WeMo Wall Plug

Apparently I’m addicted to smart home products now because I got another one. In all fairness, they are solving some of the myriad of problems I have. They have yet to invent a smart home device to fix my crumpling anxiety, depression and stress, but I can now control my Christmas tree lights from my phone.

Progress.

WeMo does a brilliant job packaging the plug and setup is literally plug the thing in and access it through the application on your phone. It works flawlessly. I’d be wasting our time if I tried to over explain it. So here are the pictures.

 

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Added Another Smart Switch

We’re on a roll now. I drove out to Best Buy and picked up another WeMo smart light switch. Since I knew what I was doing it only took me twenty minutes to install, with no drama whatsoever (*knock on wood).

The garage light previously could only be operated from within the garage which made is useless because to turn it off you’d have to leave the house which would subject you to the elements and / or machete wielding maniacs hiding in the bushes. Now the light can be operated from anywhere in the world, day or night.

Garage Work Shop

A couple weeks ago I was at a party and my brother-in-law asked me if I had any projects going on around the house. I had to answer “no” because I haven’t had anything going on for quite a while. Work had been slow so funds were non-existent for home projects. And as you all know we’re always knocking around the idea of moving, so why bother. Well the last couple months have found me with a couple extra dollars in my pocket, and a raging desire to do something constructive. I have a mental backlog of projects I’d like to do:

  • garage organization
  • basement ceiling
  • storage room lighting and clean up
  • bar on the screen porch
  • paint the laundry room and bathroom
  • paint the trim and doors in the basement
  • finish staining the porch and sand box

Probably a lot of other little projects I can’t think of right now. I decided to start tackling the garage because it would be nice to fit two cars in there, and we just recently built that storage loft, so let’s get ‘er done, right?

I’ve started drawing up plans for a workshop in the garage, back in September of 2017.  Here:

Workshop Model 181101

The storage loft covers the entire half bay. Below that I’m going to infill with a variety of work benches and shelves made from 2×4 lumber and plywood. These will replace the existing hodge-podge of store bought metal shelves. The red thing in the rendering is my tool chest and the silver thing is a wicked cool little mini fridge that holds frosty beverages.

metal-shelves-1

This shelf has served me well for over 18 years but maybe it’s just time, you know.

I modeled up and drew plans for the secondary work bench on the far left in the rendering, and the larger “L” shaped work bench on the far right. Budget wise the cost for lumber and screws to make these two came out to about $250 total including delivery of the wood to my place.

I put 1/2″ OSB on the shelves, and 3/4″ pine plywood on the work bench countertops. The countertops are all at 36″ height from the floor. I spaced the lower shelves to accommodate my plethora of plastic tool cases I’ve collected over the years. I ran 2×4 supports from the floor to under the loft rim joist as an added measure of support for the loft above. I’ll connect these supports with “L” brackets at the top and bottom. I screwed the shelves and countertops not only to the supports but also the wall where I could. Everything seems very solid. The “L” shaped workbench does not have a center support, but I think it’ll be strong enough as is (look at the photos). I wanted that corner open and easily accessible.

It took me one day to build and install everything. I think it works and looks great. I have counter space for my bandsaw, drill press, sander and other tools. And something neat: I finally unboxed a scroll saw we bought 18 years ago at Sears which has been sitting in a box because we never had space for it. I did lose some small shelf space, but I plan on installing pegboard and smaller shelves or cozies for small items and fluid bottles.

unboxing scroll saw

I finally got to unbox the scroll saw after picking it up on sale at Sears 18 years ago!

Syringa Patula

It wouldn’t be autumn if I didn’t find some sad plants on sale at the local DIY store to take home with me. This year’s winners are four small lilac bushes. The spouse loves smelling lilacs in the summertime and the price was right at $2.50 per bush. The variety is ‘Miss Kim’. I planted them near the septic tank and front yard. Hopefully they will establish them selves and be with us for many years to come.

Welcome home little plants!

WeMo Smart Switch

So when we built this place, apparently we didn’t plan out some of the electrical circuits very well. There are three instances that are kind of annoying, but we’ve lived with for the last six years:

  • Exterior light by garage man door – can only be turned on from INSIDE the garage, which means you have to walk through the dark outside to go turn it on. This means it never gets used.
  • Exterior light by the studio door – operates on one switch, near the door, and you can not readily see if it’s on or not. It gets left on accidentally, if we use it at all.
  • Entering the studio – there is NO light switch for the studio room so you have to walk across the room to turn on any light. I actually think this is against code, but they must’ve missed that when we built the house.

Fast forward to present day, and technology now has some helpful solutions for these minor annoyances. I’ve been researching “smart home” technology, which are devices, apps and controllers which allow one to automate various electronics in the home. For example you can tell your thermostat to elevate or reduce the temperature. Lights can be instructed to turn on when you get home. You can even view home cameras through your mobile device. A lot has changed in the last few years so I decided to investigate what the best solution may be for our lighting issues.

For lighting control there are essentially three options:

  • Smart light bulbs – replace existing bulbs with smart bulbs such as Philips Hue which can be turned on and off with a mobile app.
  • Smart plugs – whatever is plugged into the plug may be turned on or off remotely
  • Smart switch – replace an existing switch to be smart, which means it can be operated either remotely or by pressing a button just like a regular switch

Okay, well a plug isn’t applicable because all the lights in question are hard wired. Nix the smart plug. So that leaves smart bulbs or switches. Well I love my existing LED light bulbs. And as you know I spent a lot of time researching them. The LED’s in the studio are cool looking and work well. As for outside, I don’t even think they make smart decorative LED light bulbs. That’s a mouth full. At any rate, that leaves us with smart switches. Fantastic. Smart switch me baby.

I researched or rather googled “best smart switch” and came up with two options. The Lutron Caseta wins hands down I guess, according to CNET.  The thing is, the Caseta is overkill for what I need to do. I just need switches that can go on and off. None of the bulbs they control need to be dimmed. I decided to go with the “second place” Belkin WeMo smart light switch which retails for  ~$50 (I got mine at Best Buy on sale for $40). Note the WeMo switch only works in one-way switch locations, not 3-way switches where you can turn on a light from multiple locations. This was totally fine as that is the situation with all three of my applications.

Set up was easy. The first switch I tried to replace, the studio door one, turned out to be weird looking inside, wiring-wise, so I ditched that one for now and turned my sights to the studio hallway light. This is the light that will help with entering the house and actually being able to see instead of tripping over stuff in the dark.

I followed the directions supplied with they WeMo switch. The switch also came with four wire connecting nuts, a face plate (which I didn’t use) and the device itself. I was replacing one (the far right) of three switches in a common box. The biggest challenge I read about was fitting the WeMo switch device into the wired box because it is kind of large. Sure enough that was the biggest challenge I faced, and eventually overcame.

I connected the white neutral wire and ground wire to their respective “gangs” of wires inside the box. I connected the power in and power out, black wires to the smart switch in the same order as they went to the old “dumb” switch. It took some fiddling but eventually I got all the wires back into the box. It was easier to detach the other two light switches from the box to make room, and then screw them back in once everything was hooked up.

By the way, since the smart switch is a rocker style switch and the old switch was a toggle style, I had to pick up a new faceplate at Home Depot.

Once the faceplate was fastened, I turned the power back on and “voila!” a blinking orange light on the smart switch. I then downloaded the WeMo device on my phone and connected the switch to my home network. Once connected the light blinks green and with the press of a button I could control the switch from my phone!!! Yay!

I then proceeded to connect the switch to my Google Home Assistant for further control via voice. Everything works great and now we can turn the light on before we even go through the door.

Chirp

Chirp.

What’s that?

[a few minutes later]

Chirp.

Oh.

Chirp.

Well I hope it’s not the one in the bedroom.

Chirp.

I was in my office working last week when I heard one of the smoke detectors start chirping. Immediately I hoped it wasn’t the one in the master bedroom because that one is not a chair or stepladder away. It is well over twenty feet in the air, attached at the zenith of the 12/12 pitch vaulted ceiling.

I walked upstairs and sure enough, yep, it was the one in the master bedroom. Originally we had put a lithium battery in the detector, a battery that was supposed to last ten year. Well, we got almost six years out of this one. Not too bad and better than trying to replace it every year like you’d have to do with a regular 9V battery. Honestly I’d almost rather die of smoke inhalation than change this particular battery every year.

The biggest problem with changing the battery isn’t necessarily the height, though I hate heights and that is definitely a big problem for me personally. No, the biggest problem is I didn’t know if I had a ladder tall enough to change the battery. When we installed it we had a giant A-frame ladder that we borrowed from my brother.

Once we picked up a new battery at the store, I brought in my extension ladder. On the side it has a little label explaining that the ladder extends to 16′ and the maximum standing height is 15′. Hmmm…not sure that’s enough. I’m about six feet tall, plus I can reach a foot or two above my head. But that would mean I’m on the top rung almost. Just to confirm my suspicions I went up the ladder. Yeah, no way. I got up there and still had six feet to reach the smoke detector, and was as high up as I felt comfortable going.

Time for plan B. I exchanged the extension ladder for my other ladder, one of those Little  Giant folding ladders. Its label said it extends out to 18′. This seemed too short too, but worth a shot since it was my last shot. The ladder weighs a lot but it’s solid and with a little help from my friend we got the ladder up there. It looked promising.

As long as I didn’t look down, I felt comfortable climbing up there. And sure enough, i was able to reach the smoke detector. With a shaky hand I undid the cover and replaced the battery. Stopping just long enough to get a picture for the blog.

It all worked out well. And the chirp is mercifully gone. I think the new battery will last just as long, and now I know I have the means to replace it when it loses its charge.

Please no more chirp for a while.

House Hunters

We’ve been looking at new homes for the last month. It would be nice to downsize a bit and have more funds for travel, paying bills, projects, decorating and generally enjoying life while we’re still alive.

We started out looking at existing homes, and have spent several Sundays as a family visiting open houses in the area. There are some really nice neighborhoods, with really cool old houses, many of these homes were built in the 1920’s. But out of everything we’ve seen so far, there was really only one house that stood out to us. It’s a pretty neat Georgian colonial built during the first quarter of the 20th century. It was the first house we visited. And after several weeks we even went back a second time. It spoke to us in a way, but the reality is it doesn’t save us any money and we’d be in the same spot we are in now. Additionally we wouldn’t have any money to decorate it (it’s a larger house) or to fix up anything. We like its little quirks and it was beautifully decorated currently. Real nice neighborhood too. Great back yard.

So with that house off the list, we switched gears and looked at a couple developments where new homes were being built. Ha! the family of course was universal in our love of new construction. What’s not to love, everything is fresh, smells good and contemporary floor plans have come a long way. Builders are beginning to design home interiors to be more in line with how humans really live: more office space, less focus on wasted space or vaulted ceilings. We actually found a development or two that would work for us, and found a few floor plans, one in particular, that would be perfect for us. One thing I’m noticing is that in smaller floor plans, builders are finally getting rid of formal dining rooms, separate dinettes (and living rooms). Replacing them with offices or omitting them altogether. This is exactly what we did when we built our current house. We use our fancy dining room table EVERY day! The old dinette set actually sits in the basement. Also builders are adding lofts to the second floor that are PERFECT as a game room for the kids. It basically negates the need to finish off the basement of a new home, thus saving money. Or we could use the basement for a home theater someday. Other great features include larger mud rooms and laundry rooms on the second floor. All good stuff.

The thing we hate about new builder homes is the exteriors are awful. The put a ton of value into the interior at the expense of homogenizing the exterior. Builders have turned all these homes into big boxes with a bunch of tacked on details that neither make sense nor add interest. In fact one great neighborhood we looked at, with good floor plans, isn’t even an option because the home exteriors are so grossly fake and boxy, it was too depressing to look past them all. It was like a bunch of building for people waiting for death to rescue them. Depressing as f*ck.

flat box house piceture

Example of box house design trend we’re seeing. It saves cost but the aesthetics are so forced they look fake.

I’m not picking on anyone, but builders need to do better than this. Throw some money at the foundation to get some setbacks within the facade. Don’t build the box over the garage. Have dormers and details that make sense. It’s to the point where maybe get rid of the old colonial facades and if you’re going to build a box, accentuate it all and maybe go modern. We can do better than this as a society.

So I’m going to start doodling at night while we watch tv. We have a floor plan we like. I might tweak it a bit or explore alternatives. And I’ll play with the exterior a bit.  Additionally I’m going to look at vacant lots for sale in our neck part of the state. All we need is a small lot, and a small house. Once we kind of have an idea we can reach out to a builder and get an idea if we can do what we want in our budget. We’ll keep looking at existing homes too just in case.