How geofences make your home work better

After trying your first smart device, you quickly discover the added convenience, comfort and even fun – using a simple voice command and having your lights turned off instantly is a thrill like no other. But these kinds of remote control-like interactions only scratch the surface of what your smart home devices can do. Most smart devices let you set them to trigger automatically via a weird-sounding technology called geofencing. It simply means allowing your smart devices to activate automatically when you leave or return home, an event that is (usually) determined by the location of your smartphone. For example, you can set up your smart home to automatically lock your front door and turn off the air conditioning when you leave and turn on your lights when you enter the driveway at night.

Geofencing isn’t necessarily a set-it-and-forget-it technology for every home, but it can require some modest setup. For example, if you live with roommates or family, you wouldn’t want all the lights in your house to automatically turn off every time you leave, plunging everyone else still there into darkness. But if you’re willing to put in a little work, geofencing is a powerful yet simple tool that can transform the way you live with smart devices.

How smart home geofencing works

You can configure your devices to use geofencing in several ways. Typically, the companion app you use to set up your smart device has a setting titled Geofencing, but often the feature is enabled as part of the process of creating automatic actions (sometimes called automations or routines). For example, if you set up an automation to turn something on or off when you leave or come home, you’re using geofencing. You can also access geolocation through the control app for a smart home platform such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit.

When enabling geofencing, your smart home platform first creates a virtual zone that surrounds your home. Essentially, the smart home device uses your phone’s various wireless signals, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and GPS, to determine your location. After that, your system always knows if your smartphone is inside or outside this zone and, by extension, where you are too. Your geofence then instructs your smart devices to switch between what is commonly referred to as Home and Away modes, which are the key components of a geofencing setup.

Besides switching between Home and Away modes, Geofencing can also do more sophisticated tricks. Since your smart home always knows your approximate location during the day, you can create automations or routines that anticipate your departure from a location and prepare your home long before you arrive.

Configuring your devices for Autopilot

Using a device’s companion app (or smart home platform app), you can create a Routine or Automation (different terms for the same process of creating automated triggers for smart devices using an app) so that your devices are triggered whenever your home is set to Away mode.

For example, using the Amazon Alexa app, you can create a routine that automatically turns off your smart bulbs every time you leave the house. You can also ask your thermostat to lower the temperature. And depending on the smart devices you have, you can even set a window of time when these actions occur (eg only in the morning or in the evening).

Most smart home apps allow you to create a location-based trigger. The Hue app calls them Automations and walks you through the process of selecting which devices will be triggered when you leave or arrive home. Screenshot: Jon Chase

The setup process to create these routines can vary depending on the devices you have and the smart home apps and platforms you use, but you can usually select devices and tell them to wake up when you leave or assign them to your home’s Away mode.

Prepare your home for your arrival

When you return, your smart home may revert to Home Mode. This may mean that your system automatically opens your garage door or unlocks your front door as you approach your home.

But since smart platforms and apps always know where you are, geofencing can be used to create triggers for your smart devices even when you’re away from home. For example, you can use the Alexa app to quickly create a routine that tells your home thermostat to turn on and adjust to 74°F every time you leave your office between 3 and 8 p.m. week. As a result, your home may save energy during the day when you’re away, but your thermostat may kick in so your home is comfortably cooled or heated by the time you arrive.

In the Amazon Alexa app, creating a location-based routine takes about a minute. For example, your home thermostat may adjust before you get home from work. Screenshot: Jon Chase

With a collection of appliances, your home can come alive, which feels like a convenience or even a luxury, but for many it can bring comfort and reassurance, especially if you’re afraid of entering a dark house. at night or when you are alone. .

put it all together

The appeal of geofencing is in being able to automate devices, but in a broader sense it also simplifies your smart home. By creating location-based triggers, you no longer need to access an app (or several) every time you want to control a device or create potentially complex daily schedules.

Plus, Home and Away modes are just the tip of the iceberg for smart homes and geofencing. Once you get the hang of it, you can create multi-step routines that lock your doors, activate your security sensors, turn on your headlights, and water the lawn when you leave the house in the morning. It can be a little tricky to get things set up to work the way you want – to start you need to set up multiple devices and create accounts for everyone in your household – but with some trial and error it can become a simplified automated system. system.

This article was edited by Jon Chase and Grant Clauser.

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