I was introduced to home automation at a young age when my father installed an X10 system hooked to our alarm system. The basic gist of the automation was to turn on lights when we were away and to have all the lights in the house turn on if the alarm system activated. This was more than 30 years ago and was pretty simple in what he wanted to accomplish. Since then I’ve dabbled with the X10 Firecacker hooked to a Linux box, but really didn’t get serious about home automation until about four and a half years ago when we purchased our current house. We were remodeling the house we purchased, so I used the opportunity to design an automation system and briefly wrote about it.
Many lights, several outlets, and the thermostat in our house are using the ZWave protocol. This only covers part of the automation. All of the sensors (motion, window, and door) are on a standard DSC security system hooked up with an Envisalink module. The brains of the system is a VeraEdge with several third party plugins. Out of the box, the VeraEdge won’t talk to the sensors and has very basic decision making capability, so the Program Logic Event Generator plugin is needed. In addition, I put together a plugin for controlling my Russound audio distribution units that works by sending commands to a PortServer TS 4 MEI and then to the Russound’s RS-232 serial ports.
This whole system worked well for several years, but I wasn’t happy with the iOS app, so I created my own app a few years ago.
If this sounds like a lot of pieces and a lot of work, it has been a labor of love and an interesting hobby. Of course having a system working well isn’t a lot of fun if you like tinkering! When I received my first Amazon Echo two years ago, I was intrigued by the ability to control things by voice. My Vera (at the time) had no integration with the Echo, so I turned to a third party solution called HA Bridge by BWS Systems. It required more setup, but exposed scenes and devices so that they could be controlled by the Echo. (Vera now has native Echo support, but the way it is setup creates a delay in the response so I continue to use HA Bridge.) The new Routines in the Amazon Echo like adding one for “Good night” are an excellent addition, but has me scratching my head on if I should set that kind of thing up on the Echo, use the Vera natively, or use HA Bridge.
As an Apple fan, you’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned HomeKit, yet. HomeKit has been interesting, but due to the lack of interoperable components and hackability, I’ve pretty much ignored it. Some enterprising developers have created Homebridge which I’ve also setup. Why HomeKit and Echo support? Simple, with the HomeKit app on iOS 11 and the widget, I can easily turn lights on or off right from my iPad without switching to my app and without having to yell at the Echo. In addition, this allows me to control lights with my Apple Watch. I run HA Bridge and Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi so that it can easily sit on my IoT VLAN (I separate out IoT traffic from my main network).
This automation setup has been about 5 years in the making and I’m sure I’m not completely done with it. I keep looking at ways to simplify it with different components like maybe a new hub or new switches. However, every time I start looking into it I realize that I’d lose functionality. My wife tolerates my hobby and kind of likes some of the aspects of it as she warms up to them. Changing anything would be a change for the worse.
The more time and effort I put into my automation system, the more I realize that turnkey home automation is still a pipe dream. If someone has very simple needs then maybe he or she can get away with one system. The moment you want a choice in your components or want to do something that the major companies that do automation don’t want you to do, you have to either give up or cobble together a system.
Products used in my system:
- VeraEdge – main automation hub
- DSC alarm system
- Envisalink – alarm system to network
- PortServer TS 4 MEI
- Russound audio distribution units (no longer made) with RS-232 ports
- Squeezebox audio units (no longer made)
- Raspberry Pi for running Homebridge and HA Bridge
- Amazon Echo
- iPad/iPhone/Apple Watch
- Program Logic Event Generator plugin for Vera
- HA Bridge – Echo to Vera
- Homebridge – HomeKit to Vera
- VeraAutomation – iOS app for controlling Vera
- Custom Lua plugin for Vera to control audio
Feel free to ask questions about my system. I’m always open to ideas and will keep actively exploring ways to improve my life through automation!