Episode 44: Technology Bytes. . .Lights

This is Technology Bytes, episode 44 for January 7th, 2024.

Technology Bytes is a microcast where I share brief bytes on interesting technology.

My name is Joel.


And here we go.

This week, I’ve been dealing with the technology of lights or something in the periphery of lights, and I’ll explain that as we go along.

But some has been more challenging than others.

And at the end of the day, if everything works out, I think it will be good.

Some of the technology that I’m going to talk about, I already talked about in previous episodes.

I’ve just done a little bit of a different take on them.

And so much of what you hear, you may have heard before, but there’s a little bit of difference because I chose a different function and a different type of smart technology for my house with this latest installation.

And just going to talk through how that went.

The first thing I want to talk about is string lights.

And I think you, oh, so sorry.

I think you have seen these, they’ve become pretty regular in backyards and patio areas.

Hung under awnings or whatever they are.

Just little LED lights that hang down from a wire.

And I’ve always appreciated them.

I’ve always liked them.

And so I bought a string, actually two strings to cover my back patio area.

And then was waiting for my father-in-law to visit so we could string them up.

And he has some tool sets that I don’t have that make it easier because some of the things are mounted into brick walls.

Some of them are going into house walls and those kinds of things.

And overall, the final result is really cool.

It turned out very nice.

And I’ll go through some of that installation in a second.

The one thing that I had already talked about, I think, is these lights.

I bought Ross Outdoor Smart Plugs and it’s a single plug unit that has two outlets that are independently controlled at the other end.

So it’s really a foot long extension cord with smarts built in, I guess you could say.

And so that’s where the project started.

And I bought that and then bought the two strings of lights.

And then there were some little nails in the wall around the backyard and so I just kind of hung them on there just to make sure they worked.

And even in that configuration, they looked pretty nice, but obviously not exactly what we wanted.

So Home Depot sells a cable kit for stringing up cable that then your lights can zip tie to so that they don’t sag.

It’s hard to pull an electrical cable as tight as you would really want to, to make the lights stay at a level that looks good so they’re not dipping and swooping down and those kind of things.

And so we hooked them up in kind of a V final M type shape to get most of the backyard lit up.

And they look really nice.

And the hanging of the cables ended up being fairly simple.

You loop it around, you have a tie at that end so that you can make a loop that then you can stretch using a tension bolt, which are pretty cool technology in and of themselves.

Because when you turn the center of that tension bolt, one side of it is left handed thread and one side of it is right handed thread.

So they actually tighten towards each other as you turn in the one direction.

Most of the time, either whatever direction you choose clockwise, counterclockwise, depending on which end is tied to the wall and which end is tied to whatever you’re trying to tension.

And that really worked pretty well.

I may end up having to do a little more tensioning as the lights hang and provide some weight and we’ll see how that goes.

But it ended up being a not super difficult project and the end result was really nice and the lights look good and all of the smarts work and timing with time of day and sunset and then turning off with a good night command type of thing.

All of that works really well and very pleased with that project.

The next project that I moved into then was I bought some additional smart switches for my house and I’d already gone through the installation process on two set switches and I think I talked about it on the microcast.

The installation ended up not being that difficult, but the one thing is that the switches that I purchased were a single way switch.

So in one application, I had to turn a light switch on and then tell people not to touch that light switch or my smart switch would end up getting no power and not work at all.

And while that does work, it just is not the best scenario.

And then I also wanted to add a little bit of smarts to a few more hall type lights in my house.

One’s going up a set of stairs and then one in the upstairs hallway.

And so I looked online and I didn’t realize it or I might have bought them the first time, but Meross has three way smart switches.

And so I bought four of those.

It ends up that I was thinking that I needed them at both ends of the three way switch, but I really only need them at one end.

So I ended up with an extra and made the project even longer because I redid a whole other set of switches.

And they are as advertised and not that difficult to put together, but end up having a wiring that if the house isn’t perfectly wired to Meross’s specifications can be a challenge to make work.

In fact, for the first switch that we tried to install, we tried all kinds of different wiring because basically what you have is a ground wire, a common wire, a power wire, and then two what they call transport wires.

And basically that allows one switch to be turned off and have the other switch be able to control the lights or vice versa.

So both lights can be in either pole position up or down and the lights can go on or off.

There isn’t just an on or off switch because those switches are tied with two apparently transport wires.

Although in my switch, it looked like there was only one and it took a while to get that one correctly wired so that would actually work.

And what we ended up having to do was tie the ground wire and the common wire to one wire in the switch box because there were only four.

And so we tied that to the ground cable, the ground wire that was in the switch box.

And then we had that left us two transport cables, one power cable.

And when we finally figured that out, which probably took us 45 minutes to an hour and running up and down the stairs and tearing that switch apart and turning on and off and shorting across the live wire and breaking, I mean, tripping breakers, which happened a couple of times.

And anyway, when we finally got that working, it seemed to work really well.

The light switch works.

The morass stuff continues to be easily connected to HomeKit, which is where I live in the smart world.

And it was a very nice addition to the stair lights.

At that point, I still had three more three way switches I wanted to put in and moving a single pole switch to a different light switch in the house.

And so thinking that we had finally figured out how the whole thing went together, we got to the second switch and found out that not only is there ground wire, but there is actually a common wire.

And so that one actually did have five wires.

And so then with a little bit of of testing with that, is there power going between these two lines or these two lines to figure out the correct transport configuration?

The second switch went in and happened fairly simply, just like the wiring that morass told us, and hooked up to HomeKit.

All was good.

And we were on to the third location.

The third location ended up being a little more challenging because it didn’t feel like we had a hot wire in the box where the smart switch was going.

And that is critical for these switches to work.

So we wired it up, had power to the switch.

It would not run the lights.

If we ran the lights from the other switch, which we had to take all apart.

Long story, three switches really only had one that we had to take apart, but try to find the wiring inside it.

Ends up that the wiring doesn’t match the other two switches where the black wire was always hot and now the red wire is hot.

And so we got that hooked up, tripped another breaker, broke a wire.

Technology can be frustrating sometimes, but once the wiring was together, I hooked it up to my HomeKit, through the switches a couple of times, everything seemed to work.

And then we went on to the last switch, which was moving the single pole switch to my kitchen.

That one went in just like it was supposed to and reset it to connect to HomeKit because that’s what has to happen if you’ve moved the switch to another spot.

That one works great.

And then my kids were leaving for the evening after spending time with us.

And my granddaughter pushes the switch to turn on the lights and nothing happens.

And I don’t know, I switched a couple of switches, touched something with my phone.

The light on my phone said the lights were on, so I turned them off and then the lights came on.

And that’s the one I don’t really want to dig back into.

It’s three switches on one end, one switch on the other end, a bunch of wires.

I’m not that interested in digging into it.

At the moment it works, but again, I may end up being in the same situation where I have to leave the one switch at the end of the hallway in the same position and only use the smart switch to control the lights.

We did that for months.

It works.

It’s not that big a deal because there’s just two of us in the house.

At some point, if it ends up being that’s a problem, I might have to go back in and fix it.

But at the moment, all the Meross stuff I’ve ever purchased connects to HomeKit well.

There is some wiring challenges, but we made it through.

All my lights work, all the switches work.

We didn’t blow anybody up.

And it is a success at the end of the day, minus one hiccup in the downstairs hallway.

So if you’re looking for technology in the term of lights, string lights in any location, I think are really cool, easy to install.

The cabling is fairly simple to do.

Make sure you’ve pulled some pretty significant tension before you use the tensioner, so you don’t run out of throw room to make it as tight as you need to make it.

And if you’re looking for smart lights where you already have lights installed in the house, Meross switches are not a bad way to go.

If the wiring in your house is common, grounded, and transported correctly.

Well, that was a really long story today, but that is all I have for this episode.

If you have any comments or suggestions, if you have questions about wiring, I can try to help because I’ve been through it five times now.

You can reach me at technologybytesatmerigfamily.com, M-E-A-R-I-G family.com.

I want to thank you for listening to the Technology Bytes microcast, and I look forward to the next time we are together taking another bite of technology.


Joel Mearig @technologybytes