Over the last several months, I’ve tackled several projects in an effort to take my HomeKit setup to the next level in time for summer. This includes a smart sprinkler system, new outdoor smart lighting, a robot vacuum with Siri support, and much more. Read on as I walk through the full process below.
Outdoor Smart Lights
First on my list for this summer was adding some new outdoor lighting with HomeKit integration. There are a variety of different options here, but as I’ve written before, I’m deep into the Philips Hue ecosystem and I like to stay there when possible.
My first additions were the Philips Hue Outdoor floodlights. I replaced all five of my floodlights with these smart bulbs to add additional automation capabilities. There are a few different options for automation here. In the front yard, I keep the floodlights on from sunset to sunrise, which is an automation you can set up via the Home app.
In the backyard, I generally keep the floodlights off unless we (or the dogs) are in the yard. There are two ways to achieve an automation for this situation. A Philips Hue Outdoor Motion Sensor is one choice, but I’ve had trouble with this sensor and things like bugs automatically triggering it. In the Home app, I have it setup such that when the backdoor is opened, a status monitored via the Ecobee Door Sensor, the backyard floodlights turn on if it is between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
For some accent lighting on the back porch, I added a Philips Hue Outdoor Lightstrip, mounted along the top edge of the ceiling. This is primarily for aesthetic purposes, but it does provide some additional light outside when needed. Philips Hue offers a variety of different outdoor lighting solutions, and you can learn more in our full review here.
The Eve Degree is one of my favorite HomeKit accessories; it’s a simple device that you can place inside or outside for tracking hyperlocal climate. I mounted it right outside my front door so not only can I monitor the local temperature from the Home app on iOS, but also every time I walk in the front door.
One of the biggest downsides here is that the Home app does not support triggering an automation based on temperature. For instance, it would be useful if in the Home app you could automate a smart diffuser to kick on when humidity is below a certain level. Automations like this are, however, possible via the standalone Eve app.
The Eve Degree, as Bradley Chambers explained last month, is a handy accessory for any HomeKit setup, especially as we head into summer and hyperlocal temperatures can become an important data point for people.
As the summer heat intensifies, now is a great time to add a smart thermostat to your HomeKit setup. My personal recommendation here is the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control (full review). Using a smart thermostat can give you additional controls over the heating and cooling of your house — and help you be more conscious of your energy usage.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat is one of the few options that integrate with Alexa, Assistant, and HomeKit, and that alone makes it a very compelling option for many households. While I’d certainly like to see more competition in the HomeKit thermostat pace, the Ecobee is the best choice available at the moment.
In conjunction with the SmartThermostat, Ecobee also offers SmartSensors. These SmartSensors are meant to be placed around your home to provide hyperlocal temperatures in different rooms. For instance, I have one in the bedroom, so I can make sure it’s properly-being cooled down before I head to bed.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control retails for $249 on Amazon. If you want to forgo new features like the glass design, the Ecobee3 Lite is still a viable option and is more affordable at $169.
One piece of low-hanging fruit for my smart home setup was a smart lock. A variety of options exist, but I needed something that was friendly to renting. Essentially, it needed to fit over the existing deadbolt and not change the actual outer-facing lock.
I decided to go with two different options for my front door and backdoor: the August Smart Lock Pro and Friday Lock. Frustratingly, I got my August lock just a few weeks before the introduction of the new August Wi-Fi Smart Lock that features integrated Wi-Fi support and a significantly smaller design.
In terms of installation, the process is very similar for the Friday Lock and the August Smart Lock Pro. They fit over your existing deadbolt, and you just need a screwdriver to attach the mounting plate. Once you get the locks installed, you complete the setup via the respective Friday and August applications for iOS and eventually add them to the Home app.
In practice, the August Smart Lock Pro has been more reliable than the Friday Lock. The Friday Lock tends to have a problem with “Not responding” in the Home app, while I’ve never experienced that problem with the August Smart Lock Pro.
For someone just entering the smart lock ecosystem today, I would recommend the new August Wi-Fi Smart Lock, which features integrated Wi-Fi and a smaller design than its predecessor. The Friday Lock, while sleek and well-designed, has simply proven to be too unreliable in my testing. There’s also the Level Lock, which Jeff Benjamin went hands-on with earlier this month.
HomeKit garage door
In a similar vein to HomeKit locks, adding HomeKit capabilities to my garage door was another low-hanging project. To do this, I simply added the MyQ Home Bridge to my garage, which pairs with my existing LiftMaster garage door opener.
- Adds HomeKit compatibility to these products that are already enabled with smartphone control:
- LiftMaster and Chamberlain Wi-Fi enabled garage door openers (has a myQ and Wi-Fi logo)
- LiftMaster and Chamberlain myQ Garage
- LiftMaster and Chamberlain myQ Smart Garage Hub
- LiftMaster and Chamberlain Internet Gateway (myQ Home Bridge is a replacement for this device and adds HomeKit compatibility)
- Adds both smartphone control and HomeKit compatibility to:
- LiftMaster and Chamberlain myQ-enabled garage door openers (has a myQ logo/no Wi-Fi logo)
- LiftMaster MyQ Control Panel (model 888LM)
I placed the MyQ Home Bridge along the side of my garage — slightly further away from the garage door opener than LiftMaster recommends, but I’ve had no problems at all. Then, you simply plug it into power and follow the setup instructions in the MyQ app for iOS. Once you pair the MyQ Home Bridge with your garage door, you can add it directly to the Home app for HomeKit control.
You can open, close, and view the status of your garage door in the Home app. You can also include it in automations, but Apple will send you a push notification asking you to confirm the automation before it is actually completed. Presumably, this is a security setting to prevent the garage door from opening or closing without your knowledge.
For me, the most useful feature is monitoring the status of the garage door. It offers added peace of mind to be able to confirm the garage door is closed every night by checking the Home app or asking Siri. The inclusion in automations is also useful but complicated by the fact that Apple requires confirmation before running them — though you can include garage doors in nighttime automations.
You can learn more about the MyQ Home Bridge in Jeff Benjamin’s full review here.
Note: If you don’t have a LiftMaster or Chamberlain myQ Garage (with or without Wi-Fi), you will also need the myQ Smart Garage Hub as well.
I moved from Indiana to Texas just over a year ago, and one thing I quickly learned was that you have to water your lawn on a regular basis, especially during the hot and dry summer. My house came standard with a Rain Bird sprinkler controller for the in-ground sprinkler system, but naturally, I saw this as an opportunity to add HomeKit capabilities to another part of my life.
It wasn’t until this year that I actually got around to making the switch from the Rain Bird controller to the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. My fear when making this switch was the installation process, but in practice, it was much easier than I expected. If you’ve ever installed a smart thermostat, the Rachio installation process is similar, just with a few extra wires.
I took several pictures of how the Rain Bird controller was installed so I could match up the wiring to the correct zones on the Rachio controller. All in all, it was a pretty simple process, and I say that as someone who is not very good at home improvement projects.
Once the actual hardware is installed, the Rachio setup process is handled via the companion iOS app and eventually through the Home app. You identify your different sprinkler zones, name them, and Rachio will suggest different water schedules and timers.
For me, the usefulness of the Rachio Smart Sprinkler is that it’s a “set it and forget it” solution for lawn care and maintenance. I’m not an expert at maintaining a lawn, especially in Texas, and Rachio handles most of that for me. The Rachio app monitors the weather in your area and adjusts your watering schedule as needed.
For instance, if it rains in your area, the Rachio app will automatically skip your scheduled watering cycle if necessary. It will also skip water cycles if it’s windy outside or if it’s below a certain temperature. It also gives you advice on what changes to make to your watering schedule throughout the year. For instance, once things started getting really hot outside, Rachio recommended I extend watering times by a few minutes. These are the types of adjustments that I wouldn’t think to make on my own — nor would I want to worry about it.
The Rachio’s HomeKit integration leaves something to be desired, but the limitations here are due to HomeKit itself. The Home app simply doesn’t offer all of the necessary features to manage a sprinkler system. Through the Home app, you can do the following with your Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller:
- View all zones and watering statuses
- Run zones via the Home interface or through Siri
- Enable or disable a zone
- Queue up and run multiple zones
- Set a custom duration for each zone
- Use Siri to begin or end watering sessions
I do like the ability to quickly use the Home app as a way to check when my sprinkler system is running, but other than that, the Rachio app is more useful for management and automation.
The Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller is available in 8-zone and 16-zone variants, depending on the size of your yard and the number of in-ground sprinkler heads you have. Rachio also offers the Rachio Thrive subscription package as well.
If you don’t have an in-ground sprinkler system, there are other options for HomeKit water management. The Eve Aqua is another accessory that I highly recommend. It’s a HomeKit-capable water controller that controls your sprinkler, hose, or irrigation system as well.
HomeKit + AirPlay 2 TV
I’ve made two other smart home upgrades recently that I wanted to quickly mention. First, I upgraded my office TV with the 55-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum with HomeKit and AirPlay 2 support. This is my first experience with a HomeKit and AirPlay 2-enabled TV since Apple rolled out support for it last year.
In practice, I’ve realized that if you’re an Apple TV user already, the addition of HomeKit (and obviously AirPlay 2) is not necessarily useful. You do get additional features such as volume and input controls, but the primary functionality is already supported via the Apple TV itself.
That being said, if you aren’t an Apple TV user, HomeKit and AirPlay 2 integration are far more useful. For example, you can stream content directly from your iPhone or iPad to the Vizio M-Series without needing the additional Apple TV set-top box. In the Home app, you can turn the Vizio M-Series on and off, switch inputs, and include it in automations.
For many people, pairing an AirPlay 2-capable TV with something like the Amazon Fire TV Stick could be the best solution. You can avoid the high price of the Apple TV, while also still being able to stream content via AirPlay 2 and access controls via the Home app.
Neato robot vacuum
Secondly, I entered the world of smart vacuums with the Neato D7 Connected robot vacuum. The Neato app offers a variety of smart home features, including Alexa integration and the ability to schedule the vacuum so that it runs at certain times of the day. You can even set up “No Go Lines” to prevent the Neato from vacuuming certain areas.
For Apple users, the key feature here is integration with Siri Shortcuts. As we’ve covered before at 9to5Mac, this means you can create custom voice commands via the Shortcuts app to control your Neato D7. For example, I can say “Hey Siri, run the vacuum” to have the Neato start cleaning or “Hey Siri, send vacuum home” to have it return to the charging base.
You can also include the Neato automations in other Shortcuts as well. For instance, if you have a Shortcut for when you leave the house, you can add the Neato action to it so the vacuum runs while you’re gone and is done by the time you get home.
I’m new to the robot vacuum craze, but I’ve found the Neato D7 to be incredibly useful. It created an intelligent map of my house, so I can easily tell it to vacuum certain rooms or areas, or the whole house. The “No Go Lines” feature is also particularly useful. I have a relatively thick rug in the living room, and I can set up “No Go Lines” so the Neato avoids the rug and doesn’t get stuck on it.
Interestingly, there is also support for adding the Neato D7 to HomeKit using the Homebridge platform. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s on my list of projects. More on this soon, but needless to say, I’m intrigued.
What recent changes have you made to your HomeKit setup? Do you have any plans for additional improvements or changes this summer? Let us know down in the comments!
Also be sure to check out HomeKit Weekly, a weekly 9to5Mac series focused on smart home accessories, automation tips and tricks, and everything to do with Apple’s smart home framework.
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