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Old 14th Sep 2016, 15:33   #1
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Home automation

Hi everyone,

I was having a think about stuff over lunch (trying not to fall asleep) and found myself having a nosey at home automation bits and pieces on Ebay and Amazon and it got me thinking. I would love to set up a system at home to integrate the lighting, heating, a few sockets, and maybe security and fire alarm stuff.

Is there a 'standard' for any of this that can be controlled over something like a single app on Android or iOS? I have seen quite a few bits and pieces that will do what I want but I really don't want to have to open up app 1 for lights, app 2 for heating, app 3 for.... and so on.

Also wiring would be some what of a ballache due to our house being reinforced concrete (Wimpey no-fines construction) so drilling and routing cables would be... problematic. Wifi is no problem at all, especially using 5GHz, we get pretty good signals everywhere within the exterior shell.

Any thoughts?
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 15:57   #2
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Short answer is no there's no standard. As a crestron programmer I'm obliged to tell you Crestron is awesome and can do everything you require but it's also expensive and can not be programmed by the end user.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 15:59   #3
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There are a few different schools of thought:

A) Open everything. This ends up being something like zWave and Raspberry Pis. There's not really an easy answer here, and it tends to be quite a lot of work to set up and configure. There's technically no limit as to what can be achieved, so long as you're fairly adept with a bit coding and lots of googling, and your time tends to be the trade off for what's usually the lowest financial outlay.

B) Proprietary everything. This tends to end up being mega-money, but you can tell someone exactly what you want and they come along to do it. Devices will probably be largely open, but someone else does the hard work (and costs the big money) in making everything play nice and the devices that run the show can be expensive. This is people like Crestron, Control4 and others.

C) Master of masters. This is somewhere in between A and B (in terms of effort and cost) where you have lots of individual "smart" ecosystems and something that can talk to all of them. So hue for lights, some smart appliances, wemo sockets, Sonos players, Harmony for AV, Nest thermostats and so on, and something that can talk to each and every one of those - IFTTT, Amazon Alexa etc.

I've gone for option C on the basis that it can grow pretty organically as needs arise, and never really set out with an end objective of a "smart home", but just making my way there step by step when and where it makes sense to do so.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 16:01   #4
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You see, that's another thing, i'd like to set up as much of this myself as I could. I have no problem fitting sockets, light switches, thermostat controllers and so on, I just really want a central point of control.

/*edit*/ Option C sounds like what I'm after too, something that I can set up from the most cost effective parts from various manufacturers that I can link through a central system. I have to say that I do quite like the look of the Amazon Alexa with the voice control but I'd also like to be able to set up control over our phones or pads, ideally allowing off-site control as well via web link.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 16:08   #5
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It really depends what you want to control, and how much your prepared to get your hands dirty (and if you have anyone else/ wife/ GF who needs to use the system) a lot of basic stuff like lights and heating is often just a case of switching mains voltage which is pretty straight forward to do using a raspberry pi or something and then using IFTTT to give you smart control.

The only thing is you need to be 100% that when you press the button the light will come on or your going to create more problems then you solve.

If you own the house you need to think about if what your doing could be sold with the house and then is therefore adding value or if your actually making a system that would work for you and for no one else so would need to be removed if you decide to sell (and then what would the costs be in doing that). If you don't own the house then you need something that's simple to reverse but still works well.

Planning is the key.... and maybe mocking something up as a test before you commit to an actual install.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 16:18   #6
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I haven't really come across a single app that does everything, as in one master remote.

I do use Harmony for a fair bit (though more commonly a hard remote, since it's there) and the activities/macros can get quite complex and involved - there's definitely a bias towards AV usage however the platform is continually being expanded to bring in more home elements. My "Watch a Movie" activity for instance switches everything on to the correct inputs, to Plex on the HTPC, turns on "effect" lighting and turns off the main room lights.

IFTTT is pretty powerful, but does take a bit of time to get to grips with, to the extent that I haven't really put much effort into using it to its fullest extent despite knowing that it can do all sorts of interesting things that I'd really like. I've pre-ordered an echo which will likely take over light control from hard switches and apps most of the time, and other things when it makes sense.

One way which might get you close to a single remote to rule them all would be an android device and the use of widgets. Sure it's not one app you're using, but when you've got widgets for switching things on and off all splayed out on the home screen it may as well be.

Have a hard think about how you're really going to use these things though - a single app to rule them all seems nice on paper, but I've found much of the time it makes more sense to use dedicated apps for certain things, perhaps hard buttons for others, and automated macros for others again - home automation and the "smart home" is more than just remote control everything.

Case in point: Switching on a coffee machine in the morning:

Good: unlock your phone, open up an app and turn it on from bed
Better: just tap a smart button next to the bed
Best: The machine automatically turns itself on 30 mins before your alarm time if you're at home.

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The only thing is you need to be 100% that when you press the button the light will come on or your going to create more problems then you solve.
This is key to everything and needs repeating. Having a remote control app on your phone to control everything might be cool, but it's neither smart nor automation, it's just another way to turn on the lights, brew coffee, set the alarm, watch a movie etc. Smart things are supposed to make things simpler in your day to day goings on, not just be a cool app to show your mates, where the "smart" facade falls away when there's someone other than you trying to use it.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 16:19   #7
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We do own the place (and have NO PLANS to move...) so hard wiring isn't a problem (aside from the aforementioned concrete walls issue) and I can fit what I want within reason.

One system that I have been having a look into is the Nest setup as that seems to be the most integrated system that I can find so far, working with the Alexa, Phillips Hue, Yale locks, and so on. In fact I do have one of the Nest Protect smoke alarms kicking about somewhere that I never quite got around to installing (mains version was ordered by mistake and we were living in rented at the time).
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 19:29   #8
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Quote:
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We do own the place (and have NO PLANS to move...) so hard wiring isn't a problem (aside from the aforementioned concrete walls issue) and I can fit what I want within reason.
Even with no plans to move, make sure you don't wire yourself into a corner. Always make sure you can undo what you've done as further down the line something may go wrong and you may not have the money to replace what you have with something similar (and there have been instances of companies removing support for devices and effectively bricking peoples home automation control).

That is were systems like nest (Hive is a nice solution for central heating) and hue seem like a good option as there designed as a retro fit and it's unlikley that they all go wrong at the same time. that does somewhat negate your "one app" thing. However most home automation when done well shouldn't need to be controlled directly by the user anyway it should just react to what's going on.
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Old 14th Sep 2016, 20:09   #9
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Apple Homekit acts like an aggregate so it uses relevant homekit certified api's for the products to control them instead of the mishmash of multiple manufacturers doing it.

IFTTT is fantastic as it enables you to preset recipes, however not much has been done in the algorithmic behavioural learning yet to really make it automated, or at least reduce user faff. Thats something my company is trying to do at the moment :3
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 05:32   #10
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I plan to do the same thing. I haven't made much progress with it as I'm in a rental, but I'm approaching it from the other direction - Using google's tensorflow for speech recognition and control (Enterprise or Bust) through a smart watch. Once I'm in a place I can wire up, the plan is to then experiment with automation through deep-learning and hope that the house doesn't murder me.
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 08:53   #11
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I'm also slowly implementing home automation at my house. First Logitech Harmony smart control to integrate all TV related things (TV, sound, boxes, etc). Then, Tado smart thermostat, which has smart phone geofencing. Then, Raspberry Pi driven automated plugs and automatically WoL my computer for BOINC, this is to use the excess electricity generated by my solar panel. Also, automatic lights for the cupboard under the stairs, and PRI sensor addition for front porch lights.

As mentioned, I feel the current market trend towards smart homes are misguided. You get more control from your smart phone, but it’s not actually smart, you are still stuck with manual controls. Only when there is a real standard for all things connected in your home, you can think about automation.

IFTTT is the best current integration platform, but unfortunately some of the triggers are not realtime. I have set notification for Tado’s geofence to fire when everyone leaves the house and when it switches back from away to home mode, but often I get notification 5min after the event. Just something to be aware of.

My next few ideas are:
- Lighting moods for film activities using Harmony remote
- Automated blinds for my south-east facing bedroom window to wake up to sunshine. I’ve bought DIY motors, but it broke after just under 2 years of daily usage before I got around to hacking a solution
- Add electricity to heating towel racks and automate the electricity to come on when excess solar power. Solves 2 problems in one: use excess solar power and dry towels during summer.
- Fingerprint lock and another automated lock for front door. The automated lock unlocks when Tado detects I’m near my house, the fingerprint lock allows quickly unlocks the door.
- Automate dish washer and washing machine to better utilise solar panel excess power. Problem is they use digital “start” button, which doesn’t work with relay switches. I would prefer a less hack-y way to do it, use proper manufacturer provided way to communicate with them. Also, my washing machine is less than 5 years old and it’s a Miele, so I’ll never get “financial manager” approval.
- Voice control everything, either through Alexa or Siri, sometime in the future……..
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 09:31   #12
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And don't forget... if you can control it remotely, then others can too
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 09:42   #13
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Just a word of warning with automated locks. You need to tell your insurance company if you can remotely unlock your property and they generally don't like it. I would only ever recommend it as a secondary lock. So you can dead lock your door with a traditional key when your out (and at night is often an insurance requirement) and the automated lock is only used when someone is home. Or if you have a automated porch door and then front door that can be locked in a traditional way that way if someone defeats your automated lock they don't have access to the property.
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 11:06   #14
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Door locks will not be going automated, already fitted Avocet ABS cylinders when we had new external doors and there is no way I am replacing them unless I have to, they cost enough as it is...
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Old 15th Sep 2016, 11:10   #15
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And don't forget... if you can control it remotely, then others can too
Also, without regular over the air updates, the remotly controlled gadgets are not secure at all.

Something to remember when looking at purchasing these things, if no regular firmware updates, don't buy it!

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Just a word of warning with automated locks. You need to tell your insurance company if you can remotely unlock your property and they generally don't like it. I would only ever recommend it as a secondary lock. So you can dead lock your door with a traditional key when your out (and at night is often an insurance requirement) and the automated lock is only used when someone is home. Or if you have a automated porch door and then front door that can be locked in a traditional way that way if someone defeats your automated lock they don't have access to the property.
Thanks, I didn't know that! But carrying a traditional key sort and insurance company disapproval of defeats the purpose of adding a second automated lock.......

It was all just an idea, I've not done any research on this yet. My idea was to use the fingerprint lock as non-remote lock and the automated lock as a security addition when phone is out of the home geofence.
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Old 16th Sep 2016, 09:41   #16
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Old 16th Sep 2016, 10:39   #17
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Another one? Joy!

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Old 16th Sep 2016, 11:04   #18
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It's like that in industrial automation. Hundreds of companies all with their own gear and ecosystem/standards and all of them trying to get you to buy their over priced crap. There are a few common communication standards at least though.
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Old 16th Sep 2016, 11:27   #19
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I have been having a good read through the whole "works with Nest" system and there seems to be quite a lot of products that can be integrated through the Nest API using a single app. It definitely looks to be the closest thing to a universal standard that I have found so far.
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Old 16th Sep 2016, 15:33   #20
Mister_Tad
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Gartner calls it the hype cycle - I figure we're in the trough of disillusionment for home automation right now, which is good news because this is when things start to get interesting.

Automation in enterprise IT has been here and done this all before (probably not bought the T-Shirt quite yet). It starts with simple task-based automation and proprietary integration, moves through to more open integration and process-based automation and ends up somewhere with decision-based automation and some semblance of standardisation (ish).

We're somewhere between 1 and 2 above with home automation, so we've got a few more years of good things happening. It's been a concept since forever, but make no mistakes that anyone getting into it now is still an early adopter, and there are compromises because of it. Give it a few years and the landscape will be very different indeed.
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