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Home Assistant is open source home automation that puts local control and privacy first. Powered by a worldwide community of tinkerers and DIY enthusiasts. It’s perfect to run on a Raspberry Pi or a local server. Available for free at home-assistant.io
 
For me it all started with a starter pack of Phillips Hue bubs and a a Hue Hub.  The ability to turn on and off lights with a with my smartphone from home or away seemed like an attractive idea.  Immediately after that I integrated voice controls from a Google Home and Echo Dot I had.  Hue was great for some of the lamps I had that weren’t controlled by light switches, but when it came to all of the recessed lighting I had swapping out those bulbs with Hue seemed expensive and unpractical considering they wouldn’t turn on if the light switches were off.  To save money and a to get around managing a ton of Hue bulbs started swapping out traditional light switches with Lutron Caseta switches and a Caseta Hub.  I think that was the point that the home automation addiction began.
 
 
Before I knew it, I had Phillips Hue, Lutron Caseta, a Nest Thermostat, a Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener and a Logitech Harmony Hub for my entertainment center.  It was great having control of so many things from my phone, but I was filling up a entire screen on my phone with apps that I had to manage.   If I wanted to give the same functionality to my girlfriend I had to setup and manage all of the same apps on her phone as well.  It’s a small inconvenience compared to all of the great benefits I now had, but setting for that solution isn’t something that a good home automation guru is about to settle for.  Thus began the hunt for something to centrally manage them all.
 
 
I started out with Samsung Smartthings and was able to pull in my lighting and some miscellaneous things, but at the time their offerings for third party integrations were limited.  From there I looked at other commercial solutions, but I wanted to avoid buying hubs and paying for software that might not integrate with everything I had or was planning to purchase.
 
Home Assistant stood out because I could install it on a Raspberry Pi which is relatively inexpensive.  I also had been curious about Raspberry Pi for a long time and figured if Home Assistant didn’t work out I’d use it for something else.  Home Assistant can be installed on Linux, in a Docker container or they offer a reinstalled setup in an operating system they call HASSOS.   HASSOS is easily installed on an SDcard and runs from the Raspberry Pi.  I chose the HASSOS option on my new Pi.
 
Immediately after installing Home Assistant and accessing the web page front-end I noticed it already started discovering some of my devices.  Some of the integrations were a breeze and some I had to visit  Home Assistant’s website where I found instructions on home to setup what wasn’t automatically configured.  The community driven website they have is so well documented that it’s easy to integrate just about everything.  If you have a hard time understanding some of their tutorials there’s an endless amount of YouTube channels dedicated to helping you build on your environment.
 
So now lets take a look at what I was able to do with Home Assistant!
HA1
My home screen incorporates what I want as my default display on when I open HA from my phones, tablets and computers.   From this screen I can see who’s home, set my alarm, view a grouped view of my cameras, motion sensors, light groups and a weather map.
 
HA2
My living room screen has live cameras of my living and family rooms, light controls, media players, Google Home and TV controls.
 
 
 
HA5
The Outside screen incorporates my sprinklers, outdoor cameras, automated garden watering and lights.   I also created some light groups so I can turn on multiple lights with one click.
HA3
My Kitchen and Garage screen contains my Nest thermostat, weather conditions, lighting, temp sensors and garage door control and live camera view of my kitchen and garage.
 
 
HA4
My Upstairs screen has lighting for my hallway and bedroom lighting as well as some of my cameras, fans and outlets.  It also lets me control media playing on my Google Home speakers.
 
 
HA6
The basement screen is more lighting and a media control for a Chromecast.
 
 
HA7
This screen is basically just a grouping of all my lights, fans, speakers and sprinklers.  I have these lights setup on individual room screens, but it’s also night to have a heads up view of everything.
 
 
HA8
This screen is a group some miscellaneous sensors I have configured.   There’s a website monitor, a device tracking map, my current internet speedtest results and some information on my device trackers.
 
 
HA10
The final screen I have configured displays all of my cameras and the motion sensors incorporated into those cameras.

 

I was amazed to find out a year or two ago that there were really no options to update your wired alarm door, window and motion sensors into a smart home product.   It seemed rather ridiculous since there are and endless amount of battery operated smart home sensors on the market that you couldn’t make something from your wired sensors.  Then one day I came across Konnected and all of a sudden there was hope.

alarm_panel_with_wifi_module_1020x700

If you no longer used your alarm system Konnected is a great option to install to make use of your existing sensors.   It’s not an actual alarm system, but it cam be turned into one if you have the right smart home hub connected to it.  Check out their guide on hubs.  

Currently I’m using a combination of Home Assistant and SmartThings.  The goal is to be 100% Home Assistant, but there are still some things like like that Samsung is doing.

 

https://help.konnected.io/support/solutions/articles/32000024543-which-smart-home-hub-is-for-me-


Starting out in home automation is a rather confusing decision.   As you start doing your research, you’ll see there are an endless companies releasing products with the label “smart.”  The term smart has been stamped on products that include light bulbs, switches, thermostats, blinds, washing machines and even crock pots.

Generally, if you want to turn a few lights on and off with an app while home or away, most products will fit that need.  Integration isn’t really something most people think about when they jump in to smart home products.  Integration however, can be costly if it’s not something you think about when getting started so let’s talk about developing a plan to save you money and some headaches.

Starting out Simple

As mentioned, most people start off by wanting to control their lights in a more advanced way than flipping a switch on a wall on on a lamp.  We’ll use the lighting as our starting point in creating a smart home.   For lighting we have hundreds of choices just as many companies competing in that market.   Sure, you can buy some $10 smart bulbs and turn them on and off with a mobile app, but what if you want to control them with a voice command?  This is where integration starts!  Some products will have a “Works with Alexa” badge on them letting you know that it integrates into the Amazon Alexa family of products.  If you don’t have an Amazon Alexa already, but do have either an Android phone or Apple products you may want to look for something that fits into either Apple Homekit or Google Assistant products.  So now that you have an idea of how integration comes together let’s dive in deeper.

Planning for the future

Let’s think a little bigger than controlling your lights by voice commands.  Let’s think ahead a little and what your needs might be next month or next year.   Imagine you’ve bought a thermostat, more lights from different manufacturers, a garage door opener and some smart switches.  Now imagine having an app on your smart phone for each one of those companies.   Each app has an account associated with it and each one of those apps has to be installed on every mobile device and setup accordingly for each user in your household.  Suddenly walking into the kitchen and flipping a switch is a lot less complicated than using a smart light bulb.  Eventually it becomes too much to manage and that’s why a lot of people abandon their Smart Home projects.  What if you were able to integrate all of those devices into one user friendly dashboard style app?   Essentially what you’ll need is a hub of some sort to communicate with all of those devices on the back and to provide you with one user interface for all.  This is the heart of integration.

The Hub.  The true starting point 

Not to be confused with some of the hubs that come with your lighting products that says “Requires Hub” an automation hub ties together all of your supported deices and propriety hubs.  Tis is truly where you should start when you think about beginning with smart home automation.   For simplicity lets use the Samsung SmartThings hub as our base.  The SmartThings Hub is essentially what you’ll base all your future purchases on.   Anything you buy that works with SmartThings will now fit into that App\Dashboard Samsung provides on their app.  Now if you want to control your thermostats, Lutron switches, Hue light bulbs, etc from one interface you can.  On top of that the hub is also a translator for other technologies you may want to use.  Let say those light bulbs you originally wanted only work with Alexa, but you already own a Google Assistant hub.  If they work with SmartThings you are in luck.  We know the Google Assistant can talk to SmartThings (Because you check ahead of time) so SmartThings becomes the middle man that pulls them all together.  Now you know that if it works with SmartThings it’s going to work with Google Assistant.   On top of providing a user-friendly interface, a hub can also provide actual automation.   If you want your kitchen lights and TV to turn on when you arrive home, but only after the sun has gone down, you’ll want a hub to tie that all together and provide an automation interface.

There are a lot of different hubs to base your home off of.  We used Samsung as a starting point, but other products such as Homeseer. Home Assistant and OpenHab are available and vary in price from a few hundred dollars to free.  Google Assistant recently added somewhat of a dashboard to their mobile app that may get you by until you go into a full hub type environment.

In Summary

You don’t have to start out big by getting a hub, but you should think about the future when you when you start to purchase these products.   If you want to buy some Phillips Hue bulbs and eventually get Nest Thermostat use the hub as the base to your integration.  I use this an example because Hue works well with SmartThings, but SmartThings doesn’t have a direct integration for Nest.  In that situation you’ll want to think about another hub or maybe an Ecobee Thermostat.  Unfortunately you aren’t going to get much help in stores that don’t specialize in this so your best option is to research ahead of time and never be afraid to ask questions where you can.

 

Here are links to purchase some of the products mentioned.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo

SmartThings Hub

Lutron Caseta

Phillips Hue

Ecobee

Nest Thermostat

MyQ Door Opener


Stacy Carling is a realtor associate with Keller Williams Hometown Realty. Stacy helps individuals and families buy and sell property in South Jersey.


After providing IT services throughout Central Pennsylvania for years we are now offering our services to Southern New Jersey.