September 27th, 2020

children of dune - leto 1

Home Assistant - An Introduction

I'd been back and forth about trying Home Assistant for my home automation needs, mostly due to a.) inertia and b.) SmartThings pretty much covered what I needed.

Then: SmartThings has been transitioning to a new platform and app for two years, and they managed to break a lot of my custom code and other people's--basically, half of why I loved it. Worse, you could not longer choose what devices to expose to Alexa through it.

This is probably where I should go into a little more detail before I start.

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Back to Now

With that perspective, the changes to SmartThings--the loss of a lot of functionality--have been disappointing and frustrtaing. Until now, I used it as a central Hub of Everything with Alexa for voice; now, I couldn't, especially when it became impossible to selectively decide what devices in SmartThings were exposed to Alexa.

Example: my Philips Hue lightbulbs were already compatible with Alexa, so they were directly connected to Alexa. To use them in SmartThings, though, I had to direct connect them there as well. So when I connected SmartThings to Alexa, my Hue lightbulbs would connect again to Alexa through SmartThings and I'd have two of everything.

(In some horrific cases, I had three copies of everything in Alexa, all with the same name, the only difference if I opened properties and could see where the device came from. Worse, some had slightly different names, and Alexa would get confused.

Can't lie, it also bothered me on an anal retentive level; everything was messy.)

My two choices were to
a.) remove everything from Alexa, add it to SmartThings, then let everything go through SmartThings to Alexa. That wasn't feasible; some of the wifi stuff wasn't compatible with SmartThings, and I'd never bothered to test the wifi workarounds available because I'd never needed to.
b.) remove everything from SmartThings that was already in Alexa. As it turned out, that was everything but my z-wave and zigbee devices.

I depressingly chose number two, which was only marginally better than one. This, as a result, mae Alexa my central smart home hub, not just my central Voice Stuff.

Alexa is a terrible central hub; there's limited access when not on a mobile device (the web interface is--horrific). Worse, all connections to Alexa were in, not out. With SmartThings, I could connect them into Alexa, see them and use them in Alexa, but anything connected to Alexa did not connect back to SmartThings. Worse, the automations (routines) you can create in alexa are functional but integration with devices isn't perfect. Alexa's routines simply didn't connect well with zigbee and z-wave devices even when they said they worked. There was delay, a pause, or most likely, not work at all.

In other words, my bathroom lights stopped coming on when I came in the room and that meant war.

(I seriously don't remember how to turn on and off bathroom lights when I enter a room; this is not going to change. I live Star Trek; I'm not going back.)

When I got the NVIDIA Shield TV to take over Plex, I had a Pi with nothing to do with it. So last weekend, I sat down and started the process of learning about Home Assistant.

Home Assistant is a program that makes your Raspberry Pi into a home automation hub. It can connect to any almost existing hub you have with their integrations, bringing them all together. Much like SmartThings but even more so, Home Assistant depends on community integrations, so there's even more made by the community, mostly for devices/ecosystems that don't have an open API.

Basically, it's what SmartThings was doing for me before: I connected all my devices to it and it controlled them, I can create automations for lights or whatever. Better, it allows me to connect to Alexa only things that I want to, so I can connect my Hue Lights to Home Assistant and they won't travel over to Alexa and show up twice or five times or whatever.

There are a billion awesome differences between Home Automation Pi and SmartThings (and other home automation hubs) but there's one big one: the Raspberry Pi does not come with z-wave and zigbee functionality. You either have to buy the parts--a z-wave stick and zigbee board--and make the connections yourself (not hard), or use an existing z-wave/zigbee hub that can be connected to Home Assistant.

In my case, I had my SmartThings Hub, so that is my z-wave/zigbee device. And while SmartThings has made itself more annoying, it does still possess the ability to connect to almost any z-wave or zigbee device in existence one way or another, and much to some ecosystem's despair, even when the break the zigbee or z-wave standard so you can't

(Apparently it took about a day? for users to work out how to connect Aqara devices to SmartThings, even though they deliberately tried to use non-standard zigbee so you'd have to buy their overpriced hub. Good try, Aqara.)

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I'll do a second post about configuring Home Assistant as time permits, but hopefully, this made you curious. As I want friends in my journey and will get them any way I can. Posted at Dreamwidth: https://seperis.dreamwidth.org/1081015.html. | You can reply here or there. | comment count unavailable comments