The final frontier of the connected home has nothing to do with thermostats, fancy doorbells, or smooth jazz coming out of your credenza.
If your domicile is large enough to also house a car or two, then the first and last portal you pass through every day is most likely your garage door. And when you and your Porsche (or Chevy Impala) roll to work or come home from the gym, you—being the owner of a fully-connected home—expect more than just an old-school remote-controlled garage door opener. You want something smarter. Something that not only opens and closes the door, but a device that can be controlled by your phone no matter where in the world you are. Such a device should also know when you switch off the lights and lock the front door, then anticipate your next move and open the garage door for you (and your Impala).
The Iris Z-Wave Garage Door Controller, manufactured by Linear and available from Lowe’s stores for $99, is such a device. It’s part of the Iris connected home platform. The controller itself is a small device you connect to your garage door opener. That in turn connects wirelessly to a central Iris hub (another $99) which you connect over Ethernet to your Wi-Fi router. A companion smartphone app gives you total garage door control, and lets you tie the opener’s actions to other devices running on the Z-Wave protocol you have installed. There are a number of protocols for home automation on the market, and Z-Wave is one of the most popular. Major manufacturers like GE, Schlage, Trane, and Utilitech make devices that can talk to Iris equipment.
Recently, I installed one of the first Iris production models to see if it lived up to my connected garage door dreams. To compare, I also installed a couple of non-Z-Wave, but still smartphone-connected openers, the Chamberlain MyQ Garage ($130) and a pre-production version of the new BTMate GarageMate ($50) controller.
Most of us have had totally reliable remote-controlled garage door openers for decades. So if there’s any hassle at all with a “smart” garage door opener, people will balk. It has to make everything about opening and closing a garage door more convenient than the current one-button norm. Luckily, installation was dead simple. First, I connected the Iris controller to the metal opener mounts, then connected two wires to the opener. There are three screws on my opener for connecting wires, but one of them is for the safety trigger—the common garage door feature which detects something blocking the door and prevents closing. Otherwise, the two wires from the Iris can go in either of the remaining two ports. Lastly, I attached the tilt sensor to the upper inside part of my garage door using the included mounting plate.
On my MacBook, I registered for an Iris account at IrisSmarthomeThen, I connected the Iris hub into my router. To add the garage door controller, I clicked Add Devices in the web app, found the controller in the list, and pressed a button to pair it. Slicker than silk. I then installed the Iris app on my iPhone 5s and logged in. Up popped the garage door controller under the Control tab. It took 20 minutes, including the time to mount the controller and install the app.
My first tap on the app to open my garage door worked perfectly. The Iris controller beeps loudly and flashes a light as a warning. Inside the app, there’s a tab called Control and then a tiny icon with an up and down arrow. You press it to open and close the door. It worked, but I wanted a bigger and more obvious button.
In the web app, I set a rule to close the garage door automatically each night at 11pm. It worked like a charm. You can even set a rule to close the garage door when you lock your front door if you install the Iris lock. One downside: Driving up at night, I had to fish out my iPhone, find the app, and click the small button open/close button. The Iris does not sense when I pull up in the driveway. However, I was able to open and close the garage door from my office downtown. Once, I opened the garage door for a friend so he could grab my lawn mower when I wasn’t home. He texted me and I hit the button again to close the door. I was impressed.
To test the safety feature, I put a large box in front of my garage door and tried to use the app to close the door. After two attempts, the app stopped sending the command. It turns out this is a UL safety feature. To close the door, I had to push the garage door button manually at home. Also, I never saw any warning messages in the app.
Iris does let you grant access to friends so they can open and close your garage door from their phones. And, you can connect the app to multiple garage doors. However, you pretty much have to set a lock code on your phone. Otherwise, anyone who steals your phone—even for a moment—can use the app to open your door.
The Iris isn’t the only smart garage door controller in the garage door controller game. Both the Sears Craftsman AssureLink kit ($249, including the entire opener) and the Chamberlain MyQ connect to your home Wi-Fi. In some ways, the installation is easier if you already know how to use Wi-Fi and already have a router. Plus, you don’t have to do any hard-wiring. Still, while installing the MyQ proved simple enough, it took a bit longer (about 30 minutes) because it has to test the RF signals from your current garage door opener. And, since there is no Z-Wave hub, the Chamberlain MyQ and Sears AssureLink won’t easily plug into an overall connected home platform.
The BTMate GarageMate uses the Bluetooth 4.0 signal instead of Z-Wave or Wi-Fi. The GarageMate also connects directly into the opener using two wires, so the install took about the same amount of time as the Iris (about 20 minutes). The GarageMate is still in development, so my unit wasn’t final but it still had some nifty features. For example, you can set a trigger that causes your garage door to open automatically when you drive up so you don’t have to fish out your phone.
Perhaps the best feature of the Iris, however, is the Z-Wave platform. Z-Wave isn’t perfect. If you hook up a number of Z-Wave devices around your home and one of the devices fails or comes unplugged, you might break the network and have to reset it. However, Z-Wave is less susceptible to interference than Wi-Fi, so once it’s set up, it works really well and stays stable.
Plus, the platform is versatile. You can get smart thermostats, alarms, motion sensors, or door and window sensors, either separately or in kits. The free Iris app offers basic operation, but for the premium features—including complex automated rules and voice control of the app—you’ll pay $10 per month.
Overall, the Iris Z-Wave garage door controller is a welcome addition to the smart home. The app is reliable, the rules and automated actions are convenient, and I never had any interference problems. I wish the app had bigger open/close buttons, but it’s the one connected controller I’ll use every day. For my Impala.