Helpful Home: Control Your Lights, Thermostat & Security System with the Home App

The Home app has officially arrived with iOS 10, finally letting you control all your smart home devices in one place, from light bulbs to thermostats to security systems. In order to take advantage of this application, you’re going to need some HomeKit-compatible hardware. In this article, I’ll share some of the best smart home products on the market today. As a home automation enthusiast for more than 30 years now, I am extremely impressed with how easy HomeKit makes the setup and configuration process. If you’re still intimated by the idea of installing new hardware, no need to worry. I’ll walk you through the process!

Related: How to Access Your Smart Home from Control Center with iOS 10

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Lighting

Autonomously controlling and dimming lights has been possible for a long time (think X10 home automation kits from the early days of the internet). But what makes the modern era of lighting different is that lighting manufacturers now embed automation smarts directly into their products instead of having them retrofitted by third-party hardware solutions. 

I recommend the Philips Hue line of lighting products to anyone new to home automation. Philips’ light bulbs are easy to deploy and, thanks to Philips’ open APIs to control its Hue products, they’re compatible with HomeKit. Its reliable implementation is an excellent example of the power of HomeKit.

The Philips Hue Gen 3 White & Color Ambiance Starter Kit ($199.99) is the easiest and most cost-effective way to bring lighting automation to your home. The kit includes everything you need to explore the potential of controlling lights throughout your house with your iPhone.

Deploying the Hue lighting system is simple. Connect the included Hue hub to your network, replace existing standard bulbs with Hue bulbs, and download the Hue app from the App Store to connect to the Hue hub. Label the discovered bulbs with meaningful location-based names like “master bedroom desk lamp” or “basement laundry light.” While you can continue to use the Hue app once configured, I recommend using the Home app, which I’ve found to work more reliably. Tap on the icons representing the Hue lights to turn them on and off. Further automation options in the Home app are available if you have a fourth-generation Apple TV or a spare iPad running iOS 10, letting you trigger the lights remotely, at certain times of the day, or based on your location.

Heating & Cooling

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is another natural choice in home automation. One of the most cost-effective HomeKit-compatible devices in this category is the iDevices Thermostat ($129.95). Competing thermostats cost more yet accomplish the same objective, namely setting and maintaining the air temperature in your home. 

Installing the thermostat takes about 10 minutes. The most time-consuming task is disconnecting your existing thermostat and wiring and mounting the iDevices one. Assuming that the HVAC equipment in your home was installed within the last 10 years, you should be able to install it yourself without any problem. For older homes, however, you may need to call an outside contractor to help you swap out the existing thermostat for a HomeKit-compatible one.

Once connected, you can use the iDevices Connected app (free) to locate and configure the thermostat settings. When the app identifies your thermostat, pair it by entering the PIN on the thermostat screen when prompted by the app. You can then modify the temperature either by toggling the on-screen arrows up or down or asking Siri to do it for you. You can use the Home app to create a Scene that sets the temperature at specified degrees and trigger these Scenes by telling Siri the name of the Scene. For example, naming a scene that lowers the heat to 64 degrees Fahrenheit “Leaving for Work” and then telling Siri “I’m leaving for work” will activate the Scene and lower the temperature accordingly.

Scheduling temperature changes is also easy via creating a Scene in the app that allows you to enter the date, time, and temperature you want to set the thermostat to, thereby automating your HVAC system and saving you money by lowering your energy consumption when you’re not at home. Once you have perfected your Scenes, you may never have to touch the thermostat again.

Monitoring Your Smart Home

With lighting and temperature under HomeKit control, let’s consider devices for monitoring air quality, appliances’ electrical usage, and security. Elgato, a company once known for its Apple Mac media recording hardware, has since moved onto the HomeKit automation platform in a big way. The company’s Eve line of products allows you to remotely trigger power outlets; monitor indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity, and air quality; and be alerted when doors and windows are being opened and closed.

Of all the HomeKit-compatible items discussed in this article, Elgato’s Eve Energy ($49.95) is the easiest to set up. Just plug it into a power outlet, type its HomeKit PIN into the free Eve app, and you’re done! In addition to toggling power to whatever electrical device is connected to Eve Energy’s receptacle, the device also tracks energy usage so you’ll know how much it’s costing you to heat that coffee pot every month.

Eve Room ($79.95) is nearly as simple to configure. Remove the battery cover, insert batteries, type the PIN in the Eve app, and you will see what the indoor temperature, humidity, and overall air quality is in your room of choice. I placed one in our basement so I know when it’s cool in the summer or damp after a rain shower. You can also monitor outdoor weather conditions using Eve Weather ($49.95).

Another useful monitoring device is the Eve Door & Window Sensor ($39.95) that alerts you when a door or window is opened or closed. Like Eve Room, setup is as easy as connecting a battery and typing in a PIN. Never again will I have to wonder if I left my bedroom window open when it’s raining because Eve will let me know, courtesy of its HomeKit connection. Now that the inside of your home has been automated with the latest HomeKit-compatible devices, you will want to secure that investment. What better way to do so than with a HomeKit-compatible lock? Schlage, a leader in the security hardware industry, has created its Sense Smart Deadbolt ($229), which is available in a variety of colors and styles to match your door design. Schlage also offers a matching handle set in case your front door has a handle locking bolt along with a deadbolt. This hardware combination will add roughly another hundred dollars to the overall price, but it’s a worthy upgrade considering what you’re securing behind that door.

If you’re handy with tools and inserting a couple screws, installing the hardware is a straightforward affair. Schlage offers several videos on its support website to help the process go smoothly. And unlike much more expensive locks that require additional electrical cabling for power, Schlage’s Sense Smart Deadbolt is entirely self-contained since it’s battery powered.

Once you’ve installed the hardware, download Schlage’s Sense app (free) and enter the deadbolt’s HomeKit PIN (located on the back of the deadbolt assembly or on the front sticker of the included user guide). Once paired, just toggle the on-screen icon in the Home app to lock and unlock the door (or just ask Siri to do it for you). You can also set up a Scene in the Home app to lock and unlock at certain times as well as create access codes on the front panel for keyless entry. 

The Sense Smart Deadbolt can store up to 30 different access codes, so that each family member, authorized visitor, and service worker can use their own unique code. That way, the app can display a log of who opened and locked the door at various times throughout the day. It can also alert you when the batteries need to be replaced or if an unauthorized individual has attempted to force their way in. If you have HomeKit configured on your spare iPad or Apple TV, you will be alerted when someone tries to unlock your door in real-time.

Conclusion

Smart home technology has come a long way. What used to take hours or even days of assembly and knowledge of electrical and software engineering has now been reduced to a few minutes of setup. As more and more manufacturers bring their home-related products online, this remarkable level of convenience will become standard for any network-enabled home product.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.