A Somewhat SmartHome or Where’s the Light Switch?

Is my SmartHome supposed to be smarter than me?

I’ve avoided a lot of the SmartHome push, but finally gave in over the past week or so. My caving in was not really due to laziness or really needed to automate anything, but more out of an intellectual curiosity, and to see what I could do that would not completely piss off my better half. It started with buying both Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot to see how they functioned, which had more features, and ultimately which worked better for me. That whole ordeal will be the subject of a post later this week, but suffice to say it is pretty sad that Alexa can see my Google (GSuite) calendar but Google cannot connect to any GSuite/Business accounts!

As far as SmartHome (Zigbee / Zwave) devices go, I purchased the following bits for an initial install and configuration:

Setup and Configuration

First, let me just say this – while my security system supports Z-Wave devices, I do not suggest mixing your home automation/convenience systems with your security system. Keep them separate! You do not want a vulnerability in a lightbulb to provide access to bypass your security system. I really don’t care what Alarm.Com, ADT and others suggest – these should always be separate domains/networks and if you want interaction rethink that and don’t do it.

That said, the SmartHome setup was fairly straight forward, I put the SmartThings hub in my kitchen connected to an ethernet port we installed when the house was built, the Philips Hub went up in my home office plugged into a gigabit switch and the Caseta Hub went down in my basement connected to my core network switch. I put a couple of the A19 bulbs in the living room’s overhead light fixture, three Cree bulbs in the family room’s ceiling fan and the BR30 floods in the recessed lighting cans over my kitchen’s breakfast bar. The light strip will be installed over the kitchen cabinets for night lighting and splashes of color.

Once I configured the Hue bulbs in the Hue App, I connected the Hue hub over to SmartThings (“ST”) and discovered the Cree bulbs. So far so good. I plugged in the GE wall wart and connected it to SmartThings with a table lamp. We created a couple different rooms in both the Hue and ST apps, defined a few automations and a handful of IFTTT actions and moved on… for now.

Next up I rebuilt the Harmony hub and remote, attached it to the ST Hub, assigned a few actions to buttons on the remote control, and made sure the activities worked – (Watch TV – Day, Watch TV – Night, Play XBox, etc). Each SmartHome activity was defined with different lighting for the various rooms. I do need to finish setting up Zones in the Denon X4300H receiver I picked up last month to replace a Marantz that finally died… but this is for another day.

The Zooz 4-in-1 and the water leak detector were installed in the basement for some obvious reasons. I will add a camera to the basement and integrate it with the SmartHome motion detector when I get some more time (and figure out which camera to get). One thing to keep in mind about the Zooz device, it does not have a Device Handler out of the box, but the ST Community is amazing and I found this custom handler (GitHub link) and it works great. (screenshot)

Zooz 4 in 1 sensor - SmartThings Tile

Zooz 4 in 1 – SmartThings Tile

Alexa or Google Assistant for SmartHome voice control?

WTF Wooden Letter blocksSo if you were paying attention, in the first section I mentioned I have both Google Home and Amazon Echo devices, but I did not include Google in the list of deployed equipment. This is for a few reasons, primarily the fact Google’s device cant see my Google Calendar – pretty odd no? It seems to be a known limitation that they do not share with anyone. While I did find some workarounds, it really wasn’t worth the aggravation as Amazon Echo connected to my GSuite calendar flawlessly. 

Other issues I have with Google Home/Assistant – if I said “Ok Google, Turn Off Family Room Lights” it would do so and give a list of every light that was touched by the command. I would get something along the lines of, “Ok, turning off Cree Bulb 1, turning off Cree Bulb 2, turning off Cree Bulb 3, Turing off Table Lamp.” This behavior was beyond annoying and search as I might I was unable to find a way to alter this behavior. It would turn on all lights simultaneously – after giving me its dissertation.

Alexa, on the other hand, simply says “Ok” to let you know and simultaneously turned on all the lights – ’nuff said. Also, Alexa was straightforward to connect to my devices/hubs and set up its Skills (what Amazon calls its third party integrations). Overall while Google may end up more powerful, right now Amazon’s solution is more mature and usable.

What’s next?

So there are a number of things I want to add to the mix, some straightforward, others not so much:

Ecobee 3: I have a two zone Carrier heating system, and while I want to put two EcoBee 3 units in the house, after spending some time on the phone with their support folks, my current HVAC setup is not supported. I will talk with my HVAC folks to see what options I can use either natively from Carrier, or what could be done to integrate the EcoBee units.

Indoor/Outdoor Cameras: This is something I’ve been putting off for a long time. I want cameras for two different reasons; security cameras to record to my Synology NAS box and a separate camera for use with my Personal Weather Station (weather cam). This is something I will probably need two setups – the security cams going to my NVR/NAS box, and a less critical weather cam transmitting photos to Wunderground and my weather site via the Mac Mini that controls the weather station. If you have any suggestions for either let me know in the comments. 

Speaking of the Mac & Weather Station… I would love to find a way to join the Mac Mini to the ZWave or Zigbee networks and send data from the Weather Station software to SmartThings to act as SmartHome trigger inputs / conditions. I have found a few USB sticks that will let the Mac act as a hub, but not as a device … still looking around. 

Overall, in the space of a few hours, some basic automation tasks (and a few more complex ones) were installed and deployed. This will be a long-term project, and more posts are sure to be coming …

 

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