Smart Home Solutions for a Smart Studio



One fun thing about my studio is that I get to play with automation, aka Smart Home Stuff, a lot. My goal from the beginning was to make things run as smoothly as possible even when I am not there to troubleshoot. Yeah, sometimes technology just complicates things (and I've had my share of hiccups already), but hopefully in the long run it will make the studio a more comfortable and enjoyable place for everyone with minimal regular intervention in some areas.

Case in point: The Warehouse came with a very dumb thermostat--like, I haven't seen one like it since I was a kid. Also, it is a VERY big room, and this winter I learned that in colder months, it costs a lot to maintain a palatable temperature, and it takes several hours to raise the temperature even a few degrees. We're working on better insulation to help with these issues, but in the meantime, I was having to show up two to three hours prior to my classes to turn the heat on. I was trying to figure out how to deal with that when other people rent the room, so I don't have to go down and turn the heat on for them, or expect them to arrive that early.

So far I have a two part solution; pardon me while I geek out a bit:

First, Chris gifted me a Nest. I wasn't going to splurge quite that much on a smart thermostat, but the pricing has come down on their lower end model, and it's a familiar ecosystem for me since we have one in our home. This allowed me to set schedules by day of the week, so I was able to stop coming in so early so often, and this worked well for other regular weekly renters as well. However, there is no app currently available for scheduling by date (why is that?! this is a no-brainer!). So I had to wonder, what about a one-time rental? Was I going to have to set myself reminders for every event, make sure I was near my phone or computer to turn the heat on personally for every renter? That was not going to fly...

Second, enter IFTTT, aka If This Then That. It's an incredibly robust platform for programming specific triggers to perform actions--known as "applets"--seamlessly integrating systems which don't necessarily "talk" to each other natively. There are many technologies which partner with IFTTT, and make pre-programmed applets to perform functions, from simple to complex. In this case, I leveraged multiple applets to achieve what I was trying to accomplish. I am now able to use my Google Calendar to trigger my Nest thermostat. But my situation was unique, and I needed a trigger to happen BEFORE the event takes place. Thus I was able to use my Google Calendar, talking to my Gmail, which IFTTT then recognizes and then sends a command to my Nest. The solution wasn't immediately obvious, but here's how it works:

I have set up separate calendars for each room I rent out at the studio. This allows me to see availability at a glance when renters are inquiring about renting. Additionally, I preface every calendar entry with a room designation, like "JB - Shay Rental" for me renting the JewelBox studio, or "OR - Susie Rental" for Susie the Orange Room, WH for Warehouse, etc.

Each calendar has various settings you can tweak, and in this case, I set this calendar to e-mail me a reminder notification two hours before the start of any event added to that calendar.

Over in Gmail, I set up a filter such that any e-mail that comes in from "google-notifications@google.com", and has "Notification: WH" in the title, gets immediately labeled "Warehouse Nest Trigger" and is archived (aka skips the inbox). This is so it doesn't ping my inbox and send me push notifications every time it happens, nor do I have to go archive them all the time. This is important because I hope to have more smart thermostats in the future, all with similar automation in place, and I don't want my inbox clogging up and "ding! ding! ding!"ing me notifications constantly.

I set up an applet in IFTTT to regularly scan my Gmail for anything with the label "Warehouse Nest Trigger". If it finds a new message with this label, I instructed it to turn the Nest to 65 degrees.

Thus, two hours before an event in the Warehouse, my Google Calendar sends a message to my Gmail, which IFTTT then sees and triggers the Nest to turn up the heat. Not the most elegant solution, but it means all I have to do is enter rental times into my Google Calendar as I normally do (no change in behavior on my part from here on out), and the thermostat takes care of itself.

And to make this all a nice neat package, there was already a native applet which will trigger Nest to turn the heat back to its lower holding temperature at the end of any event. So when BillyJo's event ends at 5pm, IFTTT tells the Nest to lower the temp back down.

In related Smart Studio news, I already have some smart plugs in place which schedule lights and space heaters to go on at certain times related to when I or other renters are regularly there. In particular, I have a set of lights that go on at dusk every day and then shut off at midnight, so there are always some lights on when it's dark out, making us feel safer as we come and go. But when I visit the studio, I like to have some of those lights on even in the daytime, just for inviting pooled lighting in darker corners of the space. While tweaking my smart apps, I have finally set up some presence triggers at the studio such that when I arrive, key lights will turn on no matter what the day/time. Unfortunately, a limitation in the system is I can't do the reverse, and have them turn off when I leave. Otherwise if I leave them on for a renter and then go away...they will turn off. So I will have to remember to turn them off manually.

It is interesting to probe the logic which drives smart technology, to suss out the strengths and weaknesses. Unexpected outcomes are certain, and thinking through what a given string of triggers will accomplish is necessary to also reveal unintended consequences. I often read posts on forums by people who want to use presence sensors to unlock their front door, for instance. Sounds pretty cool, except in my personal use case with triggers at home, there were times I was driving past my house (not even on my street, but close by) and my house recognized my "presence" and triggered automations. In this case, harmless ones like turning on lights and a push notification, but if it were unlocking my front door...!!

It's been an interesting journey, studio ownership thus far, and this is just one fun facet I am working on to make Studio Deep Roots even more unique, special, and welcoming.

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