By Don Lindich
Week 28, 2017
Q. We are building a new addition to our home to serve as a “great room” to entertain friends and family. We are putting a lot of effort into it and want it to be perfect! We recently received an Amazon Dot as a gift and a few people have suggested we use it to integrate home automation into the room, but we find this a bit intimidating. The electrician will be wiring things soon and we need to make a decision. Any pointers for us?
-D.R., Whitehall, PA
A. You don’t have to jump in with both feet if you want to try home automation, and you don’t need to get an electrician involved, at least not yet. It is easy to get started with a few basic pieces that plug into a wall socket and are controlled over your wireless network, using your smartphone and Amazon Dot. I suggest starting with some WiFi plug-in switches, to control a lamp, for example.
Just plug the switch into the wall socket, plug the lamp into the switch and follow the directions to set it up. Then you can use the Dot’s Alexa voice assistant or the switch’s smartphone app to turn the lamp off and on. Just be sure the lamp switch is on when you plug it in to the wireless switch. You can also use Philips Hue lamps, which offer color control as well. Everyone I know who uses the Hue system is very pleased with it, and I will be featuring it in a future column.
Once you get your feet wet with home automation you can move on to hardwired light switches and dimmers, thermostats, garage door openers, window shades, you name it. The automated equipment is almost always the same size as standardized electrical hardware, so your electrician can swap it very easily and inexpensively when you are ready to take it to the next level.
One of the most appealing systems I have tried is from Skylink (also referred to as SkylinkNet) because of its ability to affordably create a comprehensive, subscription-free alarm system along with home automation. Skylink offers a variety of starter kits from $99 to $199 that include a hub with keypad and a variety of wireless security sensors. Connect the hub to your wireless modem, download the app and follow the instructions for easy set-up of the hub and sensors. Once Skylink is configured, you can purchase the exact pieces you want to customize the system for you home and your needs. The system can integrate up to 100 sensors, including security cameras you can monitor from your smartphone ($59) and motion sensors ($39), all controlled by an app, voice command or a hand-held remote. Not only can you build a system that is perfect for you and expand on it as desired, you are not saddled with burdensome monthly fees.
A full range of home automation hardware can be integrated into the system, and like the security starter kit it is high quality and reasonably priced. A Skylink plug-in switch is only $22.95, noticeably less than what other companies are charging and if you buy a lot of switches it adds up quickly. With a Skylink switch you can turn the hypothetical lamp above by saying to your Amazon Dot, “Alexa, ask SkylinkNet to turn off bedroom light.” skylinkhome.com