You Should Keep a Handbook for Your Smart-home Automations

You Should Keep a Handbook for Your Smart-home Automations

Every big purchase you make comes with a user’s manual: cars, dishwashers, even calculators. But your biggest purchase, your home, does not come with instructions, so I’ve previously advocated for creating your own manual. A little bit of documentation means you have easy access to every single paint color and appliance model number in your home.

You should add your smart home information to that handbook. By laying out what products are owned by which hub, app and automation, you relieve the burden on your future self when trying to diagnose your inevitable smart home issues. You also create the ultimate handbook to pass off to a future owner, if you sell your place.

Start by describing your hubs

If you use a multi-system hub and voice assistant like Google, Amazon or Apple, describe the general layout of your system in your handbook. Talk about how to access those assistants, where those speakers or devices are.

Next, lay out any additional hubs and their locations—these are the devices that some products come with that are required just for that product. I tend to keep them in one spot, and I try to label them for my own sanity (and to justify the label maker).

This process may seem unnecessary, but it takes a surprisingly short amount of time, and means you can easily backtrack when a device goes offline. Also, you’ll upgrade and change out products in the future as technology evolves. There’s no reason to keep a hub around if you no longer have associated products, but you’re unlikely to remember which hub goes to what devices off the top of your head. This documentation will easily remind you as you make those changes.

Keep an inventory of smart products

The same way you do your appliances—so you can easily order parts, access support and provide documentation to insurance should you need it—you should just keep a list of your smart products. A spreadsheet works for this; for each product, make sure you note which app and hub it’s linked to. While you add products one at a time, you often forget how many brands you have, and it’s not always easy to figure out. For instance, smart bulbs and plugs often don’t have names stamped on them, and even when they do, the app doesn’t necessarily match. Many brands have adopted generic app names like “Smart Life” or “Home Life.” I’ve had a heck of a time tracking back products to their apps when I’ve needed to—and you are likely to need to at some point.

Document your automations

I have tons of automations running, and for the most part, they perform simple tasks, like turning the lights on at a certain time, running a vacuum under specific circumstances, or responding with information when I ask a question. The problem is, these automations add up, and if you need to figure out why a vacuum is running at 3pm every day, it turns out there are many places that automation could originate from: the app for the vacuum itself, your voice assistant like Alexa or Google, or a third party integration service like IFTTT or Zapier. You will be shocked at how easy it is to forget how you set something up. Documenting these automations, even in the simplest terms, is going to eliminate that problem.

I like to think of your smart home as a sprinkler system. Normally, they just work, so you don’t have to think about them. But when something goes wrong, you have no way to know what’s going on underneath, much less what is most likely to be the source of your problem, without documentation. A map and inventory of the system is going to come in really handy under those circumstances—and your smart home is exactly the same.

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