Sensors: Making a “smart home” an “automated home”

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Sure being able to control your fixtures using your phone or voice commands can be immensely useful, but what’s even more amazing is when things work “automagically”. This is where sensors come in. Over the years we’ve added motion sensors, open/close sensors, and presence sensors to our home in an effort to make things truly automated as much as possible.

Note: For all the devices mentioned in this post, you would need a hub: Samsung SmartThings Hub 3rd Generation (we have a slightly older version that works just fine still)


Motion Sensors

What we have: Samsung SmartThings Motion Sensor
Though this is the newer version: Samsung SmartThings Motion Sensor

Sprinkled throughout our house, you’ll find these little motion sensors mounted to walls. They’re not spying on you (no, they’re not a camera), they’re just detecting two things: motion and the temperature.

We have 11 motion sensors in our home in the following locations:

  • Master Bathroom x 2
  • Guest Bathroom x 2
  • Kitchen x 2
  • Entryway
  • Stairs
  • Upstairs Hall
  • Laundry Room
  • Half Bathroom

I should mention that our Arlo cameras function as motion sensors as well, so in some of these spots we have the Arlo cameras enabled as well for additional motion detection.

The purpose of each of these sensors is to turn on lights in the rooms they reside in. The lights will turn on for 1-2 minutes (depending on the room) and then turn back off if no further movement is detected.

After looking at our list above, you may be wondering: “Why do you have 2 in each of the upstairs bathrooms?” The answer is simple: Showers. See, when you hop in the shower, the shower door or curtain closes and the motion sensor outside can no longer detect your motion. So in each shower we also have a motion sensor, so the lights don’t turn off while you’re getting clean. Trust me, this is something we learned the hard way, haha!

For an example on how we use these motion sensors… If you’re in the master bedroom and need to carry some dishes to the dishwasher in the kitchen downstairs, the motions would guide you on your journey.

First, as you leave the master bedroom the upstairs hall motion sensor will turn on the upstairs hall light and the entryway light downstairs. As you pass by the stairs motion sensor and the entryway motion sensor, they won’t do anything since the lights are already on in this area. Then, as you enter the kitchen, the kitchen motion sensors will pick up your movement and turn on both kitchen lights.

This way you’re able to deposit your dishes in the dishwasher without having touched a single light switch or uttered any commands. To us, that’s true home automation.


Open/Close Sensors

What we have: Samsung SmartThings Multipurpose Sensor
There’s a newer version: Samsung SmartThings Multipurpose Sensor
Although Samsung calls them Multipurpose sensors, I’ll refer to them as open/close sensors as that’s what we use them for primarily.

We have 4 open/close sensors in our home in the following locations:

  • Front Door
  • Back Door
  • Crawl Space Door
  • Master Closet

The Front Door, Back Door, and Crawl Space Door open/close sensors are primarily for security purposes. All three of these door sensors will trigger our security measures if opened while the house is armed.

Regardless of the security status, any time the Crawl Space door is opened, we get a push notification on our phones. The reason for this is we’re paranoid someone will move into our giant crawl space and take up residence there without our knowledge. Yes we’re paranoid.

The Front and Back Door open/close sensors will also turn on lights when they’re opened after dark, just for safety in case those lights aren’t already on.

As for the Master Closet open/close sensor, we just really didn’t want to have to turn on/off the light in there every time we need clothes or to put something away. So this one’s pretty simple: If the door is open, the light is on. When the door is closed, the light turns back off without delay. Here’s a video of this in action:

Open/Close sensors can be used for a variety of other purposes as well. For example, they can be attached to mailboxes (unfortunately ours is too far from our house to remain connected reliably) so you know when the mail is delivered, they can be added to gates (we had one on our gate until it also became unreliable, so sad), you can even attach them to drawers that you don’t want to or can’t put a lock on, and so much more.

These nifty sensors also detect the temperature which may be useful depending on your home automation setup. For example you can have it adjust your thermostat or alert you when the temperature changes too much. Sometimes I use the temperature readings to see how well the house is circulating the heating or a/c.


Presence/Arrival Sensors

What we have: Samsung SmartThings Arrival Sensor

Important note: Only our petsitter has an arrival sensor and it’s completely unreliable and basically useless. Every time the petsitter comes for a new visit after being gone for a few weeks or months, it’s become unpaired from our hub but yet the battery is not dead. Sometimes when we think about it, we’ll leave a new set of keys for the petsitter with a working arrival sensor on it, so he can swap them out with the ones he has that don’t work… but it’s honestly not worth the hassle I think. We’re still figuring out a system for allowing the petsitter to arm/disarm the house, this would have been a great solution if it actually worked.

With that said, Anthony and I use our phones (with the SmartThings Classic app) as arrival sensors, and that tends to be very reliable at least! Each time we both leave the house, the home security status is changed from “Home” to “Armed (Away)”. Currently that means if someone opens one of the exterior doors these things will happen:

  • We’ll receive a push notification on both of our phones
  • The Arlo cameras will start recording
  • All of the lights throughout the house will turn on

It’s also possible to setup alarms to go off and such, but we haven’t bothered to configure that (the speakers on our Arlo cameras and our front door deadbolt would be the speakers here it seems). At one point we also had the motion sensors as a part of this, but the animals were triggering them sometimes so it’s better for just to just rely on the open/close sensors.

When we arrive back home, the house is automatically disarmed and we used to have it setup where the front porch lights would turn on (but now they’re on all the time at dark).


So there you have it, those are the various ways we use sensors throughout our home to further automate tasks like turning on/off lights and also for security. With the exception of the arrival sensor, these are all “set it and forget it” aside from the occasional battery replacement, so it really has made our lives easier overall.

Do you use any smart sensors in your home? If so, let us know what you have and what you use it for in the comments. We’re always looking for more ways to automate!

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