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Home Automation

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Over the last two years, I’ve become quite passionate about home automation. My goal is to run everything locally and avoid relying on cloud services. I try to avoid hubs, where possible, and tend to prefer devices that communicate via Zigbee rather than WiFi.

This page lists the various products and software I employ and would wholeheartedly recommend.

Cameras

Aqara Camera Hub G2H

Flashed with custom firmware to enable RTSP and block it from calling home, this is a great little camera for the price — particularly if you’re deep in the Apple/HomeKit ecosystem. It supports all the usual Homekit Secure Video features, including person/animal/car detection and activity zones. It can also serve as a Zigbee hub for Aqara’s sensors and other devices, but I handle that on my own.

Contact Sensors

Aqara Door & Window Sensor

Tiny, responsive, and cheap. Runs off a CR1632 battery, with claims of a 2-year battery life. They report both open and closed states and are easy to stick just about anywhere with the included adhesive. Communicates via Zigbee.

Gateways

Conbee II USB Gateway

Plugged directly into my home server on a 1-metre USB extension cable (to avoid interference), this is fantastic little Zigbee gateway. I interface with it via Zigbee2MQTT and it has been rock-solid with impressive range.

Hardware

Intel NUC

Model NUC7i5BNHXF. The brains of my entire home automation setup run on this tiny little computer. Intel i5 2.2 GHz processor with 16 GB of RAM. Running Ubuntu Server as the OS.

Lighting

Philips Hue Bulbs

Like many people, my home automation journey started with lighting and the Philips Hue line. These days I prefer to automate switches, rather than bulbs. But these come in handy when you want fine control over colour, temperature, brightness, or are otherwise unable to install a smart switch. I have ~20 bulbs across their white & colour lines.

Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus V4

I’m sure there are cheaper options out there, but these seemed like a natural fit given my investment in Hue bulbs. They do a great job, regardless of brightness, selected colour, etc. My only complaint is that the adhesive on the back doesn’t seem to hold up well over time. I’ll likely invest in some lightstrip channels, next time around.

Motion Sensors

Philips Hue Motion Sensor

Like most Hue products, these are pricey. But they’re some of the most responsive motion sensors I’ve found and they report on temperature and light levels, to boot. Can be mounted with a screw or magnetically and the battteries last forever.

Outlets

Philips Hue Smart Plug

Another Hue product. These outlets have been rock-solid and I use them to control everything from non-smart lamps and lightstrips to a small space heater in my office. Our modem is hidden away on my rack, so I use a Hue outlet to make reboots easy and convenient.

Relays

Shelly 1L

Our house is over 100 years old, so many of our switches are in tiny gang boxes with no neutral lines — making it difficult to install smart switches. These relays are tiny, utilize MQTT, and are easy to wire up. They communicate over WiFi, but are very responsive. I’ve also seen them used to control garage door openers, so that might be my next project.

Software

Home Assistant

Home Assistant is the glue holding my entire system together. With over 1800 integrations, it talks to every device and tracks state and history. It really allows you to bring a lot of different products and ecosystems together in one place. I avoid creating automations in Home Assistant and lean on the capabilities offered by Node-RED.

Node-RED

A general-purpose visual programming tool that controls all of my automations via a Home Assistant plugin. I find it infinitely easier to create and debug automations visually, rather than parsing through Home Assistant’s YAML configuation.

Zigbee2MQTT

Works with my Conbee II to bridge my Zigbee network to MQTT (which is picked up by Home Assistant).Supports an incredible array of products and it’s easy to add support for others. Home Assistant has built-in support for Zigbee via ZHA, but I find Zigbee2MQTT much easier to work with and more responsive.

Switches

Aqara Smart Wall Switch (No Neutral)

For anyone looking for a cheap Zigbee wall switch, this is a great option. However, it requires quite a bit of room in the gang box and makes installation difficult. I only picked up one before investing in the Caseta system and installing Shelly relays.

Aqara Wireless Mini Switch

A handy little Zigbee switch that can be installed just about anywhere with the included adhesive. Mine is mounted under my desk to control various devices throughout the house. Great battery life.

Lutron Caseta Dimmer Switch

If you’re looking to install smart switches, this is the system everyone recommends. And for good reason. The dimmer switches are much smaller than other options, don’t need a neutral line (as long as you’re using the dimmer switch) and utilize their own radio network to communicate back to the hub — making it extremely responsive. I’d prefer to ditch the hub, but I control it via Home Assistant and pretend it doesn’t exist. Not the cheapest option, but available everywhere and reliable.

Philips Hue Dimmer Switch

We have one room that relies entirely on Hue bulbs for lighting. I’ve mounted this in place of the normal light switch (wired to always be on) and use different button presses to toggle the lights on/off and set different scenes.

Temperature Sensors

Aqara Temperature & Humidity Sensor

These tiny little sensors have great battery life and are easy to mount just about anywhere. I use two of them to monitor the temperature in our bedrooms. I’ve also set up an automation to alert me if the temperature in The Kid™’s room goes outside a certain range.

Vibration Sensors

Aqara Vibration Sensor

A bit of an odd duck, but it has great battery life (like most Aqara sensors) and does what it says on the tin. I’ve attached mine to our dryer vent line and use it to detect when it’s time to remove a load of laundry.

Voice

Apple HomePod Mini

We are very much an Apple household. I use Home Assistant to populate our various smart home devices in HomeKit and often use the HomePod to control them. The Mini hits all the right notes in terms of functionality vs. price and audio quality.

Google Nest Hub (First Generation)

I bought this on a whim when it was on sale. I sometimes use it to control smart home devices via Home Assistant’s support for Google Home.