Did You Leave The Backdoor Open?

Make Your Smart Home Fun with a Backdoor!
Adding a backdoor to your smart home can be fun.  Who said a smart home has to only be a serious automation and control system?  You’re the one building it (and paying for it), so why not have some fun at the same time?

What Is A Backdoor?
The dictionary defines a backdoor as “the door or entrance at the back of a building”.  Yes, every home (and even some larger apartments or condos) has a back door, but I’m not talking about that.  If you look up the same definition in a computer or security reference you’ll find it says something like “a feature or defect of a computer system that allows surreptitious unauthorized access to data”.

That’s a little closer, but still not what I have in mind – You’re not a cyber criminal and you’re not breaking into your own home, after all.  I’m thinking of undocumented or non-intuitive features or settings.  Think of it more like those secret passage ways built into castles and haunted houses that make it easier to move between rooms.

My concept of a smart home back door is very simple – add commands or options to your smart home that are not for anyone else, only for use by yourself.  These extra options don’t have to be hidden or secret; they are added for your own benefit and can hide in plain sight.

It’s like the ultimate personal customization.  Tame your smart home to do your bidding regardless of what anyone else (spouse, children, parents, visitors, or guests) might want or need.

Make The Front Door Into a Backdoor
Harness the worldwide network of geo-synchronous satellites in the sky to do your bidding.  The global positioning system (GPS) can do more than give you driving directions.  With the GPS circuitry inside all smartphones (mandated by your “friendly” government for safety reasons), your phone can be programmed to detect when you enter or leave a specific geographic place.

By creating an imaginary fence around your own home, your smartphone can send an alert or take action every time you enter or leave your home without you doing anything.  If you excuse the analogy, it is the same thing as your dog or cat wearing an electronic collar and being confined to staying inside an invisible pet fence.  

But instead of a nasty reminder shock collar, the geo-fence alert generated by your phone can be used to activate any smart home scene or sequence of commands you choose.  Simply by approaching your home the garage door can open, the lights can turn on, and your favorite music will start playing in your family room.

When you leave home, all the lights can be turned off, the music turned down, and other “leaving home” commands can be performed automatically on your behalf.  With geo-fencing, you can easily create a backdoor of automated activities that silently work every time you leave the front door of your home!

Using Buttons and Keypads
As your smart home grows, you’ll be adding physical buttons and switches to control some of the lights and devices in addition to using voice control or an app on your smartphone.  I recommend only using the normal button functions of on/off, brighten/dim (for lights), or individual dedicated buttons to do one task.

This makes the switch or button work just like the normal ones you already have.  No confusion for everyone in your home, no training, no special modes to remember, and no one getting frustrated that “the simple light switch is so complicated now”.

This take discipline as the engineers and marketing people love to add all kinds of extra modes and complicated features to try and sell their products.  The simplest example are light switches.  In addition to simply pressing them on or off, you can often program them to take advantage of a “double tap”.  So a double-tap on can mean one thing and a double-tap off can mean something else.

With double-taps, a switch that has only two functions (on or off) now has four (on, off, double-tap on, & double-tap-off).  There are even some devices and systems that can use a triple-tap or a long-tap to add even more choices.

This over-complication of what should be a simple, intuitive device brings to mind this quote from Inspector Gadget “Don’t push my buttons without reading the manual.”

Keep It Simple – Make the Special Button Modes A Backdoor
Just because double-tap,  triple-tap, or long-tap are confusing and not a good thing for general use, doesn’t mean you can’t use them for yourself.

Simply configure your smart home to do your private bidding when you use one of these modes.

In my home, I have a “double-tap on” in the family room turn on three different lights and set their brightness levels to exactly what I prefer for reading or streaming video.

The rest of my family has no idea this extra command exists – it doesn’t confuse them, it doesn’t get in the way, but it is alway there available to me.  Similarly, I have set the “double-tap off” to turn off all the lights in all the downstairs rooms so no matter which room I am in, when I want to “turn off the house” I can just double-tap off the nearest switch.

And it’s not truly secret.  If a family member or visitor learns what the double-tap can do, I don’t mind. No harm, no foul, they are free to use it.

Are you going to add a back door to your smart home?  Let me know what you think.


Automation technologist and problem solver

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