How we made our home 'smart'
Being in IT for most of my life (and loving technology in general), I knew I wanted our tiny home as "smart" as possible. That started at the design phase. We highly encourage anyone considering building a tiny home or having one built for you to "get into the weeds" with the design. Don't pick a ready-made plan. You want to look at all aspects of the design. With making a home smart in particular, you want to look at things like number of electrical outlets, types of outlets, how to get your connectivity into the house, even the materials of the walls vs placement of wireless equipment. It all needs to be considered to avoid unexpected challenges that may have expensive solutions later on.
POWER: We worked with Forever Homes to make sure that we had electrical plugs (3-prong of course) in every room and almost on every wall, depending on our design. We even had them placed strategically in our bookcases, since that is where our "data center" would be, as well as upstairs in my Adventurer's Loft. Most of the outlets are two plug with two USB ports. We also added multiple plugs outside with weather-proof covers, a couple of which are mounted at near-roof height for alarm cameras, retractable awning, etc. Keep high cords high and out of view, low cords low, etc. Nothing worse than extension cords running up and down the side of your house. We also added two Universal Power Supplies (APC - one 425va downstairs and one 600va in the loft) to cover any power outages vs the electronics they support. They give us enough time to start up our gas/propane/lpg Firman generator, which is ready to go outside and just requires moving a power cord. It provides enough power to handle out refrigerator and our mini-split (one-unit), while still keeping the electronics powered up to avoid reboots and allow the "smart" part of the house to remain operational. Power for the house, by the way, is a 50amp cord into our parking spot's utility box, with a high-end surge protector sitting in between.
CONNECTIVITY: We did NOT have the house wired for ethernet. Instead, with the house being mainly open-concept and no real significant walls to speak of internally, we went with a new Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming 6-Stream WiFi 6 Router. Mainly because of the WiFi 6 capability, the sheer power of it's signal and past experience with in-house coverage, and personally for the gaming aspects, which translate directly to better throughput AND better security. It is dual-band, which is important as some smart devices still rely on the 2.4ghz wireless vs 5ghz. This router support both reliably. But what about the internet itself? We are lucky to have an ISP with wireless service providing terrific speeds (30mbps on average), which isn't earth-shattering but does what we need it to do. We have no problem streaming on both TVs while using our mobile devices and even having downloads going, though the intelligent routing of the Nighthawk helps keep things moving well.
But of course you have to get that internet INTO the house. Our wireless antenna is outside with great line of sight to our provider's nearest antenna. The antenna is small and mounted high and out of sight on the back of the house. From there a cable runs down and under the house to the front side. Here is where early planning at the design phase comes in again. We had our builder place conduit in the wall feeding from under the house (a pvc pipe just in front of the frame rail and painted the same color so it is practically invisible and given the location very weather resistant). The internet line feeds into the conduit and up into the bookcase where it comes out a brush plate, also painted the same black as the bookcase. From there it feeds into their small power box and then directly to our router.
We also had a connecting conduit run from that same brush plate in the wall to where are main TV's wall mount is (with a specifically placed 2-plug outlet as well). Meaning that our main TV and sound bar are all connected to the internet and our Xbox One X in the bookcase via the conduit, with no wires showing on the wall!. The Xbox provides us a gaming center and a media hub for our YouTube TV (no cable needed), while our TV's are also Roku-enabled.
SMART DEVICES: The devices in our house that are "smart" are many, and we went with Amazon Alexa as the main ecosystem. Again, back to the design phase, we carefully designed specific lighting zones and provided our builder with smart light switches, some on/off, some dimmers, depending on the capability of what would be plugged in. The switches provide LED ceiling lights in all of the main rooms, as well as our main ceiling fan and the outside lighting (both the porch light and the Mickey LED power). Each light switch connects via 2.4ghz wireless to a mobile app for setup, and then via skill directly to Alexa for control.
Speaking briefly about the Mickey icons outside. Not only do they have general power through a smart switch, but the multi-color lighting behind each is provided via two strip lights which themselves have color controls via an app that is also Alexa connected. That allows us to run different lightning programs set to go off at different times or different days, all via Alexa routines.
We have Amazon echo devices in every room, including one main Echo Plus (2nd gen) which provides an internal smart home hub, necessary for some of these devices, one Echo Show in the kitchen for an info center as well as Ring Doorbell visuals (more on that later). and 4 additional Echo Dots in the other rooms. No matter where you are - bathroom included - Alexa is available and all of the commands and capabilities that come with it. Plus they are all connected into a single optional speaker group. When we want, we can play music in just one room, multiple rooms, or for an amazing sounding house-wide concert! The only downside is "cross-talk" where sometimes two devices hear the same voice command and try to act on it. But this has happened less and less as Amazon releases updates and the AI learns from us.
Our general appliances are not smart enabled, mainly for cost reasons and size requirements. Though our mini-splits do have the capability coming soon, according to the manufacturer. Fingers crossed. BUT our entertainment components certainly are. From our TVs to our Dolby Atmos soundbars to our gaming consoles (Xbox One X and Xbox Series X), they are all connected and available via Alexa, though of course the PS4 and PS5 are not directly connected to Alexa, they are still part of the setup, as is the Switch. Combined with our Hue Lighting, we are able to create multiple-device routines that via voice commands can turn on devices, set the lighting and even start a movie or gaming session.
Speaking of Hue Lighting, we plan to have a separate post on this since the majority of these lights are in the Adventurer's Loft, but briefly, we do not have Hue Lighting throughout the entire house. Most of our lights, as we mentioned previously, are low-power LED ceiling lights, controlled via smart dimmer switches (each with 10 stops of light intensity - so bright, we leave them all at just "10 percent" as a default). However, we have been Hue users for many, many years. We have multi-color outdoor lights under the house which combine with the Mickey's for a colorful nighttime ambience. We also have Hue lighting behind our main TV downstairs, which lets us set a colored backlight for movies or TV. Also downstairs in the "data center" shelf is the Hue Hub (2nd gen) which makes all of the Hue Lights work together and connect to Alexa. As we said, we won't go into much detail, but all the rest of the Hue lighting is in the Adventurer's Loft and consists or an additional SIX more lights plus a Hue Sync Box. It's very illuminating! :)
SECURITY: Finally, we had to make sure that all of our cool things were protected. We won't go into specifics for obvious reasons, but we have a complete Ring Alarm system protecting our home. Multiple cameras, both inside and out, combined with the signature video doorbell, motion sensors, window and door sensors, flood lights, siren alarms and cellular backup for the hub, all communicating 24/7 to Ring's monitoring center, we feel fairly safe in our tiny mouse house.
Whew! That's a lot of stuff! But it all works together and there's plenty of room for even more additions as time goes on. And the best part is none of it is taking up any unplanned space. All of it was planned out from day one and integrated into the design. It has become second nature to speak out a command and have Alexa launch exactly what we need, answer questions, etc.
If anyone has any questions about any of the above, or any aspect of the tiny house design, please post a comment below and we'll get you an answer as quick as we can. More info soon!
New posts coming soon!
2021. It's here and starting with a....well, it started. Slow start, but hope for the future grows every day. And hope for new blog posts grow as well. Heh.
Expect new posts coming very soon, including:
- The "Disney Tattoo" collection
- The Adventurer's Loft: "Where does he get those wondeful toys?!" (Yes a DC quote - forgive me.)
- How we made our house 'Smart'
And much more! Hopefully as the year moves along, we'll have some travel reports in there as well (us, not the house...not yet (wink, wink).
Stay safe and sane everyone. Hugs to you all from The Tiny Mouse House!
Disney fans, gaming addicts (well, one of us is) and devoted parents. And Disney fans.....did we mention Disney fans?