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.

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Butterfly Garden

Figured out a perk of being lazy and not keeping up with (even planting) a vegetable garden. Letting nature take over has produced a perfect rectangle of butterfly paradise in our yard. Thistle and queen anne’s lace have grown up about five feet tall where once grew tomatoes and peppers. This is the perfect height to immerse one’s self into a world of dancing butterflies. I swear it’s better than the butterfly encounters you see at the zoo or museums. And it didn’t cost me a dime.

I spotted over six species of butterflies including Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Silver Spotted Skipper and Meadow Fritillary.

This place is pretty magical in the summer with all of the plants, insects and animals. Most people would have to go to a park or nature realm to experience what we can on any given day if we just take the time and open our eyes. Very blessed.

 

Milk Snake

The other day, after days of releasing baby mice outside of the house, I saw a big snake moving in from the front planting bed towards the front deck. I called for the boys to come take a look. We had no idea what kind of snake it was. So I googled it and found this keen article on Cleveland.com about the 25 types of snakes that live in Ohio. The wife and I narrowed it down to milk, rat and fox snakes. I sent a message off to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park asking them to help me identify it. Turns out it’s a milk snake. The milk snake is a constrictor, meaning it squeezes it’s prey and swallows it whole, and their primary food is mice. So it is a very friendly animal to have in our yard. I’m hoping this two foot long snake eats up all the mice it can find around the perimeter of my house.

One note on the mice: number 12 and 13 baby mouse were caught and released last night. Ugh.

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2′ long milk snake

 

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Milk Snake by front deck.

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Playground Stain

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, now was the time to finally clean up and stain the kids’ playground set. We’ve had the set for five years now and it was looking pretty sad.

Once again I found myself at Lowe’s, I picked up some Olypmic deck cleaner and two gallons of stain. I got Cabot semi-solid deck stain, in two colors. Mission Brown for the play set, and an Oak Brown for another project. It was buy one get one free (after rebate). About $46 per gallon. The cleaner was like $20. I picked up some brushes and mineral spirits too.

I had planned on pressure washing the set but the cleaner said that wasn’t necessary. I applied the cleaner section by section with a pump sprayer, let it sit for a few minutes and used a hand scrub brush to take the dirt, cleaner and old stain off.

Yes! The cleaner actually was taking the old stain off! Left behind was grey weathered wood in some places. In other places it looked like brand new wood. It worked awesome. I could have power washed the set at that point to remove remaining residue but honestly I was trying to do this efficiently and rinsing everything off with a hose worked well enough for me. Two notes: 1) the old stain clumps up and will create a mess and lots of residue so rinsing is critical, and 2) use the cleaner everywhere because it takes the stain off. If you leave the stain on and don’t use the cleaner certain areas, those areas won’t take the new stain as well.

The stain took to the set wonderfully. The Mission Brown was basically a match of the original color, a nice deep brown with reddish hue. One gallon was enough to almost do the entire set. I need about a quart more to finish some underside portions.

The project took about 2-3 days by myself, a few hours each of those days.

Garage Storage Planning

Now that I have the storage loft in the garage, here comes the fun part. I’m starting to plan out the storage shelves and “counter tops” I’m going to build for the back wall and work shop area.

Construction will be 2×4’s mostly, just like the work bench / spray booth I created in the basement. 

I still have to measure the area and inventory what I want to store, and what I want to use the spaces for, but that didn’t stop me from starting to sketch out my ideas on what I envision it looking like.

Once I have a plan I can work up a lumber list and see what the cost will be. I’m hoping to do this this fall or winter because I’m chomping at the bit. I really enjoy working on this type of project. And of course the organization will be awesome and mind-easing too.

-Chris

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Concept sketch of the work shop elevation.

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Garage Loft Day

I’m really happy with what I accomplished today, with a little (a lot of) help. Today was “Garage Loft Day” and the garage loft is complete!

Cost was right around a thousand dollars, and took two people (my brother and I) five hours to complete start to finish. It’s about 7′ x 21′ in size. All the framing is 2×8’s except for a 9-1/4″ LVL header across the open end of the loft.

We started out by chalking a level line on all three walls. Then we located the wall studs and transferred those measurements to the main long rim joist. With the joist on saw horses we installed metal joist hangers and predrilled holes for our 3×5/8 Ledgerlok Screws. The Ledgerloks were used to attached the long rim joist to the studs. We also used them to fasten the two LVL’s together. After everything was marked we installed the long rim joist against the wall studs.

Next we installed the first two floor joists, the ones that go against the short run against the wall. We used a blind joist hanger at the one end and a couple Ledgerlok’s at the other end to secure these shorter rim joists. They only need to bear the weight above them, not the whole assembly so no need to lag them into every stud.

With the LVL on the  saw horses we attached the remainder of the joist hangers to the board. A blind joist hanger at each end. The LVL was then lifted up and secured to the shorter rim joists with nails and ultimately a pair of lag bolts at each end.

To support the LVL header we installed three pressure treated 4×4 posts. Each post rests on a metal bracket that was mounted to the cement floor using 1/4 x 2-1/4 tapcon bolts. A 3/16″ x 4-1/2″ tapcon bit was used to drill the holes.

Once all the framing was complete we installed treated 5/4 boards, 12′ and 16′ lengths minimized the number of joints we had to deal with. We used #8 x 2″ deck screws to fasten the floor boards. The boards will shrink creating gaps between them which will help when I go to sweep the floor up there, allowing debris to fall through the cracks.

I’m very excited to have completed this project. It give us an “attic” that is easily accessible via a ladder. The loft has great capacity for holiday decoration and flea market bins, as well as other items that we don’t need that ofter, or can’t bear to get rid of. Looking at you original Jeep rims, when I say this.

The next project will be to design and build storage shelves along the back wall, as well as work benches and shelves for my shop below the loft.

Check out the photos below to the various steps in pictures.

-C

Garage Loft

Alright, I’ve got a new little project in the works. I want to build a storage loft in the garage above the 1/2 car bay. We have a ton of “stuff” in the basement and garage that needs to be stored somewhere so I can take back both spaces and restore some semblance of sanity in my home after five years of living here.

Here is the plan:170924 garage plan

This is what the garage looked like during construction:

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The garage before it was sheeted back in 2011. You can see the man door and side window.

 

This is what it looks like now:

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The mess in the garage that will hopefully be cleaned up once I finish my loft project and workshop project. (If you want that red Toro lawnmower, let me know.)

 

My plan is to lag in 2×8 rim joists around the perimeter, just above where the 3-1/2″ window trim would go. And we would mount an LVL or similar type beam the entire length of the open side, with posts at each end, and one in the middle to support it. The decking will be 5/4 boards with gaps between them so I can sweep up there easier and it’ll look nicer, not be too claustrophobic.

My labor is free, so I just need to pay for lumber. I’m hoping it comes in at under $1,000 worth of material.

Once the loft is complete, my next project will be constructing my typical 2×4 workbenches and shelving units under the entire loft, creating a full blown shop for myself.

-Chris