Don’t be afraid to DIY

After years of playing around with my smart home I’ve become much more confident and competent when it comes to tackling all kinds of do-it-yourself projects. And given how difficult it can be to get service people to homes and how many people feel disconnected from their stuff, I want to encourage all of you to start with your smart home and embrace DIY.

At first, I started with small plug-and-play devices in my smart home, sticking with light bulbs, cameras, and sensors. But once I encountered some complexity, such as hard-wiring an outdoor camera or a light switch? That’s when I decided to bag it or hire a professional. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my experience over time suggests that most people can handle such installations and even take the gained experience to fix other things in their homes.

I started small, and safely, by wiring up a video doorbell about five years ago. I then progressed to smart switches and other wired installations. Through trial and error, plus some simple research online, I can now handle those.

The Eve Outdoor Camera is hardwired like a fixture Image courtesy of K. Tofel

Trust me when I say, it’s not too complex and there are plenty of online resources to educate you. And I want to reiterate the safety factor. You don’t want to blindly remove and then attach wires unless you’ve first killed all power to the circuit through your home’s electrical panel. By doing so, you’ve essentially eliminated the possibility of receiving an electrical shock.

Aside from the satisfaction of handling these installations myself, I’ve also gained skills that have helped me solve other problems at home.

For example, we recently downsized from two cars to one and chose a Tesla Model 3 for that single car. I had heard that Tesla’s build quality wasn’t always up to snuff, but upon inspection of the car, everything looked good. Then, while driving two days after taking delivery, the back part of the passenger seat just… fell off.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but that’s what happened. One minute everything was fine. The next, we were viewing the internal organs of the passenger seat.

Image courtesy of K. Tofel

Using the research skills and some logic I’ve learned from tackling the more intimidating smart home installations, I was able to get the seat back returned to its proper place. Once you start doing things yourself, it becomes almost second nature to see if you can fix something with a little help from the internet.

Pro tip if this happens to you: While the seat back clips in easily, you have to fully raise the seat’s headrest. There are small clips under the seat fabric under the headrest that hold it in place. Carefully move those clips and you can raise the headrest, replace the seat back and lower the headrest. The two headrest poles lock the seat back through two plastic holes, shown above.

Here’s another example. A few weeks ago during a nasty heatwave, our 20-year-old central air system stopped working. We figured it died of old age. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get anyone out for service and were suffering through 99-degree temperatures outside with very high humidity. Again, I used my research skills and newfound abilities to understand basic electrical work.

I decided to open up the central air unit and inspect what I could. I noticed that the dual capacitor was bulging; a sure sign of a bad capacitor. And that capacitor is needed for both the fan and compressor; it provides a jolt of voltage to get them both running. A few clicks later on Amazon’s site, I invested $15 in a new capacitor with matching specifications to my old one.

The new capacitor on the left, old one on the right Image courtesy of K. Tofel

Amazon delivered it the next day. I safely removed the old capacitor, wired up the new one, and restored power to the HVAC circuit. We immediately had cool air in the house again, thanks to a small investment of money, time, and effort. (Yes, we’ll still be replacing the old system with a modern, efficient one.)

A smart-home-related challenge occurred just last month when I was wiring up the new Ecobee Smart Premium Thermostat for a review. I mentioned that because my HVAC system doesn’t have a C wire, I had to use the included adapter for installation.

That piece is hard-wired directly to the system board of the HVAC system and can be intimidating to install. But again, using some logic, good instructions, and patience, I was able to connect the correct wires to their proper places on the board. Even better, I gained the confidence to move the wires from a different thermostat.

We’re redoing our third-floor loft as a bedroom and we framed out a closet. The original thermostat would be inside the new closet, which is obviously not good. I went into the attic and safely moved the existing wires to another wall where the thermostat is outside of the closet.

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Above the light switch is the new thermostat location Image courtesy of K. Tofel

Am I still intimidated by challenging smart home installations? Perhaps a little, depending on what the project is.

But I don’t let that stop me or overwhelm me. I figure as long as I follow safe procedures and take pictures of the current installations, I can easily revert things back to the way they were. And the experiences, both positive and negative, have provided me with more skills to fix other things in and around my home.

I’m betting you can learn and gain those same skills. Don’t let a lack of skills or knowledge stop you from tackling a seemingly complex smart home installation. Just be safe, do your research and give it a shot! You’ll learn not just how to install that particular connected device, but also gain useful knowledge to address other issues in your home.

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