Wow, at this rate I'm paying about $40 a blog post! Sorry for the lack of posting, but I've been busy buying my first home and getting settled in. Now that I own a home I can do some of the things I've longed to do, but that I didn't do because I didn't own the place.
One of the things I recently tackled was some home automation for my lights. What really drove this is that there aren't very many streetlights in my newly-built subdivision, and the builder recommends that everyone keep their front porch/driveway lights on all the time. In my case that's about 72 watts per hour of compact fluorescent and low-voltage halogen lighting that I tend to keep on 24/7 because I'm not always around or awake at dawn and dusk to flip them off and on.
That sort of bugged me, though, because even though it's not a lot of electricity it's kinda wasteful. I figured there had to be some home automation solution to solve this, so I started researching. I was pretty quickly drawn to the HomeKit-compatible offerings because Apple seems to be the only major player who actually gives a damn about the security of their IOT products. Of those, Lutron's Caséta line of light switches are almost universally praised for their ease of installation and configuration.
To address my immediate problem of turning on and off my front lights at the right time of the day I got Lutron's "Dimmer Kit with Smart Bridge" (P-BDG-PKG1W) for about $95 at my local Lowe's. This got me a smart wall switch that dims, a wireless remote for that switch, and the Smart Bridge hub that lets all your Caséta devices talk with each other. I didn't need the remote, and I didn't really need a dimmer switch (a simple on/off switch would have been just fine), but this package deal was less expensive than buying just an on/off switch and a Smart Bridge à la carte.
Installation of the switch was very straight-forward if you've ever done any inside wiring before: Find the right circuit breaker and turn it off, remove the existing wall plate, remove the existing switch, wire the Caséta switch to the existing wiring with the supplied wire nuts, screw everything back in, and turn the breaker back on.
Of course, it's never quite that easy, is it? In my case my light switches have push terminals in addition to the traditional screw terminals, meaning instead of an electrician wrapping the stripped end of a wire around a screw terminal and tightening the screw, there's a hole in the back of the switch where you can simply insert the straight wire and it locks into place. This is much faster to install and probably more error-proof, but the flip side is that you need to find a jeweler's screwdriver and push really hard in a tiny slot to release the wire lock and get the wire out—an operation that'd be easy if you had three hands.
Anyway, having passed my dexterity skill check, everything powered on and functioned just fine at the switch. The next step was to hook up the Smart Bridge to a port in my Ethernet hub and to power via the included wall wart, and then download Lutron's app to my iPhone. The app immediately updated the Smart Bridge's firmware then let me add devices. Holding the dimmer switch's "off" button for 10 seconds puts the switch into "discoverable" mode, at which point the Lutron app sees it and lets me take wireless control of it.
Configuring a switch is pretty straight-forward: Name it, give it an icon if you want, and then setup any "scenes" (macros) that you want. Also while setting up the switch you can define a schedule for it, and one of the options is "sunrise/sunset." If you choose this option you can define if the lights should go on or off exactly at sunrise/sunset for your location, or if they should switch slightly before/after that time—for example, turn on 15 minutes before sunset.
To access all this great functionality remotely you need to have a 3rd or 4th generation Apple TV and use Apple's Home app. However, Apple uncharacteristically throws a wrench into things with their Home app that I'll talk about in a future article.
So, at this point was it worth it? Well, I ran the numbers:
I looked up the number of hours between sunset and sunrise from http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/Dur_OneYear.php to get the 4,321 number, and the energy price was from my latest electric bill. So it looks like it'll take about three years and four months to pay for itself just from the electricity savings. This should also nearly double the life of my bulbs, assuming their lifespan is mainly dependent on the amount of time they're on, and not factoring in if turning them on and off once a day shortens their lives more than just leaving them on all the time.
Note that as soon as the CFLs that came with the house die I'll be replacing them with Cree LEDs that I already own. They use about half the electricity of the CFLs, so that could really stretch out the amount of time it takes to recoup the cost if you have already upgraded to LED bulbs, but there certainly is value (to me, at least) in being able to control my lighting automatically.