How I scared my babysitter with my Smart Home

Building your Smart Home is fun, every week I add new functions, making it smarter. Now our Smart Home behaviour is really based on the presence me and my wife. Which is working great and also saved me already a lot of money on the energy bill. But the problem with automation or programming, in general, is that you have to keep the exceptions in mind. And I forgot one… the babysitter.

So let me first walk you through a little of our smart home setup. If you have read my blog earlier, then you probably know that I use a Homey as a Smart Hub. Homey connects every device together and can perform tasks based on triggers. Another important element in our smart device list is our thermostat Tado. It comes with a great geofencing feature that I can use to determine if we are home or not.

How we connected our Smart Home

So with our two main Smart devices, we have an excellent base to build our smart home on. Based on the geofencing information of Tado we know if one of us is home. As a backup, I also check if our mobile phones are connected to the Wifi network. I am using Unifi Access Points with a controller installed on a Raspberry Pi. I connected the controller with Homey so we can double check things.

Now there are a couple of things you want to control when you are home or not:

  • Lights on when it gets dark (normal behaviour)
  • Turn the lights off at “bedtime” when nobody is home
  • Check if the heating is in away mode (Tado does a great job itself, but other Smart Thermostats may need a hand)
  • Turn the hot water off (Again Tado handle this self, but double check because no need to keep the tap water warm when nobody is home)
  • Enable or disable the alarm system

What went wrong

We have little kids at the age of 2 and 4. So the last couple of years we didn’t go out a lot. But as the little one gets older it is time to take the misses out for dinner sometimes. The first time (with our Smart Home up and running in our new house) was in the summer. It stayed light outside until late and it was nice and warm. Nobody noticed anything, we where home before dark and the heating didn’t need to turn on.

But last time it was cold and it now gets dark a lot earlier in the evening. Luckily I realized when were leaving that I need to overrule Tado so it wouldn’t turn off. The lights were one and we went into town. What I totally forgot was that the alarm would be turned on when were 300 feet away from our home. After the first course I realized it, check my phone and yep, the alarm was triggered. I turned it off and we continued our meal, I would explain it later to the babysitter.

When we got closer to home I noticed all the lights where off. Yes, this time we stayed out a little longer, so the lights were turned off because it was passed “bedtime”. And to top it off, they turn on when we come home after “bedtime”.

So imagine that you are babysitting somewhere, you put the kids to bed to come downstairs and the alarm goes on… Our alarm is a quiet alarm, but you first get a verbal warning. So except the flashing red light no big deal. Then 30 minutes later suddenly the alarm is turned off, which Homey (just like Alexa or Google) verbally announces. Then a few hours later when you are watching Netflix, the lights turn off without a warning.  And 20 minutes later they all turn on again.

Luckily she isn’t scared easily and we had a good laugh when we got home.

Making your Smart Home Guest Proof

Now we need to address this issue of course. There are a couple of approaches to this issue, you can check your wifi network for a guest device. But this will require the babysitter to connect to your wifi network. Not always convenient, besides that, a new smart device may be seen as a “guest” device. Another option would be to set a variable in your smart hub that you can check on or use your smart thermostat status.

I solved it with the set variable option. In Homey I can create a custom button in the app that will set a variable to true or false. The variable “babysitter mode” is added in every flow as a condition. So the alarm is only turned on if the variable “babysitter mode” is false. The lights won’t turn off at “bedtime” when the “babysitter mode” is true. As a little detail, I let the led ring of Homey glow a nice purple colour as a reminder of the babysitter mode.


Using Alexa to support your babysitter

If you have Alexa in your house then you have also the ability to assist your babysitter. There are custom skills available that will help your babysitter to take care of the little ones. To create you babysitter skill go to the Skill blueprint editor. Here you can learn Alexa answers different questions, like where to find things, allergies, emergency contacts etc. For example:

“Alexa, open My Babysitter.”

Alexa: Hello, and thanks for all your help today. This is your custom guide to caring for the little one. If you have any questions, just ask.

“Where are the diapers?”

Alexa: In the nursery closet, check the bottom left shelf. What else would you like to know?

Combine this skill with the house quest skill and you won’t scare your babysitter as I did 😉

Conclusion

Always keep the exceptions in mind when you automate your home. You might have guests over, a babysitter or maybe your kids are alone at home. They should be able to control the basic, essential, devices in a house like heating, light and alarm without your presence.