The landscape of home automation platforms controlling lights and other home devices has shifted from high-end professionally installed systems to consumer-driven do-it-yourself (DIY) systems. These new DIY smart home devices achieve and often exceed the functionality of their counterparts at a fraction of the price. They are also easy to implement on both a small and large scale. Unlike the professionally installed systems, you don’t have to commit thousands of dollars implementing a whole home system. You can simply begin with a single switch and look to expand as you see fit.
The first question one needs to ask is: Which HUB and corresponding app do you want to use as the nucleus or backbone of your smart home? Your HUB will act as a communication bridge between your WiFi network and all your connected devices. While you may be able to avoid a hub in some cases, as you connect more devices, the HUB becomes critical in integrating them into a single platform. Additionally, for Shabbos implementation a HUB is currently recommended. For this article, we will review the Wink Hub 2 ($99.00 at Wink.com). I will expand on the Shabbos implementation first and then go back and fill in some of the other product choices and rationales.
The free Wink app that is available for mobile devices allows you to easily create detailed schedules. You can create a “Shabbos Night On” schedule that turns on the desired lights for Friday night and then create another “Shabbos Night Off” schedule to close them when you expect your meal to end, etc. The scheduler always knows what time Shabbos is, even after Daylight Savings Time adjustments, since it is based on sunset and the app knows your location. You simply need to set it once and it is calibrated forever.
It would be ideal for the app to have a “Yom Tov” option where it simply knows the days of the chagim. This is the first area the Wink HUB falls short of addressing the needs of the shomer Shabbos consumer. For now, the pretty simple workaround is to go into the app the week of Yom Tov and schedule your “Shabbos Night” schedule for the specific nights of Yom Tov as well. For example, this year Succos fell out on out on Monday and Tuesday in the diaspora. Instead of setting the schedule for just Friday night, update the scheduler to take effect Sunday, Monday and Friday. The key is to remember to undo the days of Yom Tov after the last days of the Chag. While I would love to see a more automated Yom Tov option, this deficiency should not deter anyone from considering this solution. I will review the Samsung SmartThings App a a later time. While Smartthings potentially has more Yom Tov options, the App itself is more complicated which is one of the reasons I choose Wink.
Of course, outside of Shabbos, these schedules are also used to turn off all the house lights in the evening and turn on the outside lights at dusk. My children’s bedroom lights are scheduled to go off after they leave to school even if they forget to turn them off (kids, you know who you are). One can also “group” lights into rooms, floors, outdoor or other categories so you can simply turn on or off a whole group in a single command.
There are also two services new to the Wink application. HomesitterTM is a service that will make it look like you are home even when you are away by opening and closing lights in a natural (not random) pattern. If you are away for a Shabbos, this may be viewed as a halachic problem. MoonLightTM is another service that is designed to turn lights on and off between dusk and dawn, which is just a simpler version of the scheduler. There are also some great integrations with smart locks that we will save for another time.
The HUB, however, is just the controller, and you still need to purchase the individual switches. Wink provides an ever-growing list of compatible products that you can control on its platform. For lights, unless your wiring is old or you are just looking to for a single bulb on a lamp, I would recommend smart switches over individual smart bulbs, since bulbs eventually need replacements. Having a single switch cover multiple bulbs is often more cost-effective and practical. I use the Leviton Decora ZWave + Smart In-Wall Switch or Smart Dimmer. The Zwave is so that you are not reliant on WiFi for schedules and the dimmer is for applications where you want to control not only the on/off state but also the brightness of the light. You will need to make sure your bulbs are dim-able as fluorescent applications, and many LED bulbs are incompatible with dimmers. For three- and four-way switch applications, for instances where more than one switch controls the same light (such as at the top and bottom of steps), a “compatible” switch will be necessary. These applications often require an experienced electrician to install them correctly. These switches will, of course, look and act as normal switches and turn on and off your light with a touch. I particularly like these Leviton switches for not having an on/off physical state, so even three-way switches never seem like they are installed backward with the switch rocker in the up position while the light is in fact off. For users of electric hot plates, hot water percolators or pressure cookers, a Leviton smart plug can easily be inserted into the outlet and programmed to go off at the desired time, adding an extra layer of safety. I will also recommend this later for Amazon Echo applications.
Before you can add schedules for your switches you will need to “pair” the switches with your hub. In my experience, this was not always as easy as it should be. The good news is that Wink provides an excellent customer service experience with the availability of a live and knowledgeable customer support line.
All in all, I would give the Wink high marks as the app is simple, flexible and constantly improving. The myriad of products that it pairs with is ever-expanding and I look forward to reviewing several in upcoming articles. If Wink were to make a little more effort toward shomer Shabbos needs, I would say they are the preferred system. For now, I simply say they are a strong choice in a competitive landscape. However, once you implement a Shabbos smart home, you may wonder how you ever lived without it.