How Much Is DIY Worth To You?

It all started with an article about Wink Labs putting a monthly fee on their previously free service. It wasn’t so much the amount they were asking ($5 / month) that raised my hackles, but rather the fact that they would essentially render a device that you ostensibly bought worthless unless you paid up. I’ve ranted about this enough recently, and the quick summary is that IoT companies seem very bad at estimating their true costs, and the consumer ends up suffering for it.

So I started thinking about the price myself. Is $5 per month for a home automation service a lot or a little? On one hand, if you stretch that out to, say, 10 years, you end up with a net present value of something north of $400, plus $70 for the device. That’s a lot, right? Surely, I could DIY myself a solution for less? Or am I falling into the same IoT trap?

This isn’t hypothetical, because I already have a modest DIY home automation system. We run a bunch of switches, have temperature and humidity loggers in relevant rooms, and the washer and dryer notify us when they’re done. I also use the MQTT infrastructure for all sorts of fun projects, but that’s a bonus. Our hub is a $10 Orange Pi and a long-since depreciated WRT54g router, and it’s run for four years now, and probably will last another six. So that looks like $460 in my pocket.

On the other hand, it’s only really a bargain for me because I already knew what I was doing when I set the system up, and what I didn’t know I wanted to learn. Realistically, I probably spent around 20 hours on the system in total, but most of that has been adding in new devices and tweaking old ones. You’d have to do this sort of thing with any other system too, although my guess is that the professional systems are more streamlined at enrolling new gadgets: I have a whole directory full of Python scripts running as daemons and have to do a lot of hand editing. Still, assuming nothing else drastic happens to the system, I’m probably winning by DIYing here.

But imagine that I had little or no technical clue, and even flashing an image of a pre-configured home automation system to a Raspberry Pi were new. How much time does it take to learn how to do something like that? How much time to learn to administer even such a simple system on your home network? If it took the real me 20 hours, it could be easily twice that much for the hypothetical me. Let’s say 46 hours of time invested. $10 / hour is below minimum wage in many places, and this isn’t minimum wage labor, and that was fairly optimistic.

In the end, the $5 per month is probably pretty fair if the system works. Indeed, when I look around at all of the systems I’ve built, most all of them have taken more time to build than I thought when I was starting. Of course, I’ve enjoyed it most of the time, so maybe it’s not fair to apply my full consulting rates. (Which if I charged my father-in-law for tech support, I’d be rich!) But it’d probably be naive to say that everyone should just DIY themselves a home automation solution when the going gets tough.

So look around you and revel in the hours you’ve spent on your various DIY projects. Who knew that they were worth so much?

This article is part of the Hackaday.com newsletter, delivered every seven days for each of the last 200+ weeks. It also includes our favorite articles from the last seven days that you can see on the web version of the newsletter.

Want this type of article to hit your inbox every Friday morning? You should sign up!

104 thoughts on “How Much Is DIY Worth To You?

  1. Prediction: Wink will go out of business, Nest is part of Google and will be cancelled, and all your gadgets will be bricks.

    My light switches will still work, as most of them have since 1960. Now get off my lawn, punk.

    1. Even if you pay, there is no guarantee that your gadgets won’t be a brick a couple of years from now if you are depending on an external cloud/service. DIY (as well as dumb solutions) on the other hand would work until you are sick and tired of supporting it.

      1. I feel like anyone with a Wink hub was pretty much DIY anyways. Early adopters of the Smart Home idea. In which I researched all morning on hub replacements. I can’t justify paying $5 a month for a slow, buggy PubSub service. I was someone with Wink API access as well. Seeing the amount of information Wink had just on my Lutron plug was crazy. GPS coordinates not only of my house but exactly where the plug was in my house when mapped. I never liked that, so for Wink to have that kind of information and ask for payment … nope, not paying a dime for that kind of information. Sorry they aren’t smart enough to capitalize on that data. Anyways, I had an unplugged SmartThings hub in the house and ended up moving almost everything over but I must say Hubitat looks very interesting. Reminds me of HASS but in a hub. They say everything can be kept local and there is a beta for MQTT connection. Thinking of going that route to avoid going through this again. So, very sorry Wink, it’s DIY for me.

      1. What you say makes sense, BobH, but seems to ignore the actual history of Google. They constantly discontinue products that were providing them with information. I think they figure, on net, that they will be able to get information just as easily from whatever new service you switch to.

          1. It’s like how laptop manufacturers keep discontinuing product lines and introducing new ones, in order to keep the market presence of any one model to a minimum. Thereby if people have a complaint about it, they won’t find another person to confirm their findings – this means consumer advocacy groups never get enough data to declare the products faulty.

            They have to keep changing the services faster than the human rights organizations and the EU can poke holes in their anti-privacy and anti-competitive practices. Keeping the target moving keeps the lawsuits down.

        1. That’s because after a while the data stream does not provide useful information anymore, because they have learned enough to not need it anymore, so they move on to a new source.

  2. Are you storing all your data in the cloud? How many hours did you spend settting it all up, how many hours programming, debugging etc.

    Of course, these are one off costs, but it’d quickly eat through that $460 you’ve ‘saved’.

    However yes these companies don’t look to do this for the long term, and so likely don’t plan for how to run these for purpetuallity.

    it’d be great if they could be forced to ‘buy back’ old devices however, if you decide you don’t want to pay their fee.

  3. Please do rant on. It doesn’t matter if they only wanted a penny a year. It’s the principle of the thing. You had a deal, then they tried to change the deal. That kind of stuff has to stop

      1. Me too. Stopped buying Sony anything after they screwed backwards compatibility on most PS3. That became my cutoff for caring about modern gaming.

        The rootkit debacle didn’t help them either.

        When something really matters to me- I do it myself, because I do what I do better than any company. And I get it exactly the way I wanted.

        And finally- I have seen this same bullsh*t countless times with IOT companies, it’s similar to kickstarter companies who take your money, then give you something half assed that barely works, and go under before they fix anything.

        If I pay for something- it’s mine, and companies trying to charge for use after the fact deserve to go bankrupt. It’s a mobster business model- “nice product ya got there, be a shame if you couldn’t use it anymore”. I will never trust again any company that pulls that stunt.

        Unfortunately we are limited by lazy, stupid, or indifferent populace. Not everyone is smart enough, has enough motivation or cares enough to address things DIY when this happens- and it’s those people feeding the crooks that will continue to make this mobster business model feasible for these companies.

        1. It would be interesting to know if a visible dent was made in sales. Before that farce in 2010 I would only buy Sony laptops, perhaps a new one every couple of years, I had Sony TVs and of course, PS 1, 2 and 3, Walkman etc etc and I completely stopped. I suppose lots of other people did the same but I have no idea how many or if other people still refuse to buy Sony as I do.

          1. I never bought any Sony stuff so I don’t show up in the figures but I know many that also don’t buy Sony.
            Their always incompatible memory formats and other lock in’ s (remember memory stick), crazy copy protection on cd’s, disrespect for customers (root kits) etc etc.

  4. It’s a point of principle. At the time a company comes back to charge a new previously undisclosed recurring fee on a product I purchased is when I take their equipment and throw it away.

  5. The fundamental problem here is that these products were not designed to function without the cloud being available. These devices should all support a standalone mode, then the cloud provides extra niceties on top of that. A cloud connection should never be a requirement for the basic device functions.

    Second point, all of these IOT devices should document how these basic functions work. Doing this enables someone else to pick up the pieces when the vendor cloud dies. For example integration with open source “Home Assistant” could restore operation. I wish there were a standard of IOT devices but unfortunately there are about a hundred of them.

    In defense of fees, it is not free to operate a cloud. Revenue to pay for it has to come from somewhere. Offering lifetime, free cloud is always going to end badly when the company making that ill-advised offer goes under or shuts the product down. Don’t think this means your lifetime, it is their lifetime.

    1. The point of “IoT” seems to be tying particular hardware to particular platforms to monetize them. Even for the DIY stuff, when you pick up a microcontroller with a LoRA module, the way you get it online is to sign up with the things network. Or if you pick up an NB-IoT module… well, you don’t, because the phone network operators won’t sell you a SIM card for it. Instead they direct you to their own “network solutions division” that wants to build the whole solution for you and charge you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for it. They’re not even interested in providing services to individual hackers.

  6. Problem with putting a price on your own time is that the more skilled you become, the less and less things are worth doing . At some point you’ll just have to resort to doing what you like :)

    1. This is 100% true.

      When you have a day job and get paid well but still a third of what you could be making, and people constantly asking you to make stuff for them but they balk at the cost for your services after years of people discounting you it’s hard to get anything made anymore.

      I only concentrate my efforts on very complex projects at this point too many people when they found out what I could do asked for my help but never wanted to do anything for me, or ripped me off after the fact.

      1. It’s called a contract and being able to say no.
        There are 2 categories. Stuff you do professionally and stuff you do for s&g’s. Never do professional work without a defined scope of work, terms and conditions, price and delivery date. Never compromise the quality of the delivered professional service.
        Never commit to s&g stuff to anyone for any commitments, deadlines, or price at all.
        At the time you start offering professional services to friends at discount rates you simply reestablish your professional price.
        I’ve seen people who will ask for really complicated stuff, have no intention of paying and then justifying it as “Bill really likes doing this stuff and he would be doing it anyway”.
        The really complicated stuff most folks on hackaday do is worth very significant money but we shouldn’t feel burdened to give it away to acquaintances.

    1. +1 DIY rarely makes sense from a purely economic standpoint. What a person learns in the process of doing stuff increases their value in the workplace. It is also a lot of fun.

      1. Not wanting to stand up and turn on the tv-pc lead me on a long, uphill journey into web servers, php and Wake On Lan. But now when I want to add a web interface to a project the groundwork is already done!

    2. +1
      And if your design is smart enough and published here, you may actually help many other doing such.
      Sharing the freebies is also part of DIY (and the essence of this website)
      Let says you lost many hours, much more than the 5USD cost per month, but out of it; 1,000 persons just download you instructions and do it with no time.

  7. I’ve been running SmartThings for years. Again I could be in the same position you are if they decide to charge for it. That would be a suitable replacement. I’ve seen a lot of people migrating to smart things from Wink after they announced that on the /r/smartthings sub reddit.

  8. Wow, you figured out that sometimes if you are smart or know about something you can do it for less. This is now just an IOT thing, this is pretty wide spread. I do most of the small mechanical work on my own cars. Someone else may either not have the knowledge, the time or even the desire to do that. I do a lot of things myself. It is something I enjoy and it is learning, which I see as good. It can also be taken too far. I have a friend who back when we had an economy had a good construction job. The clutch went out on his truck. I told him the guy I used for stuff like that could get him in and out for about $600. He laughed at me because the parts were only about $350. Two days later he had it fixed he was driving to his job when it self destructed. He wound up getting fired for missing too many days, the auto parts place said the clutch was mis aligned and that was out of warranty for the part. At the end of the day he was in for more in parts than just paying someone to do it for him, and he lost his job to boot. With IT things, one aspect to keep in mind when you get into things that are on all the time is what they cost you in power. For years my “router” was a Linux system running on an old server, my web site was another Linux system running on another server, and my NAS for the house was yet another server. Lots of hardware to be spinning 24×7. Bulletproof and all being proper servers, but I replaced them with what I would call toys, and now the whole bunch takes about as much power as the fan deck took in the big server. And my back room no longer sounds like a jet engine is spinning up in there.. If you can not do what you need to do with a few watts it may be less expensive to rent the service. There are a lot of pieces that need to go into the decision as to roll your own or pay for a service.

    1. If you are smart then you will realize that your valuable time is better spent with your family than putzing around in the garage on your pet projects. Take your car to the garage, spread some of your accumulated wealth in the community instead of buying more junk that will need to be “fixed”. Why bother wasting your valuable life re-creating the things that you can buy already made at the store?

      And bloody hell, leave car repair to accredited mechanics. Your hacked up brake job may end up killing innocent people. If you can’t afford the full budget of car maintenance then you should not have a car.

      1. > If you can’t afford the full budget of car maintenance then you should not have a car.

        That’s brutal. The people who can’t afford to maintain their cars usually need them to get to some minimum wage job in the first place – deleting the car deletes their income and possibly their whole life.

        Mechanics are well overpriced – especially in “reputable” high profile shops that charge you $300 for the part and $300 for two hours of work on the bill. What do they do? Change the part with their toes standing on their hands?

        1. A lot of that $300 in labor goes to shop upkeep and keeping their bills paid. Ask them about their insurance costs sometime, you’ll be surprised.

          Another big part of that is warranty and liability, part failures are not uncommon now that everything is made by the lowest bidder in Pakistan or India.

          1. Actually, a lot of that $300 is explained by the fact that they’re the only licensed garage for miles that are allowed to deal with X or Y cars, and having yours serviced anywhere else would void the warranty. They already have their hands full of jobs dealing with cars that cannot be serviced anywhere else; they can essentially reject other jobs by pricing them so high that only the desperate and the clueless will pay. If you want “accredited mechanics”, you have to pay that premium.

            There’s a whole other market for servicing cars – especially second hand cars – where the hourly rates drop to 1/3 or less an hour, and parts may be generic or even supplied by the customer; it gets the job done and keeps people employed and the cars rolling along. The only problem is that you get exactly what you’re paying for and they’re not necessarily going to treat your car with silk gloves. Expect oil smudges on the driver’s seat.

      2. “And bloody hell, leave car repair to accredited mechanics.”

        Hell no, only 20% of that industry won’t screw up your car worse than when you took it in. They only don’t get sued to oblivion because nobody takes photos of every nut and bolt before they let the idiots loose on it. Every time the media do a secret camera sting they catch them, every time it’s “An isolated incident, just that one guy, we fired him, he has to go take his accreditation and get a job at a slightly lower priced shop now.”

      3. Oddly enough I spend time in 2 US states, one in the North and one in the South. The state in the North has annual car inspections, and lower speed limits (65 is the fastest posted limit in the state). The one in the south has (only in some areas) emissions testing, and in the area I am in, they don’t even do that. The top posted speed limit in that state is 75MPH. Oddly enough the there are not more accidents in the state with no inspection and faster speed limits. Of course the roads are not covered with snow 4 months out of the year either and they do not spread salt that eats any metal it comes in contact with on the roads in the South.

        As far as my valuable time, what makes it valuable is that I can do what I want with it. Amazing how that works. Oddly enough I am often times a proponent of buying things that are off the shelf solutions when they make sense. We all have our own decisions to make what it makes sense to farm out and what to do yourself.

        Also consider cars, My wife and I drive our cars, trucks, motorhome and motorcycles. If felt a repair was out of my experience beyond my abilities to safely carry out, do you think I would want me and my family driving around in it? I am sure most people feel the same way. I won’t disagree with you that many people are not too concerned about the rest of the world, but in this case, their ass is on the line too.

      4. DIY has a lot of benefits, besides saving a couple of bucks. I DIY most everything, it’s a learning experience, an adventure. I get to learn how things work, how to repair them, and occasionally improve on them. Family can get involved too, it doesn’t have to be an individual effort. It’s good skills to learn, since you never know when you need something, that you can easily get. How long are you willing to wait alongside a road, when your car no longer is driveable? Fixing a flat tire, really isn’t that bad. There are also a lot of other relatively simple repairs you can do yourself, to get back to driving. DIY is about independence. It’s not so much that you can’t afford something, or impatient to wait for gratification, it’s more of the self gratification you get. You can buy many different things, most will more, or less fit your particular need. When you build it yourself, you get exactly what you want and need.

        1. This in spades. Learning by doing doesn’t happen without the doing.

          I had a lovely old Vespa scooter in college. Drove it ~250 miles in a day on a rejetted engine, and learned that aluminum pistons melt when repeatedly slammed into the air exhaust port due to bad timing.

          Bought a 10 mm wrench, mail-ordered a new piston, spent a day gently scraping the aluminum off the walls of the cylinder, fixed the jetting issue, and got it back home. I rebuilt the clutch on that thing too, in my attic-apartment living room, over the course of a month…

          If any of this were done by professionals, I wouldn’t have nearly the understanding of mechanical / motor stuff that I do now. It was probably a few hundred dollars’ worth of lesson, though. Money well spent.

      5. Wow I have never seen somebody who so clearly missed the point of the entire ethos this place exists for.

        You must be incredibly rich and nothing must have ever broken on you either that or you are a monk with no possessions in the world and yet somehow found this place to digitally comment on how worthless you see other people’s way of life as.

        I grew up fixing everything and making things because I didn’t have any other choice to get what I wanted I never came from a rich family we were never poor but we were never very well off.

        You must live in a different world from anyone else here or have no understanding of the joy of making things yourself. I truly pity you.

      6. Accredited doesn’t mean anything when it comes to quality. In fact accredited only works on trust alone (you trust the mechanic that he knows what he is doing while he shuffles around 100 cars a day and expect him not to make an accident with yours wishing he had a good night’s rest the night before). If you have the right tools and skills, your DIY job may be as good as theirs, even better, and only have yourself to blame if something breaks.

    2. Your mate needs to be whinging at someone. A clutch will self align the first time you release it. Motor factors are not what you would call sages on the subject of the parts they sell.

  9. This reminds me of Glowforge vs Chinese laser. Do you buy an expensive laser or do you buy an inexpensive laser and learn how to use it and repair it.

    Their software is cloud-based and the unit is bricked if they go out of business. This is more evident now that they are introducing a paid tier to their service.

    Unfortunately the choices we make now affect these ability of our products later. The internet is littered with items that are no longer usable or are limping along because the services have gone away.

      1. I would subscribe to hackaday. It’s more ethical and socially just than having other people pay the cost through the advertising.

        The problem with most subscriber services however is that ads tend to make more money and demand less of the service. In a market with flexible demand, people can choose not to pay and not to read your articles, meaning you have to put out and keep your prices low – something that people can justify spending on idle entertainment because they’re already paying a phone bill, netflix, cable tv, internet… it adds up pretty quickly when everyone’s charging you $10 a month. For most sites, charging even a dollar a month would drive away pretty much everyone.

        Being sponsored by ads is the easier pill to swallow for the consumers – since they don’t know they’re eating it. With ads the readers don’t know how much money you’re pulling in, so they’ll happily pay you for whatever trash. After all, it’s “free”.

        Multiply this by all the ad-sponsored services around the internet and you get a trillion dollar drain on the economy.

        1. I wouldn’t… they would start off like Mondo with fresh unique ideas..and end up like Wired.

          Same like Popular Mechanics where they had really well put together plans.. and have turned into “10 power tools every home needs”.

          Finally remember when Car and Driver had very good recommendations on cars, trucks,etc now only showcases whomever editor is offered the biggest paycheck or most luxury vehicle as a reward.

          1. Everything runs its course. The good thing is that you can stop paying them.

            Now you can’t, because the advertising continues to pay for hackaday regardless of what they put out, and you continue to pay the cost through the price of products you buy.

  10. The minimum wage calculation is usually meaningless because you aren’t gaining any money by not doing it anyhow.

    It’s kinda like complaining you can’t work above xx hours per week because that would put you in a different tax bracket and the extra hours would earn you less. You’re still earning more money though – or with the thing you DIY, you are getting something where you otherwise would have nothing.

    The question is rather how much you value your free time to do something else. If you are bored and simply watching TV or doing some other pointless activity that people do, almost everything is a gain. Using these idle moments to make things that save you money, even very little money, is always rational.

  11. What we’re saying then is that there is a good market for some form of product or manual of pre-arranegd scripts which makes setting up a DIY IoT system easy for the masses.

  12. Interesting that many people really seem to gain something from “home automation”.
    I have no idea how I could benefit from my washing-machine texting me when it’s done…

    If the only thing that happens automatically is that your appliances remember you to do something yourself it’s rather pointless IMO ;)

    1. Home automation is a misnomer. It’s really about techno toys.

      A home is a fundamentally dumb thing. All it needs to do is to maintain a certain range of temperature, humidity and CO2 level through heating and ventilation and that’s it. When you go to fiddling with the way the house works, you run it out of the optimum conditions it was designed for.

      The selling point of home automation is rather that it provides a sense of control to the person who’s buying the gadgetry. They get to adjust the lights and turn the temperature up and down to amuse themselves, not for any practical purpose.

      1. YOUR home may be a dumb thing.
        Mine is off grid and has to handle its own power generation, and water collection and processing.
        I directly benefit from the automation I’ve DIY’d as it saves me time and effort to play in the hack shop.

        Funny, I started my LAN of things projects, and evangelized them highly, specifically mentioning the issues Wink and a lot of predecessors bring up, to a lot of Meh response…but now it’s cool.

        Nice to be vindicated.

        1. A house should be a dumb thing. Your energy system or individual appliances may be smart, but if the house itself doesn’t work passively just by people living in it and keeping it warm, it’s a bad design.

          If your house depends on constant adjustment to keep it from developing problems such as dry rot or mold, the game is already lost. The technical solutions will only slightly delay the inevitable, because the service life of the electronic systems is much much shorter than of a house. Eventually you will be operating the system in failure mode, and you will notice it only when the problems start to show up.

          That’s what I mean with the smart home being a misnomer. All the smarts are just gadgetry that may serve some purpose but aren’t ultimately necessary, at least if the owner of the home is any smart. If you can’t turn the system off without running into trouble, you’re already in trouble – you just don’t know it yet.

    2. My X-10 set up is “Home Automation” it turns lights on and off at set times. I see it as enhanced security.
      I would like to have my clothes washer and dryer notify me when they are done with a load, as I might be working outside, and not hear the dryer buzzer or the washer go silent, as it is, I often don’t hear those “notifications”, and it takes longer to complete the laundry process.
      My radio alarm clock is “home automation” in a way. Having the “smart” thermostat lowering heating and AC during times we”re not home or asleep helps to manage energy consumption.

      Now to find a way to get the clothesline to notify me when the clothes are dry…

      1. > washer and dryer notify me

        Mine says how long it takes for the program to end, so I can set my phone to alert accordingly. That way I don’t have to pay a subscription to a cloud service.

        There is of course “home automation” already in the sense of timers and schedulers, like time-of-use electricity meters that switch the water heater on when it’s cheaper, but that’s not what we’re talking about in the modern context. You can plug almost any appliance on a mechanical timer like it was 1975. Home automation refers rather to the new gadgetry like color-adjustable wifi light bulbs that somehow need to connect to the internet to function.

        1. You are right, however, regarding your last sentence about wifi light bulbs, isn’t that because they need to be on the same network so that you can talk to them from say, your phone?

          Obviously, once they are in the network of your phone which is connected to the internet, they can also go out-there. And being on the internet allows the manufacturer to add another feature, managing them from anywhere. That’s probably pointless as you say, but the manufacturer cannot avoid putting that feature because another will.
          That results in products being essentially the same, a sort of communism of capitalism…

          I think a deeper problem is that things are too cheap to manufacture and margins are either thin or companies too greedy (probably both), that competition forces every product to end up having features nobody wants. I mean why do you even need to change the color of the lights, be it over the internet or otherwise?

          The same process also results in low quality products, because when you make tenths of millions copies of a product, saving 10cents per product by using a lower quality design/component, saves you millions of dollars.

          The same process also results in companies required to get big or die in face of GAFAM. GAFAM are worth right now around 4,5 trillions. For comparison French or UK GDP is close to 2,3 trillions. So essentially GAFAM are worth about the same as France and UK combined…

          And the same process also results in products that cannot be repaired easily (or at all), again because by making millions of copies you don’t need to rely on standards, you can make your own standards. That’s why things are glued now, why you cannot replace the battery and so on. Also it’s faster to manufacture.

          Take Apple, they monitor users, and know how much of them are upgrading their computers or using the ports. They realised the vast majority of people seldom upgrade RAM, Storage, Battery or even use the ports (USB, card reader, disc-drive). So they slowly removed those.

          Why? Because it saves them money to not put stuff people don’t use/need, as they know it won’t affect user’s choice. That money they save is profits for them. The computers have less parts, but cost essentially the same as before (when it is not more)

          Sure USB-C has a few advantages, but they are marginal. They did not need to replace all connectors, they did so because they saved money.

          1. The use/need is a tricky point.

            For example, in the UK they did a study about how much charge do you need in an electric car to satisfy most people. They found out that about 24 kWh is enough to satisfy something like 98% of the driving cases. They also found that this does not mean 98% of the people – the average person would still find themselves without enough charge and having to find alternate transport about once a month.

            The corporate logic, especially for a company like Apple, is that they’re not even trying to appeal to the average customer. They want only that 10% of users who will make up the excuses for them – kinda like the electric car early adopters who simply accept that they can’t drive wherever whenever. Nissan isn’t really competing with Volkswagen or Ford or whoever with the Leaf – they’re selling to people who want to pay twice the price of a normal car for the purpose of feeling smug about it – just like when Toyota came up with the first Prius. It’s all about filling a niche in the market, because niches pay better than competing for Average Joe’s money with everyone else

            So Apple is just happy to leave Dell or Lenovo, etc. take the customers who actually use their computers for something other than status symbols – because appealing to those customers would mean they’d have to narrow their gross margins from 40% to the more common 20% by providing exactly the functions and parts that many people need at least sometimes – even though 98% of the time they’re not using them.

          2. There’s also many ways to make an internet-accessible lightbulb without relying on someone else’s cloud services. If your local wifi network has a gateway to the internet, you already have your very own “cloud” – which is really just a different name to a web server.

            If you can ping your home router from your cellphone, then you can have an app on your phone that controls your lights from anywhere. What the cloud service does is, it acts as a pseudo-DNS for that particular app, whereas you could be using a real DNS service or just addressing your router directly by its IP, which the app can automatically learn while it’s inside your home network.

        2. You are right, however, regarding your last sentence about wifi light bulbs, isn’t that because they need to be on the same network so that you can talk to them from say, your phone?

          Obviously, once they are in the network of your phone which is connected to the internet, they can also go out-there. And being on the internet allows the manufacturer to add another feature, managing them from anywhere. That’s probably pointless as you say, but the manufacturer cannot avoid putting that feature because another will.
          That results in products being essentially the same, a sort of communism of capitalism…

          I think a deeper problem is that things are too cheap to manufacture and margins are either thin or companies too greedy (probably both), that competition forces every product to end up having features nobody wants. I mean why do you even need to change the color of the lights, be it over the internet or otherwise?

          The same process also results in low quality products, because when you make tenths of millions copies of a product, saving 10cents per product by using a lower quality design/component, saves you millions of dollars.

          The same process also results in companies required to get big or die in face of GAFAM. GAFAM are worth right now around 4,5 trillions. For comparison French or UK GDP is close to 2,3 trillions. So essentially GAFAM are worth about the same as France and UK combined…

          And the same process also results in products that cannot be repaired easily (or at all), again because by making millions of copies you don’t need to rely on standards, you can make your own standards. That’s why things are glued now, why you cannot replace the battery and so on. Also it’s faster to manufacture.

          Take Apple, they monitor users, and know how much of them are upgrading their computers or using the ports. They realised the vast majority of people seldom upgrade RAM, Storage, Battery or even use the ports (USB, card reader, disc-drive). So they slowly removed those.

          Why? Because it saves them money to not put stuff people don’t use/need, as they know it won’t affect user’s choice. That money they save is profits for them. The computers have less parts, but cost essentially the same as before (when it is not more)

          Sure USB-C has a few advantages, but they are marginal. They did not need to replace all connectors, they did so because they saved money.

    3. yeah, this.

      I’m halfway into some level of home automation, reflashed ESP-based smart outlets and things all talking to Mosquitto on on the ubiquitous local Raspberry Pi, but I have no illusion that this is going to be a life-altering improvement. It’s something to play with, and if it all comes together we will have something a bit better than an off-the shelf light-timer and some level of remote monitoring.

      Besides the fun of DIYing, basically, us IoT tinkerers are all just marking time til an affordable and reliable industry-standard automation system becomes mainstream.

      Bye bye Wink, I guess.

  13. on the other hand…..
    Maybe there are some really smart hackers reading this that could (not) reverse engineer the cloud service and provide a replacement address for it much like the Rebble guys did when Fitbit bought Pebble and wanted to brick all the watches because Pebble created competition for their significantly inferior product.
    Just say’in….

  14. It’s hard to quantify time spent DIYing stuff. I DIY my home automation because I find it fun and relaxing. So in that case do I add or subtract the cost of those hours? I think if you’re choosing DIY because you want to save money, then it’s probably not worth it unless you save BIG. If you’re doing it to learn something and not under pressure, I think it’s totally worth it. If you know a bit about it it’s worth it even more.

    Also, not every home automation is a folder full of python scripts. You can do a lot with just Node Red and an MQTT server for example. If you’re not going super advanced that’s pretty simple to setup and modify.

  15. As many of the previous comments have pointed out, it is not about cost. $5 per month is a negligible amount for anyone wanting to automate their home. The main problem with cloud based services is that you depend on a service over which you have no control and that puts you under the power of the service company. That goes way beyond them going out of business or being able to arbitrarily make your devices obsolete. They can also spy on you and in reality are the ones controlling you home. The implications, when just about everything in your house and car etc. is connected, are horrendous. They could effectively brick your whole life if, say, you were to miss a monthly payment or just because they didn’t like your politics. There is no reason why home control systems should require cloud services, beyond access to the Internet for remote control. It is purely driven by corporate greed. Centralized systems are also terrible for resilience to failure. Distributed systems are much better at handling failure. Your IOT fridge should still work if you Internet connection goes down or even if your LAN goes down. So, I have put together a distributed DIY system for myself. Although it is a lot of fun to build such a system, I would prefer a commercial system because maintaining DIY systems is a pain years later and just about impossible after a house is sold.
    Separately, the cost of DIY time is not about the effective hourly rate but about what you would rather spend your time doing. I would often rather do DIY work at, effectively, $20 per hour than do a job I don’t enjoy at a much higher rate to pay someone else to do the work.

  16. I decided a long time ago, when I first started dabbling with a so-called Smart home, that I wasn’t going to depend on a 3rd party hub to make it work. Why would I want to depend on something that, at the least, would quickly be outdated. I enjoyed piecing mine together as I decided I needed something. And, I haven’t spent anywhere near that kind of money.

  17. This falls into a “right to repair” issue.
    There is NO technical reason the devices should be “bricks”.
    There could be an OpenIoT along the lines of OpenWRT.
    (or see Karl Denninger’s HomeDaemonMPC).
    The target bounce server is the only external thing which MAY be required (if your ISP only gives out NAT addresses).

    MQTT is simple enough that you could have a base station and the devices all inside. Even video or snapshot recording. Live access merely requires a way to connect across NAT and routing. Standards exist, but they have been Tivoed. We could have devices and stations that work like sites work on mobile, Chrome, Firefox, and even other browsers.

    One thing which could fix many security (especially DoS) would be to have a 10Mb/s Powerline standard and an ESP8266 equivalent so the data could be sent over the same electrical lines that power everything. It may not work if you don’t want to plug in things like window open sensors. And more bandwidth for video.

    1. video data over house power lines… ew.
      i really, really dont want any more interference. it’s bad enough with cheap power supplies back-feeding noise into power lines, no more please. i want to be able to recieve at least something on HF next solar maximum, not just other people’s trash.

  18. We once had a “cloud-like” system and all the devices that hooked to it adhered to a well defined set of parameters and could interact with the other, similar, systems around most of the connected world.
    A monthly cost was billed for it all and the company brought new devices if the current one malfunctioned.
    Even the operating instructions and functions were pretty well standardized also.

    I seem to recall that we labeled it a monopoly, and then proceeded to break up the Phone Company in favor of less standardization and a myriad of competing and incompatible protocols.

    An idealized and romanticized version of history, but in concept (or in their brochures anyway) it’s also the closest thing we have ever had, to what many people are, fundamentally, describing.

    Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. …for a second time.

  19. I find the cost issue really turns upside down once you’ve already bought into it. Every time I buy some bit of technology I have to look at it as if all support was gone tomorrow and all the servers were shut off. What would I be left with, and is it worth that. You are buying hardware and a handshake deal at best that there will be support/clouds/whatever for some amount of time. I would never expect the infrastructure to last 10 years or more, and it seems wildly optimistic to do so. Even if it does, you have the clear increasing costs of ownership done (probably carefully calculated) to seem like not enough to care about, but I predict they will keep increasing.

    I bought an IoT garage door opener, chamberlin myQ, but I bought it because even without the network connection it was a good value compared to others at the time. I also looked into hacking it before I even bought it. What have people reverse engineered, does the homeassistant plugin need the oem cloud to function, and do I personally have a hope of cracking the RF protocol?

    Once you’ve already bought in you can think: they’re charging me a usage fee for my lightbulb, or switch, or whatever, but it’s cheap and I can afford that. If you look at the whole cost of the switch and fee versus an alternative it becomes clear that even among the commercial options there are cheaper solutions that do the same job. If you think ahead a little maybe you’ll realize that they probably won’t stop here and your cost calculation, even if you’ve already bought in, may have some unknowns about future support and cost.

    I try to put an arbitrary return on investment on things that I buy. At what point would I be satisfied if product X stopped working. A $120 google home dying after three years? not so great. A used $55 one dying after 2, less bad. I have 2 nest doorbells, they weren’t cheap but I use the cameras almost every day and even if that service went away after 2 years of ownership I think that would be worth it, so I think that was an ok purchase.

    You’re taking a bet that the company will keep the status quo the same until you think it was a decent ROI, pick companies and products based on that. Even if you have zero faith in them, maybe pick the product that you like without the smart features and have fun with them while they last (I used my network connection for my garage door opener less than a week after I installed it, convenience is good).

  20. How much costed a face shield before the covid-19 ? Nearly nothing if you consider that you could bought them in the local store on online on aliex… At this time playing with my 3D Printer was not a worthy hobby for my friends or my family …
    Since the covid, making screen shield all day long is priceless … :)
    I will still enjoy doing things by myself: I prefer putting money in making things : it’s a hobby, and the pleasure is the best reward … And sometimes it gives some extra bonus, like the bottle of wine I received from the neighbour after I gave him fresh made face shields :)

  21. And not just to be the contrarian, but I have found that my DIY stuff is oft not only less expensive, but more safe, and more performant.

    It is not uncommon to see electrical equipment that is intended to be connected to AC mains or a hazardous voltage to not meet the construction or performance requirements per the scoped standard(s), yet still bear the mark of an NRTL and/or a Notified Body. At a previous employer, we tested (approx) 14 recognized/certifed power converters. About nine did not meet specs. About eight did not conform to construction requirements. And two were a shock hazard. Five had test results published in their CBTR that could not be duplicated. Most of the bad stuff came from Europe. And the other bad stuff came from North America and Asia. So no unconditional love for off-the-shelf stuff here.

    I have ripped out and replaced two jobs done by experienced and licensed electricians – one caused a ‘small’ fire and the other one zapped me. And no love for “certified professionals” will be forthcoming here until earned.

    My wife used to own and run car repair shop, so we routinely troll and entrap mechanics. We have NEVER talked to a ‘certified’ automotive technician that did not attempt to mislead, misdirect, or defraud her. And certainly even less love for ‘certified’ professionals.

    As the axiom says – one test is worth a thousand expert opinions.

    1. Most of the “bad stuff” you mention is because of differing standards – not because the product is necessarily bad or dangerous.

      US eggs are illegal in the UK because they’re washed. UK eggs are illegal in the US because they’re not washed.

      1. No. Do not spread misleading and false information. Most national safety and EMC standards for electrical equipment are harmonized with the same IEC or IEEE standards. While there are national differences and deviations to account for unique requirements in local construction code, none of the evaluations were affected by “differing standards” – whatever that means. The EU products were simply ineffective and dangerous. They did not meet all essential requirements of EN60950-1 and EN55022 (both now obsolete standards).

        Product conformity in the EU, as compared to North America and Asia for both industrial and appliance products is a dog’s breakfast. Stuff coming out of the EU is no better than stuff coming out of Asia. Europeans need to get their act together. Many product designers within the EU willfully ignore normative requirements, or never bother doing anything such a ‘gap’ analysis.

  22. This has been on my mind all day, and I’ve reached a kind of conclusion in my thinking about it.

    Vendors *should* make their devices somewhat open, so that it can conceivably work separately from the vendor’s own cloud, and then the device and the cloud should be priced separately. This provides the best of all outcomes for all users. But! “should” is worth exactly two pennies, and no more. And most vendors are not in a position to make these kinds of rational decisions, their decision-making process is guided by a style of high-stakes gambling.

    I think in the end, I say this comes down to the customer’s own responsibility. If you buy a product that is nothing but a closed client for the vendor’s own cloud, the informed customer should know that he is accepting the risk that the vendor will go out of business, jerk them around, or so on. If that’s not the kind of product you wanted, or the kind of user experience you wanted, you made a mistake buying that kind of product.

    At this point, I’m sligtly willing to buy a closed phone (i.e., locked bootloader), but I’ve been burned by my closed Android TV device (nvidia shield tv) and I’m absolutely unwilling to invest in any sort of closed home automation device, or anything that really ought to be its own device (i.e., I’ll consider a closed set-top box but I’d never buy a closed TV if I could help it). If it’s a novel product category and it’ll take me a lot of effort just to get up to speed with it, I can be fairly well guaranteed to regret the effort if it’s closed.

    On the other hand, I bought a Chromebook even though it’s explicitly just a client for Google’s services, because I did the research ahead of time to determine that they’re easy to install a fresh OS on (the model I bought, anyways). Usually, devices that *are* open and worthwhile already have established hacker communities, so it’s not hard to tell that they’re open.

    1. This situation is caused by consumer behavior. Consumers really don’t like monthly fees to the point of irrationally avoiding them. A product without a monthly fee will easily outsell one with a monthly fee. For example the Amazon Echo obviously costs Amazon $$ each month to keep running. But if Amazon put a monthly fee on the Echo everyone would stop buying them. Amazon can get away with this because they are big and the expense of supporting millions of Echoes is not a large number for them. The market presence provided by having an Echo placed in your house is quite valuable to them and it offsets the cost of running it.

      But this equation does not work for smaller companies. And it really backfires when your sales of the device start declining. As your product falls out of favor, the revenue from it dries up, and there is no money left to pay for the server and staff to keep it going. Here is the irrational bit. Offer a consumer a device for $50 with a $5/yr fee, or the same device for $90 an no fee. 95/100 consumers will pay the $90. And that decision is what leads to what we see here with Belkin.

      For smaller companies the best solution is to design the product so that it will continue working in a standalone mode. Sure it will be missing the fancy cloud features, but it least it will continue performing its basic function.

      1. >Consumers really don’t like monthly fees to the point of irrationally avoiding them.

        Not irrationally. Subscription services are more difficult to break, and they often go up in price and down in value with each renewal of the service agreement, making it impossible to gauge whether the deal is worth it. For example, the original iPhone cost owners upwards to $2,000-3,000 to own for the contract period – a price which nobody would have paid up-front were they asked to – but since it was baked in the monthly installment which you had to buy anyways…

      2. > Offer a consumer a device for $50 with a $5/yr fee, or the same device for $90 an no fee. 95/100 consumers will pay the $90.

        Of course, because 8 years later it becomes cheaper, and with all probability the monthly fee climbs up from the $5 anyways as the company revises their policies yearly. You will not find many companies out there willing to bind themselves to $5 a month in perpetuity – they always leave the back door open to jack the prices up later. Secondly, money now is worth more than money later to the company – it’s more profitable for them to take the $90 now than $5 per month because of inflation, and because they can invest them money.

        If we’re talking about home automation devices, 8 years is pretty much a minimum lifespan – you’re really talking about things that should last 20 years but won’t because they’re made disposable on purpose.

          1. I’d rather have a proper laptop. Running Linux on it would mean that I’d have to use Crossover to run things like Office, which is available as an Android and a Chrome app. For that and all the other software that may work, and many others that won’t and have no proper substitute, it would add a lot of labor to keep tweaking the Linux system and working around its limitations, which quickly outweighs and negates the gains of resurrecting an aging laptop.

            After all, they are typically $299 computers. It doesn’t take many hours of extra labor to make the whole thing an exercise in futility, and when a person with little prior experience or interest starts messing around with Linux, it will take weeks and months…

          1. Yeah, “Yay, tux racer!”

            The last time I tried to get Scilab working, the version in the official repository was broken and out of date, and I had to trawl around the internet looking for a way to “sideload” it thanks to Linux being incredibly obtuse about how you can install software at all.

  23. I also find the concept of things relying on a cloud connection and cloud based service for fee fundamentally wrong.

    In the industrial automation world you would not get away with this. If the software layer over the top of a machine breaks, if at all possible, the machine should still operate.

    The most robust approach is where the control philosophy remains in the machine (PLC or whatever) and any software overlay is reading and writing to the machine. Sure, you can have control functionality in that software layer but that is often more related to a process line made up of several machines.

    I believe the individual machine should in most cases be able to be run and controlled locally.

    So to take that to a home automation layer where you purchase a device as a part of your system, if it is all reliant on a cloud hosted backbone the risk is huge. Anyone can have a change of heart and therefore a bearing on your outcome.
    That concept is a No from me.

    On the other hand if you buy off the shelf items and run with a platform that you own and is on your premises then all power to you. Hopefully if the platform becomes obsolete or not further developed than hopefully you can switch into another new and exciting platform and just reconfigure your stuff.

    1. I used the 10-year Treasury rate, and figured out the discounted net present value. (I used to be an economist, this is the kind of thing we do reflexively.)

      That $5 you need in 2030 to pay off the last installment? You’d only need to save up $2.50 or so for it today, because you’ll put that money in the bank and it’ll draw interest. But that $5 you owe me today, you’d better have $5 in hand. That’s why the numbers work out differently.

  24. Nobody mentioning tuya removing ifttt support with a month’s notice?
    The smart industry is such a shit model as many have said.
    I will still buy tuya though.
    Why, because when it all caves in I can replace the firmware and its cheap.
    I check every item before I buy it to ensure this fact.
    But for the less techsavy its just a kick to the balls when it happens but they never think about it before hand.

  25. With all this to be considered … maybe low voltage specialist and some industrial system design skills should be mandatory for oneself.

    Get a Siemens PLC or 2 a bunch of relays and be done with it check it once every 5 years or so and you are good to go.

  26. I have no investment either way, but you think$400 over TEN YEARS is a lot?!?! What’s wrong with you? That’s like one month’s car insurance. If you truly think this then maybe you should be more worried about how everything else costs (taxes, insurance etc)

  27. So one of those moments where I’m thinking Life = Time + Resources.

    Depends what you’re doing in life in regards to time and resources. I really prefer to use my mental facilities as a resource and not buy into someone other than me owning something, I bought to own myself as my own property, even if I’m open about the property I own virtually or on print or hear say. Seems kind to show others how to do things with resources as a resource.

    Amazes me how some must have too much free time to always be nuisance invading others resources like unlawfully and not willing to learn how to be self sufficient for survival. I know when I was working, I worked as much as I could for the companies I worked for since that was value added not only for me. I chose to DIY for other shareholders and stakeholders… granted with losses to self and gains for others now that I look back after reading “The Psychological Reasons for Software Project Failures.” Is interesting observing the transitional point where I became selfless and the causation… not moving forward, as my VP’s and earlier on management suggested, into higher level leadership managerial roles versus sticking with project leadership and higher level silent like investor strategies/tactics since I felt I had to DIY or the systems die or the next generation technical systems are implemented much slower. Security gets strange though with certain subjects…. man.

  28. A good DIY is priceless. I’ve often had friends say “Dude! You could make a fortune if you produced and sold your product!” I feel it’s worth more to me if I don’t. I have made something that simply cannot be bought. I take joy in creating something that money can’t buy. Something unique that only I and my close friends get to enjoy. Knowledge, creativity, and e satiation of making something unique is something that riches simply cannot bring.

  29. I don’t get why someone would want to “DIY” a home automation system and them make it dependant on a cloud. No, it’s not about the money.

    If I’m going to put that kind of effort into wiring up my house it’s going to be a system that I and only I control. No, it’s not even about the privacy. So the automation cloud company pretty much knows your entire daily routine. So what? I bet you never experience any kind of consequence from that. Life just keeps going.

    Until they go out of business, change ownership, or in this case realize that their business model was not viable. Then all your hard work and gadgets become useless. Gee.. how could anyone ever have seen that coming? /sarcasm

    Well, ok, so users aren’t totally out of luck with this one. You can pay to keep going. For now. If their last business model didn’t work who says this one will? Don’t get me wrong, I wish them well but it could be just a last gasp attempt to stay afloat. If they go under then what?

    People act like their internet connections are one-way or something. Ok, I get it, regular consumers don’t do port forwarding and don’t run their own servers. (a rant for another day) This is DIY home automation though. If you are techie enough to do it at all you can certainly throw some scripts on a Pi and forward a port on a router.

    We don’t seem to see that here much anymore. Everything is a cloud service. It’s like a new generation of hackers never learned that they could forward a port through their router and run their own services. What gives?

    Is it the user agreements? Most broadband providers do have no-server crap in their fine print. Is the “I void waranties” crowd afraid of a big bad ISP user agreement? Many years ago, when cable internet first reached my area I ran my own email server over it. The user agreement was clear, no servers whatsoever. They found me. What did they do? They sent me a nice guide with some advice about how to better secure my server! They didn’t disconnect me. I only gave up on running a mail server when all the big spam filters started blanket blacklisting cable modem IP ranges. I still have had web, ssh and other services running at multiple cable internet providers for 20 years now. It has never been a problem. And why would it? The ISP gets their money. I get my bandwidth.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.