Over the years my house has been a testing ground for home automation, I've tried the good, the bad and the ugly. The devices that are amazing get to stay and the ones aren't so great are taken to the smart home graveyard. When I first started installing home automation devices in 2012 there weren't that many smart home devices or companies out there. Nest had just launched and most smart home control systems were expensive $50,000-$100,000 systems that required additional wiring with limited functionality.
In the last 5 years the consumer level smart home devices have come a long way and now there is a plethora of smart home devices on the market. The problem now is not finding smart home devices but knowing the right ones for your home.
So here's my current set up in my home as of July 2018
Smart Voice Assistants
I started with the original amazon echo that they don't make any more but was the same shape and size as the amazon echo plus. I've had it for years and it has worked flawlessly since the day I got it. It currently sits in our bedroom and I use it to turn off the lights each night. Since then I've expanded with an Amazon echo device in pretty much every room. In addition to the original amazon echo, I have an amazon echo spot, amazon echo dot, amazon echo show and the amazon echo fire TV cube all listed below.
My Voice Assitant Devices
Original Amazon Echo (now called the Echo Plus)
Amazon Echo Spot-(My Favorite Amazon Echo Device)
Amazon Echo Show
Amazon Echo Dot
Smart Light Switches
Over the years it feels like I've installed hundreds of these things and tried dozens of different switches. In Chicago it's not easy to install smart light switches because of building codes here all electrical wiring has to be in conduit. What this means is that all of the electrical switches are wired into a metal junction box that connects to the conduit. The incoming conduit fittings can take up a fair amount of room within the junction box which can make it hard to fit switches into the junction box. Because everything is wired in conduit, and it takes more time to install more conduit typically there are more connections fit into one junction box when two junction boxes should have be used. This leads to tons of wiring all crammed into a teeny tiny junction box. This is fine with traditional style switches because they have a very small profile, but smart home switches are much deeper and literally have a miniature computer onboard to function properly. So not only do you have a lot of extra wiring in junction boxes in Chicago but now you have to fit these larger smart home switches into this tiny box with all the wiring. Wiring smart switches in Chicago is the proverbial nightmare of trying to fit 20LB of S#!T into a 10LB bag. In majority of the country Romex is allowed by code to be used and there is no need for conduit which makes it much easer to wire up smart home switches
*Pro tip contrary to what you might think having longer wires in a junction box when you are trying to make a connection is actually better than short wires the reason being that you can "Fold" the wires around easier and move them around to fit the light switches in. Don't cut down the wire length to try and fit in a smart home switch. It will make things more difficult.
*Pro tip if you are building a new home in Chicago or anywhere in the rest of the country you should ask your electrician to provide extra deep back boxes which will make his job much easier and allow you to easily fit smart switches wherever you want them.
Smart Light Switches
* A little self promotion here, these are the switches we design and manufacture. I have these installed allover my own home and they work flawlessly on the smart home app but more importantly with Amazon echo. I've found I don't really use a smart phone app because it's much easier and quicker to just tell Alexa to turn on and off your lights. Our switches don't require a smart home hub and work out of the box with Amazon Alexa and google home.
Leviton Z-Wave Dimmer
These are my favorite z-wave dimmers on the market and I have them connected to a smartthings hub. They also can work in 3-way switch installations. Leviton makes the most user friendly z-wave dimmers and they look slick when installed. They are also work well with all of the z-wave hubs on the market. (Works with Amazon Alexa & Google Home through the smartthings hub.
Leviton Z-Wave On/Off Switch
I have these connect to a smartthings hub. (Works with Alexa/Google Home through the smartthings hub.)
Leviton Wifi Dimmer Switch
I use these in the locations that I have 3 way dimmer switches. They do not require a smart hub and work with Amazon Alexa.
Smart Home Hubs
I've tried a lot of different smart home controllers including wink, vera and smartthings but have stuck with smartthings because of it's ease of set up and use. As time goes on and voice control becomes more prevalent I use the smart home hub less because I can control all of my smart home devices through alexa using a Wifi connection.
I use Sono's devices which create stunning sound in addition to the amazon alexa speakers I have throughout the house. The sound form one sono's can fill a room with great sounding audio and it is my preferred device to stream music on. It also has alexa built in which means best of both worlds with Sono's and Alexa.
Yale X Nest smart lock, I had a Schlage Century Connect Z-Wave Lock for 3 years and it worked great with smartthings. I then tested out the Yale x Nest smart lock and like it's user interface better than the schlage product. Both are good locks but I currently prefer the nest.
Nest Smart Thermostat Gen 3
I installed the Gen 3 thermostat and it works like a smart thermostat should. I have a traditional HVAC system with a gas furnace and AC system. The nest is great for traditional HVAC systems with a simple installation but can be a more complex installation with Fan Coil Units, Hybrid Systems or Heat Pump's systems. If the nest does not work with your system you can try an ecobee thermostat.
Nest Hello Smart Doorbell
I've tried both the nest and ring doorbell, but liked the nest better because it has 24/7 recording like a traditional security camera vs the ring which only records video when motion is detected.
I use these to control the fan I used to sleep with, lamps and bedside table lamps. They work with Amazon Alexa & Google home and are reliable wifi smart plugs.
Smart Ceiling Fan Controller
Bond Smart Controller
I have a ceiling fan that works on a remote control but I wanted to connect it to Alexa so I could turn it on and off with my voice. It was easy to set up and reliably controls my ceiling fan using my voice. Also I got the chance to interview Zohar Shinar the CEO from Bond on my podcast and he's an awesome guy. I was looking for another solution to control my fan with voice that didn't include getting a $600 Haiku fan and Bond was the perfect solution. After I installed Bond smart home controller and it instantly worked I fell in love with this product. I emailed Bond about being on the podcast to share their product and within an hour the CEO was already scheduling time for the show, because that's just who Zohar is and his philosophy about customer service is amazing. They are planning on expanding the product line to control smart window shades and garage doors, and it will all happen just by updating the existing software on the app.
Smart Light Bulbs
I don't use these in many places because I think installing a permanent smart switch is the best solution for controlling lights that are on a light switch, but I have found one really great use for these. If you have an existing light in a closet or basement that is on a pull chain the phillips hue kit with the remote control is a great solution to convert the old pull chain light into the 21st century. I have both the remote control/switch kit and the light bulbs with the phillips hue hub.
Boom, this is the most important piece of your smart home, don't skimp out. Eero is the most reliable, easiest to troubleshoot and best smart home wifi router on the market. It is worth it's weight in gold because it just works and it will save you hours of time in setting up smart home devices because you can troubleshoot what is going on through the app. I've tried a lot of other routers and this is by far the best, in any professional installation we've done we've used the Eero as a smart home router and it works flawlessly and is simple to set up. The greatest part is that if you are not getting a good wifi signal somewhere in your home you just plug in another Eero Beacon and like magic fast wifi is streaming through your house.
Yes, your internet provider probably can provide you with one of these. I have (HUGE NAME CABLE COMPANY STARTS WITH X) for my internet provider and when I moved in the first thing I did was return the (X COMPANY) internet modem and purchase this. Why? Because have you ever seen those "(X COMPANY) Hotspots" when you are walking around with your cellphone in your neighborhood? Well those hotspots are other peoples internet modems sharing the internet bandwidth with other (X COMPANY) users so that they can advertise "nationwide hotspot" coverage. What does that mean? Well it means you are sharing the internet connection you pay for with other users and it can slow down your internet speeds. When I got rid of the (X COMPANY) modem and replaced it with this my internet speed almost doubled and became more reliable.
Smart Smoke Detectors
Nest Protect Hardwired Smoke Detectors
They do their job, nuff said.
Smart Security System
I'm testing this out right now and have liked it so far. I used it to replace an existing hardwired system with sensors that looked like they were from 1970 even though our house was built in the 90's. It's kind of pricy and I am looking forward to testing out the new ring security system that just came on the market.
Nest Outdoor Camera
I've tried both the nest IQ and the nest outdoor camera but found that if you have existing outdoor wiring to plug in the nest outdoor it is a suitable camera that has great resolution. The IQ has it's functional use case and has a great form factor but the nest outdoor camera serves my needs.
I have it because I need it to test all of the smart home products to make sure they work with both the Google and Alexa integrations. I don't use it really other than to test smart home device connections, because I like Alexa more and the Echo Spot with a screen is better because of the additional functionality. But I still have it so here it is.