Scheduling Home Automations With IFTTT And Google Calendar

In the last article in our IFTTT series, we mentioned how Google Calendar can be connected to IFTTT in order to keep track of what your home automation devices are up to — a great solution for users who prefer to visualize events in a calendar-style view rather than just as a flat log file.

If your preferences lean toward this style of managing schedules, you’ll be happy to know that Google Calendar can also be used on the other side of the equation — to lay out a schedule of your home automations and use a set of IFTTT applets to read your calendar and implement them. It’s a great way to set up a schedule for controlling everything from your lights and heating/cooling systems to your home appliances all in one place, rather than having to set up schedules separately in multiple manufacturer-specific apps.

Furthermore, although Apple’s HomeKit has provided unified scheduling for some time now, and Amazon Alexa has been rolling out support for its own scheduled “Routines” since last fall, if you have a lot of different devices and want the flexibility to easily change your schedule, it’s hard to beat simply laying it all out in a calendar view.

Google Calendar Triggers

The Google Calendar IFTTT service supports a number of triggers, although for our purposes we’re primarily concerned with two of them: Event from search starts and Event from search ends. As the names imply, these triggers will look for events in a specified Google Calendar that match a set of search criteria. This allows you to create events using specific keywords that can adjust your lights and other home automation accessories accordingly.

If you plan to create a lot of these events, it’s a good idea to create a dedicated Google Calendar just for your home routines so that you can keep them separate and avoid cluttering your normal calendar, but this isn’t strictly necessary.

Turn The Lights On And Off

A very basic scenario is an IFTTT applet that will turn your lights on at specific times based on events in your Google Calendar.

In this scenario, any event in your “Home Schedule” calendar that contains the phrase “Lights On” will result in the Lutron Caséta “Floor Lamp” being turned to full brightness.

If you also want to turn the lights off using your Google Calendar, you’ll need to create another IFTTT applet, but there are actually two ways to handle this, depending on how you want to lay out the events in your calendar. The first is to simply create an applet that looks for another Google Calendar event containing a phrase such as “Lights Off.”

In this case, you’ll basically have two distinct trigger events in your calendar — one to turn your lights on, and a separate one to turn your lights off. In this scenario, only the start time of each event matters, not the duration.

The second method is to create an applet that uses the Event from search ends trigger to turn the lights off at the end time of the original event that turned them on. In this case, you’ll be searching for the same text as the original (e.g. “Lights On”), and connecting it to an IFTTT action that will turn the lights off.

While both methods work equally well from a technical point of view, they differ in how you’ll be arranging the data in your calendar. Of course, it’s a matter of user preference, but we think the first approach is best in situations where the on and off events aren’t directly connected, such as having lights come on in the morning and be shut off at night, regardless of what happens in between. The second method works better if you’re setting up things like vacation schedules where you’ll leave lights on for set periods of time and want to be able to see that.

Using Device-Specific Calendars

Although for most users we recommend the Event from search… triggers, it’s worth noting that if you have very specific requirements, it’s also possible to use the Any event starts and Any event ends triggers using specific calendars for each device. For example, you could create a calendar specifically for your Ecobee thermostat just to define times when you’ll be away from home.

In this case, the Ecobee3 will be set to “Away” whenever any event in your “Thermostat” calendar starts. Since the IFTTT action in this case only sets the comfort profile until the next scheduled transition, you may not need a second applet, but if you want the thermostat to switch to “Home” mode whenever an event ends, you can create a separate applet that reads the same calendar to look for the end of an event.

The main advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t matter what you call the events, and while a calendar just for your thermostat might not make much sense, it can actually be useful if you want to simply read your normal calendar — for instance if you work from home but go out for appointments regularly, you can ensure that your thermostat goes into “Away” mode whenever you’re scheduled to be out of the house without having to give any thought to setting up any specific schedules — IFTTT will just use the data that’s already in your Google Calendar anyway.

Summary

The IFTTT Google Calendar service is a great way to set up even basic home automation schedules, and in our next article, we’ll cover some more advanced tips and tricks for using IFTTT and Google Calendar to set up your home automation routines.

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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