Automating Our Home (Roomba 690 and Nest Thermostat Review)

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Semi-peaceful coexistence between the cat and the robot vacuum.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much home automation can simplify household chores. There are so many little chores to do around the house, which individually are quite simple, but on their own, can really add up! For example, every night before I go to bed, I clean the cat’s litterbox, feed the cat, turn off the air filter, turn on the air humidifer, and close the curtains. In the morning, these steps are reversed (minus the cat parts). They are little chores, but they do take up a small amount of brainpower every day. With all this talk of automating your personal finances, why not automate your home?

Not all chores are automatable, though. (I wish someone would invent a machine that automatically cleaned the toilet! Or maybe they have?) But I’ve been trying some home automations around the house recently, and thought I’d report on them here.

Electric timers

There are so many “smart” things these days (smart blenders, smart lightbulbs, smart paper towels, and so on…). Most of these I find to be overkill for our household, but I do like the idea of automatic scheduling. So I picked up five electrical outlet timers at Home Depot as a low-key solution. And they’re amazing! They automatically turn on/off the air filter, humidifier, string lights, nightlight, and Christmas tree lights (when applicable). They make me happy. Although it sounds like such a small thing, having all those items switch on and off on their own schedule, without me having to think about it, has been pretty freeing.

Robot vacuum (Roomba 690)

Vacuuming is my favorite chore, not. Cat + carpet (mandated by my condo) + dust allergies is not a good combination, but still I don’t drag out that vacuum often enough. So last Black Friday, we got this Roomba 690 for $250 (the simplest model), and have been using it for the last few months.

The good

  • It picks up visible dirt, and then some. For example, after an hour of vacuuming every other day, it picks up a large handful of dust and pet hair. Although that may not seem like much, it’s better than that dirt sitting on the floor, isn’t it?
  • It runs on a schedule!
  • If I know the Roomba’s going to run that day, it encourages me to tidy things off the floor that it might get stuck on later (like charging cables = Roomba’s nemesis).

The bad

  • It gets stuck pretty often, at least once or twice a run  (rug corners, inside the bathroom when it pushes the door shut). In the several months that I’ve had it, it’s successfully completed an entire run on its own maybe once or twice.  It runs best if I’m home and can rescue it when needed.
  • The smartphone app is pretty buggy in terms of reporting its progress. It works great for controlling it though (and it even syncs up to Alexa, the height of luxury).

Conclusion? A pretty good buy. I wasn’t sure if the Roomba would work well on carpet, but it seems to be picking up a reasonable amount of dirt. One downside is that it’s made me even more lazy about regular vacuuming though, since I feel like Roomba’s taken care of it already.

Smart thermometer (Nest 3rd generation)

I didn’t have as good a reason for getting a smart thermostat, except that the old thermostat was falling off the wall, so I needed to get a replacement at some point. Plus, the Nest looked all fancy and flashy with the turnable knob, so why not give it a shot.

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Nest set to a chilly 18 C. This photos is actually an excuse to show off the hand-painted plates from my in-laws, which were a wedding gift 🙂

The good

  • It works. It’s handy to control the AC/heat when you’re lying in bed, or when you’re away from the house. It’s nice how it only turns on when it senses that you’re home (it knows when you’re home through the smartphone app).
  • It’s easy to schedule. A normal thermostat could do that do, but it’s easier with the app with the pretty user interface.
  • I got a rebate from my utilities company ($50). That’s nice.

The bad

  • The much-touted “learns your schedule and adjusts the heat automatically” feature isn’t very useful. I didn’t find the schedule it learned very accurate, so I just manually set up the schedule instead.

Conclusion? It’s fun to use and used pretty regularly, but a regular thermostat would’ve done just fine. Oh well, it looks cool and it works, so no harm done.

Summary

The outlet timers are amazing, the robot vacuum is pretty useful, and the smart thermostat not so much. If I take a step back and think about all the “gadgets” that we have in this house to reduce household chores, it’s really the traditional appliances, like the laundry machine and dishwasher, that are the greatest time savers. I get such a kick out of sitting on my couch and hearing the laundry machine wash my clothes, or the dishwasher clean the dishes, while I relax in leisure. Am I weird? In any case, thank you, modern technology! But please hurry up and develop that toilet cleaning robot and dish stacking robot right away.

Have you tried any smart devices? Any tips for reducing the amount of little chores around the house?

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