The Perfect Smart Home: What I’m Using…Part II
So in Part I I touched on most of the hardware I’m using and some of my software. I keep coming across stuff I missed and I’ll mention some of that here.
So on to how all this works together. Down among the creepy crawlies that inhabit my garage and basement along with my son’s defunct 1990 Firebird lives the brains behind my house. Homeseer. It’s a piece of software that I’ve been using since 2000. I have tried probably 50 or 60 different packages over the years and also some dedicated hardware solutions (such as the Wink Hub) and not a single one of them can do everything that Homeseer can. Nothing even comes close. Unfortunately that also means a bit of a learning curve. You can just set up the hardware, the software and a few plugins and actually have a pretty decent automated home but for the depth of control I like it takes a bit of time (16 years worth lol)
Homeseer is extended using plugins (as well as VB scripting if you want). The plugins I am currently using are
BLGarbage (this just helps to keep things running smoothly)
BLRF – for X10 RF signals
Blue-Iris – controls and receives information from Blue Iris, which is running on a PC in my bedroom. This is the heart of my CCTV security.
EasyTrigger – better event triggers. More on events later.
HSTouch Server – for touchscreen clients including Android and iPhone smartphones, windows clients (my Asus touchscreen) and tablets.
JowiHue – Sends and receives information to my Hue Bridge. This is the part that failed in the video in part one. That or the bridge itself. It definitely is not as reliable as Zwave lighting and while the Hue lights are cute they will end up being replaced.
NetCAM – Allows for snapshots of my network cameras. Now that I’m using the Blue Iris plugin I’ll be retiring this soon.
Random – Using this with some of the other plugins and text to speech so that when Homeseer talks with us it will use different phrsing and words and not always sound the same. I haven’t really done much with this yet. Never enough time.
Restart – Allows me to restart Homeseer if needed without having to remotely log into the server.
RFXCOM – I touched on this one earlier. It pulls in info from my Oregon Scientific weather sensors (including the ones that aren’t connected to the base station due to compatibility. Some of the sensors have died over time so I have replaced them with cheaper ones, which the base station doesn’t read. I upload all of my weather data to Weather Underground and WeatherBug. The software that I use for that (VWS) sends most of the info and I use a VB script to send the missing info that RFXCOM picks up. RFXCOM also receives the RF signals from my old X10 security sensors that I haven’t repleaced yet.
SCBULLET – A pushbullet plugin. I have it set up but not doing much with it yet as far as notifications
Tasker Plugin – There is so much I could say about this. I saw a quote from someone on the Homeseer forums that goes something like “Tasker, for a Home Automation enthusiast is like hitting a drug addict in the face with a big bag of crack”. Tasker is awesome. When I go to listing some of the things I’m able to do we’ll touch on Tasker.
TextSeer – a simple receiver for sending controls to homeseer over the web. While I can use JSON to do the same thing, TextSeer allows me to use HTTP GET with my BBS software and other stuff. It makes it very simple.
UltraGCIR3 – this allows me to control my IR stuff. TV, receiver, etc.
UltraMon3 – Monitors stuff on my network. I have this running but don’t really use it as much anymore. I have switched to a more robust set of scripts and local control over each computer in the house.
VWS – pulls in the info from my weather station.
weatherXML – Weather information but much more than that. Alerts, maps, etc.
X10 – While X10 is very old, not 100% reliable and a bit outdated, I still have switches and motion sensors that have worked for the last 16 years. In the past I’ve used the X10 CM15 controller, the Applied Digital Ocelot (I think this one died due to a lightning strike several years back) and am currently using a TI103 X10 controller. One of the reasons I am moving over to Zwave is that even though I have a coupler wired into my breaker box and another one plugged into my dryer the X10 does not always seem to send the signals to the switches and other appliances. For instance, if you open my side door (which we let the dog out of at night) my side and front porch lights come on and will then turn off after 15 minutes of no motion. My front porch is Zwave and always immediately responds. The side porch is X10 and sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it’s four or five seconds and occasionally it just never switches on. That’s a no-go as far as I’m concerned for an automated home. It’s also the reason I don’t want my shit cloud controlled. When you hit the light switch it should just immediately come on. There should never be a delay.
XBMC – I use Kodi on my bedroom PC occasionally and this allows me to control it when I do. More on that…
Z-Wave – I used to use an Aeon Labs Zwave controller but updated last year to a Homeseer Zwave Smartswitch+
Kinect – This plugin is actually running remotely on the Asus touchscreen in my living room.
Alexa plugin – I mentioned that Homeseer has Echo support built in. It does. What this plugin does is allow me to use ANOTHER instance of Alexa on my bedroom PC without having the Echo in there. It runs remotely like the Kinect plugin. I can have as many instances of this as I need. With it getting warmer there will be stuff we’ll be working on in the garage (where my Homeseer server is) and I will probably install Alexa on that too. The only caveat to having software instances of Alexa rather than the Echo or Dot is that it doesn’t support media (Pandora, etc) but there are workarounds for that.
I think that’s all of the plugins I am currently running so here are some of the things the system does.
There are currently two (really three) voice recognition systems at work in my house. One is Alexa. As seen in the video and countless other ones on Youtube the recognition is awesome and there is a lot of stuff you can do. “Alexa, tell Domino’s to order my Easy Order” worked great last night when it was just me and Tootsieroll eating dinner. Obviously I can also control my lighting, TV and somewhat my thermostat. It does have it’s limitations though. I currently have 581 devices attached to Homeseer. Not all of those are hardware obviously. Some are virtual devices that control other ones. The Echo (Alexa) can control stuff that is able to be specifically controlled by Off, On, Dim or it can set heating or cooling to a specific temperature. You can’t chain commands with it.
The second voice recognition system I use is Homeseer itself. I have a little piece of software running on each PC and laptop called HomeSeer speaker. It acts as a remote text to speech client for Homeseer and can send announcements to all or specific clients. I can also turn on the recognition so in addition to “Alexa”, “Jarvis” lives in my house. With Jarvis I can tell Homeseer to turn on the air in 15 minutes and set it to 72. Or I can set the virtual device “Alarm” to “home” in twenty minutes. There really isn’t much I can’t do with Homeseer Speaker. The problem with Homeseer Speaker’s voice recognition that I’ve found over the years is that it sucks balls. It’s an awesome idea and a great back end but the implementation is so fucking awful it’s basically unusable. That’s why, even though Google Now and Alexa work through the Internet, I use them anyway.
That brings me to the third one I mentioned above. I use Tasker on my Nexus 6 as do my wife and youngest daughter. My oldest has an iPhone so she’s shit out of luck. With Tasker and a couple of plugins I can say “Ok Google, turn on the TV, change to FireTV, lock the front door (yeah, I found one on eBay that hopefully will be here soon) and dim the living room lamps”. Yeah, that’s where the awesome sauce kicks in. Can’t do that shit with Alexa. It does mean that your phone has to be with you but who doesn’t always have their phone. Or does it? On my todo list is adding Tasker to the two Nexus 7s in my house so we don’t have to have our phone with us. Oh by the way, my Moto 360 is also connected to Tasker through my phone so as long as it’s in range and they are both connected to wifi, I can just talk to the watch like Dick Tracy.
Some of the other things Homeseer does?
If it’s between November and March and the temperature is under 59 outside the heat kicks on the a specific setting, It’s a little lower at nighttime. From May to October it’s the air that kicks on but as I mentioned earlier, only if the windows are closed.
When you open the door to the basement stairs the lights kick on in the stairway as do the ones in my basement and garage. If it’s the garage door the same thing. They cut off after fifteen minutes, IF no motion has been detected. If I flip the lights on, off, on they are overridden and will stay on until I cut them off.
If it’s nighttime and motion is detected outside by any of my motion detectors the flood lights and porch lights cut on until no motion has been detected. Same thing if Blue Iris detects motion on the cameras. Lights on. When I open the side door at night the porch lights come on and then go off fifteen minutes after no motion detected. If the front door is opened at night the foyer light, front porch lights and driveway floods come on and then will turn off fifteen minutes later if there’s no motion. That’s particularly useful when I leave for work at 6:15am and my hands are full.
When the washing machine is in use and then stops (watts in use) it tells everyone in the house, hey, the clothes are finished. Put them in the dryer. Once it has been out of use for a period of time it completely cuts the power to the Zwave switch. You know that most appliances still use a minute bit of power even when not in use. Not my washing machine. Or my daughter’s monitor for that matter, which she tends to leave on. Eventually most of my appliances will be hooked to Zwave switches as well. Even if I just save 50 cents or a dollar a month when you have 50 items running, TVs, monitors, washer and dryer, etc…it all adds up.
If motion is detected in the house when we aren’t at home it sends the wife and I email alerts along with pictures. If the basement windows are opened it sets off and alarm and starts flashing lights around the house. If my CO/Smoke detector in the kitchen (the only connected one I have so far) goes off it of course sounds, but my basement alarm sounds, all the lights start flashing off and every speaker in the house starts shouting shit about fire or carbon monoxide and it also sends us emails and text messages.
When I get close to the house my driveway and porch lights come on at night and the system announces Daddy’s home. It drives my dog nuts.
If we are on vacation and motion is sensed anywhere outside random lights go on and all the outside lights go on. It also sends the obligatory emails and text messages along with pics.
I’m in the slow process of writing a series of Alarm Events so we can set an alarm when we leave to trigger other events.
I have a counter set so it has started tracking when we change the HVAC filter and it will tell us when it needs to be changed.
Less automation but more information, Homeseer scrapes my BBS for info and I can see who is logged in, how many calls I’ve had and other various info. It also pulls in a few RSS feeds so I know when the last show has been updated and I can download the torrents, pulls in horoscope and also news feeds. It’s supposed to read me the top headlines when my alarm is dismissed in the morning and also tell me if it’s a holiday but I’m debugging that I guess.
If there’s a NOAA weather alert for the area it announces it to everyone.
That’s most of the items currently. 90% of it happens whether there’s internet connection or not.
I have a streaming music server on a Raspberry Pi and my entire music library on an NAS. It runs Subsonic, a streaming server. It doesn’t get much use but that’s mainly because I have set up obvious clients for everyone. Unlike Pandora, iHeartRadio, Play Music or Amazon, no internet needed. There are clients but I just mainly use the html interface and can cast it to any of my chromecasts oh by the way.
There are a thousand other things my automated home does and can do that I can’t think of at the moment but the stuff above gives a good general idea anyway.
Some things in varying stages of completion I have that will be added shortly include,
- A smart mirror. I actually have all of the materials next to my desk for this. Basically it’s a see through mirror with a Nexus 7 behind it that supplies pertinent information for day, camera feeds, etc. Voice controlled. There are more intensive projects out there that I’ve seen that use a raspberry pi and touchscreen monitor but I went the cheap route. Still a wow thing. I haven’t decided when I’m going to place it.
- A Raspberry Pi based emulator running Nintendo and Super Nintendo games to mention a few. That’s 90% complete. I thought I had an old NES in my basement that I was going to gut and put everything inside but I can’t find it (I think it didn’t survive a rare spousal purge of crap) so I’m going to gut my old Nintendo Xbox 1 and put everything inside.
- Mounting my projector to my bedroom ceiling and running the wires (I am thinking about living room actually). It will take the place of my bedroom television. It has HDMI inputs so I can hook in my chromecast. I have a ceiling mount and another FireTV stick on the way (my poor poor discover card.) I will also be able to control it with IR and in turn run it via voice or touch screen control via phone. The extra TV I’ll either hook to my desk or set up a gaming station next to my daughter’s computer in the living room and hook up the unused Xbox 360. Nobody here does a lot of console gaming but it’s nice when there’s company.
- Front door. I managed to get a steal on a Zwave motorized deadbolt. It’ll be here eventually and I’ll add it into my system. Probably have it unlock when I drive up. Not trigger by motion but by our phone’s proximity. Nice to be able to remotely let people into the house as well without having to give them a key. It was an open box deal but I can return it if it doesn’t work.
- A software based alarm system. I mentioned I was working on that but it’s a long way from completion. I’ve barely touched on the capabilities of Blue Iris as well as the scripting that Homeseer provides so this will be a fairly robust system. I’m not willing to pay monthly fees for monitoring so this is the next best thing.
- Incorporating using more JSON into the interface so I will have more control of the automation aspects through the BBS, my web site, and all of the internal stuff. We use Plex in addition to Kodi because it just works well with browsers as well as the FireTV Stick. I have eventghost on most of the computers and will be adding more control over/from that as well.
- More/better voice control options.
- Touch support. I have rudimentary touchscreen clients on our phones and in the kitchen but I need to update the screens and provide more control.
- I have a shit ton of old stuff I need to sell that I haven’t had the opportunity to list but will soon. If you’re looking for any of this stuff let me know and we’ll work out a deal. This includes an iPhone 5 no idea the size, HTC One (AT&T), Samsung Galaxy S3 (Verizon), Two Moto X (original, 2012 I think), an Ipod Touch and a Gameboy Color. Automation stuff includes an Applied Digital Ocelot and SECU16-IR. I think the IR controller is good but I haven’t been able to get the Ocelot to work. Many x10 switches, lamp and appliance modules, door/window sensors, in-wall switches, universal modules. Some are defunct but most are still in fine working order. They are from various manufacturers. Mostly X10 but some Radio Shack and a couple others as well. Most of that I’d prefer to just sell as one lump deal but I will consider selling seperately. A couple of netpads. Slow and Old. Considering throwing linux on them and using as netcams if I don’t sell them.
I’ll try and post more as I finish each project.