Retrofitting the CNET Smart Home garage door openers with intelligent, cloud-connected controls was a snap. Here's how we did it and why.
A telling measure of a smart house is the intelligence of its main entryway. In the case of many suburban homes this primary access point is not the front door but the garage.
There will certainly be plenty of homeowners who don't immediately see the appeal of an Internet-linked garage door. I confess at first that the value of such a setup was lost on me, too. After delving into just what a connected garage door opener can accomplish now and in the likely future, I'm convinced that it's one of the more useful components of a smart home setup. Here's how we went about selecting a smart garage door opener for the CNET Smart Home.
For suburbanites like myself who drive constantly and rarely use my home's main entrance, having an intelligent garage door is a lot more practical. For example, a garage that's connected to the cloud can alert you if it's been left open accidentally and let you close it from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
In theory a smart garage will not only ping you when it's been left open, it will also integrate into a wider system of connected devices and services. Imagine using a virtual assistant like Siri or Amazon's Alexa to open or close the door, or having the door open automatically when your car pulls into the driveway.
There are plenty of products for sale which can connect your current garage door opener to an app living on your smartphone. Devices such as the $50 GarageMate and $99 Gogogate 2 are good examples. Both offer Android and iOS versions of its companion application and talk to smartphones or tablets via a wireless connection (either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi).
For the CNET Smart Home, though, that's not quite enough. We also want it to work with the other devices in the home so we can see what those interactions are like.
I am tempted by the $200 Garageio, whose creators tout the device's official IFTTT compatibility. Garageio's designers also took advantage of the software development kit Amazon publicly released for its Echo Smart Speaker. As a result, if you own an Echo, you can now control Garageio with your voice.
As intriguing as that sounds, we decided instead on the Chamberlain MyQ platform, and specifically the MyQ Garage , at least for now. Priced at $130 but available for $100 or so, the MyQ Garage is an add-on device that's compatible with virtually any modern garage door opener built within the last 20 years. It's also a cinch to install. We put in two of them.
Most importantly, the MyQ mobile app (Android and iOS) currently communicates with Nest thermostats and Chamberlain says it also has plans to support Apple HomeKit in 2016.
Of course at the moment MyQ support for HomeKit is nonexistent as is official integration with the SmartThings family of domestic tech products (though this, too, is set for a 2016 debut). When Chamberlain MyQ and HomeKit finally partner it has the potential to not only unlock Siri-based voice controls for Chamberlain, but it also allows for the possibility of more device interactions.
With just a quick 30-minute install time for each Chamberlain MyQ Garage kit, we transformed our old school garage into a connected one. All we needed, aside from AC power and an adequate Wi-Fi signal, were basic tools, specifically a drill, a screwdriver, a hammer and a ladder.
For a deep dive into the setup experience and features, check out our full review of the MyQ Garage . I can say that retrofitting existing openers is a breeze compared with performing a complete upgrade of the opener itself. Chamberlain has an option for that, too.
I am disappointed by the MyQ's degree of interaction with Nest which could be much deeper. The MyQ app lets you toggle Nest thermostats manually between "home" and "away" modes but that's about it. You can imagine more automation, your HVAC system adjusting automatically based on when you leave or come home, for example, but there is some nuance to that that makes the absence of those features more understandable. What if you're just opening your garage to get something? What if you leave but your spouse is still at home?
I expect those deeper integrations are technically possible, but it's reasonable that they're not in place yet. Both companies want to avoid a negative user experience. Chamberlain especially has safety concerns to think about. Garage doors are incredibly heavy, and thus deadly if you happen to be in the way of one when it closes. It's for that reason that Chamberlain won't allow any automation around door closing or opening, either within its own app, or via interactions with other smart home products. A MyQ system owner must always interact with the app directly (or, presumably, talk to Siri), to trigger a change in door position.
Still there are workarounds to add more interaction between the MyQ and other devices, specifically through IFTTT. The IFTTT platform has the power to link a sea of connected products together, though often not in the way their designers originally intended. For instance, using Gmail as the conduit, an IFTTT recipe will tell Philips Hue lights in the house to switch on when the MyQ garage door opens.
IFTTT also has a recipe to let you open your MyQ-enabled door via SmartThings. I haven't tested this one, since it relies on an unofficial integration between SmartThings and MyQ made by SmartThings users, and there's some programming involved, but it's something I intend to try out soon.
Although I've installed the MyQ in the smart home for now, I would like to try out more of the alternatives, especially Garageio. I will also be keeping tabs on the coming partnerships for the MyQ and reporting back as they develop.