Yummy, yummy Pis

Yummy, yummy Pi's

From the moment they were announced I knew that the way I did computing at home had changed. Ideal as test boxes, development, media players and now even mini ESX servers! I’ve used them for many things…

The Pi’s I currently have in use are:

  • Pi 4 1Gb – Kitchen LibreELEC 
  • Pi 4 2Gb – 2nd Device in Lego Room
  • Pi 4 4Gb – Bedroom LibreELEC
  • Pi 400 – 2nd Device in Study 
  • Pi 3+ – CCTV Viewer
  • Pi 3+ – Garage
I have used them for other projects in the past including getting started with Home Assistant, mini ESXi Server, custom automations, OSMC media player, Plex Server, learning things with Ali, Wildlife Cameras, the list goes on. I hope they are around for a long time to come!

In the gallery below you can see the latest Pi 400, my display of Pi’s from the original Pi to the Pi 3 B+ (with space for the Pi4 1, 2, 4Gb version… the 8Gb version will start a new board). Next are my Pi’s ready for use (Pi Zero WH, Pi 3 B+ and Pi 4 8Gb), I also have a Pi 2 in the cupboard should I need something older to play with and yes that is a ZX Spectrum +2 behind them. Finally my Pi Zero Board up to the latest Pi Zero WH. 

November 2020 Update

November 2020 - Update

The new echo has arrived it’s another decent iteration on the echo line up and has replaced the main echo in the living room. The old echo is now in a stereo pair in my daughter’s room and the sound is impressive! 

The switchbot curtain bots have arrived and the dining room now has Alexa powered curtains! I’ve added another provider, but… the unifi instant camera has shipped so it looks likely the NEOS cams will be gone by the end of the year.

I’ve moved home assistant to it’s own Proxmox VM, I did consider upgrading the Pi to a Pi 4, but found a great script to spin a new VM.

Plusnet are doing some maintainence this month so I am hoping to see an FTTP offering, if not I will be migrating to Zen early next year!

Alexa Curtains

Unifi Network

Unfi Network

My unifi setup as of November 2020. Access points and network are all on unifi hardware. The gateway / firewall is a OPNSense VM, having abandoned the USG in 2020 in readiness for FTTP.

Smart Home Hardware

Smart Home Hardware

Infrastructure

Alexa

Amazon Alexa, is a virtual assistant, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers. She is the central "hub" to all my systems, start with an Echo Dot and build it from there! Just added an echo auto to my car and it's changed everything all over again!

OPNsense - Firewall

OPNsense is an open source, easy-to-use and easy-to-build HardenedBSD based firewall and routing platform. OPNsense includes most of the features available in expensive commercial firewalls, including IPS / IDS. I only really use OPNsense as a firewall, IPS/IDS and VPN server, but you can use it for almost all network scenarios.

Unifi - Networking

Although no the cheapest solution on the market. The centralised management and power over ethernet make them a worthwhile investment. They are ideal prosumer devices.

Unifi - Cameras

Unifi's CCTV solution is brilliant, the Flex is the bargain of the range and well worth the investment. Using the 3rd party monocle skill (https://monoclecam.com/) you can ask Alexa to bring up any of your cameras, with minimal setup.

Home Assistant

Open source home automation that puts local control and privacy first. Powered by a worldwide community of tinkerers and DIY enthusiasts. Perfect to run on a Raspberry Pi or a local server.

Hardware

Broadlink

Using the Broadlink mini RM 3. You can control a number of IR devices using Alexa. Make sure you purchase an EU version or it won't work! Suited for the bedroom, kitchen or study, where the harmony hub is overkill. Be warned always setup devices as TVs for them to show up in Alexa.

Wiser

My second smarthome heating system, the first a Salus didn't support Alexa. The wiser system does and the app is brilliant!

Sonoff

The cheapest and most flexible devices in my current smarthome. Using the ewelink app to create scenes and linking the solution with Alexa for voice control. The app recently got a much needed update!

Harmony

By far the best control system for A/V equipment. The app is great the Alexa skill is one of the best I have. Full control of multiple devices and routines within the app are simple. A worthwhile investment!

Philips Hue

Everyone has heard of Hue, it is an expensive system, but by far my favourite lighting system out there. So far I have only used the bulbs and motion sensors, but am considering an outdoors project next Spring!

SwitchBot Curtain

Curtain bots are cool and at £60 per set of curtains, a lot cheaper than the £400 rails I was looking at before!

Govee

The only govee product I own is the ambilight which is great for watching films, I only really use this with Alexa to create scenes and automation routines.

NEOS

An insurance company that sells incredibly cheap (and good) internal cameras that work with Alexa. The app is ok and includes geofencing for auto arming.

Shelly

Possible replacement for Sonoff with a much more open approach to development and firmwares.

Hacking

Tasmota

Total local control with quick setup and updates. Control using MQTT, Web UI, HTTP or serial. Automate using timers, rules or scripts. Integration with home automation solutions. Incredibly expandable and flexible.

ESP8266

The IoT hackers board of choice. They are cheap and easy to program. By 2 to start with just in case you smoke one (like I did).

AWS

AWS is amazon's cloud computing services. You can create amazing skills and routines for really customising your smarthome routines. AWS is also the infrastructure behind Alexa.

NFC

Often found on your phone NFC is the technology used in contactless payments. You can buy simple stickers that when you pass a phone near can trigger actions. Such as joining a wifi network, turning off a light, etc. I have linked to a starter pack which I would recommend.

Old Stuff

LightwaveRF
(Retired 2020)

The oldest component in my smarthome system. I still recommend lightwave for controlling devices like lamps, plug sockets and other plugin systems. The new generation support two way comms, but I haven't moved to gen 2.

Unifi - USG
(Retired 2020)

The unifi USG is the protector of the perimeter of my smarthome. Offering a robust firewall and some advanced features including VPN (remote access) and IDS / IPS (intrusion protection and dectection).

IFTTT
(Retired 2020)

IFTTT makes it easy to create simple actions that you want to trigger using something like an AWS IOT button, NFC sticker or an ESP8266 creation.
Removed due to subscription costs!

TP-Link
(Retired 2020)

TP-link make great networking kit, ideal if you are just starting out. My first tip would be to get rid of your ISP supplied router and go with a tp-link. They also make a range of Alexa compatible plugs that don't require a hub.

October 2020 Update

October 2020 Update

I have added home assistant to the mix, after years of watching from afar, the IFTTT subscription and eWeLink subscription finally pushed me to install it on a spare Pi, I want to reduce my reliance on 3rd party clouds, especially with some of the less well known manufacturers. It works with nearly all my smart home stuff (with the exception of the flic hub I am hoping the new API will fix this). There is now a plugin for sonoff which works without having to change the firmware so I can wait a bit longer for the Shelly UK plugs which should be coming soon. 

I have updated the garden TV to use a firestick, which gives me Alexa in the garden through the voice enabled remote. I have also purchased a Chromecast with Google TV, it’s impressive but not impressive enough to move away from Roku. Alexa in the garden has always been something I wanted to have, but I didn’t really want a device outside full time that would allow people to control my house!

In new smart home news, I have the new Echo on order and the curtain bots have shipped, I’m really looking forward to trying both these products! Unifi have announced a G3 instant camera which will be a great replacement for the NEOS cameras and consolidation is what this iteration of the smarthome is all about. FTTP is now available, so I am weighing up my options when it comes to providers as I will have to leave my current provider (Plusnet) as they have no FTTP offering. I am currently looking at the 900Mbps service from Zen. I am unlikely to change until after Christmas though! 

June 2020 Update

June 2020 Update

The year is now 2020 and things have changed in the smart home. After a lot of soul searching I decided it was time to remove lightwave from the setup, the product hasn’t really moved with the times from it’s promising start, it felt old, expensive and stagnant. I replaced all my remaining lightwave switches and plugs with products from sonoff, some of them are running the custom tasmota firmware others are still running the default sonoff firmware, I am likely to start buying Shelly stuff as it becomes available in the UK because of its flexibility. 

I am also really interested in Broadlinks new offering especially the zero app series that is likely to arrive in the UK in the next few months. I have added a couple of NEOS cameras to watch Hollie while I am at work these integrate nicely with Alexa and I now have a Show 8 and Show 5 to make use of video based skills. 

My hue install has grown and now covers the garden as well as the house, an additional govee ambilight has been added to the TV, and although it integrates with Alexa, it mainly stands alone.

Alexa has expanded to include my car using the Echo Auto and the control outside of the house is a nice feature, with geolocation it could become almost as game changing as the original echo.

I have migrated from the Unifi USG to OPNsense. With the promise of BT FTTP coming in the next couple of months and continuing issues with the USG (it just isn’t powerful enough to do everything it says it can). I decided to move back to OPNsense (I moved from pfSense to OPNsense about 5 years ago when I didn’t like the way pfSense licensing was heading).

December 2018 Initial Post

My Smarthome Adventure

I have been thinking about writing a blog post about the smarthome things I have been doing for a while. When I sat down to write it I realised it was more than a single post. I have tried and tested all the technologies below. These form the basis of my own smarthome.

I have done a few installs for friends and family (and a couple of customers). So… here we go!

Where to start?! I will be looking at this chronologically, this isn’t the way I would do it now!

This journey properly started about 10 years ago when I started to install lightwaverf bulbs on my hall and landing with sensors that automatically turned the bulbs on. This was to stop having to leave the landing room light on all night. I built the lightwave solution up to include sockets and other lights. This was way before Alexa! I was using TP-Link switches and a pfSense firewall. These are great solutions for starting out on.

I then added the Logitech Harmony hub to consolidate all my various remotes. At this point there was no central management just a collection of mobile apps that all worked on their own and were really good point solutions.

Then the world changed… Alexa was born, by this point the company I work with had moved to ubiquiti, I migrated my home network to unifi switches and access points. 

I was given an Echo dot and it immediately changed the game, lightwave and logitech had Alexa skills. I could control the two together, build routines that included the TV, Xbox, DVD player and the lights / plugs.

I upgraded my smart heating to a Wiser product that had an Alexa skill. Replacing a Salus system, that was smart but no skills for Alexa.

Then in early 2018 I purchased a hue hub and a couple of bulbs, since then I have migrated all my lights to hue. The Philips solution is expensive but there is nothing quite as integrated or sophisticated.

Late 2018 saw the addition of a Broadlink mini IR blaster to control TVs elsewhere in the house.  Nowhere near as comprehensive as the logitech, but a lot cheaper.

In 2018 I also began “hacking” the systems to make them work the way I wanted. This included IFTTT to set routines, ESP boards to make custom solutions, AWS including their IoT button to build services around ESP custom actions. Finally I added some NFC stickers to trigger certain routines, such as turning off all the lights or joining our guest wifi network.