Motion Sensors

Thanks – very helpful!  I’m curious – what model of motion sensors are you using?  Have you had good luck with them?  What’s the battery life like? Is it practical to put them in pretty much every room of a house?

Every room? That depends on your budget. :)

Outside I have Aeon Labs Aeotec Z-Wave MultiSensor: (Motion, Temp, Light level, Humidity) which turns on the lights when motion is detected and it’s dark. I’m not doing anything with the Temp or Humidity yet, but they’re neat to have.

Inside the house, I have Ecolink Z-Wave PIR Motion Detectors. I currently have one in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and front stairwell (split-level). When it’s dark outside (see above) and motion is detected, GE Link bulbs turn on and light that area. I’m going to buy more because my son wants the lights in his bedroom to be smart too.

The motion detectors work fairly well, with limits. They are Passive IR, which is GREAT for battery life, but after tripping they don’t begin watching again for 4 minutes. To prevent going off when someone is sitting idle in the room, I find I can’t “trust” a lack of motion until about 20 minutes after motion stopped. I’ve read that some folks run these detectors in “test” mode, which reduces the 4 minute timeout to 10 seconds, at the cost of shorter battery life. I haven’t tried that yet, but likely will in the dining room. Believe it or not, sometimes my kids actually sit still while doing homework!

I also have a SmartThings SmartSense Motion Sensor that came in the kit with my hub. It usually senses motion and temperature, and after a month’s use six feet from the hub, it’s down to 66% battery. All the Aeon motion detectors are at 100% after a months use. I’m substantially less impressed by this ones reliability (which impacts the WAF) so it got relegated to the garage. I haven’t done any validation of battery life reporting, but there’s a good chance I won’t recharge this guys batteries.

One thing about motion detectors is they don’t detect us until after we come into their field of view. Duh, right? For the motion sensor inside the front door, this means the sensor generally doesn’t “see” us until the door has mostly opened and we’re walking in. During that delay, someone is invariably reaching for the switch at the same time the lights come on. That’s confusing, especially if they flip a 2-way switch and nothing happens. I could put another motion sensor on the other side of the door, but what I like better is…

the Ecolink Z-Wave Door/Window Sensor. I now have one on every exterior door. The second the door starts to open, the lights come on both inside and outside the door (if they weren’t already). The motion sensors are then used as occupancy sensors that turn off the lights after the area hasn’t been occupied for N minutes. A planned automation feature for the door sensors is to automatically yell at my kids if they’re more than N feet from the front door and didn’t close it.

The less “smart” but very useful motion sensors that I’m using are these Mr Beams MB726 Battery Powered Motion Sensing LED Nightlights. They aren’t smart in the Home Automation sense but they are much cheaper. They’re ideal for lighting up dark hallways and stairs where “light it up when I come, and turn if off 30 seconds later” is just perfect. I bought those because I have kids and a couple of our hallways didn’t have power outlets to plug in a motion-activated AC powered nightlight.

One last tangent related to motion sensing, but more on the “smart switch -vs- bulb” topic: With the smart bulbs, one limit is that if someone turns off the switch, the bulbs forget their dim level. A switch never loses power so it remembers. An advantage of smart bulbs is that at homework time, motion turns on all 4 bulbs at 70% brightness. At dinner time, motion turn on 3 bulbs at 50% brightness. After 9PM when the kids are in bed, motion turns on one bulb at 10% brightness. Switches act on all the bulbs or none.

Child Automation and our Yale Deadbolt

When we get home, one of the kids asks for the house keys. The first one to ask gets the keys and gets to unlock the door. They love to unlock the door, so it’s frequently a race. I’ve been thinking it was time to give them their own keys, but its really hard when they can’t yet hold onto the same library card for more than a year. Stashing a key outdoors didn’t fit my sensibilities.

In exploring the options, I found a wide variety of locks. Push buttons. Numeric keypads. Bluetooth. WiFi. Smartphone Apps. Key fobs. So. Many. Options!

Some I was able to weed out straight away. Requiring a smarthphone is a non-starter. For that matter, requiring that we carry anything seems so last century. If someone gets locked out of the house naked, absent their sniggering sibling on the other side of the door, they should be able to get back in.

I found almost exactly what I was looking for in the Yale YRD240-ZW-605. I can easily program a unique key code for each family member. I can add a key-code for the neighbor to feed our pets when we’re on vacation. It has a Z-Wave radio built-in which pairs with my SmartThings hub. I can pull out my phone and lock/unlock the front door from anywhere. Instead of the far-less-secure key backup, this version has a 9-volt battery port which serves as the spare key.

Yale Security YRD240-ZW-605 Real Living Electronic Keyless Touch Screen Deadbolt, Fully Motorized with Z-Wave Technology, Polished Brass

The Wife Acceptance Factor of this lock is very high. When she walks out the door, she just waves her hand at it and it locks the door. When she gets home, keying in the code is faster and easier than fishing her keys out of her purse. If her phone is already out, she can unlock the door on her way towards it.

The kids adore it, but the entry routine is  a little different than I expected. Before someone unlocked the door and we all piled through. Now one child enters their very own Simerson Secret Door Society code, enters, and then deadbolts the door. Then the next child enters their code and enters. When I pull into the garage, they run out the garage door so they can enter via the front door. Shucks, they still lock themselves outside just to use their secret code and get back in. I’m amazed that the batteries have lasted three weeks. The lock says it’s battery life is still 100%. Amazing.

home automation

I recently gave a presentation on Home Automation to a room full of engineers/programmers. I was asked several times to share the presentation.

The state of home automation has improved greatly since a decade ago when I threw all my X-10 stuff into a box and left it to rot. H.A. still requires an engineer/geek to set up, but it’s far better than a decade ago. It’s not hard to see that in another year or two, setting up home automation will be attainable by non-geeks.

Beginner climbing in Yosemite

Mountaineers/Climbers that have been to Yosemite, I need your advice.

I’m going to be near Yosemite soon, with two hikers that have reasonable experience with 4th class rock. Our plan is to introduce them to 5th class trad. What I have in mind is something with a variety of low 5th class routes like Mountaineers Dome near Leavenworth. Suggestions?