Using Geofencing to save energy in our homes
Using Geofencing to save energy in our homes

Saving Energy by Using Geofencing in Smart Homes

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

Today our guest author Matt Ferrell is continuing his Smart Home for Beginners series. This time exploring the world of geofencing for smart homes.

You might be wondering, what’s so special about geofencing? Well, it’s all about making your home smarter and more energy efficient. With geofencing, you can create a virtual boundary around your home and set up routines that trigger when you cross that boundary.

Think about this way: your smart thermostat adjusts the temperature based on whether you’re home or not, preventing any energy wastage. And the best part? This doesn’t just make your home smarter, it can also save you money by reducing energy costs, and reduce your caron footprint.

But it’s not just about energy conservation, geofencing also adds an extra layer of security to your home. Imagine leaving your house knowing that all unnecessary lights will be turned off, and security systems activated.

Geofencing is compatible with most smart home apps and platforms, and it’s a versatile tool that can make a huge difference in how your home operates.

Matt’s latest video in this series dives deeper into this topic, showing you just how beneficial geofencing can be and how to set it up.


Mastering Geofencing in Smart Homes

This is a series on home automation basics. I’ll be covering some of the essentials like scenes and modes, automations, voice assistance, and how to secure your smart home devices. In the last video, I walked through routines and how to set them up. If you haven’t seen that one yet or the video on scenes, I’ll include links in the description. You can also jump back one or two videos in the Smart Home for Beginners playlist.

In this video, I’ll be jumping into geofencing, which is where the smart in smart homes starts to appear. And while I will be giving examples from different systems like SmartThings, Google, Amazon, and others, this is meant to be a platform agnostic view on home automation. These core concepts apply no matter what system you’re using. If you’re just getting started, then this is the series to watch. If you’re already building your smart home out, this may still spark some ideas.

But before we dive in, take a moment and hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss out on the full series of videos. I’m Matt Ferrell … welcome to Undecided.

So far, we’ve covered scenes which are useful as an element of a smart home, but they’re not really smart at all. They’re just a preset that you can turn on or off. Routines add a little more smarts to your smart home because they offer a variety of triggers that you can use to turn those scenes on or off. You can use time of day, or manual trigger through an app, button, or voice command. You can layer criteria for those triggers to things like automatically running a routine on a weekday morning, but only if someone is home, which is where geofencing comes in.

With geofencing, you create a virtual geographic boundary around a location of your choice. The system uses the GPS of your phone or something like the SmartThings presence sensors. When a tracker enters or leaves that virtual boundary, you can trigger any routine you want. You’re taking that already powerful routine, like the ones we created in the last video, and making them even smarter.

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A great example, and one that can save you money, is combining geofencing with a smart thermostat. You all probably have a thermostat that you can configure with temperature settings that are triggered at a specific time and day. But with geofencing, your home also knows if it’s empty or not.

To use my own setup as an example, I have an eCube thermostat that has temperature and motion sensors in each room of the house. The system is capable of recognizing if a room is occupied or not with those motion sensors. And if it doesn’t detect any movement in any of the rooms, it can automatically dial things down and flip it into another heating and cooling mode.

I’ve taken a little more manual control over this with my system. In my home, I’ve used SmartThings, and now Hubitat, as my central service, which is using our phones as presence sensors. If Hubitat detects that both my wife and I have left the house, it tells eCube to switch into away mode, which activates eCube’s away comfort setting, which is eCube’s term for a scene. If one or both of us arrive back home, Hubitat tells eCube that we’re back and eCube flips back into home mode.

But this doesn’t mean that we’re not using timed automations. If you’re home and it’s 11pm, then eCube will automatically switch to night mode, which sets the temperature to where we like it for sleeping. Or you could use voice commands instead of a specific time for that.

These systems are very flexible and can handle multiple methods for triggering these changes. It doesn’t just have to be one thing, but being able to add location awareness to these triggers makes them extremely powerful and in many cases a great way to save energy and money.

Almost all smart home apps and platforms have geofencing controls. In Philips Hue you’ll find it within routines, and you’ll see a toggle for location aware. You can configure what you want to happen with coming home or leaving home. Something like having lights turn on automatically when you arrive home after sunset.

In SmartThings, you’ll want to configure your home location and geofencing radius. Tap on More in the bottom navigation, then tap on the gear icon in the upper right. On this screen, tap on the map and you can change the size of your home zone.

Then you’ll need to make sure you set up present sensors for each person in your family. If everyone has smartphones, you can install the SmartThings app on their phones and then link that to the system. To do that, you’ll need to add a new device, select Sensor, and then Present Sensors. Choose Mobile Phone, and then Connect Now.

With Apple’s Home app, you need to invite family members to the home. Tap the little home icon in the upper left, then tap Invite in the People section. Once people have accepted an invite, you can use any of their locations as part of an automation. When you create a new automation, you’ll see an option for when people arrive or people leave. That can be when any person, a specific person, or all people leave.

In Amazon Alexa, you can set your home and work address. When creating a new routine, tap on When This Happens, then Locate. And here’s where you can set your home and work address, as well as set up your current device to be used as a presence sensor. I haven’t been able to find a way to use multiple presence devices within a specific routine though. I think it’s still limited to just one right now.

This is one area where Google Home is lacking. There’s no good way built into Google Home to set up routines triggered by geofencing your phone. Not even IFTTT can help you out with this one, at least that I’ve found. If anyone knows of a way around that, be sure to drop it in the comments.

Speaking of IFTTT, it’s a good way to add geofencing functionality to many linked services, like automatically running your iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner when everyone has left home. You can create a new applet, then tap if this. For the trigger, select location and then whether you want it to track entering an area, leaving an area, or both.

On the next screen, you type in the address for the location you want, pinch and zoom to get the geofence zone to the size you want, and hit save. Then you can make any trigger you want for the that portion of the applet setup. Out of the box, it’s limited to one presence device like Amazon, but I’ll include a good article in the description on how to get around that by pairing Life360 with IFTTT. It’s a clever hack and it works pretty well.

There are so many options that open up with geofencing enabled. Routines can become truly automated so you don’t have to think or remember to manually switch on scenes. You can get more fine grained control over your home’s heating and cooling to reduce costs. You can have your home make sure all the lights are turned off when the house is empty, as well as make sure that the outside doors and locks and security cameras are turned on. All of this can happen without any interaction from you or your family once it’s set up and running.

In the next video we’ll dive into voice assistants, which can help make your smart home accessible to everyone in the family without the need for a device in hand. Drop any questions you have in the comments and let me know if you’re taking advantage of any geofencing rules and routines.

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Smart Home For Beginners – Geofencing on Undecided