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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #30 - Aug 11th, 2014 at 5:07pm
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More home improvement!  I finally got sick of the cheap, broken light fixtures on the front of the house.  The fixture on the left side of the door had a broken glass insert, so water kept leaking into the fixture.  This would ultimately rust out the base of the bulb until it no longer made sufficient contact with the fixture, leaving me with an inoperable bulb.  Both fixtures were corroded and rusty.

I've been replacing all of the bulbs in an around the house with LEDs, and I didn't want to spend $15 on an LED bulb just to have it go bad.  Long story short, time for new fixtures!

Unfortunately I was too busy juggling stuff to take many pictures, but hopefully this will serve as inspiration.  It only took about ten minutes to replace each fixture and it was a very simple one-man job.


Step 1, turn off the breaker corresponding to the light fixtures.  Safety first!  Then, remove the retaining bolts holding the fixture to the bracket.



Step 2, carefully remove the light fixture from the bracket.  Remove the wire nuts tying the wires from the fixture to the wires from your house.  Marvel at the fact that your crappy electrical wiring hasn't resulted in a house fire.



Step 3, forget to take pictures of the rest of the job.  All you have to do is remove the old bracket that is screwed through your siding into the wall.  Then, replace it with the new bracket.  If you're lucky, the holes in the new bracket will line up with the old ones.  Once the bracket is up, use new wire nuts to connect the fixture wiring to the house wiring.  Then mount the fixture on the bracket and insert the bolts.  Turn the breaker back on and test your handiwork!



-b0b
(...really needs to wash his siding!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #31 - Aug 11th, 2014 at 5:32pm
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Very nice!

We just an internal light today and started the painting project.  The 70s whore house hallway is dead.

Like the fixture you guys got.

  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #32 - May 6th, 2015 at 2:56pm
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Since the weather has been so nice, Meredith and I decided we'd finally get around to replacing our very primitive fire pit with a brick and steel model.  This was a project that we've been wanting to do for a couple years and it was fun (though exhausting), so I figured I'd share some pictures of the process.

The process started by dismantling the old fire pit and gathering all of the new materials.  The Jeep did an admirable job of hauling ~1,250 pounds of stuff on two different occasions.  Try doing that in a 3-series BMW!



I wanted to put plenty of drainage gravel under the fire pit to keep the walls from shifting over time.  I ended up using 25 bags totaling 12.5 cubic feet, or roughly 1,250 pounds.




The Jeep sat a wee bit low, but she took it like a champ.




Once the pit was dug, filled, and leveled, I picked up the rest of the building material.  It consisted of 120 paver blocks and 140 smaller square blocks, along with the steel fire ring.  Altogether it weighed around 1,300 pounds.




Meredith has wanted a Yoshino cherry tree for quite a while, and we found a perfect specimen in Ann Arbor.  We had to drive the thing back to Three Rivers, so I strapped it in for a safe ride. 




The tree was about 7' tall, so Meredith got to enjoy a tree in her face for the two hour drive back home.



The Jeep really needs a good cleaning after hauling all that crap, but I'm pleased with the ol' girl.  She did me proud!


-b0b
(...fire pit pics in the next post.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #33 - May 6th, 2015 at 3:39pm
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I completely forgot to take pictures of the old fire pit (it was just a bunch of big rocks laid out in something approximating a circle), as well as the digging and leveling that I did before I poured in the gravel.  Long story short, dig a hole roughly 5' in diameter and nine inches deep, and level out the bottom of the hole as best as you can.  Make sure you use an actual level (4' level FTW) and don't try to eyeball it, as the surface of your yard is probably not terribly level to begin with.



I bought and assembled a heavy duty wheelbarrow for this project.  You absolute do not want to try doing this kind of project without one!  If you don't already have a wheelbarrow, I'd recommend buying one that has two wheels as you're going to be moving a lot of weight.  I bought this wheelbarrow as part of a "mix and match" kit (you buy the tray, handles, and wheels/accessories separately and have multiple options for each) at Menards for about $100, but there are plenty of cheaper options.


After leveling the bottom of the pit and checking depth throughout, start adding gravel.  It took me 25 bags of 3/4" drainage gravel to add get ~7" of depth.  Each bag is 0.5 cubic feet.  Use a steel-tined gardening rake to keep the gravel level, and double-check this using the 4' level mentioned earlier.




Here's a quick shot showing the finished hole filled with gravel and all of the bricks needed to build the walls of the pit.




I completely zoned out on providing pictures of setting the first course (row) of bricks.  The fire pit comes with instructions that show the ordering for each course and how to offset the upper courses from the previous course.  The first course is the most important.  Each brick needs to be leveled from front to back, as a minor forward or backward tilt can result in substantial gaps as the courses stack up.  Bricks also need to be leveled across the course (e.g. from the 12:00 brick to the 6:00 brick) to make sure the entire pit doesn't end up crooked, but this shouldn't be a problem if you leveled the base of the hole and the gravel before building the wall.  A heavy rubber mallet is very useful for this stage of the project.


The bricks within a course are not glued together, but each course is glued to the one below it as shown above. 





Here's a shot of my beautiful wife laying down the final bricks.  I couldn't have completed this project without her help!



I used a battery-powered Ryobi caulk gun and six tubes of landscaping adhesive.  The battery-powered caulk gun is reeeeally nice to have, but completely unnecessary if you don't other projects requiring one.




Here's about half of the dirt we dug out of the pit.  It's amazing how much dirt came out of that hole.  One of the hardest parts of the entire project was figuring out where to put all of this dirt when we were done.  I filled every hole in the yard, placed some near the base of the garage, and threw a bunch of it at the base of our trees.  You can also see the sticks that I pulled out of the old pit, and the stones that used to ring the old pit in the background.




Here's the finished product.  Once the last course of bricks is set, the fire ring is inserted.  Just in case 12.5 cubic feet of drainage gravel wasn't enough, another 2.5 cubic feet of pea gravel is added to the bottom of the pit.  This finer gravel allows ashes to be washed down with a hose while retaining any unburnt material.  I filled in the exposed drainage gravel outside of the bricks and seeded it with grass seed and fertilizer, so hopefully it will look better in a few weeks!



So there it is.  This is the "Ashwell" fire pit kit from Menards, which costs ~$500.  They have much cheaper kits as well, and there are a variety of shapes and sizes available.  The kit includes the bricks, steel fire ring, 5 tubes of landscaping adhesive and 5 bags of pea gravel.  The 25 bags of 3/4" drainage gravel were not included and cost ~$125.

You'll also need a good shovel, a wheelbarrow, a caulk gun, and some decent gloves.  I also used a tamper, a steel-tined garden rake, and a hoe (insert Wes's Mom joke here), but these tools aren't strictly necessary.


-b0b
(...exhausting, but totally worth it!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #34 - May 9th, 2015 at 2:30pm
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That look great, bob!  Good job.

If you want some brush wood for your fire, feel free to come grab mine.  I believe I have one total buttload.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #35 - Sep 30th, 2015 at 11:06am
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The Garage.

The never-ending project.

I've been working on remodeling our garage off and on for about six years now, and I'm finally in the home stretch.  When we bought the house, the garage was nearly useless.  It had absolutely no shelving or storage space and the walls were open studs. 

The garage had one light fixture (for a dark 24x24' garage), two receptacles, and knob-and-tube wiring that was likely installed in the late 30s or early 40s.  Knob-and-tube is pretty scary, so I ripped all of that out and replaced it with modern Romex wiring.  I also replaced the fuse box with a modern breaker box.  I also installed twelve receptacles, a dimming switch, four light fixtures (really should have gone with eight or more), twelve Cat5 Ethernet drops, six audio speaker drops, and installed a network rack.  Some old pictures of previous work can be found here:  http://www.twncommunications.net/Forum/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1339711069/12#1...

Two years ago, I started insulating the garage walls with fiberglass.  I have nurtured an intense hatred for fiberglass, and would use denim (or pay someone to spray in foam insulation) for future insulation projects. 



Here you can see the cutout that I left for my network rack, along with the Cat5 Ethernet cable ready to be seated and crimped.  I've drawn on the insulation with permanent marker to indicate where the wiring is located, with each wire labeled S for speaker, N for network, or P for power.  The power cabling is separated from the speaker and network cable as much as possible to reduce EMI.




Last year, I finally began finishing the walls by covering them with 3/4" sanded plywood.  It's a bit intense for a garage, but I wanted something that would last longer than I will.  Before putting the walls up, I tacked on metal wire protector plates so that I don't inadvertently put a screw through a wire down the road.



I used 4" stainless steel deck screws to hold the plywood in place, so each sheet is incredibly sturdy.  This section has additional electrical receptacles to accommodate my forthcoming workbench.




I finished hanging the majority of the plywood earlier this year, so I was finally able to get to a long-awaited milestone - shelving!  The garage had no shelving originally and I'd only purchased a single stand-alone shelf, so as you can see, stuff is all over the floor.  This made it a pain to do anything in the garage.  In this picture, I had nearly finished hanging the first section of shelving.




Here's a shot of the mostly-finished shelf after loading it up with the first batch of stuff.  I used three full-length 8' shelving sections on the bottom and ended up with four 4' sections on the top two rows (three shown here).  This is the Rubbermaid Tough Stuff shelving.  Each section can be moved independently and you can buy different shelf lengths (4' and 8') and depths (16" and 20"), so you can build exactly the kind of shelving you're looking for.  The big black box on the wall is my network rack.




Here's the opposing wall, showing the second section of shelving.  I figured 68 linear feet of shelving would be way more than sufficient, but I'm already thinking about adding another section of shelves next year.  Hopefully, the completion of my workbench will help eliminate some of the clutter!




Here's one final shot showing the current layout.  I added some additional rear rails and shelf brackets to accommodate areas where shelves ended more than 12" from a wall stud (and an existing rail/brace), as the shelf ends tended to be a bit floppy without them.



I really enjoyed putting the shelving together and it has vastly improved the appearance and usability of the garage.  I liked it so much that I'm considering doing the same thing in our basement to eliminate the ugly plastic free-standing shelving.


-b0b
(...always needs more garage space.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #36 - Oct 1st, 2015 at 10:54am
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Nice job!  Love the shelves.

We are in painting mode and have baby's room all done.  Basement is almost done and once I have the project we started down there done I'll be posting as well.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #37 - Jan 11th, 2017 at 3:52pm
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Sorry, I've been meaning to write up something about my home automation adventures for a couple weeks now and just kept putting it off.

I've been researching various home automation systems for several months and finally decided on the Samsung SmartThings platform.  There are a mind-boggling number of competitors in this space (WeMo, Insteon, Iris, Wink, Lutron, Piper NV, Homeseer, HomeKit, etc.), each with various pros and cons.  There were a number of factors to consider including price, reliability, features, size of ecosystem (e.g. number of supported devices), and platform openness (e.g. willingness to allow third-party code).  The SmartThings platform is relatively inexpensive and offers a lot of features, and has by far the largest ecosystem and the most open platform.

SmartThings is largely an ad hoc system, you buy the bits and bobs that make sense for you and use the SmartThings platform to integrate them.  In addition to the mandatory SmartThings hub, I've got a combination of first-party SmartThings devices (2 door sensors, 2 arrival sensors, 1 motion sensor, 1 leak sensor, and 1 outlet) and third-party devices (1 Apple iPhone, 1 Android phone, 2 smart bulbs and 6 light switches).  Both first- and third-party devices are super simple to add to the platform.

Once the devices are added to SmartThings, you can tie them together in just about any way imaginable.  You can operate them manually from your phone or tablet (e.g. turn the lights on from anywhere in the world) or configure routines and automations to get them to do things programmatically.  Here are some things I have configured:

1) When Meredith and I both leave the house, the SmartThings security system arms automatically.  If either door opens or the motion sensor detects movement, the alarm is tripped.  All of the lights in the house turn on and a siren sounds.  We also receive phone notifications and SMS text messages.  For $20 per month you can buy active monitoring from a company that will contact police if there is an alert.  I want to play around with a few more settings before we pay for monitoring.

2)  When either Meredith or I return home, the security system automatically disables and the front and rear porch lights turn on if it is after sunset.  Sunrise and sunset are automatically calculated based on zip code so you don't have to update them throughout the year.

3) I have four rooms in the basement.  Two rooms are tied to a light switch at the top of the stairs and two rooms have lights on pull-cords.  It's annoying to have to walk into a dark room (often filled with cob webs) to get to the light fixture.  I installed smart bulbs (Osram Lightify) in those rooms and linked them to a GE Z-Wave switch at the top of the stairs.  Now, when I flip the switch, all of the lights turn on or off together.

4)  We had our first basement flood in eight years following a particularly heavy rainfall this summer.  I only found out about it when I stepped on wet carpet.  We now have a leak sensor in the basement that will notify us as soon as water is detected.  I'd like to buy a couple more to place near our water heater and beneath our bath tub.

5)  SmartThings is linked to our Amazon Echo.  It will respond to commands such as "Alexa, set the dining room lights to 50%" or "Alexa, turn off the front door lights". 


There are still a ton of things I'd like to do with it in the next few weeks:

1)  Add a door sensor to the garage door and tie my garage door opener into SmartThings.
2)  Add Z-Wave door locks to the front and rear doors.  This will allow me to lock or unlock them remotely (e.g. if I'm on vacation and a plumber needs to fix a water leak, or smoke is detected and I don't want the firemen to kick my door in), and set a schedule to automatically lock the doors after they've been unlocked for a certain period of time.
3)  Add Z-wave smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that tie in with the security system.
4)  Convert several more light switches to Z-Wave enabled models.  Our house wiring sucks, so this is a bit of a chore.
5)  Replace our old "smart" thermostat with a Z-Wave enabled model.  This will also involve pulling new wiring.  I'm still debating between Honeywell and Ecobee.


I'll pop some pictures up later.  Fair warning, though, this is really addicting.  I want to convert the whole freakin' house!


-b0b
(...automate all the things!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #38 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 4:39am
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I just spent two hours reading about Alexa and the things it can tie un for home automation...yep, I'm hooked.

Thanks for the write up.

What are some key things to get to get started?

Do you just have one Echo or do you have Dots throughout the house"

I was thinking an echo and doing some lights?  Hope plex gets an integration too.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #39 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 10:31am
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At the moment, we have just one Echo in the living room.  I just ordered an Echo Dot for my office and I'd like to get another Echo for the bedroom at some point.  Amazon was offering a buy-4-get-5 deal on Echo Dots before Christmas, so hopefully that will pop up again.  I wouldn't mind adding an Echo Dot in the basement, garage, and Meredith's office.

One thing to keep in mind with the Echo/Tap/Dot is that integration with SmartThings has been intentionally limited by Amazon.  You can turn lights on or off or dim them, change channels with a Harmony hub, and do other nifty things, but Amazon prohibits Alexa from interacting with security stuff.  You can't arm or disarm the security system, lock or unlock doors, etc.  Amazon doesn't want to take on the inherent liability.  One other caveat that I find crazy is that you can't use Echo devices as output speakers (e.g. "The front door has opened") unless you use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker and use a separate device (e.g. old tablet or phone) to generate the text.  It's janky.  Amazon has announced this support will be added sometime in 2017.

If you go with SmartThings, check out this community code for Plex.  I'm not sure if it will do everything you're looking for, but it might be up your alley:  https://community.smartthings.com/t/release-plex-home-theatre-manager-smartapp/3...

It also looks like there are some community workarounds to get Plex to work directly with Alexa.  This thread looks like a mess, but it might be what you're looking for:  https://forums.plex.tv/discussion/173499/amazon-echo-and-plex-alexa-tell-the-hom...

Finally, if you decide to get a Harmony Hub at some point, it looks like that has official integration with Plex, and the Hub has integration with Alexa and SmartThings:  https://support.myharmony.com/en-us/harmony-experience-with-plex


Regarding the lights, you'll need some kind of hub to operate them.  You've got some options here.  The two most popular lighting platforms are the Philips Hue and the Osram Lightify (Sylvania).  The Osrams are a little cheaper and the Hues offer slightly wider ranges of colored light.  Both systems have their own hub that can be used with Alexa or a smartphone app.  If you buy a SmartThings hub (and this is likely true of other home automation hubs), you can control the Osrams directly without a Lightify hub.  The Philips Hue bulbs always require a Hue hub and can't be controlled directly.

I only have two smart bulbs at the moment, and they are Osram Lightify white bulbs that I use in the basement.  I'm tempted to try out a colored bulb elsewhere, but I don't really have a good reason to have one.  ;p



-b0b
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #40 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 5:42pm
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Looking at amazon, it looks like there are outlets you can plug into the outlet and the light to be able to control plug in lights.

Like I was thinking of one for my led lights in my counter shelf downstairs
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #41 - Jan 13th, 2017 at 9:05pm
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I wrote a really long response to this last night, but it looks like I forgot to actually submit it.  Whoops.  Here's a shorter version.

You've got two choices for plug-in outlets.  You can either go with a Wi-Fi controlled outlet (TP-Link makes a popular model) or one that operates on Z-Wave or Zigbee.  Both have their pros and cons.

An 802.11 Wi-Fi model is a standalone device.  It doesn't require a home automation hub and connects directly to your wireless access point (likely integrated into your router).  It can generally be controlled through either a local web interface or a vendor-specific SmartPhone app, and can often be scheduled to run on/off at specific times.

The downside to Wi-Fi devices is that 802.11 makes for a really crappy home automation protocol.  Wi-Fi (as used in the real world, anyway) is a point-to-point protocol, meaning devices connect directly to your wireless AP.  The more devices you have, the more spectrum congestion you have to deal with, which slows down transmission rates for your other devices.  If you only have a handful of devices, this isn't a big issue, but it will become problematic as you add more devices.  Also, these devices generally can't interact with one another, so you can't tie them to motion/luminescence/presence sensors and turn your lights on/off automatically for example.

Zigbee and Z-Wave devices are a bit of a different beast.  Although the devices themselves cost the same amount as their Wi-Fi brethren, you need to pick up a home automation hub for them to communicate with.  These cost about $75, so the startup cost is a bit higher.  Once you've got the hub, you can have hundreds of devices connected via Z-Wave or Zigbee.  The two protocols are very similar and most hubs have radios for both protocols.  These protocols are designed for home automation and create a mesh in which each device repeats signals from neighboring devices.  As a result, the mesh gets stronger with each device you add.

These devices also offer tight integration through the hub, so you can mix lights with presence sensors, motion sensors, leak sensors, etc. and create your own machinations.  You can bundle all sorts of devices together and tie them to a single button or voice command.


-b0b
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #42 - Jan 14th, 2017 at 2:26pm
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Just found that post I forgot to make chilling in another tab.  Pretty much the same shiz, but long-winded.

Quote:
You've got a couple of paths to choose from with the plug-in outlets.  You can go with Wi-Fi adapters that connect to your existing wireless access point (probably integrated into your router) or you can buy a Z-Wave or Zigbee model that connects to a home automation hub.  Both models cost about the same ($30 to $40 each), but there are pros and cons to both.

Wi-Fi models don't require a home automation hub.  They just link to your wireless access point and Bob's your uncle.  TP-Link sells a few different Wi-Fi controlled devices that seem pretty popular.  That said, you have to keep in mind that 802.11 Wi-Fi is intended for point-to-point communications, so that will limit just how many of these devices you can ultimately deploy.  If you decide to go with a home automation system down the road, these devices are generally not natively supported and you have to rely on workarounds (if available) to get them integrated.  If you're only going to deploy a handful of these, Wi-Fi will work great, but you'll probably want to replace them at some point if you want to go with a home automation platform.

Z-Wave and Zigbee models do require a home automation hub to bridge those protocols to Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet.  Zigbee and Z-Wave are low-powered meshes that repeat signals from device to device, whereas Wi-Fi data will only travel from a given device to the AP.  The more Zigbee and Z-Wave devices you install, the stronger those meshes become.  Although this doesn't apply to the plugs you're looking at, any battery-operated devices should definitely use Zigbee or Z-Wave as they draw waaaay less power.  We're talking 1-2 years of battery life on a small device versus a couple weeks.

Also consider what you want to do with the device.  If you're looking for simple on/off control using an Echo, smartphone, or tablet, the Wi-Fi devices will do what you want.  They can often do basic scheduling as well (e.g. turn the lights on at 8:00pm).  If you want more comprehensive control, such as turning the lights on when you walk into the room (using a motion sensor) or when you get home (using a presence sensor or smartphone geofence) or when someone breaks into your house, the Zigbee/Z-Wave devices are the better bet.
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #43 - Jan 16th, 2017 at 4:52am
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Thanks!

How hard were the sensors to install or for that matter, any of it?

Were outlets just as simple as turn off power, install new outlets, turn on power?

Any good sites or reading that you can suggest to get my knowledge base up?

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #44 - Jan 17th, 2017 at 9:00am
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Sorry, pics are coming.  I was in Pittsburgh last week and I'm headed to Chicago today, but I'll try to post something this weekend.

The sensors are super simple.  The motion sensors literally just sit wherever you want them.  You can screw them into a wall or stick them somewhere with double-sided tape, but you can also just set them on a counter or shelf.  The door sensors also come with a removable base-plate that can be screwed into your door jam or simply stuck in place with double-sided tape  The screws and tape are both included in the package.

The only thing I've done that required any real effort was the installation of light switches.  Our house has some questionable wiring so I've had to pull new electrical cabling to a couple spots.  Virtually all of the Z-Wave/Zigbee electrical switches and receptacles require a functioning neutral (white wire) which is hit-or-miss in my house.  Your house is quite a bit newer so this probably won't be an issue for you.  All you need to do is identify the right circuit (which is a trial in and of itself in my house), turn off the breaker, remove the faceplate and switch/receptacle, and pop the new one in.

Here are a couple of places where I've spent a ton of time reading:


SmartThings Community Forum:  https://community.smartthings.com/
Unofficial SmartThings Wiki:  http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=ThingsThatAreSmart_Wiki


-b0b
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