Smart Home

Use this low-budget hack to control your smart home more easily

Ways to simplify controls for your smart home can be relatively expensive. If you're an Android user, there is an easier way that won't break the bank.

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Taylor Martin/CNET

There are a number of ways to control your smart home without sifting through apps on your smartphone or tablet.

You can use the Amazon Echo to control your lights or thermostat by voice or have your coffee maker brew a cup of coffee, automatically, when your Fitbit detects that you've gotten out of bed. And the Flic and Pebblebee Stone are smart buttons you can use to control a number of devices through IFTTT with short or long clicks.

The above methods, however, are rather expensive ways to cut down on the number of steps it takes to perform specific tasks with connected devices around your house.

If you're an Android user, there is a much simpler and inexpensive way to accomplish effectively the same thing. Here's how to do it.

What you will need

Assuming you already have an NFC-enabled Android smartphone or tablet, it should only cost around $10 total and a few minutes per tag to get this set up and working.

First, you will need some NFC (near-filed communications) tags (one for every action you want to automate), which you can find on Amazon, usually for cheap. Second, you'll need an app that will allow you to write to those NFC tags. I'm using NFC Tools, which is free.

Additionally, you will need an IFTTT account with an active Maker channel. If you already have an IFTTT account, all you need to do to activate the Maker channel is navigate to ifttt.com, click Channels in the upper right and search for Maker. Click on the channel icon and click Connect.

Using the Maker channel

To set up the NFC tags to work with IFTTT, you first have to create an IFTTT recipe using the Maker channel. Even if you're familiar with IFTTT, using the Maker channel can seem a little daunting at first, but it's actually very easy to use.

Navigate to ifttt.com in your browser or in the IF app on your smartphone. To create a new recipe, click on your username in the browser and click Create in the dropdown menu.

From the IF app, tap the recipe button in the upper right corner, then tap the plus sign in the upper right corner and tap Create a New Recipe at the bottom of the app. Then, to create the Maker recipe:

IFTTT Recipe: If Maker Event 'toggle_lights', then toggle lights on/off connects maker to lifx

  • Click This and search for Maker. Click on the Maker icon.
  • For the Trigger, select Receive a web request.
  • For the Event Name, use something that clearly defines what the action will do, such as: "toggle_lights." Click Create Trigger.
  • Next, click That and search for your smart device channel. For this example, I'm using Lifx. Click on the Lifx channel icon.
  • Choose an action for the Maker event. Since I named the event "toggle_lights," I chose the Toggle lights on/off action.
  • Select which lights you want to toggle for the Maker event and click Create Action.
  • Click Create Recipe to finish.

Setting up the NFC tag

Now, all you need to do to trigger the recipe is write a record to the NFC tag that will tell any NFC-enabled phone to go to a specific URL when it comes in contact with the tag.

  • Open the IF app on your smartphone and tap the Recipe button in the upper right corner, then tap the Settings cog. Tap Channels and search for the Maker channel.
  • When you open the Maker channel page, tap How to trigger events. Select and copy the URL under Make a POST or GET web request.
  • Next, open the NFC Tools app on your smartphone and switch to the Write tab.
  • Tap Add a record and select URL/URI.
  • Paste the text in the URL field, delete "https://" and replace "{event}" with the Event Name. In my case, the Event Name is "toggle_lights" from the IFTTT recipe.
  • In the dropdown menu to the left, select "https://" and tap OK.
  • Tap the Write button and hold the NFC tag near the NFC chip on your phone. The record will write to the NFC tag.

Now you can peel the protective coating off the back of the NFC tag and stick it on the wall near your front door or in a less conspicuous place near the entrance. A few seconds after you tap your phone to the NFC tag, your lights will turn on.

You can use similar recipes to trigger all sorts of events in your house. For instance, you could create a recipe with a Maker event called "Home." When you walk in and tap your phone to the tag, you can have the lights turn on, the thermostat switch on the heat or air conditioning and your doors lock.

Since these tags are so cheap, you can stick them all around your house. Place one on your coffee table to turn on the TV and activate dimmer lighting for the evening and one by your bedside to start the coffee maker and turn on the lights around the house when you wake up or to turn everything off when going to bed.