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Saturday, August 29, 2020

So you want to make your house smart.

Getting started with home automation can be a daunting task. When I got started I didn't know what I was doing or what I wanted to do.

When you get started there is a question you need to ask yourself. What do I want to do? Do you want to have lights turn on at a certain time and turn off?  Do you want to be able to tell Alexa or Google to turn on lights? Do you want your house to be able to make decisions based on events, weather, or who is home.

Home Automation is a massive Rabbit Hole that can grow and grow and grow.

I will give you a few examples of automation setups I helped establish with some friends and family with varying levels of complexity.

Example 1. 

My good friend's mom and dad live alone in a small house. They live across the country from my friend,  so he can't go visit them all the time. They have mobility issues so they can't get up all the time to turn lights on and off. After talking to him and them. I felt the solution would be to get some simple WiFi light switches and plugs for them. Both he and them could control the lights with the app and they could be on timers so they just come on and off. 

It was fine for them since they rarely go anywhere and the lights always come on and off at the same time. They didn't need anything complicated and didn't need to talk to have the lights come. We also added some smart switches for their outside lights for safety and so they could see outside.

So with this example it is a simple app controlled automation "system" that just works without anyone really having to mess with it. It helps my friend's elderly parents with their mobility and keeps their lights on. BIG WIN for home automation.

Example 2. 

We had a dinner party at my house. I still have a lot of voice automation in my house and automation system. When you get farther down this rabbit hole you still use voice assistants, but I found the intrigue and excitement tends to wear out. So our friends liked how I was able to prompt Alexa to turn on party mode and the kitchen lights turned off, the family room lights came on and so did the stereo with music. 

I have advanced scenes and scripts with Home Assistant setup to do all that, but it can be done easily with Alexa or Google. So I had a talk with them and they we already in deep with amazon so it was natural to get them an Echo device. They have a central main room we they all tend to be all the time. We decided on an Echo show. It gave them the Alexa they wanted and allowed some growth, which there will be, and other options that they will use off the bat . We picked out some switches and bulbs that work natively with alexa and gave them everything they wanted. They are now up to 40 devices in their house and talking about expanding.

Example 3. 

This case was difficult as the circumstances required needing some automation. A guy on my shift reached out for his uncle that was a police officer that was shot in the back. It rendered him paralyzed from the waist down. So he had to have his whole house changed due to his change his circumstances. He needed just about everything automated and to just work with little to no input on his part. 

We talked a long time about this and we came up with a plan to get a Raspberry pi4 and run HA on it and automate everything that we possibly could to help him. Through a program for wounded officers he got his house retrofitted for his wheelchair. I got lucky that I was able to get some network wire run to a closet for his "server". We got his system up and running. We went with Tuya devices for now until we can get them flashed. But the main thing was for his house to just do it. His fridge, dishwasher, washer and dryer, and everything else we could get smart, are. We integrated Nabu Casa for the Alexa cloud integration so he can pretty tell Alexa what he wants and it happens. His system is still evolving and it is actually taking away from me working on my own.

So as you can see there are three different needs and wants. All can be accomplished if you know what your wants and needs are. I am not saying everyone needs a server with HA in a Docker container or Proxmox or something like that. I ran mine on a Pi for a while with no issues. It just boils down to figuring out what you want to do.

I personally wouldn't change how I started out. I never have been in the Google ecosystem so I can't speak to its functionality. But I have all echo/Amazon devices and when my automation evolved, they were easily integrated into HA, for the most part.

None of the options above are better or worse than each. But they each served a specific purpose and need. That is the one thing I try to follow now when I get new devices to integrate. I try to figure out something that would be improved it was smart. I am currently working on making my own smart path lights. I hate how the AZ sun wrecks my solar lights. So I will make my own. And integrate them with leds with colors and other functions. Stay tuned I will be posting that project here, and all the steps I take, as well as all the failures!!

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