August Smart Lock - HomeKit Edition

I previously reviewed the August Smart Lock and gave it 3 stars. Back in that review I mentioned the following issues with the lock

  1. Auto unlock does not always work.
  2. The auto lock (ever lock) was not customizable enough
  3. The auto lock can damage your door frame if the door is not completely shut when the August attempts to lock the door.
  4. The battery door is held in by magnets, and often people in our house turn the lock and inadvertently unseat the battery cover

In the time I owned the original August, issues #1 and #2 were solved through better software. In that time the software has really matured a lot.

But August released a new version of their lock, and this review is about that.

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Lutron Caseta - 5 stars

I installed my first "smart" switch in 2010. It was a Leviton Z-Wave switch. Back then, getting automated "smart home" stuff was expensive, hard, and complicated. I was forced to do this as a result of some wacky wiring in my kitchen that required I have a smart keypad that can turn two lights on at once. The Leviton Viza RF+ products did the job for a number of years. But programming Z-Wave products stinks and interoperability is not perfect.

However, there has been a significant lighting change that required that I revisit much of my lighting: LED Light Bulbs. Lighting is the #1 consumer of energy in my home. We have over a hundred recessed lights in our home. Each room has 6-10 Par 30LN or Par38 bulbs each consuming 50W-90W of energy. Our kitchen and family room alone is about 1000W of energy for 10 hours per day. In a year that's about 3000kw of energy, roughly 15% of all my electrical usage or $400 a year. To light one room! I have been motivated to cut this down with LED bulbs to roughly 210w (vs 1000w). 

My quest for high quality replacement LEDs throughout the house meant all new dimmers. LEDs don't usually work with traditional dimmers and especially not my Leviton Z-Wave dimmers.

Around this time, Lutron had announced their Caseta "home" products. Lutron is an old name in custom lighting and makes most of the commercial and high end products in the market. They are all branded and packaged differently, but customer builders will use products like Radio RA2 and HomeWorks (for new construction). In fact, the way that new homes are getting wired resembles nothing like how current homes are wired. Lutron HomeWorks allows you to discretely control each load in the house through a central control panel. 120V is run to every light and Cat5 cable is run to each switch or dimmer as a "home run" back to the electrical panels. From there the nonsense of multi-way lighting (3, 4, 5 way) is eliminated along with all the head scratching ways of doing the wiring. It also means a lot less copper 14 gauge wire running all over the place. 

For me though, I went with the do-it-yourself Caseta system. Most of the components can be purchased from Amazon and the entire system is HomeKit compatible, meaning you can say "Siri turn off the Main Floor" and she will turn off all the lights on the main floor. Other neat thing I can do, are dim the lights to 60% when the TV remote is used to turn on the TV. I can also use IFTTT recipes to trigger other remote actions. Siri is really powerful here with lots of easy to use commands. You can even dim lights for movie night or guests.

So how do you get started?

  1. You need enough electrical knowledge to replace dimmers and switches, including finding the neutral wire and connect that to some of the switches.
  2. You need to have a basic understanding of 3-way circuits although you will not be using them as Lutron accomplishes 3-way to using small little remotes that run off batteries that replace your old 3-way switch
  3. A Lutron Smart Bridge
  4. Some Dimmers, Switches and Remotes
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Ring Doorbell - 4 stars

The Ring Doorbell is a wireless video camera and doorbell with mobile app. You simply replace your exiting doorbell and it even uses the same wiring (assuming you have 10VA wiring like most homes do).

Before the Ring I had the Doorbot, which was OK (made by the same company). Video quality was meh and it was a bit buggy. So I never wanted to review it. However, a few months back it was replaced with the Ring Doorbell.

If you have a doorbell transformer that looks like this:

You are in luck. I never really knew what this odd shaped gizmo is, but basically it connects to your home 120V AC power and converts that to low power for a doorbell chime.

The Ring doorbell has an internal battery that this low voltage power will keep charged. You can use it without hard wiring, but you will need to keep the doorbell charged every so often.

If you do not have a wired doorbell, there is a wireless solution too.

Once you install the Ring, you get the following features:

  • Motion at the door sends your phone an alert (you can customize the distance and sensitivity)
  • Rings of the doorbell chime your internal door bell and your mobile phone
  • You can see and talk to people at the door
  • You can optionally add cloud recording and see any previous motion activity or ring activity at the door

I find this product very useful to know when packages are delivered, and also when people are poking around my house (which happens more often then you might imagine).

My only real complaint with the Ring is that unlike Dropcam, you can not set up geofencing rules to disable motion sensing which I have found to be rather sensitive and bothersome when I am home.

Install is super quick and the product is high quality. It’s a really awesome home addition.

★★★★☆ Great. Worth purchasing.

ecobee3 is an Amazing Thermostat - 5 stars

I’ve had a Nest since August 2012. It was an exciting first few years. Since installing my Nest I’ve saved about 30% on my electrical and heating bills. How? Well the Nest is just a smarter way of heating and cooling. Not to mention it's simple to use and program, especially compared to the horrible thermostat my house came with. Nest was also my first “Internet of Things” device. Since then I’ve gotten Smart Locks, Dropcams and Nest Smoke Detectors. My house is getting smarter.

I’m not going to go into to much detail about why Nest is awesome, but I’ll highlight a few:

  • When I tell the Nest, I want it to be 72 degrees at 7pm for bedtime, the Nest knows how long it will take to cool my house, and comes on at the right time to ensure it’s 72 at 7pm
  • When I go on vacation, I can turn on my Nest before boarding the flight home and ensure the house is cozy when we arrive.
  • I can tell the Nest, run my fan for 30min every hour on a schedule. This actually is the biggest money saver as what does is even out the temperature in my 3 story house. Cool air in the basement gets recirculated to the top floor. Honestly, this is the best feature.
  • Nest sends an email 1x a month telling you what your energy usage was
  • You can see what your last 7 days of cycle time was
  • Mobile App, blah blah

However, like all technology, things are supposed to keep getting better.

Unfortunately for all of us, Google purchased Nest a few years back, and then Dropcam and as far as I can tell, they are both dead. Little to no innovation any more.

There are some critical gaps in the Nest thermostat. For one thing, if you live in a house with a single furnace/AC and you have > 2 floors, you have to deal with the reality that each floor will have a different temperature and the location of the thermostat is the only place you are going to experience the set temperature.

This is annoying. If I were building my house, I might have put in different zones or even 2 separate systems. But retrofitting my house is not an option. So I need some kind of remote sensor system. Alas, Nest does not offer such a system, even though the 3 Nest Smoke Detectors I have are recording temp.

So, the other day I was in the Apple Store and was looking at their very curated set of Internet of Things and noticed the ecobee3. It looked cute, simple, clean. I had never heard of it. It was priced pretty well ($249) and I noticed it had a remote sensor. In fact, you can purchase more remote sensors too.

I walked out to have lunch and while eating read some reviews of the ecobee3. It only took me 5 minutes to decide to go back into the Apple Store and walk out with the ecobee3. I was excited.

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When I got home, it took me 10 min to replace the Nest with the ecobee3.

I LOVE THE ECOBEE. I can’t express how much more improved it is over the Nest. It’s what Nest might have been if Google didn’t purchase them and they had 3 years of innovation.

Just take a look at this web dashboard:

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Why is ecobee3 so great?

Remote Sensor As I mentioned. The ecobee3 came with a tiny little remote sensor that runs off a car key battery. Once I paired it I placed it in my bedroom. And you know what? For the past 3 nights, and for the first time we’ve lived in our house, we’ve been going to bed at a very comfortable 73 degrees.

The only reason we have AC in our house is because 1) it’s brand new, and so it’s very tight given new construction codes, and it’s 3 stories (stack effect) and it gets really hot even if the outdoor temp is > 72).

So we just care about going to bed at room temp, and for years the Nest hasn’t done a good job. I would have to muck with the temp downstairs and the vents to some how get the upstairs cool enough. Problem no more!

In the above photo you can see how the remote sensors work and how the average temp is calculated.

Analytics The ecobee3 has real time analytics. It’s amazing. You can see in real time exactly how your cooling and heating is behaving, overlaid with the outdoor temp and humidity. I love info like this.

Just look at this data. You can also export to Excel.

As you can see, the ecobee nailed it. The cooling came on at around 2pm and hit the 73 degrees shortly after 7:00pm

I expect that over time, as the ecobee gets to know my home better, it will get more accurate. It’s still in learning mode.

You can also see how the fan is cycling on/off as well as cooling.

Below you can see my runtime for the past few days based on weather.

Scheduling Unlike the Nest, the ecobee3 has 3 “comfort modes”.

  • Home - when you are home during the day
  • Sleep - when you are sleeping
  • Away - when you are not in the house

This is nice in that you can specific the different temp during these times and then specify the start and end time for each settings.

You can also create your own. I created “Bedtime” which starts at 7pm and goes till 11:30pm when “Sleep” starts. This ensures that when the kids go to bed, the house is cool.

So it looks like this:

  • Home - 76 degrees (cool)
  • Bedtime - 73 degrees (cool)
  • Sleep - 74 degrees (cool)
  • Away - 80 degrees (cool)

Vacations Unlike the Nest, you can schedule vacations. This means that you can punch in your start and end time for vacation and ecobee3 automatically takes care of things. Way easier then Nest where I would often set the thermostat to “Home” from “Away” when getting on the plane, but the Nest would set the thermostat back to “Auto Away” because there was no detected activity in the house. Very annoying. ecobee3 is smarter.

You can schedule as many vacations as you wish.

Smarts The ecobee3 seems a lot smarter and more customizable. It has similar features to the Nest, it has Smart Recovery which starts the heating or cooling a head of schedule to reach your desired temp. It also keeps the fan running 30 seconds after the furnace of compressor has run to make sure any col or warm air is pumped into your house (Cool Dissipation Time and Heat Dissipation Time). This saves some money.

Follow Me / Smart Home/Away The ecobee3 has some really interesting features with the sensors. You can obviously control your away / presence to override schedules (when you are not Home, ecobee goes from Home -> Away).

Follow Me is neat in that it uses your presence in a room/sensor to make that thermostat primary. I don’t have use for this. I’ve made my upstairs bedroom thermostat primary since it’s on the 3rd floor and our bedroom comfort is most important to us in the evening.

Mobile Apps / Apple Watch ecobee has an awesome iOS app and Apple Watch support to boot!

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API As you’d expect, Ecobee has an API and IFTTT support. Support ecobee3 has awesome support. I’ve called them, and they answer the phone. I’ve emailed them to ask questions and they’ve answered within an hour.

Advanced Features There are many. Check out the excellent manual. One feature I am looking forward to is hooking up my mechanical ventilator to ecobee. Why? Well if I do this and the outdoor temperature is < my indoor temp ecobee has a feature called “free cooling” which sound amazeballs.

In Seattle it’s almost always < 68 deg in the evening so may as well just take advantage of that. Should not be too hard. I just need to figure out the wiring.

Summary I LOVE THIS PRODUCT. I’d give them 6 stars if there was such a thing.

If you have a Nest, consider ecobee3. If you never got a Nest, get an ecobee3.

★★★★★ Exceptional. A spectacular product.