Home Monitoring/ Smart Homes the thread!!!

I thought I would start a more modern thread on an interest of mine.

Smart homes specifically including home monitoring.

I know that Nest and dropcam are out there working together but I have almost no knowledge of anything else and haven't talked to anyone that uses these systems. I was hoping for some advice on where and how to get started building up my own smart home.

EDIT: Moved to Tech and Help as it seemed more appropriate.

My current desire is to set up 2-3 cameras to an internet connected system that I can use to monitor my home and my incoming baby.

Ideally I would be able to connect it to other devices down the line like a nest thermostat and fire/ carbon monoxide detectors. I like the idea of door locks as well, but I am a little wary of them from the reviews I have seen on their lack of digital security.

I don't need to lockdown my house and wifi like Fort Knox, but I would prefer a system without obvious workarounds.

Anyone have any thoughts?

manta173 wrote:

My current desire is to set up 2-3 cameras to an internet connected system that I can use to monitor my home and my incoming baby.

Ideally I would be able to connect it to other devices down the line like a nest thermostat and fire/ carbon monoxide detectors. I like the idea of door locks as well, but I am a little wary of them from the reviews I have seen on their lack of digital security.

I don't need to lockdown my house and wifi like Fort Knox, but I would prefer a system without obvious workarounds.

Anyone have any thoughts?

My systems-engineer brain immediately jumps to the notion of reliability. Wifi can be a crapshoot - interference is a real issue ("Stop using the microwave, I'm trying to watch Netflix!"), ISP service is of highly variable quality.

Particularly when it comes to safety-critical things like smoke/CO2 detectors, that needs to be rock-solid in it's availability. More moving parts, more failure modes.

Jonman wrote:
manta173 wrote:

My current desire is to set up 2-3 cameras to an internet connected system that I can use to monitor my home and my incoming baby.

Ideally I would be able to connect it to other devices down the line like a nest thermostat and fire/ carbon monoxide detectors. I like the idea of door locks as well, but I am a little wary of them from the reviews I have seen on their lack of digital security.

I don't need to lockdown my house and wifi like Fort Knox, but I would prefer a system without obvious workarounds.

Anyone have any thoughts?

My systems-engineer brain immediately jumps to the notion of reliability. Wifi can be a crapshoot - interference is a real issue ("Stop using the microwave, I'm trying to watch Netflix!"), ISP service is of highly variable quality.

Particularly when it comes to safety-critical things like smoke/CO2 detectors, that needs to be rock-solid in it's availability. More moving parts, more failure modes.

As far as the detectors, I was under the impression that they work like normal but send a wifi signal as well to alert you if you aren't home to hear the alarm.

I went deep into the X10 rabbit hole back in the day. It communicated via powerline networking, and according to google is still around. These days there are a few different standards for smarthome stuff, but I haven't seen any one that really stands out. I think this article is a pretty honest summary of the status quo.

This is something that I've looked at off and on over the years. As the article complexmath linked says, smart homes have never really gotten smart.

Zigbee and Z-wave are the two current competing wireless standards. The Wink hub supposedly works with both, but I haven't tried it. Kidde makes smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that work with the Wink hub as well.

Good thread!
I lost my very long-term job earlier this year, switched industries entirely (I was in Oil and Gas for 18 years) and have been working as an installation technician for home theater/security/automation. I've only just completed my first level of Control4 automation training, so I don't have much advice or insider know-how yet but I can tell you of the products I have been working with.

Automation Controller: Control4 - I haven't had too much experience with this stuff, but it integrates all the other stuff I list below, if wanted.

Security: DSC - Complete home security, with options for monitoring by 3rd party, or with modules to connect to a cell or home network for self monitoring, or to connect to the automation system.

Cameras: We mainly use Wirepath - With analog and IP options (make sure default passwords are changed!!!) these can easily be set up for self monitoring on your mobile or desktop devices.

Shades/Blinds: The only ones I've worked with so far are QMotion - Finicky little buggers to calibrate, but pretty cool stuff.

Lighting: Control4 again - The switches/dimmers/keypads act as "relays" or access points for the ZigBee wireless network that Control4 uses, so as long as there is another of these types of items within its range, it can communicate with the rest of the mesh.

We do Nest, but I haven't had any experience with them other than at the store... not sure if I like them yet.

There are a bunch of other stuff that can be integrated, and I'm going to be installing and programming some of it over the next couple of weeks, so I'll try to keep poking in here. By the end of this week I should be installing some C4 door locks, a controller, remote, and a music bridge. Next week I should be helping with a big installation that has a really cool Control4 app in it. This house has 4 TVs in the "TV room". The main one is a 78" curved Samsung SUHD, flanked by 2 55"s. There's a little 40" behind the bar, mirroring the central one. This app allows 3 different stations to be watched, with the 7.1 room audio linked with the main TV. The idea is that the person can be watching 3 different football games at the same time. If something happens on one of the 2 flanking TVs that they want to catch the replay of, they can swipe their touchpad and drag the source's audio and video over to the main TV. Really neat stuff, I can't wait to see it work! There's a total of 12 cable boxes being integrated into their house! Gonna be interesting

Wow. Great post... I'm going to dig through this for awhile.

I think my main start will be 2-3 cameras and if possible a connect fire/CO alarm.

So I had a glowing recommendation from a coworker of the IRIS system Lowes sells. It seems a little simpler than most systems.

I might cop out and go for simpler now as I plan on leaving within 5 years, and then building it properly in my new home.

manta173 wrote:

So I had a glowing recommendation from a coworker of the IRIS system Lowes sells. It seems a little simpler than most systems.

I might cop out and go for simpler now as I plan on leaving within 5 years, and then building it properly in my new home.

You may want to read up on it some. I'm checking the reviews on the Lowes website and apparently the newer version of the boxes are not as reliable as the older v1.

Reviews on the IRIS SmartHub

DeThroned wrote:
manta173 wrote:

So I had a glowing recommendation from a coworker of the IRIS system Lowes sells. It seems a little simpler than most systems.

I might cop out and go for simpler now as I plan on leaving within 5 years, and then building it properly in my new home.

You may want to read up on it some. I'm checking the reviews on the Lowes website and apparently the newer version of the boxes are not as reliable as the older v1.

Reviews on the IRIS SmartHub

Dang it... I want simple and reliable...

As we've been traveling for the holidays I've really become frustrated with the complication of light timers and everything, so last week I picked a bunch of Insteon stuff. I opted to skip the Apple HomeKit-enabled hub in favor of the classic hub (as, from reviews, the HomeKit one doesn't seem quite there yet). So far it's been great. The iOS app works from anywhere, not just from our local network, and behavior has been rock-solid so far, even for receivers that I expected wouldn't get a clear signal (Insteon does both RF and powerline comms as needed, and most devices act as relays). I don't know if the app supports a video stream from a home camera, but everything else seems to be there.

The only issue I've run into so far is that the plug-in lamp dimmers don't play well with LED lights. One thing they do is if you turn the connected light off and on again, the module will automatically turn on power to the light so you don't have to mess with the device itself. The way this works is that it samples the power drain on the appliance side, and this puts just enough voltage on the line to cause an LED light to not turn off 100% (it very dimly flickers). So for the lamps I have plugged into the system I've switched them back to flourescent bulbs. Now everything works great. The wall switches don't have this problem because they /are/ the "on" switch for the thing, which is great as that was the reason I decided on home automation in the first place (can't put a normal timer on a porch light).

In any case, here's one vote on favor of Insteon. Once the HomeKit stuff is sorted I'll upgrade our hub, but I honestly don't see a need to right now. Setup of a large system is definitely costly at $40 per device, but at least the functionality is there. It's way better than X10 was back in the day.

Arise thread!!!

For Christmas I bought myself a Nest Gen 3 (I think) thermostat and a CO/Smoke detector. Both were very easy to install and set up and seem to be working great after a couple of weeks.

I am going to keep adding pieces to the system I think. I plan on starting building a new home late next year assuming no surprises arise so I might not get far down the list.

Prioritized:
1) Front door camera
2) Probably second CO/Smoke detector to get rid of the other dumb one in the house.
3) Window/door open sensors.
4) Wifi enabled temp sensing air vents. (The house's airflow could use a little help.) I saw these on 'This Old House' and thought they would be great to fix the uneven temp in my current house. I doubt these will be brought along to the new house though as I plan on having a better heating/cooling system.
5) Better wifi set up. (Maybe if google decides to integrate their new routers with Home as well.)
6) Main living area camera (probably just a dog monitor... but really for security) Current living space can be covered in one shot with back door so it would help close the loop on entrances.

I am heading down the Nest direction despite the bad press about how it was being run that came out earlier this year. I just like their offerings and that they are backed by google. I know I sold my soul to google a long time ago, but I like them better than the other major tech companies so I am ok with them being in control of my house too.

Now for questions...
Any suggestions on the camera other than Nest? I like the way the app works so I need a good selling point to pull me away.

What open window sensors are good these days? I would prefer battery operated (I honestly don't know much details on these).

Anyone use these types of vents before? I would love to find some that connect to the thermostat and open and close based on temperature range, but I assume they would be insanely expensive to fit a house with.

As for cameras, we use Arlo. They are a NetGear product but we have had zero issues. I currently have 2 setup at my house to monitor the yard, we will probably purchase a couple more. You can setup 5 of them on your network and have them monitored in the cloud (said dramatically) for free for 7 days. You have to pay for more than 5 monitored, or if you want longer retention on the videos.

For a front door camera, you may want to look at a Ring Pro. Our neighbor installed one and it works great. That is going to be our next purchase.

And just for fun, here's a video of me doing the following:

1) Coming home from work
2) Checking the mail
3) Going to get the garbage can and ...
4) Realizing they didn't get all the garbage so I had to pick up a couple things

I've been considering buying a Ring (regular version, don't have a low voltage line near the door). Our current doorbell is broke and I figure the camera would provide some extra security with the camera.

Also thinking about installing some Phillips Hue lights under my kitchen cabinets. Anyone have experience with those?

Dont think the Nest would help me much considering we have window a/c units and separate hot water heat. Seems like the nest works best with an integrated (forced air) system.

I like the video. I will look into the Arlo cameras.

I haven't heard of the Ring products before. Thanks!

I also want a Hue lightbulb, but it has always been a bit beyond an impulse buy for me.

manta173 wrote:

I like the video. I will look into the Arlo cameras.

I haven't heard of the Ring products before. Thanks!

I also want a Hue lightbulb, but it has always been a bit beyond an impulse buy for me.

Yeah, once you add in the hub and colored bulbs it does get expensive. It's why I've held off for so long. The light strips seem great for under cabinet lighting though.

DeThroned wrote:

As for cameras, we use Arlo. They are a NetGear product but we have had zero issues. I currently have 2 setup at my house to monitor the yard, we will probably purchase a couple more. You can setup 5 of them on your network and have them monitored in the cloud (said dramatically) for free for 7 days. You have to pay for more than 5 monitored, or if you want longer retention on the videos.

For a front door camera, you may want to look at a Ring Pro. Our neighbor installed one and it works great. That is going to be our next purchase.

And just for fun, here's a video of me doing the following:

1) Coming home from work
2) Checking the mail
3) Going to get the garbage can and ...
4) Realizing they didn't get all the garbage so I had to pick up a couple things

The quality looks pretty good for inside the window.

Balthezor wrote:

The quality looks pretty good for inside the window.

Ya, that's one thing I really liked. The cameras I bought are not the outdoor ones so I had no choice but to put it in the window.

Shifter wrote:
manta173 wrote:

I like the video. I will look into the Arlo cameras.

I haven't heard of the Ring products before. Thanks!

I also want a Hue lightbulb, but it has always been a bit beyond an impulse buy for me.

Yeah, once you add in the hub and colored bulbs it does get expensive. It's why I've held off for so long. The light strips seem great for under cabinet lighting though.

I dipped my toes into Hue lightbulbs a few weeks ago. Within two weeks we'd redone my entire office, family room and bedroom with the Hue lights. Probably not done yet, we just love them.

We have both some of the color ambiance and some of the white ambiance bulbs. Overall they work great. One is a bit touchy at times, but is frankly outside the specified range limit on the hub (50'), so shouldn't honestly work at all. The only other thing that annoys me is that while the basics (on/off/dim) work splendidly with Alexa right out of the box, Alexa can not natively handle color or scenes. There's an add on skill which is supposed to handle that, but doesn't work. I've taken to working through IFTTT as a workaround to allow Alexa to trigger scenes. Siri/Homekit on the other hand can handle scenes and colors beautifully.

On to the light strips specifically. There's something to be aware of with them for undercabinet lighting. I received a pair for Christmas for that exact purpose. While they're great, they have one huge failing. They can't bend laterally, they can only bend in towards our out away from the tape side.

My preference, and what I would imagine would be most people's intent for counter top use, would be to tape the lights up against the bottom of the counter with the lights pointing down. This makes them less visible, and puts the light where you want it. But if you tape them up under the counter for instance, they can not bend around the edge of the counter. In order to bend around the counter, you would actually need to tape them against the cupboard holding the counter up, with the lights pointing out, not down. And unlike other non-Hue light strips, there are no available 90 degree connectors to solve this problem.

In my case I was going to put these underneath a custom three monitor stand I'd built. Without the ability to bend laterally that is literally impossible. Luckily I can rebuild the monitor stand fairly easily to accommodate. That would be less possible with built in counters and cabinets of course.

TL;DR Definitely try out the Hue lights - huge fan. Just be careful with the light strips depending on your desired use.

DeThroned wrote:
Balthezor wrote:

The quality looks pretty good for inside the window.

Ya, that's one thing I really liked. The cameras I bought are not the outdoor ones so I had no choice but to put it in the window.

I thought Arlo Pros were good outdoors?

I just checked and I got the Arlo Q 2 pack ($330 on Amazon).

Also, the Ring Pro doorbell is currently $199.99 on Ring.com using promo code GIVERING (all caps). It also includes the solar light for free.

So if I compare the Arlo to the Nest/Dropcam... what are the pros and cons?

Edit: Found a good breakdown.

Edit: And another!

It looks to me like if I am willing to pay for the service the Nest wins out, but has a worrisome temperature range... Without paying for the service means it is more towards Arlo's side.

Thanks Teneman. That's good to know. I'm going to start with my office first and try it out there.

I wanted to automate some lights before I took a long trip out of the country earlier this month, and when I looked on Amazon, they had a deal on WeMo (made by Belkin) outlets and light switches, so I picked up a few. They work pretty well. They are WiFi, so there was no hub involved. I set them up using my phone, although they will also work with Echo, etc.

I did read that some of the earlier versions had security issues. People would create their account and suddenly have access to someone else's camera (I didn't get any cameras). Apparently those issues have been fixed, but I'm still not sure I want to rely on their cloud service to access my components remotely. I looked, and it looks like OpenHAB supports their devices, so I'm going to give that a shot and see how it goes.

I was amused to see my light switch prompt me for a firmware update and flash the WiFi symbol for a bit.

I am very interested in OpenHAB. Not sure I want to learn the programming language, but love the idea of the flexibility it would grant to tie together disparate devices.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it after you experiment.

Oh this is an expensive journey to go down, but nerdy fun. I've got about 60% of the lights in my house automated or "smart enabled", as well as a modest amount of monitoring. I moved into computer-controlled home automation last year. Here are some highlights - I hope they are useful.

Home Hub - In order to achieve any degree of automation in a house, you will need a hub-like or vendor-based solution (e.g. Apple HomeKit, Google Home, etc.).

Wink Hub - I started out with a Wink 1 and just upgraded to a Wink 2. I really like this device - it has pretty broad support (Z-Wave, Zigbee, integrates with Hue and a growing number of other brands). The major downside is the automation ("robots") were cloud controlled but the Wink 2 has moved most of these local for faster response. I now only buy devices that work with Wink and use software for integration with devices that don't talk to the Wink (see integration/automation section below). There are other options from Wink (e.g. SmartThings, roll your own with OpenHab or HomeSeer, etc) but I've been happy with it. Wink is apparently adding Google Home support.

Light Switches and Outlets - Devices that control lights and/or switches. I have a large percentage of the lighting in our house automated. Motion enabled for higher traffic areas, timers for others.

Belkin WeMo - WeMo was my entry point well before I bought into Wink or anything else. I started with light kits and outlet switches, but found the lights very unreliable -- virtually all of them were killed in my house's weird tendency to kill some LED bulbs. I upgraded to Belkin's light switches for several rooms which, by and large, are pretty good although I do have one that now inexplicably refuses to reconnect to WiFi. The switches and the outlets are reliable but the downside is integration as these are not supported by Wink - you have to rely on IFTTT or something homebrew (I use HomeBridge and HomeAssistant - more on that later).

TP-Link - I picked up a few TP-Link smart outlets on the cheap. They work slightly less as the WeMo switches but they do work. Like WeMo, the downside is integration as these are not supported by Wink - you have to rely on IFTTT or something homebrew (I use HomeBridge and HomeAssistant - more on that later).

Philips Hue - I have one Hue bridge and three or four bulbs for outside and a storage room where I never turn the light switches off (to retain power to other devices on the same switch). Overall works okay, but the bulbs lose connectivity periodically and it can be a pain to reset them all to get them back. These do work with Wink.

Lutron Casetta Switches - I have a lot of these switches and they work very well. The switches come with a remote as well which effectively makes multiple light switches. They work perfectly with the Wink and, aside from being careful about the bulbs that work with the switch (not all dimmables are created equal) I would have no reservation recommending these.

GE/Jasco Z-Wave Switches - I have a few of these and they work reliably paired off the Wink.

Sensors - Devices to detect movement, temperature, entry, moisture, etc. I use these to set conditions and triggers for home automation events (e.g. light controls, temperature, locks, etc.).

GoControl Z-Wave Sensors - I have a number of motion sensors (that also detect temperatures) and door/window sensors. Home Depot sold these kits at a reasonable price and I would grab them whenever I found them, but I think they've stopped carrying them. These work reliably and I use them to trigger events (e.g. lights on with motion, lights off after a period of no motion, etc.

Wink/Kidde Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector - A few of these, connected to the Wink, and they also connect to one another.

GoControl Sirens - I have a couple of these that are triggered on certain events (e.g. smoke detectors).

Temperature - HVAC controls for temperature and comfort.

Honeywell Z-Wave thermostat - I tried a Nest but it didn't support my Heat Pump and AC. I ended up going with a Z-wave unit. It isn't fancy to look at but works perfectly with the Wink.

Security - Devices to control or limit access (e.g. locks) or monitor (e.g. cameras). Outside of sensors tied to both the Wink and my security alarm, this is an areas I'd like to do more work in.

Schlage Z-Wave deadbolts - I have two of these. One connected to my security system, one connected to the Wink. They work reliably, multiple user codes, etc.

Foscam IP Cameras - This is the area I need to re-invest in and I have been eying the Arlos. I had previously installed a few Foscam wi-fi IP outdoor PTZ dome cameras along with a couple indoor. The resolution is not the best but they do work. They can be controlled independently but I tie them into Surveillance Centre software on my QNAP NAS as a DVR and recording. When I go away I also enable motion triggers that email and notify me. I should run PoE cameras for reliability and higher quality, but its a real pain in some areas and I'm not wildly handy.

Alarm.com based security system - I had previously signed up with a wireless security service based on Alarm.com. The base offers Z-wave support (this was my gateway into the Wink) but I now only have my door locks and a few entry and motion sensors connected to it. I'm contemplating moving away from this. There is a software kludgy software integration I can use to control the alarm system from software but I don't typically use it.

Integration and User Interface - Unifying or bringing together multiple product ecosystems. While most of my house is controllable from the Wink and its usable interface, I wanted the ability to tie multiple technologies together. This led me to two complementary solutions i have running on a Raspberry Pi 2:

HomeAssistant - OpenHAB was daunting, but HomeAssistant was relatively speaking very accessible. It supports everything in my house (all of the items I listed above) including devices connected through the Wink. It has a good (albeit not perfect) Web Interface that will expose controls to all of the devices in the house. The only downside to it is that unlike the Wink, unless I exposed this through my firewall (which I won't), I can't control it remotely without connecting to my home VPN. Not a big deal. It supports control and automation, although I find I still do some automation in Wink for devices connected to it.

HomeBridge - We are an iOS household with multiple iPhones and iPads. I wanted to be able to have HomeKit access to control the lights, thermostat, etc. HomeBridge is a great solution and pretty easy to set up. It has plug-ins for virtually everything in our house (except alarm system if I recall). This is the default method most of my family uses now.

I know we are only scratching the surface with basic automations and we could do more with scenes based on conditions, but I'm gradually introducing this stuff to simplify the Wife (and Kid) acceptance factor.

I'm not a programmer - basic scripting only, but I'm comfortable hacking and working on things on Linux and Windows. It hasn't been hard but it isn't cheap.

I'd be happy to share any experiences if its useful.

Wow. I will have a lot of questions for you over the next year. lol

So lets say I wanted to control the Nest products (thermostat, smoke detector and cameras) and lights (probably smart outlets) and open/close sensors all from one app. It sounds like at this point in time I would have to build and program that myself? Assuming I get around to grabbing a google home device... would that have a better way to connect everything? or is it just voice commands for everything?

I don't have Nest products, but I believe if you remain in the Nest ecosystem it is likely reasonably well well integrated. I also assume Nest, being owned by Google, is supported by Google Home (I don't know).

Both HomeAssistant and HomeBridge (if you want iOS support) have Nest support if you wanted to roll your own. If you are an iOS user, iOS 10 has a good HomeKit Home app to control all of your devices. Alternatively HomeAssistant provides a web interface and supposedly supports voice - but I haven't tried it.

What's the best Home Heating System? I'm reading allot on 'ductless' systems and how much they can save you. I have a forced air system now, with a really bad temperature control(recommendation?). Will replace that, but was wondering if I should go whole hog on heating system that will save me money (soon, not long term).

Thanks

Donan wrote:

What's the best Home Heating System? I'm reading allot on 'ductless' systems and how much they can save you. I have a forced air system now, with a really bad temperature control(recommendation?). Will replace that, but was wondering if I should go whole hog on heating system that will save me money (soon, not long term).

Thanks

Ductless heat pump systems are the way to go these days. Can heat and cool and are very efficient. You would have to crunch the numbers and see if it makes sense money wise. If it's just the controls (thermostat) you're having trouble with you can always replace it. You can spend anywhere from 20 to 100+ and it's an easy install.