After years of playing around with my smart home I’ve become much more confident and competent when it comes to tackling all kinds of do-it-yourself projects. And given how difficult it can be to get service people to homes and how many people feel disconnected from their stuff, I want to encourage all of you to start with your smart home and embrace DIY.
At first, I started with small plug-and-play devices in my smart home, sticking with light bulbs, cameras, and sensors. But once I encountered some complexity, such as hard-wiring an outdoor camera or a light switch? That’s when I decided to bag it or hire a professional. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my experience over time suggests that most people can handle such installations and even take the gained experience to fix other things in their homes.
I started small, and safely, by wiring up a video doorbell about five years ago. I then progressed to smart switches and other wired installations. Through trial and error, plus some simple research online, I can now handle those.
Trust me when I say, it’s not too complex and there are plenty of online resources to educate you. And I want to reiterate the safety factor. You don’t want to blindly remove and then attach wires unless you’ve first killed all power to the circuit through your home’s electrical panel. By doing so, you’ve essentially eliminated the possibility of receiving an electrical shock.
Aside from the satisfaction of handling these installations myself, I’ve also gained skills that have helped me solve other problems at home.
For example, we recently downsized from two cars to one and chose a Tesla Model 3 for that single car. I had heard that Tesla’s build quality wasn’t always up to snuff, but upon inspection of the car, everything looked good. Then, while driving two days after taking delivery, the back part of the passenger seat just… fell off.
I don’t know how else to describe it, but that’s what happened. One minute everything was fine. The next, we were viewing the internal organs of the passenger seat.
Using the research skills and some logic I’ve learned from tackling the more intimidating smart home installations, I was able to get the seat back returned to its proper place. Once you start doing things yourself, it becomes almost second nature to see if you can fix something with a little help from the internet.
Pro tip if this happens to you: While the seat back clips in easily, you have to fully raise the seat’s headrest. There are small clips under the seat fabric under the headrest that hold it in place. Carefully move those clips and you can raise the headrest, replace the seat back and lower the headrest. The two headrest poles lock the seat back through two plastic holes, shown above.
Here’s another example. A few weeks ago during a nasty heatwave, our 20-year-old central air system stopped working. We figured it died of old age. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get anyone out for service and were suffering through 99-degree temperatures outside with very high humidity. Again, I used my research skills and newfound abilities to understand basic electrical work.
I decided to open up the central air unit and inspect what I could. I noticed that the dual capacitor was bulging; a sure sign of a bad capacitor. And that capacitor is needed for both the fan and compressor; it provides a jolt of voltage to get them both running. A few clicks later on Amazon’s site, I invested $15 in a new capacitor with matching specifications to my old one.
Amazon delivered it the next day. I safely removed the old capacitor, wired up the new one, and restored power to the HVAC circuit. We immediately had cool air in the house again, thanks to a small investment of money, time, and effort. (Yes, we’ll still be replacing the old system with a modern, efficient one.)
A smart-home-related challenge occurred just last month when I was wiring up the new Ecobee Smart Premium Thermostat for a review. I mentioned that because my HVAC system doesn’t have a C wire, I had to use the included adapter for installation.
That piece is hard-wired directly to the system board of the HVAC system and can be intimidating to install. But again, using some logic, good instructions, and patience, I was able to connect the correct wires to their proper places on the board. Even better, I gained the confidence to move the wires from a different thermostat.
We’re redoing our third-floor loft as a bedroom and we framed out a closet. The original thermostat would be inside the new closet, which is obviously not good. I went into the attic and safely moved the existing wires to another wall where the thermostat is outside of the closet.
Am I still intimidated by challenging smart home installations? Perhaps a little, depending on what the project is.
But I don’t let that stop me or overwhelm me. I figure as long as I follow safe procedures and take pictures of the current installations, I can easily revert things back to the way they were. And the experiences, both positive and negative, have provided me with more skills to fix other things in and around my home.
I’m betting you can learn and gain those same skills. Don’t let a lack of skills or knowledge stop you from tackling a seemingly complex smart home installation. Just be safe, do your research and give it a shot! You’ll learn not just how to install that particular connected device, but also gain useful knowledge to address other issues in your home.
I too have replaced my dual capacitor, installed an ecobee with no C wire, and the passenger door panel of my Model 3 fell off a week after I took delivery. I feel we live in parallel universes.
… and my car is blue with black/white interior.
James Busby says
Hey Kevin: I do absolutely everything myself, and what I believe after a lifetime (75 years) of fixing broken stuff is that 99% of fixing anything is just opening it up and looking. A loose wire, a broken attachment point, or whatever. If you can just look at the approximate broken area, you can almost always figure out what’s wrong and save yourself a ton of money!
Michael Samora says
Replaced by a condensate pump for my furnace because it was leaking. HVAC technician wanted 400.00 to replace. I replaced it myself for 35.00. Repair only took 30 minutes to replace saved almost 400.00 by doing it myself.
Andy Grey Rider says
Meanwhile in England,
I have been creating, servicing and repairing products since a non-fault auto accident put me in a wheelchair.
The products and services I needed weren’t available.
I am one to complain when companies lie about being accessible.
Yet, I am not waiting for them to adapt their able-bodied world for me.
Ferdouse Khaleque says
I am in total agreement that DIY is a great way to tackle jobs around the house. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do some of these jobs and they can save you a lot in time and money.
The other day, I fixed an outside gutter blockage using some common sense. Alsov the hot water suddenly stopped working and all it needed was to restart the boiler by pressing a button.
I think in addition to the money and time saving stuff, it is also good for the mental state of mind. It helps you to remain active, think outside the box, creativity etc. These are important qualities that other people appreciate in people.
I am one on those people who is practical and creative and it helps me to have a good perspective on life.
I highly recommend DIY for everyone!
You were lucky not to get zapped by the capacitor which carries substantial energy.
Kevin C. Tofel says
There was no luck involved; part of my research for that project was on how to safely discharge a capacitor. 😉 You raise an excellent point though: DIY with high voltage power has to be taken very seriously. Although I was informed and comfortable enough to replace the capacitor, I don’t think I’d tackle wiring up a breaker panel in a home, for example. There’s a limit between DIY and hiring a professional, for sure. Cheers!
Tom Brusehaver says
The good thing about diy home automation, you don’t have to worry about a company abandoning your products.
If you build it, you probably understand it, so keeping it working is pretty easy.
Robert Masny says
Unsure, take a photograph of how ot looks along the way. Color of wires, what went where,
So easy when you have to put it all back together again.
And check youTube there may be a lesson there prior to starting.