Running Your Home With IFTTT While You’re Away


Summertime means vacation time for many, and if you’re planning an excursion for more than a few days, you can use IFTTT to use smart routines to run your home while it’s unoccupied.

While many smart home platforms have their own solutions for this, the value IFTTT adds here is in the ability to be vendor-agnostic — you can use the same interface, and the same sort of applets, across products from several different vendors. This way, you won’t be juggling several apps on your smartphone while you’re on vacation and trying to figure out how it all fits together when you’d rather just be lying in the sun.

Get notified of important events at home

We took a detailed look at notifications with IFTTT a few weeks ago, so today we’ll just focus on a few practical examples of how they can be applied when you’re away on vacation. Our earlier article can provide more insight on how to set them all up.

Don’t want to pay for roaming data? Use SMS

One big advantage of IFTTT over many vendor-specific services is that you can get notifications over SMS. If you’re traveling to a country where you don’t want to carry around your smartphone — or don’t want to pay for a roaming plan — you can have IFTTT send you important notifications via text messages. These will work on an iPhone or Android phone even when data is switched off, and they’ll work just as well on a typical “dumb” phone. For example, if you want to know if it gets too hot inside, you can easily pull the information from a temperature sensor or thermostat to let you know via SMS.

You can also send messages back to IFTTT via SMS to make adjustments, which is a very handy feature if you’re traveling without internet access on your phone. Unless you’re only going to send SMS messages back to IFTTT for a single applet, we recommend using hashtags to identify which applet you want to run, and with some thermostats like Nest thermostats, you can even specify an exact temperature for your thermostat by passing the content of the message as an ingredient from the trigger.

Just make sure you use the MessageNoHashtag ingredient to ensure that the hashtag is stripped out, and you can simply send a text such as “74 #temp” to tell IFTTT to set your Nest thermostat to 74 degrees. By using unique hashtags, you can send different SMS messages to IFTTT to trigger a whole range of different actions — basically, anything that IFTTT can do with one of your home automation accessories can be triggered by an SMS message.

Scheduling lights to make it look like you’re at home

It’s not a new trick by any stretch of the imaginaion, but if you’re away for more than a few days, you might want to make your home look occupied by varying your lighting a bit at night. While we’ve already covered how to set up scheduling home automations, there are a few tricks worth considering if you want to make your home look more “lived in” than just turning your lights on an off at a specific time every day.

While it takes more work upfront, one of the simplest soluions is just to create multiple schedules for the entire time you’re away. The basic IFTTT Date & Time service lets you do this for different days of the week, of you can use Google Calendar if you’d prefer the convenience of laying this all out in a calendar. In this example, a specific calendar event containing the keyword “#lights” will toggle all of your Philips Hue lights at once — those lights that are on will be toggled off, and those that are off will come on.

Additionally, if you’re using an accessory capable of receiving ingredients via IFTTT, you can get more creative with Google Calendar by creating an applet that can read intensity or light colors from your calendar events and set up your lighting appropriately. In this case, using a numeric value from the calendar event description to set your lighting intensity.

While it’s still a manual process to configure, it’s not too onerous if you’re only away for a couple of days, and allows the flexibility to control exactly what you want your smart home to do while you’re away.

Making your lighting a bit more random

Unfortunately, IFTTT doesn’t offer any services that truly randomize things — at least not directly, but there are still a lot of things you can use as triggers that won’t leave you on a fixed schedule. One of the easiest is to use the Weather Underground service and turn on some lights at sunset, which will at least do it at a different time each day. But considering how variable the weather can be, why not use the changing weather to trigger actions with what would appear to be a bit more random and realistic at the same time?

For instance, if the weather conditions change to “Cloudy” or “Rainy,” you can have IFTTT adjust your lighting in the same way that you might do it if you were at home, turning on some lights and even closing the shades if you have a Lutron Caséta system. This is where you can also take advantage of scenes to control several accessories from one applet, and if you want use a scene to control lights from another vendor such as Hue, you can simply create a second applet that uses the same trigger.

Similarly, you can also use indoor temperature and humidity data to control lights with a more seemingly random appearance, triggering a scene when your indoor temperature rises above a certain level, as it will usually do mid-day, and triggering another when it drops down in the evening. Basically, any data that you can pull from any kind of IFTTT sensor can be used as a trigger to make your home look “lived in” even when you’re not there.

Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington is based in Toronto, Canada, where he lives with his daughter, Victoria. He is the author of iPod & iTunes Portable Genius, and works as a senior editor for Prior to becoming a writer, Jesse ran his own information technology consulting practice and served as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve.

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