I have been struggling with very low approval of my Home Automation hobby for months. If 9 out of 10 devices work as they should, that 10th flaky device, which I think works most of the time but sometimes doesn’t work, is the thing my family remembers. My family has gone from being pleasantly accepting of most things (and some automations have delighted everyone) to becoming annoyed.
Examples of automations that delight:
Kitchen cabinet LEDs light up when someone enters the room.
Notifications when the garage door is closed.
Colorful lightshow in our 9 bulb dining room chandelier.
Examples of flakiness that irritates:
Drip watering controller: is battery powered and our plants have died too many times from it dying without me realizing. Because the damn thing reports offline multiple times a day but usually comes back online, so I can’t write a darn automation to notify me when it is offline.
Bedroom light switch: just won’t turn off almost every evening for the past month or so! I suspect the darn Wink hub which is controlling it is the problem, but I know when I replace one Lutron switch, I’ve got to replace the other ones as well.
Anyway, my family approval of my hobby is awfully low right now. I can’t blame them, I find those things annoying as well… especially when they kill one of our outdoor plants.
There are several things stopping me from replacing components like these.
Stubbornness. I don’t feel like I should have to replace a thing, it is supposed to work, so it should just work better!
Cost. I don’t want to replace an expensive thing, with another thing.
Uncertainty. Who knows if the thing I replace it with will work any better?
Right now I am trying to convince myself that the money I was saving for a CNC machine would be better spent on making our smart home less frustrating and … well, less brain dead.
I think I will start by making a list of things that are not working reliably, and then tackle them one at a time. For example I can replace the bedroom Lutron switch with an extra Z-Wave dimmer I have been holding onto. Long term I will have to splice into the power conduit nearby the drip controller, and replace it with a powered controller (I could use some help with recommendations
Thank you for listening… I have been ignoring this nagging sensation in the back of my brain for too long. Writing this stuff down has helped put things in a new perspective.
- platform: state
That’ll wait for it to be unavailable for two hours. Adjust to suit.
I’ve been there. I had battles with my Philips Hue hub, and felt like it should just work. Until finally I accepted that the Hub was a mistake, and ditched it. Sure, I’m out the cost of the Hub, but it was worth it.
I thought @teachingbirds brought up some good points in her conference presentation. I honestly had no idea of the history of the term Wife Acceptance.
I decided to revisit this topic and focus more on the personal and family approval instead of just my wife. I want to share the lessons I learned without turning anyone off by any inconsiderate phrasing. Thank you for educating us Isa.
Oh, an even better idea occurred to me this morning. I have now chosen “Smart Home Confidence” to refer to this topic. This is more accurate as it includes myself in the group that was having confidence issues.
Carrying on from this, I have a couple of questions which I’d love to get everyone’s opinions on.
What points do you think about when making an automation?
How can you help the non-tech family members when there are problems?
A bit of backstory to both questions:
I have been slowly adding devices to our home over the last couple of years and am overall happy with the set up and reliability. Of the 90+ devices I manage, I get very little downtime from any of them.
However, when I do get problems, I get met with frustration and sometimes anger from my wife (my kids are 3 and 1, so are just happy when I make a pretty light for them).
There are usually two causes to the problems, a badly thought out automation or hardware failure.
Which brings me to the first question, what do you think about when creating automations? Do I want this to run when we’re home or away? or both? What happens at night time? etc. etc.
The other problem is trouble shooting, again, my kids are too young at the moment, but my wife is a very clever lady so she is completely able to think about something logically and turn something off if it going wrong, but if something I set up goes wrong, she has no time for it.
I’ve told her i’m happy for her to turn off/unplug anything that is bugging her if I’m away and that everything has an override. I’ve started adding an FYI to messages when I get a complaint about how she can fix it in the future.
Is there a better approach - how can I help my wife (and in the future, my daughters) report and trouble shoot problems more easily.
I would say that I have an uptime of 98% across the whole home, but it’s that 2% which needs to be squashed in 2021!
Reduce friction. Automations should help not get in the way. I’ll usually spend some time thinking about how to solve the problem, and then write out the logic in English (my native language).
Once I’m happy I can describe the logic, I’ll write the automation(s) but have them simply log what they would have done. Once it behaves well enough, then I’ll get it to act.
Start with POLA (Principle of Least Astonishment). Smart switches are easier for people than smart bulbs. If the light switch always works like a light switch, everybody is happy. You can automate it, they can manually control it.
Beyond that, unless you’re going to run a ticketing system, there’s not much else you can do. Just listen to the complaints and work out what needs fixed. Maybe you need to be less aggressive in your turning things off, maybe something else.
When I was a website developer I took pride in finding ways to features as clear and obvious as possible for a user. My goal for my smart home is to avoid the need for a manual. I want everything to be a simple as possible for the family. I take this as far as testing the voice assistants to make sure they respond to many variations on how a request could be made (ex. “Turn on the lights” vs “Turn the lights on” vs “Turn on the kitchen light”.) No matter how much effort I put in there someone finds a different way to say it that doesn’t work. So I try to pay attention when that happens so I can try to correct it.
Another consideration is whether a voice command is appropriate or a physical button or switch. Sometimes both is the right answer: the printer was often left powered on for days, so I used a smart plug so I could have Home Assistant turn the printers off at night. Two family members kept forgetting to turn the printer on with their voice before ducking into the printer closet, so I stuck a Xiaomi button on the printer.
When the issue happens at bedtime, and is something that can disturb sleep, I disable that automation until I can work on it at a more appropriate time. Sometimes I will even walk away from an automation for a while, so I can look with fresh eyes weeks or months later. I have even just started over with a fresh perspective on a solution rather than continue troubleshooting existing code.
It is important to have a conversation with the people you are sharing the house with. I occasionally check in with my wife, and my in-laws (who live with us) and see if there is anything they are having trouble with. I also try to gauge – through discussion and observation – what each person’s comfort level is with dealing with when things go wrong.
Smart devices and automation are kept at a minimum in the areas the in-laws spend time in on a daily basis. I decided when they moved in that their room is off limits to smart devices, with the exception of a Z-Wave smoke detector. The kitchen and dining room have smart light/switches, can be manually controlled with the light switches if our smart speakers are offline for some reason.
Finally, sometimes an automation can be an overly complicated solution to a simple problem. Sometimes the best solution is to simplify or simply remove an automation.
I don’t know how well this answered your questions, but these are some of my thoughts when working with the family. I am lucky, my wife and in-laws understand how much I enjoy this hobby, so they are mostly accepting of when things do work right. My son’s on the other hand are quick to scold me if their internet doesn’t turn on at the scheduled time.