Smart Homes For Seniors

Ever get frustrated with computers?  Do you ever feel it is something others get and you don’t?  If you have ever been frustrated with your computer, why would you ever want to put a frustration from your life into your every day life?   You might even incur a monthly fee to be so frustrated.  There are some solutions that can really assist with your life.  Those are the ones we want in place.

 

First a disclaimer.  This blog is not about explaining technology or making it simple.  I find it frustrating as heck and annoying.  I want to stay away from technology as much as possible.  Do you ever think about why a television works smoothly and is reliable?  Do you remember when the phone actually worked well.  It was the smart phone technology that made us stupid, and they are not smart at all, at least not for the customer.  They are designed to make the supplier very rich, not you.  A television works well because it has a single purpose.  My own TV has started to become a bit stubborn and not work so well, but this was only after Shaw cable felt if they complicated it up a lot they could make more money off you.  I never had a problem until I started to add features towards being a smart TV.  Stupid me.   I finally bought a new half ton truck and I learned from the dealer that I cannot listen to the radio with the engine off because all the on board computers might drain the battery.  I don’t know what those computers are doing when my engine is turned off but I was told they will drain the truck battery.  I remember my old Chevy pickup I could leave the radio on all day while working on my wood pile and have the radio blasting.

 

Electronic machines are stupid and they are best left to single task.  Every try to open up more than a few “windows” on your computer?  That’s when things begin to slow down or shut down.  Keep It Simple Stupid, KISS technology, is more relevant than ever, especially to a senior that wants to eliminate frustration in their lives.

 

Now keep this in mind as we make smart home technology work for us.  A few tips.  Think before you buy a package deal from a company motivated by sales numbers.  To make things work well you need to simplify and only use the smart technologies that are going to be actually useful for you. not for them.  KISS when you choose various sensors that input data to your system.  You might really like an open garage door alarm that you can check and make sure the garage door is closed before you go to bed.  You might learn to hate the light tied to a motion detector that goes on every time your dog walks by.  You might Kiss when you select a network (cloud technologies are often only useful to make a steady stream of monthly income for a service provider and not in the best interests of the customer).  I dropped into my accountants office one day and casually asked if he used cloud technology.  He proudly announced all his client data was automatically in his cloud.  When I asked where his cloud was located he gave me a blank stupid technology look that scared me.  Our sensitive important information is being given away to other countries and other cultures without the professionals giving it a passing thought.  Medical information and taxation and messages are all being stored on a giant hard drive somewhere where all those that pry can access.  Why would anyone use a cloud technology in cases where you do not know where it is going seems silly.  Perhaps you feel that your doorbell video or your alarm information is not important enough to others to rob it from you, but there are other consequences.  Your wifi has to be up and running to communicate. and with that communication comes another word called latency.  Often the cloud service has a lag factor and this can be frustrating when it comes to doorbell communication.   It takes time to go back and forth to a cloud server and sometimes the network can be difficult and take longer than normal therefor not predictable.  Some cloud technologies are important but then the ones that are not should not be grouped in and given away just because it makes sense to the equipment supplier.  Whose friend are they?

 

I quickly found out that you do not have a lot of choices when it comes to building a smart home.  I visited several home and garden shows or renovation shows and quickly caught on that the vendors there were making their cash flow from the cloud portion and not the equipment.  If your equipment is for your own safety and convenience then why would you buy from a company that was making money off the service not the equipment.  Several told me they were giving the necessary equipment free.  No thanks.  As I keep telling my son that few things are free in life and you pay for those apps with other transactions of value outside of what they are telling you.  Facebook makes billions from where exactly?  I will look at my payment statements and see the last time I sent them money.  Soooooo I decided I would buy my own equipment and manage my own cloud equivalent.  Not an easy task.  The smart home technology suppliers seem to be set up to make money off you on a monthly fee or are interested in a $100,000 range install in those fancy homes.  I would bravely tackle the alternatives.  Wish me luck!

 

KISS when you try to combine too many things in one service.

 

I hate how many remote controls I have on my side table.  The ones I forget what each button does.  I have one controller upstairs that shuts off my TV box that is one the right and the one downstairs is on the left.  Well you can imagine what happens day after day after day.  I decided I needed some advice from my audiophile store manager.  I do buy the occasional item from him but he has never added on a charge for all the free advice he hands out.  When I discovered Harmony controllers were on sale I thought it was time to investigate.  I ended up buying two although if you are hoping for a review of how well they worked for me you will have to wait as they are still in the original packaging at this point.  What he did do for me is to ask a simple question following my inquiry as to the differences between the fancy ones and the basic ones.  I wanted to know if it was worth those exorbitant prices they deluxe models have.    “How many  devices do you want the controller to operate and what are they?” I had no idea and it was time to do an inventory of my toys at home that benefit from a remote controller mechanism.    I went home with paper and a pen and decided to do a walk around the house.  First there were a lot more devices than I remembered.  Add in those remote control curtains I just bought and the list was getting longer all the time.  I sent an email to the curtain manufacturer and asked if they could be operated by a Harmony controller.  They were not I was told.  Darn it was hard to eliminate controllers.  They were like a curse all piled up on my side table ready to confuse me.

 

When you make the decision to automate you really should do some household inventory lists.  Do you want a glass break at every window or maybe a motion detector pointed at each room would suffice.  What about a camera outside that caught people that should not be there.  Would you still want window entry identified.  You might if you wanted to simply know if you had left a window open before you go to bed.  You need to put some thought into your initial list.  I wanted some leak detectors.  I have some lights and curtains that are harder to reach to turn off and I love remote control for these items.  I love my smart technology that works with me not against me.  I have a remote controlled blind that I no longer have to step into the bathtub to raise or lower it.  I love that technology.  Some things now I cannot imagine life without it.  I also have technology I do not like and is useless for me but might be exciting for you.  It is not an out of the box experience that the home show sales people want you to believe.

 

Before you get all crazy in picking up sensors and going mad with those simple installations, you have to do a few more things.   If you do not want to incur monthly fees and sending your data out the door, then you need to look at hubs and bridges.  There are some fancy systems and hubs available but quite often the sophisticated technologies need a programmer every time you need a change.  I went to my local discount supplier after looking around for Control IV technology.  I immediately was subjected to a sales pitch as it could only be used by professional installers and additional monthly fees.  I did pay a small consulting fee to have one sales person come out and do a survey of my house.  he had lots of good ideas and I was up front that I would not be buying any equipment from him that I was not personally capable to setting up and operating.  They were good about it but it was a further sales pitch.  The consultant that toured my house told me in confidence he had a small condo with over $70,000 retail pricing product installed, but justified it by employee pricing and needing to test technology out that he was recommending in the field.  somehow I believe I am just as safe in my house as his but he might get a picture of the crook.  I don’t have $70,000 worth of stuff for them to steal from me.

 

What do I want then?  Pick a hub out that will work with a wide range of product and is readily available at a reasonable price.  the hub is the brains of your system and most signals will come to your hub and then the hub will warn or inform the person that needs that information.  When you buy a product that is not recognized by your hub for whatever reason.  Perhaps the device is proprietary or talks a different language the hub does not understand.  then you need a bridge.  This functions as a translator so your communication is understood by one hub.  Keep bridges KISS.  The more fixes you introduce the more room for failure or miscommunication are opened up.  When there are no bridges available such as my motorized curtains that are not compatible then you might be better off with two systems rather and avoiding blending these systems together.

 

That is a busy start to a smart home.  Inventory as to what you already have, listing your needs, finding the sensors and choosing a hub are all time consuming and not simple.  KISS is already in jeopardy by the simple fact it is unlikely you will find one supplier to fill all your needs.  Another factor is the industry is young and it expands and retracts and so many changes.  I chose a supplier that is readily availably and visible and has most of my needs available already.  I chose the Home Depot Wink II.  You might like one of the others and to be quite frank amazon and eBay are excellent ways to buy this stuff and have it delivered right to your door.  I just happen to be more hands on.

 

There is more to the story and we can continue with another post someday.  We can talk about hub languages and where you set up your equipment.  There are potential problems to avoid and some I have yet to introduce.  There are some serious safety items out there and some unnecessary.  Heat controllers and smoke detectors are all another story for another day.  Be careful so they get you less than you expected and keep in touch to share our stories.  We can live cheaper and more safely as a community but only if you contribute. 🙂

When its time to leave the old job.

relaxing in a jacuzzi clipart
My work environment had changed dramatically.  My long-term employer switched from an employee focused company to a shareholder focused one.  Along with that corporate change, my desire to retire accelerated, it was a change where I felt the consequences right away but severely underestimated the extent to my health.  I bet the entire corporate world has underestimated their actions over the last decade or so.

Sixteen years have passed since my experience, and even now, thoughts still stray to retirement some day, but past naïve thoughts have evolved and I look forward to entirely different things and I am busier than ever.  Retirement was not in the cards but a change in attitude certainly was and change in the right direction provides an abundance of satisfying opportunity.

AgingIsMyHobby.com started because of an “aging in place” renovation my wife and I tackled early in 2017.  The planning stages date back much further.  This is how a simple renovation became a small cog of a big mechanism and became part of an intensive journey of freedom in aging, or aging gracefully as some refer to, and like Freedom 55 but vastly different.  My Freedom 55 only meant release from a shareholder based company but became a springboard to a much better life.

Planning is a great mental exercise and dreaming is most rewarding when awake and both great tools against dementia.  In the process mistakes will happen and can be costly.  We have uncovered several shortcuts, learned from so many mistakes and had fun discovering lots of cost savings. Now is the time to share our experiences with others that might have similar dreams. This is a story of our adventure in home renovations, retirement dreams, hurdles and accomplishments all focused on extended quality of life.   We hope you share in this project by adding comments, questions or any other input, then we will all learn and grow and have fun with this as a community.

What Problems?: Hurdles and Strengths

Needing A Plan
After years of fundraising for children in the Dominican Republic, a Dominican born Canadian friend talked me into visiting the DR to see the five schools we had built. We took a month and rented a car and toured all the nooks and crannies of the DR. I fell in love with the country and after a few return trips I moved with the intention of retiring in a sub tropical location. Paradise! Eventually my wife and I purchased a hilltop villa and planned an extended stay. The plan included selling our Calgary house and using the proceeds to build a smaller one level house in Nova Scotia. A decision had been made. Shortly following Freedom 55 career departure, I set up a 4X8 sheet on top of two Ikea horses. I had a large map of Nova Scotia laid out and began a study of the province in detail. The First thing I did was to research the hospital facilities and mark them on the map with little red sticky circles I found at Staples. Not a lot of circles but I had a comforting layout of where medical assistance could be found across Nova Scotia. I then filled in each circle with the number of beds each facility had. After discovering the provincial hospital board was either closing some smaller hospitals or reducing emergency hours in places like Digby, I took the position that this trend could continue and reduced my selection to only a few hospitals. Each one had a penciled circle showing a one hour driving radius of each hospital. I was feeling smug that I had easily and responsibly reduced my “area to search for suitable housing” to a much smaller area. I liked this method. I then eliminated some that were a bit far from everything, such as Yarmouth and Economy and northern Cape Breton. Now that I was committed to winters in the Caribbean I needed to be close to the international airport. JetBlue was initiating regular flight to the new international airport in the DR. Perfect. The flights also luckily avoided touch downs on American soil that also required border security checks. I had nothing to hide but the attitude of so many of the customs officers was a nice to avoid if possible. All this left and area much smaller than what I had started with. I talked to my sister who lives in Halifax and eliminated a few more areas due to lots of seasonal bugs or more snow or other such obvious (only to the locals) reasons to choose somewhere else to settle. I settled on the south shore and Blomidon areas for reasons I can discuss elsewhere. If you choose a nice spot in say Canning or Margarete’s Bay, the best choices are not so many and quite pricey if a view is added in. We added in an acreage, slightly more remote from health care, but with an incredible view to build on and an affordable price. Now that some responsible choices were made from a Calgary basement location, it was time to pay my sister a visit and actually tour around these retirement locations.
After a local tour, I quickly decided it would be much better to use some local construction trades and build a perfect residence from scratch. I planned to build a large garage and begin to store material I will find at sale prices and make this project quite affordable. I talked to a family of carpenters that also had a lot of heavy equipment suitable for clearing and foundation work and I also talked to a small manufacturer of post and beam woodworking. It was starting to come together. I visited some map stores and a community development office. I learned that it was not allowed to build a garage prior to completing the house. This practically eliminated my potential to save expenses with an on site storage idea. I had brought my first utility trailer load of goods across Canada and now rented a garage to store my “stuff”. I even included some Alberta rocks so I could set up roots in a new garden while not forgetting the past.

Is expanding an empty nester house a silly idea?

This was not an easy decision, to invest limited retirement funds into a house that we once considered way too large for the two of us.  Our family home in Calgary was 2450 square feet over two levels plus an insulated but basically unfinished basement.  During my working years I had set up an office in the basement trying to do what I could to separate working and personal life.  There were moments when it was cold to work but outside of that there was some heat and lots of space, so it was a favored place to work and store “stuff”.

I cannot say exactly when and where our too big house would become a retirement project but there was a long list of considerations that shortened and expanded over time and at some point we decided to keep this as our last and final home.  There was a lot of discussion and idea tossing over a few years but I do remember the final straw factor just before we began to commit to financial investment.  We were needing a break, drained and not only cold from winter but using social media to track our snowbird friends from the far north.  I came up with idea first, “let’s find a spa location and go to a place to be pampered for a few weeks,  Perhaps California.”  In reflection I somehow felt I had needed an ashram here and there over the years.  When I watched Tom Hanks shipwrecked I thought to myself, what a wonderful opportunity to lose some weight and get in shape and eliminate toxins.  I was longing for my own deserted island, drinking coconut water, eating fresh fruit with no chemicals, no TV, radio commercials or energy draining distractions.  Hard work maybe but good hard work and related to survival only not ongoing fight or flight anxiety.  In other words being saved eventually but mostly from myself.   I saw Eat Pray Love on the bookshelves. I was curious but I could not bring myself to buy and read the book as I was wanting the adventure myself, not just to read about it.  I was the book research guy not the book read type.  I secretly dreamed of an ashram where I could detoxify and relax while working towards enlightenment.  Perhaps a two week stay at a California spa would suffice.

It did not take any significant research to determine there were many California spas eagerly waiting to take our money.  I remember jokingly saying to my wife, “we could build our own spa to use forever for what we would spend on a two week trip.”  Just when that became a bit less of a joke and more of a project I am not sure, but shortly after our basement became my aging is my hobby’ first project to actually  get past the drafting table.  The project not only became fun but draining, time consuming but speeding up time, a passion as well as a frustration.  It was not at all what I had planned but instead much more than anticipated, surprises from nowhere, a satisfying journey and it all turned out to become a passion covering all facets of aging in place.

For some inexplicable reason, one is mindful of those steps to avoid articles, but one goes ahead and does it anyway.  Here is my top ten list to consider before you decide this also might be for you:

 

  1. you can do most of it yourself
  2. I can save a lot of money by buying loads of stuff on sale
  3. you can limp by without a detailed plan
  4. I can just top up the budget for unexpected costs and it will work out
  5. I will not buy those things that will put me over budget
  6. it will not take up too much of my time
  7. it will not be too much of an inconvenience during the renos
  8. lots of people will be on board and love to help out
  9. project management or general contracting is easy for a small project
  10. this will stay a small project

 

Idea documenting is next:

Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors

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