Smart Home For Beginners - Scenes

This is the second in a series on home automation basics. I’ll be covering some of the essentials like scenes & modes, automations, geofencing, voice assistants, and how to secure your smart home devices.

In the last video I walked through the different smart home platforms and technologies. If you haven't seen that one yet, I’ll include a link in the description ... or you can jump back one video in the home automation basics playlist. In this video I’ll be jumping into scenes.

While I will be giving examples from different systems like SmartThings, Google, Amazon, Apple and others, this is meant to be a platform agnostic view on home automation. These core concepts apply no matter what system you’re using. If you’re just getting started, then this is the series to watch. If you’re already building out your smart home, this may still spark some ideas.

Since you’re reading this, I’m sure you have a basic understanding of what a smart home is. You may have seen ads for Philips Hue lightbulbs or received an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini as a gift over the holidays. There’s no shortage of small gadgets and smart home devices getting pushed on the market, but it’s often that first device that gets you wondering what else you can do.

Smart homes are so much more than just being able to turn a lightbulb on or off with your phone. At a surface level it looks like these devices are just eye candy or a parlor trick and don’t have much use. Or that there’s no real meaning or purpose to the technology, so why bother. The reality is that smart home technology adds more than just convenience to our lives. It can help with energy conservation, home security, and even accessibility.

Before you can unlock the real benefits of smart home technology though, you have to be able to jump in, set it up, and start finding ways to apply this technology to your daily life. That’s where things fall a little short right now, and it’s why I’ve put these videos together. There’s so much potential here, but smart homes are still a bit confusing to get up and running.

Scenes

One of the first things that you need to understand and master is scenes. It doesn’t matter what smart home system you’re using, whether it’s Philips Hue, Apple’s Home, SmartThings, Home Assistant, Lutron, you name it. One thing most of them have in common is “scenes.”

What are scenes? It’s memorized or preconfigured settings for specific smart home devices in a given location, like a room. Think about all of the lights you turn on when you get home from work. Or how you like to set your lights when eating dinner in the dining room or watching a movie in the living room. Most of us have more than one light you have to turn on, or window shades you like to close when settling in for the night. Well, you’re basically just setting up which lights, outlets, and devices are turned on and to what level, and then saving that preset into your home automation app of choice. Then you can activate that scene at the press of a single button, talking to your voice assistant, or setting up routines to trigger them automatically (more on that in a future video).

In the Philips Hue app all you have to do is tap on the “New Scene” button in the upper left hand corner of the app. If you’ve setup up rooms, you tell the app which room this scene should be assigned to. Name the scene and select which lights should turn on and to what levels. Do you like it dim? Then something like 30%.

As an example, I’m going to setup a scene for helping to wake up. I’m going to select all of the lights in my bedroom. In the Hue app I have a bunch of bulbs grouped to match color. If I wanted I could drag any of them out of this grouping and give them a unique color. Tap on each light and I can set the brightness level for that specific light. Tap on the group and I can change the brightness for all of the lights in that group. I’m going to do each light individually and set the headboard backlight a little brighter than the rest. Save it and I’m done. Now if I tap that scene it will turn every light on to exactly how I configured that scene.

In SmartThings it’s very similar. On the “My Home” screen you tap on the “scenes” tab and then tap on “Add a scene.” Select your devices that you want to control and what settings they should use.

In Apple’s Home, you tap on the + sign in the upper right and then “Add Scene.” You can select from a suggested option or tap “custom” and select specific devices and settings you’d like to use. Again, very similar.

Google Home is the odd service in the grouping here. While it supports scenes that you’ve created in other apps, like the Philips Hue app, you can’t create scenes directly in Google Home. It’s odd and I’m hoping it’s something they add down the road, but for now you have to rely on your smart home gadget makers app to create scenes for those devices, or to rely just on “routines” within Google Home app. Routines in Google Home get you most of the way there, but there are some differences and I’ll get into that in a later video.

For other devices, like the Ecobee thermostat, there aren’t scenes, but there is something called “Comfort Settings,” which for all intents and purposes act a lot like scenes. You create a comfort setting for home, away, night, or anything you want, which is where you assign temperature, fan settings, and sensors to use, but in and of themselves those comfort settings don’t do anything. You use the “schedule” to activate those comfort settings at certain times. So in the case of Ecobee, comfort settings are essentially scenes. Even if your device doesn’t have explicit “scenes” by name, there may be a similar functionality under another name. Keep an eye out for that.

So why are scenes the first thing I recommend wrapping your head around and getting setup? First, it’s for convenience. You’ll be able to tap on a single button within an app to get a grouping of lights or devices to turn on to a specific brightness, color, temperature, or whatever the feature is.

Second, is for laying the groundwork for more robust automations with routines. You’ll be able to set any number of triggers that can automatically activate a specific scene. For instance, if you want all of your living room lights to turn on at 50% brightness when you get home, and you also want those same lights to be at 50% when watching TV, then you can have a “I’m home” and “watch TV” routine that both activate the same 50% brightness scene. Change that one scene and both routines will get the updated settings. It makes it much easier to manage as your smart home setup grows. For the object oriented programmers out there, this should feel right at home.

In the next one we’ll dive into routines and modes, so you definitely don’t want to miss that one. We’ll start building out triggers, tapping into the scenes from this video, and pushing things to the next level.