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 8 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. 

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!

Unifi - USG

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).

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.

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!

LightwaveRF

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.

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!

TP-Link

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.

Hacking

IFTTT

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.

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.

The links on each of these items will take you to Amazons page. I earn a small commission if you go on to purchase.