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Getting into HomeKit


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Over the past several years I've only gone as far as dipping my toes into the "smart home" / "home automation" world. It all started with SmartThings in 2014 when my company (InfernoRed Technology) built their original Windows Phone app (back when they were still a startup). I picked up several SmartThings "things" including the original hub (which I'm still actually using), multi sensors, etc. and started tinkering around with things. But I never got past a few light/dimmer switches and plugs because I kept letting the fear of getting locked into a single platform get in my way, along with over researching everything - "should I avoid Wifi things and stick to Z-wave things?", "Does Z-wave have a future?", etc.  For a while, I really felt Z-wave was the way I wanted to go - but I kept having connectivity issues in my house with the z-wave things. I also went down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out if and how I should segment my "things" from my main network. On top of all that, I was never really successful in getting my wife to adopt the SmartThings app (on iOS) - it's a great app, but not extremely user friendly for the non-tech enthusiast who just wants to turn things on or off from their phone.

Over the past few years I've all but ignored HomeKit... originally because the lack of a single app, and also because of the limited marketplace of "things"... But I started looking into it over the past couple months and really liked what I was seeing - the "Home" app seemed very clean and simple to use, the security seemed solid, and it looked like "things" vendors were starting to really adopt and build for it... So right around Christmas time I went out and bought 3 iHome plugs that were on sale at the time for $20 at BestBuy and hooked the Christmas trees up to them (we had 3 trees setup throughout the house :rolleyes:).

First of all, the setup was so simple - was able to do it all within the Home app and didn't even download the iHome app. I setup a Scene that toggled the 3 Christmas trees on and off and that was it. It literally worked 100% of the time and the Home app was super easy to use - in fact my wife figured it out without me showing her (she's the first to admit she's not tech savvy at all) and she used it every day with no complaints, so spousal approval is high so far. Now that the Christmas trees are back in storage I've repurposed those plugs for some lamps around the house... and so far we are still really enjoying the Home app and as far as connectivity, it just works 100% of the time, it's great.

 

So - I think I'm sold on HomeKit now, but I still don't want to lock myself into a single platform... And to avoid that I've looked for "things" are HomeKit, GA, and Alexa enabled so at least if I decide to abandon HomeKit at some point my "things" are still usable with other platforms. For example, those iHome plugs I mentioned work with all three platforms as well as SmartThings so it was a low risk way to give HomeKit a shot.

 

Next steps for me - dimmer switches for the LED ceiling lights throughout the house and for the outside lights. Also planning on getting into the HomeKit automation stuff a little deeper - I don't expect it to be as sophisticated as SmartThings, but honestly, my requirements aren't that complex. I currently don't own an Apple TV, but planning on getting one to enable remote access to the HomeKit "things".

 

Will try and report back to this forum to share my experiences as my HomeKit adoption evolves.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

HomeKit has it's pros and cons - I could write a book if I had the time, but trying to look on the positive side I did post a "wish list" to my blog: 

https://www.doitforme.solutions/blog/2017/12/19/is-your-homekit-glass-half-empty-or-half-full

(Dave, hope it is ok to link to it?)

 

You're doing what I recommend to my clients - try to buy devices that support the big "three" (Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home) - you'll have the most longevity and ability to move back-and-forth if one or the other becomes more interesting to you.

For lighting, I've used a lot of different products and controllers and they also have pros and cons.  Currently, I'm really excited about Lutron.  They have a very wide range product line and meet the big "three" rule.

Quick Tip:  If you decide to go with Lutron Caseta, consider springing just a little more and get the "Caseta Pro" hub instead of the regular Caseta one.  It has some extra features, but the most important one is that it supports a remote command line interface (Telnet) with a published/supported API syntax.  

There are several big automation systems that integrate with Lutron using this interface and a DIY/prosumer user that isn't afraid of a command line and a little scripting can do just about anything with it.

Lutron literally "invented the modern dimmer".  Yeah, not hype - the founder of the company truly invented (and held many patents) for solid-state dimmer technology.  Lutron dimmers are the most advanced in being compatible with a wide range of lighting devices not just LEDs but also Halogens and specialized lighting.  They are big - very big - so no risk of them going out of business like a lot of the lighting/smart lighting start-ups in the HomeKit arena.

 

It can be very confusing product line though - Lutron has products from the DIY through dealer and also industrial/commercial.   A quick overview:

 

Lutron Caseta - entry-level, sold at big box stores and online (Best Buy, Target, Amazon, etc.)
Lutron Caseta Pro - hub sold only via dealers, "almost" the same as Caseta but has API command line interface
Lutron Radio RA2 Select - sold by dealers, more robust system for whole-house/larger homes
Lutron RAdio RA2 - sold by dealers, adds specialized keypads and other devices

Lutron HomeWorks QS - sold by dealers, megasystem for mansions/large estates/rich homes, even more fancy keypads, switches.  This system is primarily hardwired but has wireless options too.

The important thing is you cannot easily migrate from one system to another as the dimmer/switch modules are not compatible (except Caseta and Caseta Pro are compatible with each other).

Disclaimer: I recently certified as Lutron Residential Pro dealer (basic level), but I am not soliciting and do not sell online. Just getting lots of good info and insight into the systems as I use them for myself and clients locally in my area.

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5 minutes ago, Ikon-TNG said:

Question: do all these 'home automation' systems require that the system have Internet access, or can they operate stand-alone?


Some operate completely local and don't require, but can use, Internet access.

The ones I have experience with are the hardware box ISY-99i from Universal Devices and Indigo Domotics (Mac software).  Both of these started out heavily with mainly Insteon devices and Wi-Fi devices.  Not sure about ISY-99i, but Indigo has expanded to a wide range of Z-wave devices now.

Vera and/or HomeSeer might also work w/o Internet, but I've never used either of them.  I think Samsung SmartThings finally added some local capability, but I haven't used it so can't say for sure.

There is also openHAB and other open-source stuff from the Linux/Raspberry Pi side of things too. 

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HomeKit has it's pros and cons - I could write a book if I had the time, but trying to look on the positive side I did post a "wish list" to my blog: 
https://www.doitforme.solutions/blog/2017/12/19/is-your-homekit-glass-half-empty-or-half-full

(Dave, hope it is ok to link to it?)
 
You're doing what I recommend to my clients - try to buy devices that support the big "three" (Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home) - you'll have the most longevity and ability to move back-and-forth if one or the other becomes more interesting to you.

For lighting, I've used a lot of different products and controllers and they also have pros and cons.  Currently, I'm really excited about Lutron.  They have a very wide range product line and meet the big "three" rule.

Quick Tip:  If you decide to go with Lutron Caseta, consider springing just a little more and get the "Caseta Pro" hub instead of the regular Caseta one.  It has some extra features, but the most important one is that it supports a remote command line interface (Telnet) with a published/supported API syntax.  

There are several big automation systems that integrate with Lutron using this interface and a DIY/prosumer user that isn't afraid of a command line and a little scripting can do just about anything with it.

Lutron literally "invented the modern dimmer".  Yeah, not hype - the founder of the company truly invented (and held many patents) for solid-state dimmer technology.  Lutron dimmers are the most advanced in being compatible with a wide range of lighting devices not just LEDs but also Halogens and specialized lighting.  They are big - very big - so no risk of them going out of business like a lot of the lighting/smart lighting start-ups in the HomeKit arena.
 
It can be very confusing product line though - Lutron has products from the DIY through dealer and also industrial/commercial.   A quick overview:
 
Lutron Caseta - entry-level, sold at big box stores and online (Best Buy, Target, Amazon, etc.)
Lutron Caseta Pro - hub sold only via dealers, "almost" the same as Caseta but has API command line interface
Lutron Radio RA2 Select - sold by dealers, more robust system for whole-house/larger homes
Lutron RAdio RA2 - sold by dealers, adds specialized keypads and other devices
Lutron HomeWorks QS - sold by dealers, megasystem for mansions/large estates/rich homes, even more fancy keypads, switches.  This system is primarily hardwired but has wireless options too.

The important thing is you cannot easily migrate from one system to another as the dimmer/switch modules are not compatible (except Caseta and Caseta Pro are compatible with each other).

Disclaimer: I recently certified as Lutron Residential Pro dealer (basic level), but I am not soliciting and do not sell online. Just getting lots of good info and insight into the systems as I use them for myself and clients locally in my area.
I looked at Lutron but couldn't find a switch for multi-pole, dimmable, LED lights. Does one exist.

I need it and single pole. I like the API option of pro but looks like I can't get a hub, not to mention I don't want a hub.
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23 minutes ago, ImTheTypeOfGuy said:

I looked at Lutron but couldn't find a switch for multi-pole, dimmable, LED lights. Does one exist.

I need it and single pole. I like the API option of pro but looks like I can't get a hub, not to mention I don't want a hub.

Do you mean 3-way or 4-way or do you mean multi-pole?   You can make a Lutron switch into a 3-way or 4-way using the Pico Remote.  It can mount in the wall and looks like the original switch but communicates without a wired connection.

 

There are also single pole Lutron switches.

 

With Lutron you are stuck with either using their hub or finding someone else who will act as a hub to communicate using the Clear Connect wireless system.

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Do you mean 3-way or 4-way or do you mean multi-pole?   You can make a Lutron switch into a 3-way or 4-way using the Pico Remote.  It can mount in the wall and looks like the original switch but communicates without a wired connection.
 
There are also single pole Lutron switches.
 
With Lutron you are stuck with either using their hub or finding someone else who will act as a hub to communicate using the Clear Connect wireless system.
Yes 3 way, not sure why multi pole came out. My light already has two switches, I don't want to add an unwired switch to make a single switch light have two switches.
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1 minute ago, ImTheTypeOfGuy said:
7 minutes ago, cskenney said:
Do you mean 3-way or 4-way or do you mean multi-pole?   You can make a Lutron switch into a 3-way or 4-way using the Pico Remote.  It can mount in the wall and looks like the original switch but communicates without a wired connection.
 
There are also single pole Lutron switches.
 
With Lutron you are stuck with either using their hub or finding someone else who will act as a hub to communicate using the Clear Connect wireless system.

Yes 3 way, not sure why multi pole came out. My light already has two switches, I don't want to add an unwired switch to make a single switch light have two switches.

I agree it is an odd way to do it but it allows the system to expand quite easily without more wiring.

Others companies that make home automation light switches typically have either a dimmer (no 3 way use) or a switch with additional switches to provide the 3 way function.  None of them look like a regular light switch either.

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I agree it is an odd way to do it but it allows the system to expand quite easily without more wiring.
Others companies that make home automation light switches typically have either a dimmer (no 3 way use) or a switch with additional switches to provide the 3 way function.  None of them look like a regular light switch either.
The best I have seen to the traditional 3 way is the Leviton DW6HD-1BZ Decora Smart Wi-Fi 600W Incandescent/300W LED Dimmer on Amazon. I haven't bought one yet so I don't have personal experience with it.
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For 3-way switches with Lutron you have two options:

1 - Use a wireless Lutron pico remote.  They can be mounted with an in-wall adapter, a table-top stand (just a slanted plastic holder), or used free-form.  Pricing is very reasonable and the battery lasts several years.  There are many variations including some with engraved text for specific uses (entry way, bedroom, family room, Sonos music, etc.)

The nice thing is that Pico works will all flavors of Lutron lighting controls and can be mounted anywhere to create 3-way switches where you don't have them - like at the top or bottom of staircases, ends of a hallway,  or anywhere you didn't have an electrician wire another switch but would like to have one.

2 - For the Lutron systems above the Caseta, there is a special in-wall switch module that acts as the add-on switch for 3-way, 4-way, etc. wired switches/dimmers.  It looks exactly like an regular dimmer switch.  Costs less than the actual dimmers.  (Technically, it handles the "traveller" wire which is the way 3-way switches work.)  This is not available for Caseta; only RA2 Select and higher.

I know needing a hub can be, "controversial".  It's not just Lutron, but industry wide issue.  The new Wemo hub for HomeKit, the Philips Hue Hub, the Chamberlain garage door hub, the Logitech Harmony Hub, etc. etc.

I don't expect to change anyone's mind, but if you look at things pragmatically, the cost of a hub is insignificant if you are going to have 5,10,15 or more devices.  It is only a cost/philosophical issue when you are looking a single-room with maybe only 1 or 2 devices installed.

Also, it is a PITA to have to connect the hub to your router - some have wired Ethernet only and some have Wi-Fi.  I prefer hardwired Ethernet as one less radio problem and one less potential source of latency and delays.

A hub brings some goodness -- solid-state real-time embedded system that is much more reliable than using a PC, Rpi, or other host for gateway/bridging functions.  Scheduling and automation that runs independently.  A single place where "state" is kept (device status of on/off or other conditions) - that makes multi-user access of controlling the device much easier and avoids synchronization conflicts with a client-based distributed control system.

 

Also, remember that often a hub is bridging different physical layer.  Typically Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Zigbee but can also be a proprietary/vendor specific RF radio (Lutron, Insteon, others).  The nice benefit of having your devices on an "subnetwork" is that they don't take up DHCP/IP address slots in your LAN and there is a bit of network isolation/security by obscurity going on.

 

With many consumer routers only able to handle a /24 CIDR (254 network devices), we are approaching a Y2K style "net-apocalypse) when consumer LANS grow to 300 or 400 devices.

FWIW, HomeKit is a hub system. The Hub is software and runs either on an iPad or an AppleTV.  The hub is optional, but without the hub you don't get automation or remote access for HomeKit.  Using an iPad or ATV for a hub is a little bit kludgy and there are some subtle problems this creates  - YMMV.

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