Thursday, November 21, 2019

Consumer Home Automation 2019 Guide

Anything you do ironically will, in about a year, become part of your sincerely-held identity. - Avery Alder
It's 2019, and time to think about how your home is automated these day. I am bought into the Apple HomeKit ecosystem as my choice. If you are an Android or Alexa ecosystem, the options are different for you. With HomeKit you need an AppleTV or HomePod as your home hub — in theory an old iPad, but don’t be silly. I also have devices that are not natively HomeKit, and I use a cool app called HomeBridge to connect them. HomeBridge will take you out of the consumer level into the hobbyist, but only just so.
Smart Speaker - This is the trickiest one for me to recommend to others. I would LOVE for this to be an Apple HomePod, but I have Amazon Echo in my house and an Amazon Echo Tap in the hall that I use to take into the yard when we are outside. The main reason I use Echoes is that Alexa connects to my Prime Music, which I get "free" with Amazon Prime and that is the #1 use case of the speakers in my house. As soon as Apple HomePod supports Prime Music or there is some bundle that makes me want to pay for Apple Music, I'm switching. Yet today is not the day.
After music, the other main thing I do with my Alexa is to track the grocery list. I use an app called AnyList on my iPhone that has a shared list with Alexa. So anytime we realize we are low on anything we simple shout into the air, "Alexa, add peanut butter to the grocery list" and the magic happens. The kids have also gotten pretty good about this which is amazing.
  • Amazon Echo -
  • AnyList App -
Smart Thermostat - The first big IoT thing was the thermostat. My recommendation on this one is the ecobee4 as the best with native HomeKit support. I switched this year from Nest to Ecobee and generally it works exactly the same. The Ecobee physical installation was harder than Nest. Most HVAC-to-thermostat wiring connections don't send continuous power. Nest solves this problem with a battery in the thermostat that was able to extract power when available and ran fine. Ecobee solves this problem by requiring you to install an additional box in your attic (or wherever you HVAC unit is) so that a continuous power stream goes from there to you thermostat. That extra adapter installation in the attic was annoying, but once installed, it all works great. I also REALLY like that the Ecobee came with an additional sensor and I bought two more so there are motion and temperature sensors in all the main rooms in the house that impact the smart thermostats desire to heat/cool the home. I could, in theory, also use the motion sensing on those extra sensors to do other things, but I don't yet.
  • Ecobee —
Sprinkler Controller - I got the Rachio Iro the moment it came out and I have loved it every moment I had it. It does seasonal adjustments automatically increasing and decreasing watering times and it does rain and moisture skips if there is rain so I’m not watering my lawn when water is falling down from the sky. I’ve been extremely happy with this purchase. I think there is a HomeBridge plugin for it, but I’ve never tried. I don’t have any need to tell Siri to turn on the sprinkler system.
The one thing I feel this is missing is a the ability to put a smart moisture sensor out in the lawn so it could more accurately detected moisture to be smart about how much water the lawn needs — someday! As far as I can tell, there are no smart sprinklers that do that.
They have released new versions of the hardware, but I've never upgraded as I don't really see any benefit it will provide.
  • Rachio —
Smart Lights — My Favorite — I recently installed Lutron Caseta and this is the system I have WANTED. It’s not smart lightbulbs, it’s a smart dimmer wall switch that can work on a three-way switch. It requires enough bravery to turn off your circuit breaker and unwire/rewire the wall switch — it’s not hard.
What’s great about this is that if you have a fixture with four bulbs, you just change the one wall socket and you’re good to go. You don’t need four smart bulbs for the automation. Also, unlike smart bulbs, you’re never stuck with the wall switch being turned off and the smart feature not working.
Plus, the cost! Most of my switches control a fixture or number of lights. I could pay $50 for a smart light switch or I could $50 x 4 for four smart bulbs. The answer is simple.
  • Lurton Caseta —
Smart Lights — Also — I do also have Philips Hue bulbs in the outside lights! If you want to do colors, then Philips Hue is the way to go. My outside light sockets use the GU24 (two pins) so I had to buy adapters that convert that to a standard socket. Now when I want to "Halloween" or "Valentines Day" for the lights on the front of the house, the Hues are great.
  • Phillips Hue —
Smart Doorbell — I’m STILL in a wait and see mode on this one since there aren’t any smart doorbells that have HomeKit support. There are contenders that announced in 2017 HomeKit support was coming, but no one has added it in the last few years.
I own an earlier SkyBell and smart doorbells are slick. My main complaint is that my earlier version SkyBell doesn’t save videos. I am waiting for a product that supports Apple's HomeKit Secure Video. I think that NetAtMo is going to be the product for me when it all comes together because it support local-only storage (no fees!) and iCloud Secure Video.
  • NetAtMo Smart Video Doorbell (Waitlist) -
Smart Lock - I have an August Smart Lock and it’s great. You don’t replace your whole lock mechanism, just the interior side where you have your latch for the deadbolt. This lock thing is big — because it needs to have a motor powerful enough to drive an ancient and powerful deadbolt, but it works like a charm. The version I have doesn’t have HomeKit support unless I buy a bridge, which I haven’t sprung for.
  • August Smart Lock —
Security Camera - I don’t have a solid recommendation for this one. I have the Nest Cam and I love it, but you pay $140 — $200 for the camera, and then $10/mo for Nest Aware so you can see 7-days of historical video. When I realize I’ve owned mine for five years? I have paid a lot. There’s no direct HomeKit support, but there is a HomeBridge plug-in for them, so I can see live(ish) video in Home. I can set it to only get notifications if it sees an unrecognized person when I’m not home (and my wife isn’t home). Awesome. The Nest App that lets me review my last week of video is amazing in its ability to scrub around see when motion occurs and info what I’m looking for.
I also have a D-Link Omna 180 which has HomeKit support and local storage without a subscription fee. HomeKit support doesn’t mean much. I can see the video in my Home app and it also puts a motion detector in Home which I can use for smart triggers. To actually review history, I need to launch the Omna App and it just records 30s video clips every time it detects motion. It’s functional, gets the job done, but is a way harder look at historical video and more annoying than the Nest app. On the other hand, I’m not paying $120/yr for this thing.
I'm mostly in a wait-and-see for the cameras that will support Apple HomeKit Secure Video and see how good that can be. If Apple can make iCloud Secure Video as good of a user interface as Nest, that will be amazing. It seems to me like most cameras (that aren't nest) just record 30s video clips. The other one I've got my eye on is the Arlo Cameras which has HomeKit support, runs off a hub and has local storage and free limited cloud storage.
  • Nest Cam —
  • D-Link Omna 180 —
  • Arlo -
Minor shout out to the app HomeCam which shows you all your HomeKit cameras easily and has an AppleTV version. It’s cool to put all four of my home cameras up on the TV for fun.
  • HomeCam —
Garage Door — I have the Chamberlain MyQ and I love it! It’s one of the most magical things to be able to tell Siri to open and close the garage on my watch. I also bought the hub from Chamberlain so it's in HomeKit - it was extremely difficult for me to get the hub working because I have two garage doors, but I did eventually crack the migration system. Once it was working, it totally works. I also have the garage lights with a smart light switch (see above) so there is a Home automation, "when the garage opens after sunset, turn on the garage lights."
  • Chamberlain MyQ —
  • Chamberlain HomeHub-
Outlet Switch — I have a couple older appliances (fan, coffee maker, washing machine) on smart switches. I’m using a combo of either WeMo Insight or iHome iSP8 for this. At this point I’d recommend the iHome iSP8 as the smart switch. The only nice thing about the WeMo is that I can have the app notify me when the washing machine stops getting power so I know when to move the laundry to the dryer.
  • iHome ISP8 —
  • Wemo Insight —
Leak Detection — Not HomeKit, cause I made a mistake. After the kitchen sink flooded the cabinet twice, I got an installed the iHome iSB02 just assuming it would be HomeKit compatible because the outlets are, but I was wrong. So if there is a leak there will be an alarm, and I’ll get a push notification, but I can't do any other HomeKit automation from it.
  • iHome SB02 —
Door Detection - I have an Eve Door Sensor on one of the kid's doors. I set an automation to flash the office lights each time the door is opened. I have some issues with this automation (because light flashing isn't a HomeKit action).
  • Eve Door & Window Sensor -
Weather — I have a Netatmo Weather Station setup. I'm using HomeBridge, but the latest NetAtMo stations natively support HomeKit. With the weather station module in the backyard, it’s kind of cool to ask Siri for the temperature in the backyard. I also have a fancy script that checks the temperature in the backyard (NetAtMo) versus the temperature in the house and Ecobee Thermostat settings (heat/cool/range) and sends my Phone a notification when it’s a good time to open/close the windows.
  • Netatmo Weather Station —
Indoor Air Quality — I live in California and was in one of the many areas drenched by smoke from the fall fires. For nearly two weeks the outdoor air quality was running above 200 often above 300 and I kept wondering, how good are my indoor filters and how good is my indoor air quality? The NetAtMo can tell you CO2 levels, but nothing about VoCs. I have the Awair in my master bedroom to tell me about air quality.
  • Awair 2nd Edition —
Smoke Detector — I don’t have a great recommendation on this, I think Onelink is the only HomeKit compatible version. I have a Nest Protect and it’s fine . If I had a HomeKit compatible I could, in theory, have something happen when the smoke detector went off (like turn on the sprinklers?)
    Onelink —
Fan — There are smart fans, but I hit a snag in this. My fans aren’t HomeKit controlled exactly. I have only a single wall switch that provides power to the light and the fan, so while I have a Caseta there I can’t can change the fan speed separately from the light using HomeKit (if I dim the light, the fan slows down. Light off means fan off). I installed Hunter wireless receivers and use the Hunter Bluetooth bridge to control them from the Hunter SIMPLEconnect App. Now Hunter’s website says that SIMPLEconnect is HomeKit compatible, but this only refers to the Hunter WiFi fans and not the Bluetooth receiver. So it achieves my goal of controlling it all on my phone, but it’s a wonky.
  • Hunter 99106 Simple Connect Remote Control Receiver —
  • Simpleconnect™ Wi-Fi by Hunter Fan —
Vehicle Tracker — No HomeKit on this one, but I use the Automatic in the car to keep track of all the trips travelled. My car is too old to keep track fuel automatically, so I use Road Trip for that.
  • Automatic —
  • Road Trip —
Smart Thermometer — Weber iGrill2 is fantastic! Stick it in to your meat and start grilling and get a real-time update with graphs and alerts on grill temperature and internal temperature. What I’ve been surprised by is how linear cooking is on the various meat that I grill.
  • Weber iGrill2 —
HomeBridge is awesome and I randomly stumbled upon it and I hear very little about it. When people complain that HomeKit is proprietary, it’s half true, because I have an OpenSource server bridging all this stuff. It’s an open source project you install on your macOS server at home that provides a HomeKit interface to a ton of IoT devices that don’t support HomeKit. I've been doing my best to replace my HomeBridge devices with native HomeKit, but I'm not done. I have WeMo smart plugs and switches, TCP Wireless bulbs, Netatmo weather station, Nest cams, and SamsungTV.
  • HomeBridge —
Probably also worth mentioning the WiFi setup. I swapped over to the Eero system at home and works like a charm.
  • Eero —

Favorite Automations:

“Hey Siri, goodnight” — turns off my bedroom lights, turns off my bedroom TV, turns on my bedroom fan, makes sure the garage is closed, makes sure the garage light is off, and locks the door from garage to house. It’s awesome.
"When the garage door opens, after sunset, turn on the garage lights for 5 minutes."
"When the kids door opens, flash the office lights."
"After sunset, turn on the front yard lights to 'Halloween'"

Q: Why should I stick to HomeKit devices?

HomeKit devices gives three features I think are important that you don’t get.
  1. Can be used in Scenes that affect multiple devices like my Goodnight Scene that turns off bedroom lights (Caseta), turns on fan (WeMo), turns TV (HomeBridge Samsung TV)
  2. Can be used in triggers automations like when my camera (Omna) detects motions it turns on the living room lights (Hue).
  3. Can be controlled by Siri, “Hey Siri, turn on the hall light.”
  4. Does it all locally on device and HomeKit Hub. This stuff isn’t going up to the cloud for a company to monetize