Image by Tracy Certo.

“The first two days you feel silly talking to Alexa and having her turn a light on and off,” said Micah Rosa. “Two weeks later you will forget where the switch is.”

I was about to find out how true that was.

When Micah pitched the idea of an article for NEXTpittsburgh about his new business, Smart Home Elves, that installs smart devices then trains you to use them, I bit. And then had an LED bulb moment: How about using my dumb home as an example?

On a sunny Saturday made for falling leaves and rising hopes, Micah came to the townhouse where we have lived for a year — aka The House of Many Lightbulbs. Flip the switch in the kitchen and six overhead bulbs blast on full power. In the living area and master bedroom? Eight each. Not smart.

To demonstrate the system during the initial consultation ($99), Micah installed a Philips Hue hub and linked it to our Wi-Fi. The hub connects up to 50 devices which include Phillips Hue lightbulbs, smart switches and motion sensors. He then plugged in an Amazon Echo ($50) which also acts as a smart hub.

Micah Rosa and his assistant from Smart Home Elves during the consultation.

Fun fact: You can connect a smart bulb with a smart switch without the Phillips Hue hub, also known as a bridge. So why use it?

It gets complicated fast and if I could explain it, I would. That’s why we put our trust in Micah to find the best devices for our house, install them and send us the bill. It was the only way we’d get it done.

First up: deciding what system to go with.

Amazon is the best, he declared. The Echo device is only $50 and has all kinds of Skills or third-party capabilities — 10,000 at the moment with more coming every day.

To demonstrate, he downloaded the Alexa app and issued a lot of Alexa commands, from ordering an Uber to updating us on the last Steelers game and getting a customized news briefing. Next was a room-by-room evaluation of the house and what options we might consider.

Later, Micah emailed with a projected energy savings based solely on the number of light bulbs in our house and our average electric bill. The total savings? $800 a year.

Goodbye to 65-watt bulbs, hello to 10-watt LEDs.

Sold. The entire smart house conversion would pay for itself in a few years. Three Echoes, six smart switches, a camera, security system and countless Phillips Hue bulbs later, our house IQ increased by oh, at least 40 points.

If only the same could be said of us.

Smart home, clueless owners

At first there was the confusion of calling Alexa “Siri,” and Siri “Alexa.” And we had to stop using the old switches for the new ones. Then there was a matter of naming lights or rather, remembering what the lights were named. Table lamp. Small lamp. Overhead lights v. overhead living room lights. How would a guest ever navigate this? “Hey Alexa, turn off that table lamp by the door —the one with the metal base and dark shade over there — you know, that one.

Smart switch for dummies. Tape was the only way to go because old habits die hard.

We eventually made a list of names and practiced. A few weeks later, we’re mostly good — and happy to have made the switch. So to speak.

Waking up, we can say, “Alexa, turn on the coffee maker,” which is plugged into a smart switch that’s in the wall outlet. By the time we get downstairs, the coffee is ready. (Note: This only works when you prepare the coffee at night, of course. And after doing that and accidentally turning it on so I had fresh coffee at 10:30 p.m., I have to say I don’t use this feature much.)

But I love walking into the closet, or into the house from the garage with hands full, with the lights turning on automatically and then off three minutes later. The motion sensors are not only convenient but also provide an added measure of security in the front and back entrances to the house.

And while we wanted efficient LED lights, we wanted the warm light kind, not the harsh, unflattering cold light kind. No problem. Now one Hue bulb will render cool or warm, white or red or even green. And when you get the lights where you want them — say warm light at 50 percent brightness — they will return to that setting when Alexa next turns them on. You can also set them to wake you with a dim light gradually growing brighter.

There is much to learn. As I write this, it’s raining heavily with thunder far off. Impatient for the storm, I command, “Alexa, turn on thunder sounds.” For minutes, I listened to thunder rumble through the speakers until suddenly The Who started playing “Love, Reign O’er Me” and then The Doors followed with “Riders on the Storm.” Wha … ?

It’s Nick, my husband, having fun with Alexa downstairs. I can only imagine what it would be like if my music-obsessed boys were still at home.

Tracy Certo

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.