As with many things in the world of home improvement, it’s best to start each big, new project with a plan. There’s much that could be accomplished in the many areas of home automation – lighting, entertainment, security & safety – and each of those areas is so rich with possibilities that you could quickly get overwhelmed with projects you want to tackle.
Plan Your Project
As you dig into home automation for the first time, we suggest starting with a simple purpose in mind. What’s your primary goal – or your motivator to get started with home automation? Is it to save money by conserving energy? Is it to safeguard your home? Is it to automate frequent routines and tasks so that life is more effortless? Knowing your own goals will help you prioritize the phases of your home automation projects.
Next, we suggest that you choose one area of home automation – lighting, entertainment, security / safety and visualize the first portion of your project from start to finish. You might do that with a flow chart or a storyboard. Either will work to develop a logical sequence of what happens when.
Think About the Sequence of Actions You Want
Then, orient your thinking. Engineers are trained to think in terms of “cause and effect”, or “if-then” terms: if this happens, then it should cause that to happen. Although coding skills are not necessary or required, it is helpful to start thinking in terms of inputs and outputs. Inputs, or conditions, could be time of day, (it’s 6am) or physical activity, (you walk past a motion sensor which detects your presence), or voice commands, (“Alexa, turn on CBS News”). Any of these inputs will create a “trigger” which causes something else to happen.
How to Translate Action Sequences into Automations
Let’s illustrate with an example. The most popular area of home automation is lighting so let’s start there.
Suppose you have a very long, dark hallway in your home that spans from the top of the stairs, past each of the bedrooms, to your home office in the back of the house. You want that hallway light to go on when you reach the top of the stairs, so you put a motion sensor near the top step.
Your rule says, “if that sensor detects motion, then turn on hall lights”, and your hallway is lit instantly when your foot touches the landing there. You get to your office and settle into your work. There’s no need to keep those hall lights on, so you write a rule that says, “if that sensor detects no motion for 15 minutes, then turn hall lights off”.
Now let’s imagine that you’ve been working in your office for a few hours, and you leave it to go back down the hallway, you want those lights on again. You want the lights triggered when you exit your office, not when you reach the other end of the hall, so you put another motion sensor near the office door. Now the rule would be “if either sensor A or sensor B detects motion, then turn on hall lights” and “if neither sensor A nor sensor B detects motion for 15 minutes, then turn hall lights off”.
Now let’s imagine that you’re leaving your home office at 10:30pm. You may not want those hall lights to come on at maximum brightness after the kids have just gone to sleep. Now the rule would be “if either sensor A or sensor B detects motion, and it’s between 8pm and 11pm, then turn on hall lights to 30%” … just enough to see where you’re going but not wake the kids.
Let’s also imagine that you want to be extra cautious and set up alerts in case of intruders. The rule for that might be, “if sensor A (at the top of the stairs) detects motion between midnight and 6am, then send a notification to my phone and flash the light on my bedside table”. We’ll hope you never have cause to use that one but the feeling of extra security is nice, isn’t it?
The Benefit of Planning
This is why you started by developing a flow chart or a storyboard, so you could plan out the locations of the sensors and buy all the sensors you need at the very beginning. You plan what you want them to do when, and based on which triggers, so you only have to write the rules once, instead of constantly updating them to add conditions as you think of them. What’s that old adage? Measure twice, cut once. Also in this case, planning pays off.
All of the automations you put into your home will affect those you live with, so be careful to consider the needs and wants of others in your home. (More on this to come). Thinking about your own personal usage patterns, and those of your family, will enable you to add more precision to your home automations and further customize them to suit the various members of your family.
Check out our new video to get started with Hubitat Elevation’s Rule Machine: