Over the years I have experimented with a number of home automation systems with a variety of outcomes. In this post I will take you through each system and my experiences with them. I will also cover some of the devices I have had and are now using in our system. The intention is to give a flavor of where I have been and not go into too much detail. I will however publish a post in the future with a lot more detail on our current system.
My main reason for getting into home automation was triggered by the availability of a package (OpenRemote) on my Synology NAS, a desire to have some lights operating without our input and the nerd aspect of wanting to control them from my phone over the internet. At that time smart assistants didn’t exist.
I started with OpenRemote at least 12 years ago, I found it as a 3rd party package on my Synology NAS that could be installed.
I bought a USB Z-wave stick and a couple of Z-Wave smart sockets, I was up and running, or so I thought.
The support for Z-Wave within OpenRemote was supposedly there but the installation for the Synology was troublesome and I remember it taking me quite some time to get the USB interface to the Z-Wave stick working and the connection to the z-wave sockets.
I did eventually get a rudimentary system going and had a rough interface on the phone but it was a fight to get anywhere.
Because this system had an open source hobby / community feel to it I think its development had been haphazard.
The group all seemed friendly enough and would respond to requests for help very quickly but everything I touched seemed to only partially work and I had to fight to get anything going properly, this is why my next system was going to be a commercial product.
The Vera system wasn’t just a piece of software, it didn’t require the Synology or a PC but came in its own controller.
The WEB interface was clean and straightforward but more importantly it just worked out of the box.
Everything had a wonderful graphical WEB interface and as you added components another block would appear.
Building up my home system was a breeze compared to OpenRemote and I quickly started to expand my system.
I can’t fully remember why I left Vera system, it has been a few years. But I do know I was swayed by some very flash sales videos and elegance of a competing system from Fibaro.
Fibaro Home Center Lite
The Fibaro Home Center Lite was a really elegant little unit and its user interface was so slick.
Their products are very elegantly designed, advertised with slick websites / videos and all come boxed to the level of an Apple product. I have to admit I got sucked into this and bought numerous products over the year or two I had the system.
The WEB interface was so intuitive to use and other than paring issues detailed below the rudimentary logic for the home system was constructed very quickly and efficiently.
However as time progressed the software repeatedly crashed / hung or didn’t do what it was meant to, I spent more time chasing the issues in the system than I did with issues of my own making.
Fibaro has a large inventory of components to compliment their home system and while I had this system the effort they put into expanding the list was impressive, however the same effort to fixing there home system software wasn’t as evident.
Very elegant and compact units that really allowed them to be placed in full view compared to the competitors at the time and they came in a number of different colours.
However this is where the positives end, they are so unreliable to initial pairing, once paired they did stay stable for about a year (just out of warranty) but the batteries then wore out. On replacing them they became unresponsive and wouldn’t re-pair back to the system no matter what I did. I bought 3 of these and all three ended up in the bin.
A really clever idea this, a multi function digital interface that allows me to monitor aspects of my home alarm. Very usefull device and still resides in my home automation system today.
The down side to this device is the fiddly configuration but at least it keeps its configuration once set.
Another very useful device with many features and functions, this again resides in my alarm, allowing me to monitor trigger inputs and via relays to trigger alarm zones.
However this device really doesn’t like accepting its configurations and you have to take numerous attempts before it eventually behaves. Again this still resides in my system but every month or so it likes to configure itself with associations to other devices and you find lights coming on and off at peculiar times before you go back in and delete its self set configurations. This ones going whenever I can find a non Fibaro replacement and the time to do it.
Out of all the Fibaro products I have owned this one hasn’t given me any issues (done it now haven’t I?). It’s been happily controlling my garage lights for many years now without issues.
Fibaro – Conclusion
This system very nearly made me abandon home automation completely.
The unreliability of these products is just beyond belief.
This company really is “All Style & No Substance” and I should have realised earlier before buying quite so many products. Their forums were full of complaints and issues and people waiting for updates to the system software. I haven’t gone back to look since and it has been a few years now since I owed the Home Centre Lite.
Note: My system is still suffering today with the odd remnant of the Fibaro equipment and I now avoid them completely.
Homeseer HomeTroller Zee S2
Homeseer is the system we now have and its been running for the last 4 years. It’s still a commercial product with a dedicated gateway unit based on a raspberry pi.
The WEB interface is clean and not overly stylised – more function over style. The system is so configurable its initially quite confusing as to the best or correct way of doing things and I’m still learning different and better ways of achieving what I want to do.
But more importantly its reliable, there has been only one time I’ve had to really re-start, and this was down to the raspberry pi and its SD card corrupting. Remember this thing had been on 24 / 7 for probably over 3 years. None of the other systems could get close to that.
The systems compatible with a huge variety of other systems and devices and has a google assistant plugin that while has its minor issues works well allowing the smart assistants to become our interface to the home system.
Homeseer also allow people to write there own plugins for the system and some sell them as third party options. I have the Synology plug in triggering my surveillance system to take snapshots whenever it senses movement outside or when doors are opened and the alarms armed.
You can configure and update many features and create your own devices if you can control them with a little bit of HTML. This is what I have done with our home brew WiFi lights.
There is a big update to version 4 due shortly for the whole systems software which I’m looking forward to even though it will probably mean me writing all the scripts for the house again.
I will write a post dedicated to this system when the update comes out.
Home Automation control & sensing devices
Some of the products I would recommend and are using in our home system today.
The TDK & Everspring switches are the primary controlling interface I have along with an aging and now not available Aeon Labs Multisensor that is a PIR, temperature, light and humidity sensor that I use to monitor outside and trigger the garage lights and cameras.
Home Automation Interfaces
The primary control for the home automation is through our Google assistants but for the majority of the time the house looks after its self. The sequences synchronise to the time of the day and manages the lighting and temperatures.
This isn’t achieved with just the Homeseer a number of different devices and systems link together to provide a seamless system. My wife might not think so but there’s a lot going on.
- Nest Thermostat
- Google assistants
- Google Hub
- Nest protects
- Synology Surveillance Station
- Homebrew WiFi Lighting systems.
- WiFi socket systems.
Where to buy
Due to the more specialised nature of these devices a fair majority aren’t available on Amazon or the usual shopping sites. Fibaro does sell through Amazon but from my statements above I won’t be setting any links to their products.
The main UK supplier I have used is Versternet they have a very wide variety of products covering many technologies and different system brands. If you use the link below you will get a £10 voucher to shop with and I will receive the same should you use it.
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