Here’s the latest in what is now a yearly screenshot of my home screen.
This post will be about the software that brings things together, making it easy for me to manage and allows the devices to “talk” to each other. Maybe it’s a good thing it’s taken me almost a year to write this part 2 because there have been some dramatic improvements to how everything runs. I was using homebridge for a period of time, but found I never really used HomeKit/Siri. Home Assistant has been updating a new HomeKit component, so I’ll have to give it a try.
I’ve talked about Home Assistant in a lot of posts; it’s the software running on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B to handle everything. It’s very powerful software and has been a lot of fun for me to configure everything. Being on a Linux box and having to configure everything through YAML files makes it a tough entry for the average homeowner though. It’s improved a lot in the year I’ve been using it with better documentation and some UI configuration tools, so it’ll be interesting to watch for the next 12 months.
Being Open Source was a big draw of HA for me. Open Sourcecraft has a good article about the creator. The project operates on an aggressive schedule you don’t see much; every 2 weeks a new version oh Home Assistant is released. These aren’t small updates either. Each update fixes a ton of bugs and adds support for new devices.
I did install HA using Hass.io, which simplifies the process and makes it easy to do upgrades and install add-ons. Here are the add-ons I’m using.
In addition to running Home Assistant, I wrote a couple of small services I run on Pis. The first is the temperature sensor/monitor I use in my garage. I’ve improved it a lot in the last year. The second service is home-assistant-pi, which reports a bunch of data about each Raspberry Pi on my network back to Home Assistant, which you’ll see in the screenshot below.
The beauty of Home Assistant is you can set everything up the way you want. Your limitation is your imagination and your comfort level with configuration files and code. I took a bunch of screenshots of my setup.
I keep all of my configuration (except the secrets file) in a GitHub repo in case I mess something up. I’ve learned a lot by looking at other examples, so my repo is public as well. Maybe my config will help out someone else. The repo is home-assistant-config. If you have any questions about anything you see in this post or in my configuration, let me know.
In the final post of this series, I’ll explain the cool part of this whole thing, the actual automations. I need to go through my ideas list and implement all of them though.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed the heat was staying on in my office pretty much all day. I have a boiler heating system with 4 zones and the thermostat that controls the front of my house is right there in the office. I wasn’t cold in there, but the thermostat wasn’t reporting that the temperature ever reached what I had set.
I pulled the Nest off of its mounting bracket, put my hand near the hole in the wall, and I could feel cold air. So I grabbed an instant read meat thermometer and stuck it through the hole. The reading inside the wall was 10° lower than a foot away from the wall.
For a simple fix, I stuffed a bunch of insulation through the hole and covered it with foil tape.
In order to monitor the effectiveness of the fix, I put together a quick temperature sensor instead of having to turn the meat thermometer on and off.
Two or three years ago I had the opposite problem with this heating zone; it was always cold in the office. By feeling the wall I came to the conclusion that the thermostat had been installed right next to one of the pipes sending hot water to the upstairs registers. Brilliant! The fix that time was moving the thermostat over between the next set of studs.
After these two issues with the placement of a thermostat, I starting thinking. Why are we still basing our heating on measurements taken from a set position on the wall? With the Internet of Things we can do this much smarter.
Imagine each zone in the house having one or more mobile temperature sensors. Like the simple circuit pictured above, but in a small case. These could be battery-powered or plug-in. Windows, wind, and location of the sun can all affect the heating of different areas of a house. Being able to move the temperature sensor with you as you make dinner in the kitchen or watch a movie from your recliner would be awesome.
These temperature sensors would wirelessly report the temperature back to the home automation system. I use Home Assistant, which would make it easy to set the heating schedules for each zone. If a zone needed to go on or off based on the sensor’s reported temperature and the schedule’s target temperature, it would wirelessly trigger a relay module at the furnace or boiler. The relay would wire in to the furnace/boiler system in place of the wires that come from each thermostat and it would never know the difference. None of these pieces are hard to build and the parts are cheap.
This is all just something that ran through my mind as I was fixing my heating issue. I don’t have plans to build such a system, but if I did I could ditch my 4 Nest thermostats. For someone who works at home, often at random times of the day, I think Nest thermostats are overrated anyway because the learning and auto scheduling system doesn’t do much for me.
A year ago, I posted a screenshot of the home screen on my iPhone 7 Plus. Might as well make this a yearly thing. Not much has changed with my app usage though. Here’s the home screen on my iPhone X.
This may be the first time since iOS added app groups that I have a 2nd page.
These are some augmented reality apps I wanted to try. I’ll get around to filing them into a group soon because this second screen is bugging me.
Yesterday I set out to fix a couple of things around the house.
It stopped working several weeks ago when the cleaning lady was using it. I was out golfing at the time so have no idea what happened. There was no sound or anything when the switch was flipped. My first step was to make sure the outlet worked.
So then I moved everything out from under the sink, got a bucket to catch the water, and removed the unit. I noticed a red button on the bottom.
It responded like the button on a GFI outlet. Then I plugged the disposal back in. There was a humming sound for a few seconds and then it stopped. The red button had popped out. Must be some kind of safety mechanism so the unit doesn’t burn up the motor. While cleaning out the cupboard I had come across an allen wrench.
There was also a hole in the bottom of the disposal where this fit. Gave it a bunch of turns and it started to feel pretty smooth. Pushed in the button, started plugging it in, and holy shit! The torque on that thing nearly sent it flying across the room. Glad I had barely touched the plug to power because my hand was able to jerk it away from the outlet.
I put the garbage disposal back in place, reconnected all the pipes, and I was back in business. No leaks either. Something must have been jammed inside.
As a bonus it turned out to be a good reason to clean the cupboards under the sink, which had accumulated a bunch of junk.
It’s been flaky for several years. I had tried replacing bulbs and sometimes they would work for a bit or flicker here and there, but eventually stop working. With my new knowledge and confidence with electricity and circuits I figured there had to be something going on with the connection. After unplugging the garage door opener, I took off the face plate and disconnected the wires from the back of the light socket.
Looking at this socket, 2 things stood out to me: 1) seems like both contact points were corroded and 2) unlike a lot of light bulb sockets where the sides are metal, this only had the contact pad which is at about 1:00 if this were a clock face. I grabbed my favorite tool, the digital multimeter…
I may have been able to clean up the contacts on the socket, but I figured it was better to replace it. The only thing at Home Depot that looked like it would work was this waterproof light socket for $3.47.
I carved off some of the rubber with an X-ACTO knife for a better angled fit and applied a bunch of hot glue. Here are views of the front and back…
It ended up working much better than expected. I reassembled everything, plugged in the garage door opener, and voila!
I also replaced a 3-way light switch I could hear shorting out, but it was an ordinary replacement job.
Since I keep putting off a big home automation post due to not having much actual automation done, I’m going to split things up into a series of 3 posts. It’ll make for shorter posts and hopefully motivate me to get my automations done. This first post will share all of the equipment I have around my house, part 2 will be about the software, and part 3 will be about the actual automating.
Don’t buy one of these. The online service the device communicates with is always having problems. I have mine configured to send me an alert whenever the door is open for at least 30 minutes. Over a 2 day period, all 4 of these notifications shown in the screenshot were incorrect! Happens at least once a month.
I want to see if I can reverse engineer the sensor attached to the door and make my own opener using a microcontroller and a spare remote I have.
My house has a boiler with baseboard heat and 4 heating zones. I have one of these in each location. They work great.
Alarms for detecting smoke and carbon monoxide. They “talk” to the thermostats as well. I have 3, but hope I never need to find out how well they work.
Nest Cam and the previous Dropcam
One is sitting on an end table pointed at my front door and one is mounted in my garage (mostly so I can check on the garage door if needed).
The lock on my front door. Runs through 4 AA batteries faster than I’d expect, but works great.
I’ve used Harmony remotes for years. Love ’em!
I have 8 switches and 5 remotes (there are a lot of 3-way switches in my house). These were simple to install. Having dimming capabilities is a nice feature.
I have 2 Insight Smart Plugs, 2 Light Switches, and 1 Switch. The thing I like most about the Belkin devices is you don’t need a hub or anything else to control them. Very plug-n-play. I’m not sold on having plugs though. I’m using them for some lamps, but you have to remember not to turn the lamp off with the actual lamp switch otherwise your smart plug is useless.
Built this device myself using a Raspberry Pi Zero v1.2 and some other electronics parts.
Allows me to access devices from my control system.
Maybe my favorite device. I use it every day to control the lights in the main areas of my house.
The location and status of my car feeds into my system so I can automate other things.
I don’t use this much anymore with the Echo. Still comes in handy for quickly controlling something though. Will also use the iPhone location for automations of home/away status.
None of the stuff is cheap. We’re still in the early stages of home automation. Watch out in the next couple of years.
Some things I plan to add are:
If you have questions about anything here, let me know.
I installed 2 Nest Protects on Friday, the first thermostat today, and 2 more thermostats should be here tomorrow or Thursday depending on the weather delays with shipping.
My house has 4 heating zones, so it’ll be interesting to see how everything works together. I’m leaving the old digital thermostat in the basement because I never really go down there and keep it at a constant temperature.