In our quest to keep everything about buying your smart home automation products as simple and smart as possible, we try to avoid getting technical. But there are three things you need to understand to become a great Smart House Manager:
- What protocols are and how they determine what smart home products you should buy
- What the differences are between hubs and controllers and what you need
- How to bundle commands together to control more than one smart device at a time
This article walks you through the whats, whens, whys and hows of controlling your home through bundled commands or scenes as they are commonly called.
Decades ago, if you wanted a light to turn on in your front window at dusk you set a timer on the outlet and plugged a lamp into the timer. Once you told the timer to turn on at 6:30pm, the light would be shining brightly when you pulled in to the driveway at 6:45pm.
You can still do that with a smart plug like the Belkin Wemo Insight. Or, you can override that preset timer with a tap a button on your cell phone to turn on that light and the one in the kitchen immediately if traffic was exceptionally light and you’re pulling in to the driveway at 6:25pm. That same tap can also set the thermostat to your desired at home temperature as it opens your garage door.
One tap on your home controller app is all it takes if you have previously defined a “scene” or series of actions that should happen simultaneously. Yes, this is one of those steps in the home automation process that basically is the same except each manufacturer calls something else; a routine, a robot, shortcut, rule or IFTTT recipe all lead to this same result. Scenes can also be preset to occur on a certain schedule or if a certain set of conditions arise.
Why you should use scenes
Before we get to the particulars of how to set up scenes on a couple of different hub and controller set ups, let’s talk a bit about when and why it does or doesn’t make sense to use them. The most obvious reason to use them is to cut down on the number of commands you need to remember and make to control your home. You can have dozens of
You can have dozens of different motion, temperature, lighting and miscellaneous sensors that form the backbone of your smart system. It’s too easy to forget just one, or just one type of smart device when going through your daily routine.
That’s one of the reasons you’re thinking of setting up a smart home in the first place. Remembering to lock the door on your way out to work may be easy. Remembering to turn off the light in the upstairs bathroom and turn down the temperature as you leave may not be as easy.
Setting up scenes can help you be even more efficient than that. While it’s estimated that temperature control contributes 60% to our home energy cost savings, turning off the switches behind computers and other appliances unused during the day will cut your phantom electric bills and add up substantially over a year.
Do you wake up at about the same time five days a week and have a set morning routine your body goes through while you wake up? Then you want to think through all the components of that routine and turn it into a scene. We’ve already given an example of what you could set up as an arrival home, but here are a few more examples of scenes you might want to set.
- Wake Up: Your thermostat could be set to turn up 30 minutes before you arise to warm the house for you. You could wake to a slowly rising light and music level instead of a blaring alarm. Your coffee pot could start your morning brew as well.
- Goodnight: Dim the lights gradually and lower the temperature the last half hour before your scheduled bedtime and you’ll help your body get ready for sleep. Then lock the doors and turn on the window motion sensors at the same time as the rope nightlight in the bathroom is activated as you make your way to bed.
- Vacation: Lights that turn on in one room and off in another on a preset basis have been a staple for home security for decades. Setback thermostats and water leak sensors can also protect your home while you’re away. But that same security could be violated if your irrigation system is seen running during a three-day thunderstorm. An IFTTT (if this, then that) recipe in this case would also be a water and energy saver.
Setting a scene
Scenes are created in the app controller that comes with your hub. Usually, those are available for both Apple and Android phones. Browser–based accounts that can be accessed by a computer may also be available. This is the same app you used when you first set up your hub. From here things begin to differ depending on your hub.
There are three types of scenes you can set in the Wink 2:
- Schedules – time-based commands that are set around your local sunrise and sunset time. For example, your front porch lights turning on at sunset and off at dawn
- Robots – event-based commands that are triggered under certain conditions. For example, if the temperature inside reaches 80 degrees, your smart thermostat can tell the air conditioner to turn on and bring the temperature to 78
- Shortcuts – You can trigger your scene with a single tap on the app or disable your robots. For example, the Goodnight scene you created earlier is a shortcut on your Wink 2 app. Since using it involves turning down the thermostat to 66 degrees for sleeping, it overrides the robot which was keeping the house at a steady 70 degrees all day
Setting a schedule on the Wink 2 is a step-by-step process that begins with selecting the devices, say lights in the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen and the coffee pot that you want to turn on at the same time. Then you tell the Wink 2 you will be setting a schedule by selecting schedule and add. You then tell it what day and time you want the action to occur, whether we want it to repeat and on what days. Finally you tell the Wink 2 to “make this happen” and save your action before leaving the app. More details and images of the process can be found here.
For every device you have scheduled to turn on, you should create a schedule or shortcut that turns them off. Event triggered robots, on the other hand, will only execute if a certain condition is reached. The steps to create a shortcut or robot are similar to schedules.
In the Samsung SmartThings Hub world, scheduled actions are called routines. Like the Wink 2 schedules and robots, they can be set according to a time or to an event. The steps to create each one are also similar to the Wink 2. You may not be able to get to all of the features for each of the devices you want to program based on a particular trigger, but this is still an easy way to control multiple devices.
Then things get creative with the SmartThings hub. You can also add behavioral “modes” that will override individual device reactions depending on which routine you are running. For example, when you are running a “Goodnight” or “Vacation” scene like the ones we outlined earlier, your bedroom, hallway and bathroom lights will be off. In your SmartThings app, when your motion sensor in the bedroom goes off, a behavioral mode in “Goodnight” tells the nightlight in the bedroom and/or hallway to come on. If it’s in “Vacation” scene, that same motion sensor can turn both nightstand lights on full.
And the customizations don’t stop there. There are literally thousands of tiny apps that have been created for SmartThings by their developer community that make it easy for you to customize nearly every action of every device under any circumstance. You can also tap into your own programming skills to create specialized IFTTT recipes.
Setting scenes with voice controllers
When you’re at home, you can also access many of your scenes through the Amazon Echo or Google Home voice controllers. You can ask Alexa to “set the movie routine” and she will communicate with either the Wink 2 or SmartThings to turn down the lights and close the blinds. If you have the Wink 2, you could ask Google Home to do the same or warm the room.
Your voice controller may also be able to reach some devices directly. In the smart home world, they are still primarily used to control entertainment equipment, so the movie example above is a good one. We don’t think it will be long before both Amazon Echo and Google Home will be able to relay your commands to run any scene through any hub, but unfortunately, at this time, the Google Home doesn’t work with SmartThings.
Scenes are the reason many of us are so attracted to the idea of a smart home. Set and forget automation is always a smart move for your budget as well as for the environment. Couple that with the convenience and comfort of being able to control all areas of your home with a single tap or voice command and your life is set to become much simpler.