The Perfect Smart Home: What I’m Using…Part I
SO I’m a big gadget geek. As far as phones, while there is nothing wrong with Apple products my personal preference is for Android. The platform is much more extensible and I can do 1,000 more things with my Nexus than I ever would be able to with Apple. But…this isn’t about that.
I came across and article this morning entitled “The Perfect Smart Home: What our editors are using” over at Android Central, one of the sites I frequent. Each of them lists what they are using in their smart home and why. The question I had when I read the article is what about each thing makes their house smart? Each of the items, in itself, is pretty neat and I own several of them. The problem is that by themselves none of them make the house smart, at least not by my definition of the word. There are a couple that come pretty close, mainly Smarththings, but even that has it’s limitations. Most of them are limited by being able to connect to the Internet, for starters. What if you lost your internet connection? Most of the folks using these products are shit out of luck, including if you use Smartthings. From their web site:
Any locally executing SmartApps or Device Type Handlers still send events to the SmartThings cloud. This is necessary so that the mobile application can accurately reflect the current state of the devices, as well as perform any cloud-required services (e.g., sending notifications). In the event of an Internet outage, the events will be queued and sent to the SmartThings cloud when Internet is restored.
So what am I using? First off, bear in mind I’ve been using Home Automation for 16 years now and have used some really good (and some really crappy) products. For the most part I try to get things off of eBay or cobbled together from the parts that seem to inevitably collect around the desk of a gadget enthusiast.
Before I go into my set up we need to touch on why I don’t think a bunch of awesome gadgets make your house smart and what does. To begin with, it’s the controller. To have Home Automation, as opposed to Home Control, your house needs to do shit without you necessarily directing it to. All of your stuff also needs to work together. For instance, if one of us turns on the AC and there is a window open my house (HomeSeer) immediately turns it off and says something to the effect of “There is a window open, I have turned off the HVAC. Shut the windows and try again.” Eventually I’ll add logic which will cut it on once the window has been closed but for now we have to tell HomeSeer to turn it on once they are shut.
Here’s a quick video I shot right after I ready the article.
You’ll notice in the video that I am also using Alexa, which was mentioned in the Android Central article. I managed to get the Echo and remote while they were only being introduce to Prime members, for $99. If I had realized how cool it was I would have preordered another lol. As it is, I have an Amazon Dot coming sometime next month. That’s a piece of hardware Amazon is introducing to current Echo owners. It uses Alexa technology but insted of being a big speaker you hook your own speakers up to it. You’ll also notice my living room lights didn’t do dick when I told them to. I’ll touch on that a little later as well.
So here’s the hardware I’m using and then I’ll go on to describe what each piece does and how it fits together.
In my basement:
- refurbished Dell Optiplex workstation. It runs the heart of my home automation system, the software Homeseer. Attached to that I have,
- RFXCom receiver. It receives signals from my Oregon Scientific weather station I received for Christmas a few years ago. It also receives signals from a few other weather instruments as well as X10 security devices. I used to have the X10 Door/Window sensors on everything as well as a couple of glass break sensors. I’m now down to 4 window sensors as it’s an unstable and outdated technology that doesn’t always work. I have a shitload in a box I’ll be selling on eBay shortly if anyone is interested.
- W800RF32 receiver AND a MR26a receiver for redundancy. These two pick up X10 RF signals from my few remaining X10 motion sensors as well as X10 remotes and stick-a-switch things. The W800 also receives X10 security device RF but I’ve found the RFXCOM and homeseer plugin does a better job. I am also slowly replacing the X10 motion sensors with Zwave as well. The timeline on that is just when I find a good deal on eBay or when they go on sale for deep discount at my local Home Depot.
- HomeSeer Zwave Smartstick+, this is what controls most of my lighting. Zwave devices are slowly replacing X10 for reliability reasons as well as speed.
- A shitty Samsung SDR-4001 CCTV system I picked up at Walmart a couple of years ago. Currently has four cameras attached. It’s locked down and you can’t access it with anything other than old versions of Internet Explorer and the Samsung software. However, I recently found a program that will pull in the video feeds. Blue Iris. More about that shortly.
Zwave door/window sensors on all the windows and the back door. Zwave light switch in the basement and a couple of GE Link light bulbs in the garage as well as the basement stairs.
Aeon Labs Zwave energy monitor directly attached to the breaker box.
In the living room:
- Amazon Echo. Alexa. As Phil noted in the article I linked to, Alexa is one of the most exciting things to come out in the area in a long time. She’s sexy. So much so that they are literally flying off the shelves and besides being able to buy them through Amazon they are also available at Home Depot and Best Buy to name a couple. The voice recognition is so much better than the other system I use (part of Homeseer) that the devs from Homeseer added support. The one and only downfall to the Echo is that you have to be connected to the Internet. So I have redundancy and also use the Homeseer voice control as well.
- A Global Cache GC-100-06 IR controller I got for a steal off eBay last week as a matter of fact. In the past I have used the USB-UIRT, eHome IR receivers (Windows Media Center) and an Applied Digital SECU16-IR (attached to the X10 controller I was using at the time.). The Global Cache controller works over the network and is a small form factor among my components.
- The overhead light/fan is a Zwave switch. Lamps are Hue bulbs (just white, no color). While the Hue bulbs are pretty cool and I will probably eventually get a couple to play with, they are overly expensive and not 100% reliable. Again, something else that depends on the cloud.
Honeywell Zwave thoermostat
Xbox 360 Kinect (minus the Xbox360 which is put up on a shelf somewhere) connected to an Asus touchscreen laptop.
Foscam IP camera
- JVC AV receiver and Vizio 42″ TV. Both controlled by the GC100-06 and Homeseer or obviously their own remotes. Hooked into them I have a Chromecast, a Chromecast Audio and a FireTV stick. The Chromecast Audio and FireTV stick are probably the two coolest things I’ve added over the last year besides the Echo. I used to have a huge Windows PC running BeyondTV and later, Windows Media Center. Now you can’t even see the devices I use.
Two of my last four X10 Window sensors.
Various Zwave motion, security and environment sensors.
Almost forgot, a Wink Hub (like Smartthings) and the only thing it still controls, a Quirky Pivot Power Genius
In the Kitchen:
- Two more GE Link bulbs
Zwave light switch for the sink lights
Chromecast Audio attached to a pair of speakers that sit on top of the cabinets.
- Petsafe Wireless Fence.
- a couple of X10 lamp and appliance modules which control the pet’s water fountain and the lights inside my china cabinet.
mounted on the wall next to my light switches a Nexus 7 with a few things running, Homeseer HSTouch software, Google Play Music (to cast audio to the speakers) and IP Webcam Pro which in turn is picked up by Blue Iris, as are the rest of my cameras in the house. I’m actually going to be replacing this with an old iPad at some point soon.
In the bedrooms I have mixed Zwave and X10 lighting, another Vizio TV that’s controlled by a Global Cache itach IR controller, various X10 and Zwave motion sensors, door/window sensors, etc. In my laundry room there’s a GE Link bulb and a Zwave appliance switch plugged in to my washing machine and then the wall. It monitors energy consumption as well as some other stuff that I’ll touch on in part II of this article. Yes, I’ve managed to write so fucking long that I just decided I should split this up into two parts.
There’s a Wemo switch hooked to my upstairs Wifi Router (there’s another on in the basement. due to wifi connections I had to create two networks. The second one is basically just working in Access Point mode). I have it controlled through IFTTT and in turn, Homeseer (which also allows for built-in IFTTT integration).
Another Chromecast attached to my bedroom TV and a Chromecast Audio on my bathroom speakers. Once I get the Echo Dot I’ll stick the Chromecast Audio upstairs for the girls.
So how does all this crap fit together and what can it do? You’ll have to wait for me to finish typing Part II.