The smart home is gaining ground, but it’s still a muddle of confusing standards, competing platforms, and gadgets that don’t do what you might expect. But the promise of products that can make your life a little easier is hard to resist, so I’m here to answer the inevitable questions that arise.
Whether it’s figuring out the best connected door lock to assembling the right recipe to wake you up with a faux sunrise at the optimal moment based on your fitness tracker’s data, I’ve got you covered. As the host of The Internet of Things Podcast, I install a lot of gear and spend hours testing hardware and software to see what works. Smart homes are still pretty dumb, but I want to help you feel smart.
If you have smart home questions you’d like me to answer, send an email to [email protected]
I’m curious if you’ve ever put together some recommendations and considerations for new home builders? Basically, if you could design a home from scratch, what would you run through the open walls, doorways, windows, yard, or garage in preparation for current technology, but also the new tech that may be coming down the wire (no pun intended)?
I actually did design my house from scratch, but it was back in 2012 and since then all manner of new gear has come out to test my electrical and Ethernet designs. But there are some good rules of thumb if you want to trick out some kind of connected house.
Go future proof. I wanted to run conduit through the walls in some kind of mad effort to stay current. But conduit is expensive! So instead I ran Cat6 cable to an Ethernet port in every room. Yes, every room has at least one direct Ethernet port and some even have two. I hardwired my TVs for example, so I put the jack where I knew I wanted TVs. I also placed one by my bedside table, because you never know.
While server closets are a thing of the past, think about your gear. I wish I had created a shelf (or three) for my routers and assorted hubs. Since a lot of the newer mesh routers and smart home hubs are designed to be put in a more central location in your home, think about clustering outlets and Ethernet in a specific areas for them.
If I were you, I’d have the builder install some type of connected light switch, but those change constantly, so even if you don’t install one right now, make sure there’s a neutral wire. I believe that’s the current code today, but even if you are renovating and already in the walls, that’s a nice thing to have. I’d also think about the low-voltage wiring needs. Low-voltage in the US generally means below 100 volts. A light socket or outlet usually operates at 120 volts.
The benefit of thinking about low-voltage needs is that you can use use wires where possible. We ran power for speakers in the ceiling for our Sonos system and put low-voltage electrical outlets near the top of our windows where we wanted to run and operate motorized shades.
When it comes to outdoor settings, think about things like video doorbells and security cameras. Connected video doorbells are fairly power efficient, but you may need a more powerful transformer on your doorbell chime to support it if it only uses 16 volts, for example. Security cameras may need wired power via light fixtures or an outlet. There are wireless ones but then you’re changing the battery a lot, in what might be some out-of-the-way locations.
Don’t forget your garage. Between many of the connected sprinkler systems, cars with Wi-Fi and garage door sensors, your garage will need a good connection. So extend Ethernet to the garage and/or outlets for a network extender/mesh Wi-Fi router. And if you think you may get an electric car, think about installing a compatible 240-volt-capable NEMA 14-50 outlet so you can plug in your EV.
Finally, consider your outdoor lighting and outlets. I wish I had run more electrical outlets around my home for holiday lighting. But even if you can’t do all that, I suggest Cat6 or better cable and Ethernet jacks in every room.
I have been looking at security cameras for the past six months so I enjoyed the podcast. I have a WD My Cloud DL2100, which has the Milestone Arcus app on it. I can use one of their cameras and record video to my NAS instead of paying for a subscription service in the cloud. Can you recommend any other security cameras other than the Milestone Arcus that I can use with the WD My Cloud? For example, I know the Ring doorbell will not work with any NAS.
Lenny, I’m not sure this will work, but I believe Netatmo’s Presence camera, which is $299, will fit the bill, if the bill is defined as works with a NAS. The current indoor camera from Netatmo works with a NAS and the outdoor one has the same function. Netatmo will send files at your request to Dropbox, but the default setting is to keep them in your home on an SD card or a NAS.
It currently isn’t one of the many, many cameras supported by the Milestone Arcus App, however, which means your system won’t be unified. But I did find this D-Link bullet-style outdoor IP camera that may fit the bill. The reviews cite crappy software and decent hardware. But if you are using it over the Milestone Arcus system perhaps it won’t be terrible. It also seems like you should have some networking acumen before buying any of these cameras. As a bonus, the D-link camera works with SmartThings.
For more, check out Stacey’s earlier columns: