Smart Home

Refurbishing the house, one thing I really wanted was to make it smart.

I did my research, every different system I could find that would work in the UK. Discussed most of it with my old Apache Colleague, Vadim.

So many are intrusive, lack security or are aimed at the super-rich unless you live in the US.

System Security

I don’t want to add home automation that I don’t consider reasonably secure, it wouldn’t be smart.

I believe I can control what gets access to my local net (famous last words) but cannot control who has access to the RF signals emanating from and received by my smart home.

Many of the RF based systems, as far as I could tell were either closed source or had no or little security. The only one that looked reasonable was ZigBee.

For control, I chose HomeKit, mostly because I have all the necessary Apple kit but also because they appear to have made it secure by design.

For sanity, I also run Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi, so I can plug a huge range of things into HomeKIT.

Lighting

One of my first big decisions was for the lighting, do I go for smart switches or smart bulbs? This would make a huge difference when I came to do the re-wiring, smart switches require a non-standard neutral wire at the switch.

I opted for smart bulbs, I knew they could be less reliable but realised I could get far more flexibility than an affordable hard-wired system.

This led me to buy a Philips Hue Hub and a few bulbs, to play with. There are other ZigBee hubs but as far as I can see, the Hue Hub has the best 3rd party software support.

I now have about 20 bulbs, a mixture of Philips Hue, Osram Lightify and Innr. They all work with the Hue hub. Their hub no longer publishes non-Philips bulbs to HomeKIT but as I run Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi, there is a Hue plugin that does that.

I kept a few lights that cannot take smart bulbs. I use a few smart plugs from TPLink to control these. A Homebridge plugin surfaces them on HomeKIT.

As I find them for discounted prices, I add wireless switches to my system. I have a few Hue tap and dimmer switches in key locations.

Climate

I’d like my home to be as comfortable, healthy and cheap to run as possible.

Heating is the biggest cost in the UK plus I get massive solar gain here, unbearable in the summer, useful in the winter.

I monitor the internal and external climate with a NetAtmo Weather Station. I use a NetAtmo Thermo for controlling the central heating. I hook the weather station into HomeKIT with a Homebridge plugin.

I have a Velux skylight, it is motorised, has a remote but as of yet, I cannot control it via HomeKIT. (NetAtmo may fix this).

I wanted to find remotely controllable blinds for all of my windows but they are too expensive in the UK at the moment.

The ideal scenario would be to have the temperature, air quality and daylight sensors trigger the blinds and the skylight. Not there yet.

Presence

When the last person leaves home, I want all of the lights turned off, the heating switched to ‘away’ mode, warnings if doors are left open, etc. etc.

Returning home I want the heating to return to it’s schedule, and lights turned on after dusk.

HomeKIT’s geo-fencing has never been reliable plus the heating system’s ‘away’ mode is not a concept HomeKIT understands.

The solution to the second issue, provided a solution to the first.

NetAtmo can be controlled by IFTTT actions for switching away mode ON, OFF coupled with an IFTTT geo-fence is is pretty reliable. When that action runs, it wakes up the phone enough to make the rest of my HomeKIT geo-fence actions work. Yeah, fix this App FFS!

As for internal presence, I use 3 Philips Hue motion sensors in locations where I would only want lighting if I am occupying that space, kitchen and two stair wells. They have been very reliable.

Physical Security

I moved from a place with one external door to one with three. I kept leaving the garage or garden door open. Once I am pretty sure the cat trod on the ancient Somfy garage door controller, opening the door (I took the batteries out after that).

So I wanted a way to be warned, I managed to find some Elgato Eve door sensors really cheap and installed them. Hooked into HomeKit and Homebridge, I get a notification (via IFTTT) on my phone if I leave the area with anything open, if any of those doors open while I am away or if I close the front door, leaving the garage door open. They work really well!!

A camera front door bell may be interesting one day.

I’d love a smart lock for the front door but they are too expensive, mainly meant for US systems and I don’t trust any yet.

Remote

I have a 3rd Gen AppleTV. My understanding is that it tunnels IPv6 over IPv4 to provide a secure endpoint for remote control from my phone. Works great!

Software

  • Homebridge — “HomeKIT support for the impatient”. Without Homebridge I would not have even got close to what I can do above. It is the swiss army knife. I use the following plugins :
  • Home.app + Siri (Apple) — My preferred app for day-to-day usage.

  • Home.app (Matthias Hochgatterer) — Not the kind of software I would like to use for regularly controlling the home but can be useful for configuring more complex automations.

  • Elgato Eve.app — Useful for seeing non-standard info from HomeKIT, useful in the UK when sunset is not the same time as getting dark.

  • iConnectHue.app — For when I want to get funky with the lighting

  • NetAtmo Energy.app — I find more convenient than Home.app.

  • Countless rather nasty one trick ponies from IoT manufacturers, used for initial config and then dumped.

The integration between the Hue and HomeKIT ecosystems is improving. It is annoying to need multiple apps to control different aspects of the smart home, so I was very happy when Hue Tap and dimmer switches became 1st class citizens. The Hue motion sensors are still handled far better by the Hue hub than by HomeKIT.

When we re-wired, the electricians offered to remove the old light switches, hard wire the circuits on, so I could plaster over. I elected not to. Occasionally it is useful to be able to hard reset the bulbs and some guests find the wireless switches intimidating.

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