We moved into our townhouse in Beaverton Oregon almost exactly a year ago. The smaller footprint and mostly clean slate coming in allowed me to take some steps to automate the home for convenience, safety, and money saving. Here’s what we did.

Wemo Switches

While I was tempted to go all-in with some high end automated lighting solutions (like Philips Hue and Ikea TRÅDFRI), they all felt too proprietary and costly for our needs. I wanted to automate lights in our main family room gathering area and my game room. I settled for the Wemo Smart Plug (I have both the older chunkier version and the new mini version). These plug right into a normal 3-prong wall socket and are easy to setup and provision. You can control them with a button on the plug, a mobile app, or other home automation hubs like the Amazon Echo.

We have these setup on a timer via IFTTT (see below) that turns them on near sunset and then off after we go to bed. This creates a variability in the lighting automation which is handy as we are out of town for about 40% of the year.

Light Motion Sensors

This is hardly in the category of high tech home automation, but I installed a few motion sensors to control lighting. The first step was a motion sensor switch replacement for the garage light which Julie and I love and can’t believe we didn’t do in our old home. The second step was to install two different battery powered motion sensing LED lights in spots where we had poor lighting but didn’t want to invest in a permanent solution. These take D batteries but are on so infrequently that it seems like they’ll last about 1 year on a set.


We had a Nest Learning Thermostat in our old house and this was one of the first purchases I made when we moved in. I don’t like the automated learning features so we just keep it on a fixed program. This device shines the most though when wired into other services like Alexa and IFTTT.


For security and convenience I was very interested in garage door sensing and automated opening / closing. After some research I settled on the Garadget device, which attaches easily to an existing garage door opener. It hooks into our WIFI network and uses a laser sensor that it bounces off a reflective circle that you put on the garage door. The supplied reflector was too small and would trigger false opening alarms with even a small shift of the sensor, so I bought some extra reflective tape to broaden the hit zone on the garage door and it has been perfect ever since. I get automated notifications on my iPhone whenever the garage opens or closes or is left open for more than 20 minutes.


I’ve been using the IFTTT for 5 years now and it is simply one of the most indispensable services I use. It allows for “if this then that” triggers between dissimilar web services. For example, I have a few home automation related applets:

  • Turn on family room lights when it gets dark
  • If every day at 09:30 PM, then turn off family room lights
  • When my nest auto-away turns on, send me a notification
  • Send Amazon Echo ToDos to OmniFocus

USB wall outlet

Rather than plug in a bulky USB charger for our iPhones, Bluetooth headphones, and Kindles we decided to install a High Speed USB Charger Outlet into our kitchen. This was a simple install, replacing an existing wall two-plug outlet.

Amazon Echo and Alexa

I saved the best and most important component for last. I purchased our first Amazon Echo when we were in an apartment between houses, primarily as an experiment but also for the music. Once we moved into this house I started to unlock the power of the Echo as a voice controlled home automation hub. It also serves as a ubiquitous capture device for me when I roam around the downstairs. Some examples of how we use it to control our environment:

  • “Alexa, turn on the downstairs”
  • “Alexa, turn on the game room”
  • “Alexa, trigger open the garage”
  • “Alexa, play the album Astral Weeks by Van Morrison”
  • “Alexa, play Jeopardy”
  • “Alexa, flash briefing” (plays NPR news, BBC news)

All what you read above probably cost about $300-$400, with the major expenses being the Nest and the Amazon Echo (we also have an Echo Dot in our master bathroom).