October 17, 2013

Easy DIY Home Automation



DIY Home Automation

I’ve had a home alarm since I bought my first house about 20 years ago. Long before that I had automatic timers for lamps. Lots of people have home alarms and those $5 timers. But now it’s time for home automation 2.0 with the ability to control your home from your smartphone.

I am, by no means, a home security or home automation expert. But I’m probably more like you – a homeowner with a smartphone who loves technology and knows there are ways to use technology to make home management easier. I know a little about wiring and setting up routers and switches but I’m not about to crawl around in an attic punching holes in my ceiling to drop wires or cables. That, I’ll leave to professionals.

Verizon asked if I’d try out the Belkin WeMo Switch ($49.99 ea MSRP) and HD WiFi NetCam with Night Vision ($149.99 ea MSRP) and I couldn’t say no since both of those were on my list of things I want. Even though I have the cheapo lamp timer things the idea of being able to control the lights from my smartphone is an added level of cool. Afterall, we’ve had a Slingbox since they first came out over 10 years ago and we can already control the DirecTv from our mobile devices. So why not control some of my appliances or see who’s at my door with my smartphone.


I know that home automation is more than just being able to set up a netcam or control your light switch from your phone. But it’s a start to see how much you might be willing to spend. I’m fortunate that I live in a home that was built to energy-star standards for commercial property long before it was being used for homes so my all-electric home is pretty energy efficient. While I have two Honeywell electronic programmable thermostats, they aren’t as smart as the Nest thermostat (which I really, really want!).

Automating your home means different things to different people. Not everyone has a few grand sitting around waiting to have a custom mobile app created for their home. Most of us are doing the DIY home automation route and adding on home security elements like lights and cameras. We’re pretty smart people, right!

Despite setting up the Belkin Netcam and within 2 hours having over 80 emails in my inbox, I’m here to tell you it’s exceptionally easy. When people talk about “plug and play” they don’t usually mean it. It took me about 25 minutes from unboxing to spying out my front door. Some people want these to catch their pets doing stuff, but not me. I don’t have pets, but I do have a front door without a peep hole but with two very large side windows. My ability to peep is zero! Most people aren’t peeking in through the window but if I look out they can definitely see me. And that really limits my ability to pretend I’m not there.

Front Door

I’m not being all sneaky with the netcam. It’s visible from the outside, but you kind of have to be looking for something. While it’s tied in to your home’s WiFi, it does have a wall plug and needs to be plugged in so it’s not as flexible as I’d really like. But, it works. Well, once you figure out how to set the sensitivity so it’s not sending you 4,864 emails a day. I haven’t caught anyone being all weird by my front door, and I hope I don’t. While it takes me a minute or two to load up the app on my phone if someone is at the door, it’s an increased sense of security. The night-vision is pretty neat but does require the outside light to be on at night and the entryway light to be off. That’s not too difficult, but I don’t normally leave the walkway light on so that’s been something I’ve had to change.

Belkin Netcam

My two biggest issues with the netcam are that it doesn’t have a battery pack option so you’re stuck with being near a plug and there is no option for push notifications. Most of us don’t have plugs where we really want to put the camera so having a battery-powered option would be a big benefit and added flexibility. While I don’t really want excessive push notifications, if there’s a problem I don’t want to wait until it’s too late. With only the option to have email notifications, it’s often hours after an image is captured that I see it. Luckily, I haven’t had the need to respond to a situation in progress while I’m out but if I needed to it would be good to have that.

Some of the pros for the HD Wi-Fi Netcam with Night Vision:

  1. Easy to install and set up.
  2. App runs on iOS and Android.
  3. App can be used over wi-fi, 3G or 4g
  4. Takes clear photos.
  5. Images sent directly to email.
  6. Access can be shared with other people.

Two things I’d like to change:

  1. Have a battery power option for more flexible placement.
  2. Push notifications

Now for the  WeMo Switch. When the only thing in the box is the plug-thingy itself and a card with a few steps how hard can it be. I had the WeMo Switch up and running in less than 10 minutes, that’s how easy it was to install. It probably would have taken only 5 minutes but the device needed a firmware update.

WeMo Switch Installation

I used the WeMo Switch for a floor lamp I have in the living room. It’s already controlled by an old-fashion lamp timer but the plug is behind a large piece of furniture and changing it is annoying. Normally I only change the timer twice a year because of the vast differences in when the sun goes down in the summer and winter, it’s when there is a power outage that I dread having to get behind the entertainment center. Now, with the WeMo Switch I don’t have to because I can control the times with my phone. And, I can actually set the switch to come on or turn off at different times as a way to improve my home security.

As a way to start with automated home security, both the WeMo Switch and HD Wi-Fi Netcam are great. Both apps come with the ability to add on devices if you decide to add more switches or cameras. Are they perfect? No. But these days what its? If you decorate your house for the holidays, a WeMo Switch would be a great way to control some of the electric decorations.

Which would you want first, the Netcam or the WeMo Switch?

Disclosure: Verizon Wireless provided me with a Belkin Netcam and WeMo Switch to try out. This is not a sponsored post. This post reflects my views and opinions and was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. I do, however, have a business relationship with Verizon Wireless and thus I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.


Image Credit: EhsanCinematic (licensed under Creative Commons)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Aimee Pilz aka @awakeningaimee October 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

This is interesting.

My daughter & I were just talking about timers & this stuff a few days ago.

Great tips & suggestions.




Sara October 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Aimee, I was surprised at how easy they were to use and how much I’d benefit from them. I’m sure both would help you with peace of mind as well as provide an added benefit to your home security.


Jean Parks October 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I think I’d like to try the WeMo Switch first. Being able to turn lights off from my phone would be helpful for a lot of reasons.
Jean Parks recently posted..Win a Verizon CASIO G’zOne Commando 4G LTE Smartphone


Sara October 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Jean, you’ll love the WeMo switch. It’s so easy to use and would fit your active lifestyle.


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