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A Smart Home? We took the plunge and made our home smart. What does that mean though?

Back in 2017, on a Friday in November, we took the first steps in making our home smart by purchasing a Google Home Mini during one of the many Black Friday Sales. The price was just too good, since Google was eager to get the newly released Google Home devices into as many homes as possible.

So with our newly purchased Google Home Mini in hand, we went about deciding the best location to place this unit in our house. Google’s ‘Google Home app’ made the setup very straight forward, even for someone who wouldn’t be technologically inclined like I am could figure it out. We ultimately decided on the kitchen as the best place since it was central to the house and would probably see the most use, and also since the living room was attached to the kitchen, if we purchased any future products we wouldn’t need to get another smart speaker for the living room.

Using the Google Home Smart Speaker at first was a fun little novelty. Asking it questions, testing to see what different features could be done with just the speaker. Once we became acquainted with it, the speaker began to fill in a spot in our daily routine. For me, each morning I would tell the Google Home Speaker “Good Morning” and it would proceed to tell me about my day, then the weather and finally the latest news from the source of my choosing – CBC news. It became quite a useful tool for our household, allowing us to use the timer function when baking muffins or cooking pasta. It filled a niche we didn’t necessarily realize was missing, but it filled it in quite nicely.

Our Google Home, sitting in the kitchen

In 2018 we decided it would be beneficial to get a 2nd speaker, this time for the bedroom, allowing us to expand the Google Home network in our house. So once again, when there was a sale, we purchased a 2nd Smart Speaker and set it up in our room. Now with 2 speakers the capabilities of Google Home have increased. Different commands like “Broadcast” turned each speaker into an intercom system between the 2 different levels of our house. A bedtime routine allowed me to set a wake-up alarm, and to fall asleep with some ocean sounds on a low volume, which would play for about 45 mins. I’ve never really have an issue falling asleep anymore.

During a shopping trip this December to our local Costco, I noticed that there were some Smart Plugs available from CE Smart Home. While I’ve always been interested in expanding our Smart Home network, the price of most of these types of devices were around $50 each, making the prospect of building a smart home quite costly. A friend of mine also purchased an original Google Home Speaker at about the same time as our first one, but also took the plunge and bought a starter kit of Philips Hue Lights (2 bulbs and a bridge) as well as a Security camera. This whole endeavor set him back over $200, which was fine with him since he had a gift card to be used at his local BestBuy. So with the prospect of adding more to our house was always of interest, the cost of doing so was making it not possible.

But back to the trip to Costco. These CE Smart Plugs caught my eye, but what also caught my eye was the price. $24.99 for a 2-pack. This meant each individual plug was about $12.50, which made it about 1/4 the price of the normal ones like Weemo. I decided that I wanted to get them to try out and we picked up one set of 2.

Setting them up was fairly straightforward. Again, the instructions were laid out in a way that non technical people should be able to understand how to get it working fairly easily. For me, the process was easy once I figured out that I changed a setting on router for our network, which was preventing the smart plugs from connecting. After an hour (and some choice curse words), I figured out my issue and the plugs were able to be connected and immediately were able to be used.

Since these smart plugs were manufactured by CE Smart Home, they needed to be setup with their own app first, and then integrated into the Google Home app. Use of the manufactures app is really only needed for the initial setup/connection stage, and then doesn’t need to be used unless you are only using their product, and not Google Home. If you are using Google Home, then you can issue voice commands to the Smart Speaker and everything is done verbally, or through the Google Home app. I was impressed with how fluidly everything connected together and how easy setting up and adding these smart plugs to my existing routines was. Adding one of the smart plugs to a bedroom lamp and adding it to the “Good Night” routine was literally as easy as checking a box in the appropriate routine setting. Google has done an amazing job on making all of this as easy and painless as possible.

Our latest addition to the smart home network was smart lights. While Philips had pretty much cornered the market during the beginning stages of the smart home revolution with their Hue product line of smart lights, which covered pretty much everything you could hope for.

Philips Hue does have its draw backs. Being fairly higher in price, you also need to add a hub to your home network, in order for all the Hue lights to talk to the network. While this idea works it also adds to the cost and also adds a piece of equipment that can fail and takes up space. Recently, as more and more manufacturers enter the market with new Smart products the price of these products has gone down, as well as the introduction of WiFi enabled bulbs. These bulbs are stand alone devices on the network, complete with their own WiFi module built into each bulb.

Again, with cost in mind I managed to find that Wal-Mart had some Smart WiFi bulbs on sale for $9.88. These bulbs made by Merkury, worked like any smart bulb, but I was so intrigued by the price that buying one was an easy choice in order to see how well it worked.

I decided that placing this smart bulb on our front porch was going to be a good testing point. With it being winter, it was usually dark when I left to work and when I returned. Because I didn’t want to have a higher electricity bill, I usually turned out the porch light when I left, which meant I had to stumble down the stairs and walk to my car in the darkness of our back alley. Sometimes, especially if it was icy, this could be dangerous. This is why I decided on the porch for the WiFi light. I could have it on, then turn it off remotely from the car, all done with my voice.

Merkury Smart WiFi Dimmable Light bulb

Setting up the Merkury bulb was pretty much as easy as plugging it in, turning it on and downloading the Merkury app for the bulb to connect to our WiFi network. It was basically over in less than 5 minutes, but the interesting thing I noticed was the Merkury app and the CE Smart app both looked like they were programmed the same. I have not tested it, but I was thinking it may be possible to setup the smart plugs with the Merkury app down the road, eliminating the need for another app taking up space on my phone’s storage.

In the end of this long article, I have come to the conclusion that the Smart Home is the way of the future, with the ability to add more devices to our home networks becoming easier than ever, and the different devices that are available, even for budget minded folks like me, it all becomes so appealing.


Update

Since the time this article was written, one of our Smart WiFi plugs failed. Upon troubleshooting the plug, it appears that it can no longer handle any load, but it technically still works. I originally thought the relay was shot, but upon disassembly and testing, the relay was fine, but I still don’t know what caused the unit to fail. So we have since purchased a replacement.

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