3 things to do before buying smart home devices


What follows here is my decision process I use before I buy the smart version of any technology. I want the lights in my 6 year old daughter's bedroom to turn off 30 minutes after bedtime. She may want to read all night, but it's better for her and all of us if she gets her sleep.

I can walk back to her room and turn the lights off myself. But, I'm tired and I often forget. Is there a smart device that can accomplish my needs?

Step One - Identify the facts of the situation

My daughter's room has an overhead light that's wired to the switch on the wall and one desk lamp that uses proprietary led lights and is plugged into a wall socket. We rent and cannot make permanent changes to the house.


  1. She usually goes to bed at 7:45pm but sometimes it's as early as 7:30 and other nights it's as late at 8:15.
  2. When she's in bed earlier, she's allowed to read longer.
  3. On weekdays, she needs to go to sleep earlier than weekends.
  4. On days we get home late (after 7:30pm or so), I don't want her reading at all.

STEP TWO - Brainstorm possible solutions

At this stage, just list the possibilities. Do not evaluate them or assess their worth. That's a different step.


  1. Remind myself to walk to her room and turn the lights off at a time we pick.
  2. Leave the lights on until I went to bed (usually around 10:45pm) and then turn them off.
  3. Install an old fashioned timer on the outlet that would turn the desk lamp on/off at a pre-determined schedule.
  4. Install a smart outlet plug and install smart bulbs to turn the lights on/off at a pre-determined schedule and allow me the option to turn them on/off at different times and away from home.
  5. Find a small head lamp (like backpackers use) or book light that has an auto-off timer.

STEP THREE - Evaluate the possibilities

For each of the ideas you created in the previous step, you now need to assess whether that idea is viable. List some variables that will help you evaluate each idea. This can be done with paper+pencil or even with a complex excel chart. You decide how geeky you need to be.


  1. Cost
  2. Non-permanence (we rent and can't open walls)
  3. Return on investment (if the solution costs more, I want a lot more value to me)
  4. Ease of use by myself (I can tolerate tinkering but I have high standards of usability)
  5. Ease of use by my husband, children and other non-techies I have over


Idea 1 - Has no cost. Involves no changes to house. It's an easy solution in theory, but I have never remembered to turn off her lights after 20 minutes. So, this idea just continues what I'm already doing.

Idea 2 - This is what I am currently doing. Yes, it's easy and involves no additions to the house. However, I would like my daughter to fall asleep in darkness instead of bright reading lights.

Idea 3 - Installing an old-fashioned timer is definitely easy and low cost. I even have one around. My concern is that if I want to change the on/off schedule, I need to move a bookshelf to reach the plug.

Idea 4 - The cost is definitely higher, between $35 for a bluetooth smart plug to $90 or more for a hub and smart switch. I would have the ability to set different schedules based on day of the week and even override by tapping my smart phone. My husband wouldn't be able to use this system though and it still doesn't tackle the overhead lights unless I also add smart bulbs at $15-40 per bulb.

Idea 5 - Does this exist? Because she'd probably really like it. Cost is minimal but we'd be changing batteries pretty often.

STEP 4 - Decision Time

I prioritized my concerns and it looks like my favorite solution (Idea 4: Smart switches +hub) is not feasible for us. I can have a timer on the desk lamp but it's only a partial solution. I'll have to keep brainstorming and watching the tech world for a possible solution in the future.