I am probably like you, just an average guy living in an average home with an average family of 4. A lot of people probably will laugh if they heard I was handy around a home. Like most, I do what I can do myself. Automating my home is one of my goals.
First, we need to identify what is Home Automation and what can actually be accomplished. You have electric power consumption that can be managed by time, by other factors. You have your air and heat consumption and timing. You have voice-based services like Echo, Siri, and Alexa. I am not up for those just yet, but my system connects to it. You have other items like video services like Ring, which I do have. The price on that came down under $100 and we now have it. And before I finished writing this article I came across a product I am going to try which supposedly reduces your energy consumption through a volt management device. Will get into that later on.
My problems with home automation started with getting my electric power consumption under control. I want a lower bill. These are probably the same problems you face if you have not taken the automation plunge. Remember automation is one way to reduce your monthly electric bill and other bills. But honestly, the biggest automation and bill reducer would be adding solar power. I have looked at the current offerings and it is not yet at the point where it’s for me. There is a financial issue in the solar power I am not ready for. But it is a sad statement when we have like 200+ days of full sunshine a year in south Florida and virtually nobody here has solar power yet! This I blame on Florida, the nation, and FP&L (local power company). Shame on you.
So before I get into what I did to automate my home and other issues, let’s just say the higher-end solutions like Google’s Nest and getting the full packaged solutions using either Amazon, Google, or Apple were just too expensive for me. I didn’t want to blow thousands on automating my home. I can’t afford it nor is it necessary. I am sure there are higher-end solutions and some of you may have them, especially if you moved into a brand new home. But 98% of the public has an existing home to deal with. And the truth is these automation solutions showed promise but actually were more of a pain or too costly.
And then there is the voice control stuff with Siri, Alexa, and the Echo. Well, not happening in this home at least for now. We just think that is just too intrusive listening to us all the time. That is how it works, so we are questioning that. But as you will see, even without the benefits of voice control, there is a lot of stuff I was able to automate and do it for a low cost and high value.
I looked over a dozen ways to automate or reduce power consumption with my lights over multiple years. The problem is my wife wants the lights on at night, but we virtually never turned them off during the day. So, we were doubling our electrical usage on all outside bulbs. I had tried the physical day/night-time sensor-enabled thingy you plug the bulb into for outside lights. It kind of worked, but eventually, it just got covered in gook (Florida pours like a monsoon each year) and just broke. I have tried solar-powered cheapo lights for the lawn and fences and now they are getting better. Got 2 in the back and 2 in the front that are solar-powered that come on at dusk.
For inside the home, I looked at physical switch replacement solutions around 2018–2019 and they were just too expensive. It was around $20-$30 a switch, which was too high for me, and it required me to toss out a good light switch. Also, all these solutions did was schedule the lights. If you needed to change it you would have to go to each switch individually which I thought was a pain. There had to be something better. One thing this article I am writing goes into is don’t spend too much because next year’s tech maybe 1/10th the cost and twice as good!
And here are the electric consumption issues below: I am assuming that many of you have the same or similar issues.
- I just hated the fact that my 1980 built Florida home had the old-style lights around the property where we wanted them on at night for safety, but they would just remain on all around the clock because who remembers to manually turn off lights in the morning? Maybe if I were OCD I would remember, but generally no, I’m ADD. So my outside lights remained on, maybe 4 lights around the clock, which consumes electric power.
- My Tween sons love to watch TV in their rooms or use TVs for video games long after they are done with their virtual homework (you know pandemic). We are a little too nice and let them watch the TVs around bedtime because I did not have this luxury, but they do. And in particular, I would say we have probably 75% of the time have their TVs ended up on all night long, so that was an issue. Sometimes I would discover the TVs on round the clock. Oy! Some older TVs had some timers built-in, but the newer smart TVs were not so smart.
- My wife loves her Santa Claus and Christmas lighting, and that went up right away early this year around Thanksgiving. Once again we tried using an old physical timer from the 90s to set the on and off lighting, but it failed to really work. So, sometimes we would have the lights on during the day and off at night. A little problem to solve, but none the less a problem.
So what did we do to reduce power?
I see some other solutions around, but basically, the concept of a smart bulb arrived. We found FEIT corporation had smart bulbs on sale for $5 a bulb. These are virtually the same as the ones you could have bought at 5 and Below 3 years ago but they are serious and work. They allow for a multiple of colors, multi-colors, unlimited schedules, groupings, rooms, and all of this through a free mobile app. I am sure GE, Sylvania, and others have similar products. That is 6 bulbs on sale at Costco and $30 later I have an automated lighted home. The way they work is to plug them in, connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and bam you can control an unlimited number of lights with timing and other features.
Next, we went back and bought 3 plugs so we can turn off the TVs all night long and automatically manage the Christmas tree and outdoor lights. Bottom line we are all scheduled and we go with Green & Red for Christmas, Blue for Hanukah, Red for Valentine's Day, etc., etc. Lots of fun to keep your neighbors guessing!
Our adventure with Ring started with the low cost of the Ring coming down. We got used to it right away and have it working like a charm. It zings on all our phones when a person or animal or large wind comes by. It will zing us when we are away from the home. At the point of it contacting us that somebody is there, we simply click and login to the app and see who it is. My wife was adamant that we subscribe to the recordings, so we can go back more than watch live. It is really not expensive and viable for every level right now. They have of course built in a social network of nosey neighbors who send you messages about car break-ins and other stuff I really don’t need to know about. Basically, we are low-cost automated there.
Virtually Controlled Air Conditioning
About 8 months ago my air conditioning was on its last days of being 20 years old. So I broke down and signed up for a new system. The system uses Honeywell for its thermostat. Turns out they have a free app. Now I manage the air on or off, temperature, and all scheduling from my app. It works and not sure yet if it is was worth it to get the new system, but I do know we have automated it!
Solar Power, the Ultimate Home Automation.
I am not going to get into the who solar power deal, but I will a bit. Just think about it, Florida, sunshine! Why don’t we have solar power here yet? This is a novel we can write about, but let’s just say I looked into it and how they are selling the concept is you basically with no money down get all the equipment on your roof and you are ready to go. And it’s no money down? And you just get solar like that? Sounded too good to be true. And it was.
So how do they do this solar power deal?
It kind of reminded me of junk bonds. The company that owns the solar panels sells them to you in a packaged mortgage. Let’s say it is $20k of panels and installation cost. They charge you about $60k for it over a 30 year period, kind of like a mortgage. So they get a 6%-10% return over 30 years that you are paying off. The end result of this calculation is the bill comes in monthly around the same as your current bill. So instead of $300 a month on average electric, I would pay $250 a month. And it would be a fixed monthly payment, so it would eliminate my higher months of $350. That was the only positive.
I kept thinking to myself, why would I add a $60k mortgage principal to my home? They tell you the benefit is the home is now worth $20k more and you can separate yourself from Florida Power & Light. All of that is great stuff, I kept thinking because some months I would make more electricity than I need, would I get enough of a benefit to reduce my monthly bill. Their reasoning is you don’t get rate increases, you stay at the same rate over 30 years. I am thinking, I don’t want an electric bill, not another company to pay!
My conclusion was if you pay for the panels outright and then have no monthly bill, this sucker is a whale of deal, but the way they have packaged it, I get a few minor upfront benefits other than I don’t worry about rate increases? There was a 28% tax credit which is going down to 20%. All sounds like a not so great deal. If the government would pay 50% of the costs upfront or a 50% tax credit for the cost, I would be fully motivated. If a new competitor jumped in to drive the cost down to $5k per home, then I am all in and can see the forest through the trees. Let’s just hope Biden pushes for this, whether it is competition or legislation because it would instantly create a massive boom in the solar industry and the job market.
I ran across this Facebook ad for a power saver (a dark Facebook ad hit me up because it knew something about me) and started to look deeper into what this is all about. The site I ran into was piperd.com with a product called Powersave. They claim you just plug in this device near your electrical power box and it will reduce volt wave size, reducing your power consumption and bill. Sounds like a pipe-dream… get it, piperd! But as I read more and more of the tech diagrams and specs, I am thinking it may be real, and at $17.99, I am willing to toss my money away to find out.
It looked similar to some of the cellular wave technologies I worked with back in the 90s at Bell Atlantic. Whether it is FM, Microwave or in-home electrical waves, the way this tech is managed can determine usage or power loss. I happen to believe this tech may make sense. I am not sure, and if you can refute, let me know. I am about to buy 1 or 2 devices and find out if my bill goes down by 40%. A serious pipedream, but it may be real.
Wish me luck!
Chanuka, Christmas, New Years 2021
For those who know me, it has been one of the most difficult and most focused years I have had in my life. After being forced out of the event business (remember the pandemic) I have focused in on my SEO Turbo Booster startup, which is going through changes and I found a path to a larger business in Saas B2B.
As much negativity as we have had in our work, in school, in life, and lost friends to the pandemic, I have more promise for 2021 than any other year at this point in time, other than the winter we created the largest dating event company in the US in the winter of 2001. Even then it was early, so I had few ideas it would get so big. Wish me luck that this year we will grow and scale into a larger business. If you want to know more about this business, please email me at my email below.
I wanted to wish everybody a happy holiday and a great year ahead. Please email me at email@example.com if you want to chat!