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Very early planning for elderly folks - two homes with slightly different needs

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Hi all.  Hope you're having an excellent day!  I'm here asking for help, in the hopes that someone else has done the research for a similar project recently, and care to share their findings, or anyone else who has some thoughts!  Something inexpensive is the name of the game here.  I want my folks and I to be able to keep tabs on their home, but they won't buy into it if the cost to maintain it is too high.

My folks have two homes, which they split their time between.  Their permanent home has internet all the time, but their "vacation" home doesn't, as it doesn't make sense cost-wise to maintain that.  I am looking to build two systems, with that variation in mind.  They are already familiar/comfortable with Alexa, so I thought it made the most sense to build around that ecosystem.  Not saying I couldn't get SmartThings or similar, just trying to avoid it if possible.  They have a 1st gen Alexa, some minis, and a Flex right now at main house, and I think just a mini in vacation home.

My ideas for both homes are simple.  Contact sensors on any entry doors, sheds, garages, etc. which will alert them based on their preferences.  We might add cameras in as well, doorbells, etc. down the road but I think starting with the sensors and potentially locks is a good first step.

I thought it'd be nice to have Alexa alert them with something spoken, since they are both over 70, and aren't the most technologically savvy.

As far as the internet, it'd be great to get a router that could use cellular as a backup, but I worry about if the normal internet goes out while they are there and it fails over to the cellular... they could be in for a huge bill!  But it would be super nice that when they are at vacation home, they turn on internet and it will use that, but otherwise use the cellular.  Keeping this simple is a must.  We have T-Mobile for cellular now, but also my folks have AT&T through their Chevy SUV (not sure if you can add another mifi or similar device onto that package).  If you have a recommendation on MIFI on the cheap, please let me know.  I wouldn't mind connecting whatever hub strictly through the MIFI device/router, and forego the cellular backup portion if it was more economical.

I'm perfectly fine with setting all this up for them at their house near use, but it may be a challenge for their vacation home since I won't be going there, so I'd have to maybe setup the sensors ahead of time and they can stick them up, or something similar to make this easy.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and hopefully you folks have some great ideas I haven't thought of!  Much appreciated.

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Hey Pete!  Good to see you over here and with such an in-depth discussion for us to tackle.  I'm not an American as you know so I'm going to struggle with helping in terms of your cell and data plan discussion.

It sounds like you need simple at the vacation home, but combining that with not using data all the time is going to be hard.  My first thought is SmartThings because you can get many things done without service, and even with the latency of your cellular-internet, it'll run well (for the most part...I'll get to this).  I worry about a connected lock though in that situation.

Hubitat would be a great option if you were there to set it up for them.  Otherwise, it's far too difficult.

The thing is, any cellular based service is going to be touch-and-go in terms of how reliable a cloud-based automation solution is.  There are delays due to latency and routing, and then when we're talking about the service switching back and forth (ethernet and cell, or even presence/no presence of MiFi), this will likely wreak havoc on the devices you install.  So I think you HAVE to have a hub, and I think it has to be mainly local.  Alexa likely won't work all that well as the basis for everything you're doing and even if it does, your parents may find it too slow.

In general, I'm going to say SmartThings is the right balance here and it'll let you configure things remotely if you need to through the API.  Alexa can be a nice addition so they can talk to the system, but I wouldn't rely on it unless your internet is going to be solid and 24/7.

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Hello Pete,

I understand what you are going through trying to  setup part-time Internet at the second home, as I'm in a similar situation where I'm going to do a two week demo at  a retirement community at various senior homes in AZ.  While some of these seniors, may have Internet access, they may have lost the password and its easier for me if I bring in a complete setup with my devices configured to my "mobile Internet" before helping them configure theirs.

I'm an ATT user, but my family plan does not include Hotspot service and it any case would not be unlimited data. It turns out that the coverage at this senior locations is better served by Verizon, so I'm also bringing a Verizon pre-paid sim

I started researching what "snow bird" RV'rs use and found some interesting ideas.


I signed up for a free (no strings attached)  one month's service on a T-Mobile hotspot


I also signed up for a Visible wireless account, that is a Verizon company offering unlimited hotspot data.


I'll report back on my experiences

Can share some ideas about what you plan to do with the sensors? Most of the setups I have done involve Alexa for basic voice control of lights and information as well as showing cameras. I have also found that Fire TV is a big hit as well as Alexa video calling

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Hi fellas.  Thanks for responding!  I've just about given up on this for their vacation house, because frankly in my particular situation, the monthly internet price they would pay is cheaper than any cellular plan, but they would prefer not paying a monthly bill for that internet when they aren't there.  I'm trying to convince them to just leave it on, thinking let's say "$35/month is worth it to be able to monitor the house while you're away" but not sure they'd go for that.  I have one last chance to see if they can add on a device to their unlimited AT&T plan they have for their car, but otherwise this project for their vacation house is likely dead.

Brian, basically it's not finding a solution that would work without internet, it's finding a solution that could allow them to remotely monitor their home - which clearly leans more on the connectivity.  Any alerts etc. wouldn't be able to be communicated back to "home base" without internet, so that'd be a bust.


Frank, like I posted it's simple stuff... "Contact sensors on any entry doors, sheds, garages, etc. which will alert them based on their preferences.  We might add cameras in as well, doorbells, etc. down the road but I think starting with the sensors and potentially locks is a good first step."  I also thought about sensors for fridge/freezer, maybe adding a wifi thermostat.  I'd love to hear more potential ideas for things you guys may be using, and yes I remember Brian's vid focused on older folks, so I need to revisit that for sure.


I have plenty of ideas to get this off the ground, I'm just struggling with picking an ecosystem an its related cost.  I think SmartThings is a great choice, because while I don't love them having to connect a hub (and the cost of the hub) I don't see any alternative that for the overall cost, features and functionality, comes close.  I think Wyze could be very compelling on cost, likely would satisfy their minimal requirements - especially since I can use those sensors to trigger automations... I just need to play with the Wyze sensors I have here, and play out those scenarios my folks would use, to see if this would be a fit.


I'm starting with some leftover Kasa smart plugs I have, and hoping they warm to the idea of more automation/alerts/etc. so we can grow the system.

Have a wonderful day all!

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I think you got it on the way Peter!  I'd definitely go with something more reliable with a vacation home...as when you're away and something isn't working right, there can be a lot of panic and a lot of stress for no good reason!

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