Scheduling Home Automations With IFTTT And Google Calendar, Part 2

Earlier this week we looked at using Google Calendar to schedule IFTTT actions, and different ways in which you can set up calendar events to initiate basic home control actions, such as turning lights on and off or adjusting your thermostat. Although many home automation accessories offer this kind of scheduling in their own apps, Google Calendar and IFTTT provide a great way to tie multiple accessories together and create schedules that you can easily visualize and edit all in one convenient place.

In this second part, we’re going to look at some more advanced ways in which you can tie your Google Calendar into your home automation, including more fine-grained control of certain home automation accessories, tying home automation into your normal everyday schedule, and setting up rudimentary “scenes” or “routines” for multiple devices, all right in the Google Calendar interface that many people are already quite familiar with.

Google Calendar Ingredients

We’ve already talked about how a simple Google Calendar appointment can be used to initiate an IFTTT action, but you may not have realized that you can also pass over information from a Google Calendar event, allowing you to use a single IFTTT applet to do things like adjust temperature or change lighting levels or colors based on the title or description of your calendar events.

Unfortunately, not all IFTTT home automation services support the use of ingredients, but for those that do, this can be pretty useful.

Set your light level from Google Calendar

Philips Hue is one of the few lighting services that lets you pass arbitrary values for both light intensity and color, rather than making you pick from a drop-down menu. This means you can place the information into your Google Calendar appointment and have IFTTT set up your lights accordingly whenever it encounters a “lights on” event, giving you a lot more flexibility.

The catch here, however, is that the Google Calendar service passes on the entire content of the Title or Description fields — there are no parsing capabilities — so you won’t be able to put any information into your event description other than the exact value you want passed on to your accessory.

Set your thermostat temperature from Google Calendar

Likewise, if you have a Nest thermostat, you can not only create a Google Calendar event for a temperature change, but can actually specify the temperature in the event. While we could do this in the same way as for Philips Hue — simply placing the temperature in the description field — just to illustrate a slightly different approach, you can instead use the title field, allowing you to easily visualize your temperature settings by glancing at the calendar.

This works best if you set up a dedicated Google Calendar just for your thermostat, and use the Any Event Starts trigger, in which case you won’t have to worry about putting specific text in your Google Calendar event descriptions, and the title can just contain the desired temperature changes.

Using keywords in existing appointments

Although you can set up a dedicated Google Calendar solely to control your home automation devices, you may find it more practical to have IFTTT use some of the appointments you already have in your normal schedule. Since the Google Calendar IFTTT service simply searches the content of your events, you can use hashtag-style keywords in the titles or descriptions of your normal everyday appointments to flag when you want IFTTT to take some additional action.

Preheat your oven before a dinner appointment

For example, throw the tag #lightsoff into an appointment that normally has you leaving home, or a tag such as #preheatoven when you have company coming over for dinner.

This example also illustrates the ability to have the Google Calendar IFTTT service trigger an action up to 45 minutes before the actual calendar event starts, so in this case if your “Prepare for Dinner Party” calendar appointment is set for 6 p.m., your oven will start preheating at 5:15 p.m.

Setting up multi-device routines

So far we’ve only looked at using Google Calendar to control a single device at a time, but one Google Calendar event can just as easily set off a whole series of IFTTT actions, allowing you to create scheduled routines similar to what you can do in Apple’s HomeKit or Amazon’s Alexa, all right from your calendar.

Although IFTTT itself doesn’t support multi-device actions, the trick to getting around this is actually pretty simple — tag events with keywords like “#leavinghome” and then create multiple IFTTT applets that all use the Google Calendar service to search for the same event. You’ll still be firing off multiple applets (so if you’re using the IFTTT mobile app you’ll probably want to keep notifications OFF for all but one of them), but it accomplishes the desired goal, with each applet firing off based on your calendar event and adjusting your devices accordingly.

Summary

Although not everybody needs to visualize their smart home schedule in a calendar view, if you have a lot of complicated routines, Google Calendar provides such a great way to see it all.

Even beyond that, however, we think users with variable schedules will really appreciate the ability to tie their home automation routines into their daily schedules without always having to reconfigure things when schedules change — move an appointment that’s tied into an IFTTT trigger, and that trigger automatically moves with it. It’s such a handy way to do things we’ve often found ourselves asking why Apple and Alexa haven’t either built their own calendar views or leveraged their own services such as iCloud into their home automation platforms.

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 iLounge.com. 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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