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Overview of this page:  We consider an alternative,  IFTTT, and consider the trade-offs between subscription and other choices.  Below find bullet point list that breaks out many of the things you can do to make your home smart, in categories such as Security, Environment, Lighting.  Finally, more thoughts on if a subscription model make sense for you.

A Subscription Alternative: IFTTT - Accessing, controlling your home systems for free

If you are a techie, a DIY type, you need to look no further than IFTTT.com.  You can buy your own devices, install them, and use IFTTT to talk to your apps remotely.  What you won’t get from IFTTT is 24/7 type security monitoring  Still, with IFTTT,  you will be able to check the locks, adjust the lighting, even turn off the sprinkler system from wherever in the world you are hanging out at the moment.  Basically it lets you access you home via your apps, from “far, far, away,” over the internet, of course.

IFTTT stands for IF This, Then That.

It’s like the old HP’s “What if?” commercials for the 21st century (for us old timers).  You could also refer to it as When This, Then That.   “If  the temperature outside drops below 32, open the water valve,”  or “when the sun sets, turn on these lights.”

IFTTT - website image

A screen capture of the IFTTT website. IFTTT let’s you use your Apps remotely to control your home from a galaxy far, far, away

The IFTTT website is free, but, it’s not for everyone. It provides building blocks – basic “friendly” programming. I don’t see it as a suitable solution for most of us.

BTW, IFTTT is venture funded, and doesn’t yet seem to have a  business model that is sustainable, that is, they are burning cash.  IFTTT has been around four years.  Will it continue to be free?  There are probably some alternatives to IFTTT, but whether any are free… I haven’t looked yet.  Here’s an old article about Zapier: An IFTTT For Business Users | TechCrunch.

Remember, most of us want access to good support, and that’s something you usually are paying for in one way or another.

When I reviewed the NEXIA Bridge controller, they’re monthly subscription lets you do those same types of things through their secure site.  Is it better?  I can’t answer that, but I would say, that at this point, NEXIA’s site is definitely more user friendly and far more capable.  “15 minutes before sunset, turn on these lights” whether done from home or remotely, still requires some thinking on your part, or your installer – if you aren’t the type – to determine what you really want to do, and make it happen.

Also, I’m petty sure, that IFTTT with it’s Triggers, and Actions, creating Recipes, is not the way to get 24/7 notification to police, etc.  Honestly, I’ll have to explore more, but with most of the monthly services be it ADT, NEXIA, AT&T or others, the system should let someone know – alarm monitors, or directly to the police.  If you don’t have your phone handy, or are out of range, or busy at work, an alert from your apps that your window has been opened, might go unnoticed for a while.  A professional monitoring service, though, should always be on top of things.  As it’s been said: That’s why you pay them the “big bucks.”

There is a certain amount of peace of mind, knowing that you have a company monitoring.  What that’s worth to you, though, you’ll have to figure out yourself.

Enough said about IFTTT at this time.  We’ll do a feature article on it soon enough.  I myself have an account, although so far, mostly for “playing around.”  Let’s get back on track and look at what monthly fees and services look like.  Just remember, for those into doing things yourself, IFTTT is an option.

Will Subscription Services Do What You Want? Glass Half Empty, or Half Full?

My biggest concern about the various subscription models – at least those with a strong security background, is that the glass is half empty.  My idea of a great solution, if subscription based, is to have one company to support it all  I met a couple of companies going that route at CES back in January, and I’ll write about them, but let’s say the ones that were strong on home automation, are often the ones selling their own solutions.  That’s fair, the question there will become how affordable.  DIY types – no doubt piece by piece, install yourself will be, by far the least expensive way, but there is hope for the rest of us.

I like the idea of a company coming out and installing everything, setting it up and making sure it works.   But as I investigate, some of these formulaic solutions simply don’t cover a lot of things, and when that happens, that’s my idea of the glass being half empty.

What Do You Want Your Smart Home To Do For Your Family

Everyone will want some different things, but here’s a list, in one place of many of the things people are hoping for:

  • Security:  Door locks, window and door sensors, Garage door openers
  • Security:  24/7 Professional Monitoring
  • Personal Monitoring:  Baby monitors, checking up on the pets…
  • Environment:  Fire sensors and alarms, Air quality – carbon monoxide sensors, water (leak) sensors and controls (shut off valves is one example), Energy efficiency – has your utility company given you a smart meter yet?
  • Environment: controllable motorized shades and shutters, outdoor awnings and shades
  • Outdoor Environment:  Rain is expected in two days? Your controller is checking the forecast, so it cancels today’s watering
  • Smart Lighting and Power:  Smart regular and dimmable wall light switches, wall outlets (in-wall), plug in outlets
  • Smarter Lighting:  Direct individual control of smart bulbs (dimmable white, dimmable RGB, and dimmable RGB+W) and smart LED light strips (also white, RGB and RGB+W
  • Geo-Fencing: Things happening automatically as you cross a threshold of distance from your home. Whether coming or leaving the area around your castle, neat things can happen:  Garage door opens as your car gets within 200 feet of home), Lights and music come on…
  • Smart appliances:  Refrigerators that let you know when you are low on milk, or (in the near future) let you inventory everything in your fridge, (or pantry), from the market.  Got a gas fired in ground spa?  It takes 30 or so minutes to heat up.  Maybe fire it up using Geo-Fencing, or perhaps a voice command, from the back yard, or on the way home?
  • Smarter appliances:  How about fancy – such as a smart induction stove top, that not only turns on and heats your soup while you are driving home, but even stirs the soup (and more).  It’s right out of Harry Potter – you are preparing other food and your simmering source is being stirred as if by an invisible hand.  (And yes, that exists today!)

And that’s just a few of the things we can be doing.  The lists are growing rapidly.

Another alternative solution to get your home smart, would be to work with a local dealer.  At this point in time, that’s probably the most flexible option, at least in my humble opinion. I knowledgeable dealer should be able to put together a very capable solution.  They would recommend any needed services that might cost, but hopefully, they are knowledgeable, and point you into the best choices.

As I come from a “home theater” background, I can tell you that there are literally thousands of local dealers that have experience installing and automating the home theater.  Many of those have expanded into whole home automation.  But I would say choose wisely – find one that has the expertise to do things on the scale you want, within your budget. Get a referral, or talk to more than one.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  Many dealers – primarily the high end ones, are using what I inaccurately call “old school” home automation. That is, they are offering fully integrated home automation from companies that have been doing it a long time – Crestron, Control4, AMX, Savant… perhaps you recognize a few.

Those tend to be extremely expensive solutions, previously reserved for the top 1%ers, or at least the top 5%ers.  There are Crestron and other systems in multi-million dollar homes, where the home automation investment is $50,000 to $500,000!  Can you say “ouch”?  Today, although perhaps a little rough around the edges, one can accomplish most of that, throughout your home, for $5K – $25K (including lots of lights, switches, etc.)

Opinion: The (Classic) Subscription Model - Great For Some People, Not All

Generally the home security business is a stable one, the players are large, and overall, beyond complaints about pushy sales people, etc., you can expect a reasonable level of predictable service.

With some of these systems, you can now include many home automation devices in your package.  You’ll get Apps for monitoring and controlling, and programming your light switches, etc.

For those who like things real simple, aren’t a hurry to have every available type of home automation device in their homes today, I do believe there’s good value in some of these programs.

And even if you want extensive home automation that they may not be able to provide, you might just decide that two solutions serves you better than one.

This series of articles/reviews will give you an overview of what a number of these subscription based companies are offering.  And don’t worry, we’ll include some subscription based ones that aren’t home security focused as well.

One way or another, you want to be working with people and companies who know what they are doing.  You just need to figure out what it is you really want, and find the providers (assuming you aren’t a DIYer), that best meet your needs.

We take our first close look at one of these subscription offerings with security and home automation with our focus on AT&T’s Digital Life, it is security first, but they’ve been  adding home automation capabilities.  They include installation, monitoring a variety of hardware, in the package price, or rather three different packages at this time.  Check out that review.

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