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Collecting Data from Your Smart Home

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Home Automation is an addiction: Once you’ve had a taste, it is a very difficult drug to give up. We’re high on the concept that all of the things that used to be tedious tasks before, now happen for us automatically. Its affinity keeps us bound, where we are chasing our next euphoria–constantly connecting different parts of our homes to different services; whether it’s SmartThings, Wink, Wyze Cam, Google, Nest, Ring, or any of the countless other smart home platforms, we are intertwining our homes and devices to them. With that said, you bet your ass that all of these companies are all taking little pieces of data from us–so why don’t we as well? If we did, what would we do with it? Well, together, let’s take a look and see what we can come up with.

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Many people struggle to wrap their heads around just how much data our connected homes generate. Without a shred of doubt, the companies mentioned earlier recognize this, and they clearly see a value in it; if they didn’t, we would not be reading daily about privacy concerns. I earnestly do not have that many concerns about the data I’ve generated that is out there; I surely take steps to protect the data that is personal to me, and I also take measures to ensure that no data is going any place that I do not want it to. However, I have accepted the fact that as soon as any piece of my life, or my home, is connected, some data will be transferred out; but I also make sure I draw data for myself. With this data I’ve reserved, I have been able to grow my automation to what it is today–but this leads us to a very important question: Why should we collect data from our connected homes?

Our inquiry as to why we should be collecting data from our connected homes can be answered quite simply: You can never have too much data! Indulge–especially when it comes to sensor data. Bask in your efficiency!

 

I am a glutton and use every tool at my disposal to log every sensor state change, from every device that I am able to, and trust me, I have a Hell of a lot of devices; I’m obsessed! A great example of this desire to utilize all data I can, is my Aeon Labs Home Energy Meter; hourly the data readings from this get logged into a spreadsheet, which allows me to plot graphs and track my energy consumption, historically, so I can see when things spike, and if those said spikes become the new norm. When I see a constant pattern of spikes, I know there is something that I need to look further into, so that I can examine if it truly is the new norm, or if an issue has arisen, such as an appliance dying. Without this historical data, I typically would be none the wiser until at least a few months down the line, bleeding money straight from my pocket that I didn’t know I was losing and could have easily prevented. Since we live in a world of online banking and auto bill pay–which is exactly how my electric bill is–I cannot tell you the last time I actually looked at a bill, especially an electric bill. With the data logging from my Aeon Labs Energy Meter, dissecting my energy consumption on my electric bill will be a task of the past. And you can practice the same type of efficiency with Contact Sensors, Motion Sensors, Light Sensors–really, any kind of sensor you wish–and with just little effort, you can have that data displayed in a graph that can show you everything that you could ever want to know.

Our connected homes, however, consist of more than just sensors. I also log all of my other device state changes as well; this allows me to track patterns in the usage of these devices so that I can plan automation around them. It is this data that allows automation to actually be autonomous. Our lives are ever-changing, and our automation needs to adapt to these changes. I track everything–from the times that lights go on and off (and how long they were on in-between), to fan state changes with my HVAC system. I can compare this data to various data from my sensors, and further track patterns, allowing me to adjust and create new automation. HVAC data can also be compared to local weather patterns; for this, I use a Netatmo Weather Station. By overlaying this weather data with the data, I collect from my Ecobee Thermostat, I can get a real look at what is going on.

So, you might think I am nuts (I am slightly, but that’s for another discussion…)–you are probably thinking you just want to set up SmartThings or Wink, connect some lights, and wow your friends with the ability to turn them on and off with an app or with an Amazon Echo; that is all well and good, but my friend, that is not automation. To truly have automation, you must have data. Now, I know a lot of data can be had just by looking through the various apps you use to control your smart home, but who has time to do that when you can spend a few hours setting things up with IFTTT and a Google Sheet and have it all plotted out for you? Of course, I am not saying that everyone needs to go to the lengths that I do, and literally collect every little piece of data that you can, but you should be collecting something and using that to make SMART decisions and turn your connected home into a smart home.

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I’ll tell you a little story: A while back, I eagerly wanted a notification when my dishwasher was finished. I thought long and hard about how to do this. I even searched for connected dishwashers, but back then, none existed. Utilizing that noggin of mine, I came to the realization that the dishwasher produced heat during its cycle, so I put a temperature sensor under it (I used a LeakSmart Sensor which could also detect a leak under my dishwasher and gave me that piece of mind), and I started logging the daily nominal temperature without it running. I did this over the course of a year, because, living in New England, we have all four seasons, and big temperature swings, so I wanted to make sure I got a realistic average. I then started logging temperature data from my LeakSmart Sensor at different parts of the dishwasher cycle. At the time, I was using Wink, which has nowhere near the automation power that I required, but to my luck, Stringify was starting its Android Beta at this time. Not only did I use my LeakSmart Sensor, connected through Wink to Stringify to log the data for me, but once I had the data, I was able to set a temperature threshold, which when that LeakSmart Sensor’s temperature reading crossed that threshold, would start a timer in Stringify that was equivalent to the time it would take the dishwasher to finish. Stringify would then send a message to me, letting me know the dishwasher was done (or about to be finished), and allow me to get the dishes put away (and score some brownie points with the wife, who all of a sudden thought I was paying attention to things like the dishwasher). What she didn’t know was that I just wanted to see what I could do with data, and it ended up being a win/win situation for the both of us.

 

The power of the data that we can get from our homes really allows us to monitor and spend wisely. For instance, you can easily compare HVAC run times to contact sensor data. I don’t imagine that I am the only guy with a wife who likes to provide free air conditioning to the outside world (at my expense) by leaving every window open, whilst the air conditioner is running in the summer (if you’re reading this, I love you, honey). Being able to show my wife this data generated by my Ecobee Thermostat and my contact sensors when it came time to pay the bill for running the air conditioner, made the argument very easy for me to win. I was glorious, and it proved that the data that you should be paying attention to, is the very easiest to get, and will make a world of difference in your HVAC costs.

Now, I do have to admit with the amount of data I collect, most of it goes unused, but that does not change anything for me because I can always go back and look at it and see something that I did not see before that could potentially make life easier with automation. Automation, true automation–not just remote control–can only come from two things: sensors, and data from those sensors as well as the data from connected devices. If we really want to become the Jetsons and have everything automated, then we need to gather this data, compile it, and act upon it. As an example; why let some company (I’m talking about you Nest) make decisions about how to run your HVAC based on your data? Do it yourself! You can do an even better job because you know more about your own habits and the habits of your family.

I must warn you, however, data can also be a curse. I can spend hours, obsessing over every little detail which will only take away from your enjoyment of your smart home. So, it does take some mental training to really get into properly analyzing this data and not getting overwhelmed by it. In my opinion, data is only valuable over a period of time, so you do have to give this data some time to build up before you start digging in. I know for some (myself included), this can be difficult. I want to look at it constantly, and react on the fly to every little thing, but I have learned that doing that will only be a futile effort and not have any effect over the historical performance of any system.

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You might ask, “What types of data should I be collecting?” Well, that is not a question that anyone can really answer for you. Only you can decide, based on your own situation, what data to collect. That is why I collect everything (well that and the fact that I am a total geek and love data). The daily habits of my family change and data that I may not need this year might be used next year to improve the automated quality of life for my family. To me, it is much easier to delete (or archive) data that is not needed, than it is to try and make guesses on data that I do not have.

With so many options out there for smart devices and services, collecting data from our connected homes has never been easier. Spend some time with IFTTT, Stringify, and even the smart home apps and web portals that you are already using to see what is there and what you can make happen automatically. Personally, I do not record any data myself; I use either IFTTT or Stringify connected to my various home automation ecosystems to do it for me. All I had to do was design the spreadsheets that I use to display that data to me, and then sit back and watch the charts and graphs populate. Design of these spreadsheets take some time and may take some trial and error but please take that time and make sure they are what you want and can be presented to you in a valuable, easy to understand way.

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If you are not collecting data from your connected home, then you need to start, or you will always be stuck with a pseudo smart home (or connected home as I like to call it) that you may be able to control remotely and impress your friends with at parties, but that is it. Until every one of us starts using the data generated by our homes to shape true automation then the home automation space will stay in this fragmented, stagnant state that we are currently in, because the majority of people only care about remote control and not about true automation. If we all start implementing true automation, then we will cause companies, such as SmartThings and Wink, to innovate and come up with products that fulfill our automation needs. Data is big business, and it is time consumers started using it to shape business instead of letting companies make decisions based off of their own interpretations of our data. Furthermore, you do not want to base decisions off of data that is inaccurate or incomplete. Inaccuracy can be overcome with the products that we select to use in our home, and this product selection will cause companies to make better products when they see that their inaccurate sensors or devices are not being sold. Missing data is on us consumers (or a custom integrator if you do not DIY your system), and we must be vigilant in the implementation and design of our networks (more to come on that in a future article). We have the power to manipulate the market in our favor, to make our lives easier and turn connected homes into smart homes.

As consumers using the data generated by our connected homes we can transform them into smart homes that can be euphoric to see in action and give us all the high we are looking for from a truly smart home.

How many of you are collecting data from your connected home? Tell me about some of that data you are collecting and what you are doing with it in the comments below:

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Mike View All

I am passionate about the IoT and connected devices. Using connectivity to automate our lives will empower civilization to achieve greatness.

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