Home Automation for Renters

Home Automation for Renters

Having a smart home doesn’t have to be impossible just because you rent. You may not be allowed to rewire the place, but there are many devices available for you to install.
Here are a few tips about installing or adding to a home network in an apartment.

Heart of the matter:

Like any smart home, the center of the network is a hub or gateway. Z-Wave requires a hub, even in apartments. The WINK 2 is a great way to automate your apartment without making holes for panels or wires. The WINK 2 sits close to your internet router, and connects via WiFi or CAT5 cable (preferred). Once you download the app for your smart phone, you’re ready to add devices. Some of the better features of the WINK 2 can be found in this blog; WINK 2 OVERVIEW.

Another good choice is the Vera Edge. The Vera Edge offers a staggering level of accepted devices (including generic IP cameras). Consider the Vera Plus if you already have a lot of other non-Z-wave devices (Zigbee, Bluetooth, WiFi).

Controlling lighting

Plug-in modules are the meat and potatoes of any smart apartment. These work exactly like their in-wall cousins, without needing to open the switch boxes. Pair the plug-in with the WINK (or any other Z-Wave controller) and you can control any lamp plugged into the module. GE has a good selection of modules; the GE 12718 Plug-In Smart Dimmer handles dimming duties for most lighting, and the GE 12719 Plug-in Smart Switch can even handle small appliances.

In places where there are no receptacles available for plug-in modules, consider a Go Control LB60Z-1 Dimmable Z-Wave LED . These work really well in hallways, bigger closets, or even living room fixtures. One big caveat for smart LEDs; they need power all the time. Mark or put a guard on any light switches to avoid a roommate shutting them off, which would break your Z-Wave network.

Adding automation and security

Having to turn on/off lights from your phone is not what home automation is all about. Getting the most from your smart home usually involves a trigger to make something happen. These triggers can be from within the Z-Wave controller itself (Sunset/Sunrise, or another scheduled time), voice control (Amazon Echo, which works really well with WINK 2 and some other controllers), or sensors. A door/window sensor, like the Aeotec ZW120 or motion sensor, like the Ecolink PIRZWAVE2.5-ECO can turn your plug-in modules on/off, and give you a notification on your smart phone, if you happen to be away.

If you do want to control your lights from your smart phone, you can group them into scenes. A scene is a command that sends preset parameters to multiple devices. You could have an ‘entertaining’ scene which evenly (but dimly) lights the living area. A ‘homework’ scene could turn up all the lights so your children can see their books. A TV scene could turn on back lights behind your TV, but dim all others. The combinations are endless. You could even have a trigger control a scene. Watch it all from a camera compatible with your gateway. For WINK 2 check out the Dropcam. For Vera and some other gateways, check out the incredibly affordable D-Link 933L.

Energy savings
A properly set home automation network will reduce the amount of energy consumed since you are only using the light you need. But what about HVAC? Adding a thermostat, like the Go Control TBZ-48, is a relatively easy project, but requires permissions not granted by the author of this blog. Understanding the type of climate control you have in your apartment will go a long way of convincing your super to allow a swap. Since most HVAC systems are low voltage, this may be the type of DIY project your super would allow. Installing a Z-Wave thermostat will not only save you (or your landlord) money, it will also keep your home more comfortable. Keep the old ‘dumb’ thermostat for replacement when you leave the apartment for good, so you can take your Z-Wave stat with you.

Smart home
Simple appliance modules like the GE 12719 can be used for coffee makers, crock pots, or similar devices. Check with the manufacturer's instructions, as some devices don’t like a hard shut off (like pulling out the plug), and don’t exceed the rating of your smart module. Never use a dimmer for control of an appliance; not even a fan (it won't work).

A tenant can get a lot of control out of relatively few devices. Imagination and creativity go a long way to make smaller spaces feet bigger. Home automation is no different.

Check out our Getting Started Kits for some ideas on where to begin. If you are a landlord, consider the possibilities of keyless entries, security cameras in hallways or outdoors, and automatic lighting and HVAC to save energy. Call or email us for more info.

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