Adventures in Home Automation – Choosing a system

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Home automation has sure come a long way in the last 10 years. Where there used to be very specific use-cases for an automation system, there are now dozens of off-the-shelf devices, ecosystems, open source projects, and it can be very overwhelming to make a decision about what to use.

Through the years I’ve tinkered with different systems, mainly the more DIY ones simply because I enjoy doing so, but also because of the cost of entry of the retail systems. I started getting much more serious about my home ecosystem when I bought my current house a few years ago and it came with a Wi-Fi thermostat. This was when Nests were barely a thing.

The thermostat in question is a 3M-50 branded by Filtrete. My initial excitement grew as I did some research into this thermostat. It’s got Wi-Fi, and uses an open protocol called Radio Thermostat. I thought “Hey, it’s open, that means that most open source projects will probably support it!”. This is where I hit a wall. The one real “smart device” that I owned didn’t seem to be supported by anyone outside of an android app and the Filtrete web page. This came down tot he extent that you can’t even set up a 7 day program on it unless you create a cloud account with Filtrete.

All the same, I stayed plugged into the major HA hubs at the time, mainly Home Genie and Open HAB. As time went on I started looking at the off-the-shelf systems more and more, wondering if I would be better off just purchasing a system from Insteon or Honeywell and succumbing to ecosystem lock-in.

One day I was doing my semi-irregular Google-fu looking for Radio Thermostat support and came across a much newer open source project called Home Assistant. It seemed to be pretty fresh as far as the technology went, and was a bit rough around the edges, but somehow they had built in Radio Thermostat support when no one else did! I quickly set up the software on one of my Raspberry Pis and began to tinker. It only took about an hour before I had a local web page set up with my thermostat display and control. I was hooked!

Fast-forward a few years, Home Assistant has a great (and quite large) community of followers. I’ve expanded my little Pi-based system to include dozens of automations, presence detection, alerts, camera feeds, and more! The best thing about using Home Assistant (or any other FOSS project for Home Automation) is that it’s device agnostic. If I had bought into Insteon, Nest, or WeMo – none of my devices would have communicated with each other, and I would have multiple device hubs set up by vendor.

So: If you are in the market for a home automation system, don’t mind doing some tinkering, and have some understanding of how to set up and configure applications (a bit of programming doesn’t help either), then I suggest taking a look at Home Assistant.

If Home Assistant isn’t your thing, then here is a list of more options that you can consider.

Platform-agnostic (Supports Z-Wave, ZigBee, MQTT, etc.)

Off-the-Shelf

  • Insteon (Electrical, Thermostat)
  • Nest (Thermostat, Smoke/Fire, Security)
  • WeMo (Lighting, Switches, Outlets)
  • Phillips Hue (Lighting)
  • Smart Things (Seems to handle ZigBee and Z-Wave devices, but I haven’t used it)

 

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