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The secret to reliable remote control of your smart home

As I’ve described here and in my classic book on home automation, Smart Home Hacks, no system is flawless. But ff you’re depending on your automations to control and monitor your home while you’re traveling, there is an easy, albeit messy, way to help you recover when communication failures inevitably occur.

There are, most commonly, three things that can cause the dreaded “offline” response from your remote home: crashes, software updates, and ISP disruptions. For now, let’s focus on the first two.

Aside from egregious and user-hostile automatic updates, such as those deployed by Hue, failed communications can often be resumed by rebooting the uncooperative device. But if your home automation system is offline, how do you reboot it from afar? The answer is the strategic deployment of a redundant control mechanism.

First, figure out which components of your system are either critical, such as cameras, or linchpins that affect other devices, such as hubs. Each of these components should be plugged into a power switch that you can control independently of your home automation system.

For example, I have a HomePod mini that serves as the automation hub for my system. If the HomePod stops operating correctly, my entire HomeKit network is no longer controllable. If the error is bad enough, another hub on the network will take over (an Apple TV, for example). But it’s possible for the HomePod to be operating normally, except for accepting remote commands. (This is a real-world example, which happened to me after the iOS 16.1 software update.) That’s why my HomePod is plugged into a Wemo switch. See the photo below, where I’m using a bulky first-gen Wemo switch that I’ve had for over a decade.

homepod mini and a wemo switch gordon meyer

Using this permits to me to turn off power to the HomePod via Wemo’s independent remote control system. Then, after waiting a few minutes, I turn the Wemo switch back on, which restarts the HomePod and (hopefully) resolves the problem.

In addition to Wemo, some other devices that provide independent remote control that I’ve used are Meross and Switchbot. It gets a little pricey to add a $20+ switch to each of your critical devices, but the peace of mind it provides is worth it, and if you need to use it, you’ll be glad to have it.

Of course, if your Internet connection is down, you won’t be able to reach the independent devices either. So, in a future post, I’ll describe what I use to reboot my network automatically when it goes offline.


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