in IRIS, then mount it to the mettle brackets that hold up the garage door opener.  You also plug it into the extra socket in the ceiling.  Then, you connect the two wires to the two screws on the back of the opener, that already has wires running to it from your wall controller.  Not tools need, except to tighten the mounting bolts.
You also stick a sensor on the garage door.  This sensor is how the system knows if the door is up or down.  When it goes from vertical to horizontal, it tells IRIS it is open.

Just a note, you can also connect it to your wall controller buttons but they are designed to mount on the mettle brackets with the opener.

I have notifications setup to let me know when the garage opens.

Interesting thing happened the next day.  I woke up and noticed the garage door status was open.  I checked the history in the IRIS app and it showed it opened at 11:45PM.  NOT GOOD.

At this time, I was still not completely installed because I was going to get a replacement for the broken controller.  I had the garage door controller connected to my wall controller buttons.  I had noticed if I tighten them to the wall too tight, it would initiate the garage to open.  So I went and loosened the screws, until I connected everything correctly that night.  But, a few hours later, I got an email from IRIS saying they were sorry for the recent issue and were working to correct it.  A few days later an update came out.  I am not sure if my temporary installed caused it or IRIS actually opened a lot of peoples garage doors one night.  It has not happened sense and I love this HA solution.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Getting Started with Home Automation

A few people asked why I started messing with Home Automation(HA).

My new house has timer switches for the outside lights.  They do stay on all night and I can't figure out how to turn them off at midnight and come back on at 5 AM.  They just come on at sunset and off at sunrise.  I have not researched them a lot but they are older and I know newer ones can do this.   They are still pretty cool.

I just moved and discovered a Lutron dimmer switch in my media room.  Never before seeing these, I started digging.  Digging meaning, go to Best Buy and ask someone if it can be controlled by a remote.  They said the model was too old to use any current devices but I should look into some stuff in our home automation section.  "AHHHHHHHHHHH"  I was introduced to my new hobby.  SmartThings, Hue Lights, Lutron, and WeMo to name a few.

After I returned the roof shingles the previous owner's roofer left to Lowe's and found out they have a home automation hub called IRIS.  I did not see much difference between SmartThings and IRIS from a quick search online.  I bought the IRIS hub and a few GE Z-Wave switches, why not.  It was sort of free.

It took a while for me to install the first switch.  Mostly because I had no idea what I was doing and I picked a 3 way switch to start.  For the noobs out there, a 3 way switch is one that works with another light switch.  A 4 way switch would work with 2 other switches and so on.  I moved to a single switch it work.  Then, I simply added it as a IRIS device right?  No, my IRIS hub could not find the switch.  You have to hard wire the HA hubs.  It was connect to my FIOS wireless router, in the far master bed room.   To solve this, I remembered my Net Gear extender had an RJ45 port.  It is installed in my living area. I moved the IRIS hub there.  It is hidden and very centralized.  Then, the switch added just fine.

Next, I replaced my girl's light switch, so I could make sure they turned them off each day.  I replaced my bed room light switch and fan.   Then, I was struggling to find a use for a smart plug.  My wife mentioned her space heater in the master bathroom.  This was a great solution because it was safe to leave the heater plugged in and I could schedule it to go off automatically.

Then, the coolness started.  I had my kids lights come on at 6 AM and off at 6:45 AM on weekdays.  That helped them get up each morning.  Then, I scheduled the master bathroom heater to come on at 6 AM and the master fan to go off.  Then, my light comes on at 6:05 to get a nice bright start to a weekday.  You have to remember to turn off the schedules when you are on vacation or have a day off.  With IRIS premium service, you can create scenes but it was more difficult than just creating a schedule for each device.

That was my first round of HA.  More to come later.  Garage Door controls, Ring, and SmartThings

Amazon ECHO or DOT, which one should you choose

I have been asked many times what is the difference in the ECHO and the Dot.  It is a question I sort of learned the hard way.  I bought an ECHO and a DOT at the same time.  I hooked up my ECHO and all was cool.  Keep in mind, your ECHO or DOT have to be assigned to an Amazon account.  If you have multiple accounts in your home, you will have to decide which one it associates with.  I would recommend using one Amazon prime account.  If you do home automation, you will only need to set it up once and not for each account.

Each ECHO and DOT are independent devices.  You do not need an ECHO to use a DOT.  You just have to have them connected to an Amazon account.  You can have all DOTs in your home.  This is an assumption by a lot of people but is not true.

Both ECHO and DOT use Alexa to do everything.  There is nothing different in how you talk to it or what it can do.

Price of an ECHO is about $139 to $179.

Price of a DOT is about $39 to $59.  You can buy six packs and get a discount.

The main difference is ECHO is a good music player for big rooms.   The DOTs are a music player too but just a little better sound quality than an iPhone.  You will not get the deep rich sounds, like an ECHO or external bluetooth speaker.  The cool thing is you can connect a DOT to a bluetooth speaker or use the 3.5 audio out.

If you have a large room and like to play Internet music like Amazon Music with great sound quality, go with the ECHO.  If you already have a good music solution like Sonos or through your AV receive, then a DOT gives you everything you need at a lower price.

We have an open kitchen, living and breakfast area.  We have an ECHO there and love it.  We can say Alexa turn on the TV, turn off up stairs lights, play top Christian or turn down the temp from anywhere in that area.  We can walk into a room with the DOT and say the same things because they are all registered on the same Amazon account.  They all have the same Skills and smart home devices.

We have a DOT in our girls rooms, my office and our master bath.  Our girls use it for an alarm or to play music while they sleep.  They can turn off their lights too.
We can tell Alexa to play music, turn on our fan or turn off the lights from our master bedroom to the DOT in our master bath.  I was surprised it would work that well.

Future wish item:
Today ECHOs or DOTs can't control other ECHOs or DOTs.  It is a common ask to Amazon to be able to turn off or execute commands to other ECHOs or DOTs but they don't have it yet.  To be honest, it is not a huge need.