Home Automation Setup at the Condo: Part 3 – Bringing it all Together

So in Part 1 and Part 2 

I covered

  • Setting up Hue and some of the cool automations we’ve got running with remotes and motion detectors
  • Working with other applications such as Logitech Harmony to control the lights, adding an August lock and triggering automations such as turning on the lights when the door is unlocked or turning them off when the door is locked.

Since then we greatly expanded the system bringing it all together.  If you have the products on their own –

  • Harmony talks to Hue and August
  • Hue talks to Nest
  • Nest talks to Hue
  • August talks to Nest, but since we don’t use Nest Cams and Thermostats, there isn’t much on offer here.

You can use tools like IFTTT and HomeKit to bring some automation to all of this.  For example, IFTTT can setup rules, such as if I unlock the door, turn certain lights on.  IFTTT can take a few seconds to take action since you have a round trip to some company’s servers to then trigger IFTTT to then take action on someone else’s servers.  It’s alright, but you know at some point, support for products is going to go away.  That’s the unfortunately nature of our throw away society.

Enter the home hub –

HomeKit, since we have a fourth generation Apple TV will act as the hub for Hue and August but with varying degrees of  success both in-house and remotely.  The grouping functionality and automation is not great.

We looked at two options – the Wink Home Hub and Samsung’s SmartThings.  SmartThings is pretty cool, and quite expandable.  It’s definitely the geekier of the two.  For example, August locks are not supported.  Well, they are if you sort of hack it with Yonomi or IFTTT, but I want to be off the cloud solution as much as possible.

Also SmartThings doesn’t support the products that we had already purchased and in all honesty, doesn’t support a lot of products – unless you program it.  So in many respects, if you know you want a home hub, check the home hubs out prior to buying the add on devices.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t a perfect home hub.  For example, if you’re looking at add motorized shades in your home, Wink covers all the major brands except Hunter Douglas. SmartThings supports Hunter Douglas with some programming.

Wink Home Hub

We added a Wink Home Hub to bring everything together, otherwise you’re using different apps in different rooms.with varying degrees of success.

  • Wink allowed us to add a connected fan and light in our bedroom – This is actually available in Canada at the Home Depot in Etobicoke on Queensway, it’s just not on Home Depot Canada’s website.
  • We have three sets of lights that we are not planning on switching to connected bulbs – our dining room and three sets of lights in our kitchen – over our peninsula, the LED potlights and the LED strip under our cabinets.  We can actually use Lutron Connected Dimmers to provide some control there through the switch directly, a Pico remote and through the Wink App – No Lutron hub required.
  • At a later date, if we wanted to add Lutron shades, support is already there!
  • We could add power plugs that also connect to the WInk, which we did – We added two iHome iSP6X plugs to control two lights we actually never use.  Sadly despite advertising their support for Wink, they are not currently supported by Wink – Who states they are working on adding support.
  • The Wink hub will allow us control Hue and August as well, naturally.
  • We can add Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa if we wanted, sadly no support for HomeKit or Siri.

Voice Assistant

Between HomeKit, Google Home, Alexa, IFTTT and home hubs like Wink, there’s a mish mash of ways to connect to your devices.  Some technology works well, some technology still needs to mature.

HomeKit

Apple HomeKit, to me, still needs to mature as does Siri.  I have no doubt that Apple is trying to perfect Siri with their HomePod which is projected to be available in Q3 2017.  A fourth generation Apple TV is required which acts as the gateway between the internet, HomeKit and all of your devices.

HomeKit has the typical accessories available for it – switches, lightbulbs, thermostats, cameras,  entertainment centre remote controls, locks, sensors for motion, temperature and humidity.  It covers the basics – If you want to use Siri from your iPhone or iPad.

For some reason I’ve always found Siri a bit challenging to use voice-wise though that is more for dictation purposes.  As a result, I admit, I am not confident in Siri’s ability.  Also you can’t seem to add skills, which is pretty lame.  And you know Apple is going to be more of a closed system.

Google Home

I have an Android phone lying about that I got free when I switched carriers at work, so I’ve played a bit with Android Assistant with IFTTT.   I found Google Assistant’s voice recognition to be considerably better than Siri and quicker responding, I think.

That said, given we’re more of an Apple household, I’m not going to switch to Google mobile phones just to get Assistant.

The question is, do we get a Google Home?  Sure, that would work and works with iOS, but relatively speaking, at CAD$179/USD$129 it is a bit expensive if you’re wanting to put one in every room.  But that said, I liked features such as asking Google Assistant about my day, and she’s kind of sassy.

Amazon Echo

Enter Amazon Echo – Amazon Echo, having been around for two years, has a considerable number of skills – over 16,000 to Google Home’s less than 500.  Skills are, essentially, plug-ins you can add to add functionality to your Amazon Echo.

An Echo setup can be quite cheap too – US$49 for an Echo Dot and you can get a three pack for US$20 off the regular price.  Not bad and the speaker on the device sounds good, and supports Bluetooth out of the box.

That said, you know Google is opening up with their Google Assistant API being made available for third parties to add more capabilities.

However an interesting thing is, you can add Google Assistant to Amazon Echo and it works well!  You don’t get the hardware integration, but that’s fine – That’s what Alexa is for.

The drawback with Amazon Echo is that it does not support Canada for things like asking about the weather.  You have to either be very specific “Alexa, how is the weather in Toronto?” or use the Google Assistant integration.  There is a good site on “Making the Amazon Echo work in Canada” which involves either using the US app store to download the Alexa app for iOS, or side loading an APK for Android.

So needless to say, we went with Amazon Echo with Google Assistant integration.  It’s worked well in our condo with an Echo speaker in the bathroom and dots throughout the condo.

Hardware-wise, Alexa works with EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING. Actually, the only thing she doesn’t do is turn the guest bedroom fan to Thermonuclear (yes, I have a shortcut in Wink for that) because the Wink/Alexa integration doesn’t support fans yet.  Pretty much everything else, I can control.

IFTTT

For everything else that is not mission critical, I am happy to use IFTTT, such as

  • I can ask Alexa to
    • trigger self destruct and the living room lights will flash
    • start the party and it puts the lights in a colour loop
  • When playing music through Amazon Prime Music, I can track a all the songs that are played.
  • If the temperature goes above 25C it turns on the master bedroom fan, and below 25C, the fan is turned off.
  • Remember that Thermonuclear Winter command I wanted?  IFTTT can trigger fan shortcuts from Wink.  It turns the fan on to maximum and turns off the light.
  • When I weigh myself on my FitBit Aria scale, it blinks the lights in the bathroom to say the weight registered with their server.
  • I could use IFTTT to turn on the light when I come through the door, or turn off the lights in the front hall when the door is locked; but I now leave that to Wink.

What about security?

The good thing is, the only device that can unlock my front door is my Harmony remote (through my iPhone or the remote), Siri through HomeKit, or the August app.

  • Alexa and Google Home do not unlock doors, but will lock doors.
  • IFTTT will take action on lock or unlock, but will not unlock doors either.
  • Wink will not allow an unlock action, only lock

As for the rest – someone changing my lights, turning on my fan, etc… I am not that worried about.  Sure, it would be a pain to be woken up in the middle of the night due to someone hacking the lights.  Specifically, Philips, I know takes security seriously, so I am not that concerned.

What about your WiFi speeds?  You have to have a lot of data flying around

We did actually have slow speeds on our network, but not because of all the hubs and such – which all wire into one of my WiFI extenders – but due to the distance, the way WiFi extenders work, the lack of WiFi channels available in the condo and the fact that Apple WiFi routers don’t automatically change channels.

So we decided to upgrade to a mesh system that provides considerably better coverage, speed, constantly monitors for busy channels and automatically updates accordingly.   The changes have been pretty amazing.  It then also speeds up the effects of IFTTT and external triggers.

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