Disintegrate Your Home Automation System

I’ll admit it – I like online shopping, especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Even though as a Smart Home installer I have access to some equipment through distributors and wholesale sources, I still find I can usually get better deals online.

Full disclosure – At www.DoItForMe.Solutions, I sell very little equipment.  The majority of my work is designing solutions and installing equipment that clients have purchased but do not want to install themselves.

Some of my clients ask for recommendations and need help in choosing the right solution for their smart home projects.  For them I act as the purchasing agent and help them get the best deal.  When they save money on the equipment, there is more budget for bigger projects!

So shopping online for the best bargains is one of those skills that I practice regularly.  Good excuse, right?

Great Deals
This season, Amazon is really promoting the Alexa/Echo family of products heavily.  There are a lot of great deals with savings of up to 40%. Over the weekend I went online to pick up a few more Amazon Echo Dots as they were only $29.99 each (depending when you are reading this, they still might be a great deal).

During the checkout process Amazon offered an upsell that was hard to refuse – they gave me the option to include a TP-Link HS100 smart plug for only $5 more (by itself it sells for $29.99).

Classic dilemma – Super deal on something I didn’t really want but could always find a use for.  Don’t get me wrong, I think smart plugs are great gadgets and I already have a bunch of them sprinkled throughout my own home. 

The problem is that TP-Link is a low-end/basic smart plug.  It has it’s own app (iOS or Android) and is compatible with Amazon Alexa, but it is not HomeKit compatible and does not have an API (application programming interface) for use with more advanced control systems.

My preference is always for multi-platform hardware (devices that work with all the major systems) and maximum flexibility for integration with different automation systems.

Did I buy them? 
Yes!  Here’s the thing – it’s ok to have “islands of integration” on a case-by-case basis.  Although the dream solution of having everything in your home fully automated and fully controlled from a single system is a worthy goal, it should not be the only objective.

Why do I choose to buy the TP-Link smart plugs?  I already have several other smart plugs and they work smoothly with both Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and my larger automation control system with a unified user interface and voice control.

Simple – I have a need for a smart plugs that is relatively isolated from everything else in my smart home so a standalone solution with it’s own smartphone app is perfectly acceptable.

In our home we use Directv satellite boxes for our traditional TV station channels (we use AppleTV and streaming media too, but not ready to “cut the cord” completely yet).

Perhaps once or twice a month, at least one of our Directv boxes needs a full reset to fix a temporary glitch or problem.  This can be done by opening a small door on the front and pressing a tiny red button but the physical location inside a nice cabinet/equipment rack makes this awkward for most family members.

Problem Solved!
To solve this problem, I have plugged each of the Directv power cords into a smart switch so they can be controlled remotely.  Because resetting the box is rarely needed, but a real pain in the you-know-what, it was worth spending $50 for a typical smart plug to do the job.  (I was the one who would have to crawl around on the floor to pull the power plug manually.)

You can see where this is going, right?   I’m replacing the $50 integrates-with-everything but rarely used smart plugs with the $5 TP-Link smart plugs.  I don’t mind having to use the special TP-Link app to turn the box on or off because the savings is huge.

As a bonus, I am redeploying the original smart plugs to control more frequently used appliances that are programmed as part of more advanced scenes or automated sequences in the more fully integrated systems.

You Must Destroy It To Save It
Lesson learned – sometimes it makes sense to disintegrate (tear apart) a well-crafted integrated smart home solution and partially replace it with standalone isolated devices.  

There is no “home automation law” that says you must have everything connected to a single (possibly overpriced) integrated control system.  It’s ok to have “islands of automation” or use a few different smartphone apps instead of “one app to rule them all”.

The trick is to understand the trade offs and limitations and make sure the benefits outweigh the added inconvenience.  

Saving $45 per smart plug for a rarely used, but real need was exactly this kind of successful trade off for me.

What did you buy for your smart home on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?


Automation technologist and problem solver

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