Making our Home “Smarter”

We have been keeping an eye on the developments smart home technology for a few years, and switched to Hive Heating as our first step towards a smart home a few years ago.

Over the winter, we have been investing in some more smart home tech, namely a bunch of Hive Lighting and two Echo Dots.

We started with a Hive lightbulb in our bedroom, which lets you turn the light on & off from the bed using your smartphone – woohoo. This lightbulb allows you to change both the warmth of the light and the brightness, which is great for my light sensitive days.

We then added two light bulbs for the downstairs hall and upstairs landing lights, paired with sensors so that those two lights come on when movement is sensed, and turn off X minutes later, which definitely has had an impact on how much those lights are on. Those areas of the house don’t get much natural light so it wasn’t unheard of for the lights to be on all day on dull days, whereas now they are only on when someone is moving around in the area.

Shortly after Christmas I bought an Echo Dot for our bedroom, I wanted to be able to voice control the bedroom light as I didn’t always have my phone on me to control the light when I wanted, and also I wanted to be able to play my Audible audiobooks by the bed without using my phone. We’ve moved my little Panasonic Bluetooth speaker to beside the bed to connect to the Dot when we want to play music, but the sound quality of the Dot itself isn’t so bad for audiobooks at “lull to sleep” volume!

Alexa (the voice controlled helper living inside the Dot) can play alarms and via the Radio Player skill she can play the local radio station I like to listen to as well. We’ve been able to return my DAB radio/Bluetooth speaker that we have been unhappy with which was previously by the bed. It made weird noises when used as a Bluetooth speaker which drove me mad!

We loved having Alexa upstairs so much that we have added one downstairs, too. In the living room, we have her connected to the Soundbar via Bluetooth as the girls love listening to music. Now they can listen to anything they like from Amazon Prime music or Spotify Premium without us having to use a phone or tablet. I like to have music on when I’m working or doing housework, too.

In the living room, we have two floor lamps which I love, and actually prefer to have on in the evenings rather than our ceiling lights, which I’ve never been very keen on. The annoying thing about them, however, is their inline floor switches which are hard for us to use as both lamps are behind furniture. At the same time that we bought the downstairs Dot, we got two more Hive lightbulbs, and now the two lamps are controlled via Hive/Alexa instead of us fishing about for the switches. So much easier!

Alexa lets you group together smart home devices and so we have various groups of lights which makes it easy to turn several on or off at a time. The two lamps are in a group together, and so not only can we turn then on and off with one command, we can also dim them both to the same level just as easily. As far as I can tell, the only thing we can’t control with Alexa is the warmth of the bedroom light.

We’ve just bought an automated blackout blind for our bedroom which is going to be a huge help for my migraines, with the controller going on the wall by the bed. We opted to pay the extra for an automated one so that I can control it really easily when I’m ill. It is going to make a big difference on days when I am light-sensitive, and those are the kind of days where even the smallest of things are really hard – so a button by the bed to block out the light is a big deal. Ideally, when we can afford it we will get an adapter to allow this to be “smart” too, and in the living room it would be great to get a Logitech Harmony hub to control our entertainment devices.

So far, we are enjoying our set up very much, and the kids adore Alexa! We’ve installed the 20 questions skill and they love playing that, as well as hearing stories from her and playing music. James, in his nerdy way, is already researching what to add next!