I live in a fairly mixed neighborhood age-wise. It seems to be a continuing issue as people begin to age on their ability to live on their own. Being a nerd, I love the tech that has been developed in recent years around home automation, and that coupled with services like home grocery delivery and self-driving cars, along with the boomer population retiring and entering into care facilities this is going to become a bigger factor. In short though, I think it is more likely that people will be able to stay in their homes and care for themselves much longer than before.
So here is a list of things I’ve invested in to retrofit my house for home automation and a quick note of how well I think they work:
- Amazon Echo - pros, cheap, cons… everything Amazon. I’m actually working on removing these from my house, I don’t like Amazon’s privacy policies, lack of encryption and anything else.
- Apple Mini Pod - I’m leaning more this was for a smart assistant because of Apple’s privacy policies. the drawback is they cost about double an Echo Dot costs. However, I’ve found it to be superior in about every way to the echo dot, with the assurance of data encryption etc.
- Wemo plugs - I use these smart plugs with a couple of lamps, a space heater and a fan. A few things I do is I have it set up so if any of us leave the home it will automatically start turning lights on and off replicating someone being home (more on this below). I also use it as a timer to turn on and off fans in the summer at night to circulate air, and to make sure a space heater is turned off if no one is around for safety reasons. I also pair one of these with my Christmas lights as a timer of sorts.
- Philips Hue hub and lights - this was a gift from someone but a decent way to automate lights without doing any electrical work like switching out switches. In an older house like mine that has partial older wiring this is key to retrofit the automation.
- Meross Smart Light Switches - Good for banks of lights you want to automate versus a single fixture or bulb. We set this up in our kitchen and living room because it supports multiple switches and a series of recessed lighting.
- MyQ Garage Door openers - I set this up because an unnamed group of people in my house routinely forget to close the garage doors and so I needed a way to make sure the doors were closed at night (we had a bunch of stuff stolen once a while back). This is surprisingly really the only game in town and I think it is pretty clunky. It also has limited abilities, and so if I want to set it up to automatically close a garage door at night or after its been open for a specified period you have to jump through some major hoops. (Basically you have to pair it to a smart light to turn on when the door opens, which then you set a timer on the smart light to turn off after the specified period of time, which will then trigger the door to close - yes pretty stupid). I do like knowing the doors are closed and even the coming and going on this. One of the automations I did that I’ll mention below is possible because of this though.
- August Door Locks - allows you to retrofit your existing locks which is a plus. It is also very quiet, contrary to the Schlage Sense lock we also have tried. The nice thing is your old key will work, the downside is if you want a keypad you have to buy that separately.
- Honeywell Smart Thermostat - I bought this before the Nest existed etc - it is the one thing that doesn’t play well with others and I should probably update - but for my purposes it works great. I’d probably lean towards the Ecobee if I were to change it.
- Ring cameras on my detached garage and front door.
- B-Hyve leak detectors I’ve put by my hot water heater, my main water line, a floor drain in my basement which would be the likely spot if we had a sewage main problem, and by a French drain in an outdoor stairwell that has flooded a bit in EXTREME rain.
I chose Homekit as my central tool to manage home automation, and so a lot of the purchases I made above were because they were homekit compatible. I’ve liked it because it works native with my iPhone, is (relatively) easy to use and allows me to use my Apple TVs as hubs - hubs are a central typically bluetooth enabled bridge to the internet to control things remotely. It also allows me to do a bunch of automations that make life easy including:
- Lights and security - I’ve set up automations that get triggered when everyone has left the home (as detected by our phones) including turning on the lights, making sure all the doors are locked and also the garage doors are closed. You can even set up the automations to run when everyone leaves, and only after a certain time of day. So basically I have the lights run 15 minutes after sunset.
The downside is you have to manually program each light to do its thing, so basically you automate to to say, “If no one is home and it is after sunset, turn on this light at x and turn it off at y”. I’d love to have the ability to just say, “When I’m gone after dark, randomly turn on and off lights in the house to replicate naturally someone being inside.” So it is a pain to set up, but once it is done it is done.
- One really nice thing I set up recently - and didn’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier is to have the system turn on lights if something gets opened or unlocked after a certain hour. For example, if someone opens my garage door after midnight my lamp turns on and so I can be alerted to this fact, I also have it turn on my kitchen light (near the detached garage) and a back porch light after a 30 second delay. Maybe useful for intruders, maybe useful for teenagers. But often an alert on my phone while I’m asleep doesn’t help me much. And if it is an intruder, I assume the lights turning on like that will probably scare them away.
Homekit has its drawbacks. Like all Apple walled garden type stuff you wish for things that it would do naturally like the light automation - or to set up a loud alert that overrides silent settings for big events. For example, I keep my phone on vibrate basically all the time except emergency numbers. I wish I could do that with homekit alerts so if a garage door opens at night it plays an alarm to wake me up. Or during the day an alert that gets progressively aggressive for things like, “Your front door is STILL open…” Or, “Nobody is home and a door was just unlocked…” As mentioned I wish it would have some pre-programmed automations that would randomize lights while away etc.
For elderly populations, I can say to my phone or Apple Mini HomePod, “Hey Siri, Goodnight.” and it’ll make sure that my doors are locked, the lights are off, etc. I’d like to see something that will detect if a stove is left on. I might put the B-hyve water detectors in bathrooms, etc where someone might leave a bath running etc.
I haven’t done this for my parents, but might if one of them passes and I feel like memory issues might creep up. But it’d be nice to know if mom’s house was all locked up at night and the lights, stove and bathtub were off. It’d be nice to know I could place smart speakers around the house so if she fell she could call me for help even if she doesn’t have her phone. It’d also be nice with the Ring cams that they could talk to people who knock at the door without coming to the door.
I’ve heard frequently from elderly people that they worry about that stuff and will wake up at night and go check frequently because they can’t remember if they locked the door or window, or worry they’ll leave something on by mistake.
When car automation becomes common, they’ll be able to safely do anything they want - run errands, go to the doctor, go to the store, etc without assistance from anyone.
Edit to add: Ring cameras - okay these are mostly fluff to make someone feel better and I don’t think they are a deterrent to crime at all these days. Every would-be burglar knows to hide their face now, or just don’t even care. If nothing else it might give you time to react or deter.
With my cameras I’ve turned off the alerts (they were way too frequent) and set them to only record when a person is detected (blowing bushes would trigger alerts). However, when I go out of town I turn the alerts back on and then put the mail on hold. Basically when I’m gone nobody should be wandering around my house. I did have ONE instance where I got an alert while I was out of town that Ring detected someone on both cameras (meaning they’d gone to my door and then went down my driveway by my backyard and garage). I jumped on the audio and surprised them by asking if I could help them with something. The guy claimed he was a salesman, and so I said, “Look, this is embarrassing but I’m in the bathroom on my iPhone talking to you right now, so I can’t come to the door… but I’m not interested anyway.” He took off after that - but definitely felt like he was checking our place out.
That’d be useful for elderly people who ARE at home - create the illusion somebody bigger than them is around. Also, I have a neighbor who in the windstorms last fall had a well-intentioned neighbor go and bang on her door to check on her for a long time. She has mobility issues and it scared her so bad she rushed to get out of bed and too the door and fell. When she fell her phone slid under her bed, and her life alert button wasn’t set up right and so when she tried to use it they just ignored her.
She was finally able to get to her phone and call me after being on the ground for about 8 hours (she knew we had a key to her house). After that we set her up with a ring camera so she can communicate easily with people from her phone who may come knocking, and also so she can determine if she needs to get to the door or not. We also set her up with a key lockbox so she can check her camera, and if it is someone she knows she can give them instructions to let themselves in.