Home automation products have been around for decades. My first experience with these types of products was about 20 years ago with the X10 brand of home automation products. At the time, the majority of these products were plug-in modules connected to your light so that you can control them with a wireless controller. Years later, you were then able to tie all the modules to a single controller and have them computer controlled to not only remotely switch things on and off but set schedules and so forth. Only drawback was that you needed to have the computer running 24/7 to actively run your lighting program.
These days, there’s quite a bit more you can do and with better integration in all aspects from smart functionality to even the aesthetics of the products so that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The one product that I’ve been installing at my house is the Programmable Switch Timers from Honeywell. These units replace the in-wall switches at your house and includes some great functionality. These are standalone units that are not connected to a central service so I don’t need a computer running 24/7 or have it connected to the internet to work. It’s not part of the Internet of Things (IoT) yet and that’s one of the advantages, although the people behind the IoT initiative would disagree.
Internet of Things
A quick background on the internet of things. The idea behind this is that everything is connected and you can have data and control at your fingertips. The Nest thermostat is one of these products where you have the Nest app on your phone and you can view and control your house thermostat remotely. These days, even high end refrigerators are connected where you can view and adjust the temperature controls of your fridge and so forth from your phone. Is this really necessary?
While I do agree that having remote control of your thermostat is convenient, you are at the mercy of the company behind the service. If they decide to stop supporting the Nest thermostat, for example, one of the biggest advantages to its functionality would be gone and there is precedence in this case. Revolv was a company that produced one of the first smart home hubs and many people bought these products. Google purchased this company in 2014 and in 2016 they decided to shut down the service of the original Revolv product lines as Google launches their own branded Nest products. Once Google shut down the service, they essentially “bricked” the Revolv products and many homeowners were left with a product they can no longer use. So, buyer beware.
Honeywell Switch Timers
With the Honeywell switch timers, if Honeywell goes away, I still have a product that I can continue to use since it’s not connected to any Honeywell service. Yes, there is no wireless control of these units, but the main advantage to these is that you can set and forget and that’s the whole point. Home automation products are not purely meant to allow you to remotely control lights and so forth, it’s to be able to automate things as the name itself suggests.
At my house, I have switch timers that control the outside lights located at the front door, side yard, and back yard. Instead of manually turning these on and off every day, I installed the Honeywell 7-day Solar Programmable Switch Timers. These timers have quite a bit of information built into them that based on historical data, it knows approximately when sunset and sunrise is each day throughout the year, even with daylight savings time changes. Based on this, I’ve programmed each one to turn on at sunset based on the solar timetable built into the unit and turn off at sunrise. It also has functionality such as you can set it to turn on 30min (this is adjustable) before or after sunset or just set it to a specific time.
There are many ways to program the timers but it doesn’t mean that the light can only be used based on your settings. The switch has an LCD display that shows the current time and its current state such as if the switch is on or off and so forth. There are also a couple of buttons on the switch itself. The large switch at the bottom of the unit allows you to manually turn on and off the light when you want to override the current state of the switch. The program you set will continue to run so that, for example, if the switch was off and you manually turn it on, if you don’t manually turn it off yourself, the light will shut off automatically when the program was set to turn it off at the next cycle and vice versa.
Other Usage Examples
Not only do I have these for lights on the exterior of my house, I also have them installed for a couple of interior lights. When you work long days and get home when it’s dark, it’s nice that some lights are already on so that you’re not fumbling around in the dark and I’d rather not leave the lights on all day wasting electricity.
Another nice feature is that you can program them to turn on and off at different times each day with the Random setting. If you’re away on vacation, potential burglars would see lights turning on and off at different times each day simulating a person at home so it’s a nice and simple security feature to deter any thief.
Life is hectic enough these days and so I try to find ways to automate certain tasks as much as possible. At night, I like to have all my exterior lights on and with these switch timers, I don’t ever have to remember to turn them on or off.
Picking the Right One
I’ve tried other switch timers besides the solar programmable model and one thing to be careful of is compatibility with the light or device your automating. With the first generation of in-wall switch timers, they were only compatible with incandescent light bulbs. They were not compatible with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and I learned the hard way. Only a couple of days of using the old model, the switch burned out so I replaced it with the more updated model and have been using them for years now.
Some of you may think that it’s only a switch so how can it not be compatible with what your plugging in. Well, in the world of switch circuit designs, there are multiple ways of doing switches. The most basic of examples is that you can design it with a mechanical switch using a relay or it can be an electrical switch using transistors. Things get more advanced after that and there’s no need for those details so let’s just leave it at that and make sure to read the limitations before purchasing so that you don’t make the same mistake I did.