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I write a lot about smart home lighting. I'm fond of the way I can (and do) automate the lighting in my own home. And I'll touch on that in this article. But automation isn't the only way to create a 'smarter' home or office.

Smart Home Automation – Push, Plug, or Phone It Home

Steve Maurer, IME
I write a lot about smart home lighting. I'm fond of the way I can (and do) automate the lighting in my own home. And I'll touch on that in this article. But automation isn't the only way to create a 'smarter' home or office.

While smarter can mean automated, it goes beyond that. A smarter home is also a safer home, with electrical products installed to keep you and your family safe.

Of course, having GFCI or AFCI receptacles in your home helps keep your family safe from shocks and other electrical hazards. Or you can, like I usually do, install GFCI and AFCI breakers to ensure my entire circuit run is protected. While receptacles are often great for retrofitting existing circuits, large loads may require a breaker designed for those loads.

Just remember that receptacles only protect devices and wiring downstream from them, not back to the breaker panel.

While we're at the circuit panel, let's look at some automation features. Something relatively new in the market is the smart circuit panel/breakers. While not strictly automatic, there are some cool features to be used by you, or your customers if you're an electrician.

Smart breakers connect to the home's Wi-Fi network via a hub. The hub is installed in the panel and is connected to the home network either by an antenna for wireless connectivity, or by an ethernet cable.

So, why is this something you'd want?

One thing that can be done easily, particularly with the Leviton app, is energy consumption monitoring. If you want to get down to energy control at the panel level, the app can show you how much energy is being consumed by the connected breakers.

This helps you calculate energy costs (want to know if your kids are using up all your money? Just sayin' …). With some products, you can actually turn off a breaker from a remote location. If you're off on a trip and can't remember if you left the stove on, check it on your phone. If it shows energy consumption, you did. But you don't need to go back home … you can shut off the breaker from your phone.

Note: while you can turn a breaker off, you can't turn it back on. It's a safety thing.

You can power all of your circuits with smart breakers, or just the critical ones you want to monitor. The choice is up to you. Just understand that the breakers can only be used in the panel they're designed for. This is great for new home installations, not so much for retros unless a full upgrade is the order of the day.

Let's get back to some real home automation now.

Automated lighting can be accomplished either by smart bulbs (connected to your network wirelessly), or by smart switches. The advantage of smart switches is that you don't need to upgrade to new bulbs in most cases. If you're going to dim the lighting, make sure your lamps and fixtures are compatible.

By the way, adding a new switch to a smart switch enable circuit doesn't always mean rewiring. There are some 'place anywhere' switches that connect to the smart switch wirelessly.

I love smart lighting control for a variety of reasons. Back in the day, three-way bulbs were popular, if you had the correct switch in the lamp fixture. But you were limited to the settings available on the bulb. With smart bulbs and switches, the light levels are customizable to the exact lumen output desired.

And of course, I can talk to mine … and that means I'll never stub my toe on a chair leg in the dark again.

Well, almost never.

Lighting control over the phone is really convenient. No more stumbling into a dark house with arms full of grocery bags! And while away, you can get that 'lived in' look with a touch of a button.

For table lamps and other accessories, smart plugs can be used. They plug into existing, dare I say, dumb outlets and give wireless control to whatever's plugged into them.

It's also possible to get a receptacle that has one outlet always on and the other that Wi-Fi enabled. That's right, one can be controlled with the phone app. Imagine being able to turn off the Christmas lights without crawling underneath the tree to find the plug or switch that's inevitably in the farthest location possible!

Another receptacle option, while not automated, makes another smart choice. It seems there's never enough space to plug in all those adapters to charge our smartphones or other devices. You've seen them in airports … not you can add them to the home and office environments, too.

Receptacles with built-in USB ports are now available to install. Some of the poplar choices are a receptacle with two USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, or combos with one of each.

These combo receptacles alleviate the adapter cluster and leave room for everything to be plugged in neatly. And I've even seen them with four USB-A ports without a power receptacle. Create a true phone-charging station anywhere you want.
'Smart' don't just mean automation. They can mean the right type of power supply when you need it and where you need it. Home, office, or home office included.
Photo courtesy of Leviton
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