For years, I have generally been of the opinion that the “Internet of Things” is mostly a way to introduce a lot of vulnerabilities into a home network for dubious gain. Especially since most smart home systems I had seen involved a number of manufacturer specific apps that didn’t really seem to communicate together. Why spend extra to have 20 more apps on my phone that only worked when the internet did?
Recently however, I have been reinvestigating the smart home landscape, and I realized that I missed a large contingent of home automation solutions that work locally, are open source, and make for a fun project. I just recently bought my first home, so I am finally in the position to upgrade my living space without just contributing to my landlords bottom line.
The first upgrade I did was to install a Lutron Caseta dimmer in my (2 year old) son’s bedroom. This was originally done because we needed a way to turn the lights off after reading but before bed, without getting up and disturbing the boy. The Caseta dimmer worked great for this purpose (using the smart remote). Initially, I planned to eventually add Caseta dimmers all through the house, along with Lutron’s bridge.
However, as I started to learn more about the current home automation landscape, my plan changed. While the Caseta system is highly regarded around the internet, it was really a closed system. The switches use a proprietary communication protocol and really only worked with Lutron’s Smart Bridge. The consumer version of the Smart Bridge doesn’t offer local control, so if the internet is out, you are back to pushing switches manually (truly a dark situation).
Going Open Source
While you can buy Lutron’s Smart Bridge Pro, which offers local control via Telnet, I wanted to investigate other, more open solutions. I first ran across OpenHAB, but the interface was clunky at best. I was much more impressed by HomeAssistant. HomeAssistant (HA) is written in Python (my favourite), and offered tons of integrations with different systems. I also had a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ sitting unused which is the most common way to get HA running.
Once I settled on giving HA a try, I needed to pick the technology I planned to use around the house. There are generally two of protocols for local control, ZWave and Zigbee. The end result of either system is similar, a local radio network of devices that don’t connect to the internet. USB radios are available for both network types, to bridge between the local mesh network and HA. Even better, HA can handle both, so there really isn’t a requirement to choose before starting out!
After doing some reading and looking at the available devices, I decided to start with ZWave. There seemed to be more device availability using this protocol, even though the protocol itself doesn’t seem quite as nice as Zigbee (Google around for comparisons). The choice was relatively easy to make, especially since I can always add Zigbee later on.
This is really just an overview of what I plan to build. I intend to outline the various upgrades I make around the house as I add more and more automation. I like that it all can be added piecemeal, especially since the individual bits can be leveraged as soon as they are installed!