Automation for my mom, simple and stable

My mom is older (over 70) and lives alone about half an hour away. She recently had a break in a couple streets away which is making her very nervous. We talked about it and she’s not interested in a professional alarm system or monitoring (worries she or guests will set off alarm all the time), but would like to automate some lighting to make her home less appealing to break into.

For her age I think she’s quite technologically literate, but clearly hasn’t lived a life steeped in techville. Thus I’m looking for something that is set it and forget it and very stable, which leads me away from ST unfortunately. I would also like to mostly be able to program it remotely after installation in case adjustments are needed. We live in the US and I’ve never looked at her wiring, but her house was built in the 50s so I assume no neutral. My parents have had their kitchen redone as well as a pretty major updating of several rooms so I might be pleasantly surprised, but not counting on it.

My goal is to have several lights automated that will turn on and off in a somewhat random pattern, both when she is away and home (like the vacation app in ST). Just don’t want them to turn off when she’s in the room if I can avoid it. A secondary goal would be to have the option to build on the platform for more advanced uses (like turn on lights as you move through the house), but that is a secondary goal. She has Alexa and uses it often and I’m sure she could handle telling Alexa when she comes and goes and goes to bed, so I was hoping to use that as a criteria somehow. I’m also open to motion sensors, but again, don’t want her having to fiddle with adding/removing them when they flake out. She is game to buy some plugin lights solely for this purpose but I had also hoped that we could swap out some of her in wall switches because I don’t think she will be keen in telling Alexa to turn the lights on and off all the time and not have access to an actual switch. Ideally I’d rather do all in wall switches. One other notable factor is most of her lights are LED or CFL but some of her lights are fluorescent tubes. Really big ones, like garage size.

What do people have for suggestions on some good ways to accomplish this? My first thought was to use plug in switches and have her control them through Alexa and what ever routine type option it has, but I don’t think there are in wall switches I could use when plug in doesn’t make sense. it is cheap and easy though and something she is comfortable with. Also now that I say it, I forgot the echo plus is a hub and maybe even has motion detectors available? My next thought has been to look at Lutron Caseta because it can work without a neutral, but from what I have read, I can’t tell if they will work with the fluorescent lights. Also don’t know what they might have for motion detectors. Another easy option would just be to get some independent timers and plug in lights. Open to feedback from anyone, but would be especially interested to hear from @JDRoberts as I know he prizes system stability.

For simple and stable and the uses you list, I personally would use

Amazon Echo
HomeKit (requires one iOS device)
Apple TV streaming box to allow access when away from home (it becomes the Bridge to the internet, list price $149 at Best Buy)
Lutron Caseta switches
Philips Hue Bridge
Philips Hue motion Sensors (these will work with Caseta switches via HomeKit and come in both indoor and outdoor models)

Optional: IDevices WiFi inwall Outlet (two independently controlled sockets)

Not the cheapest setup, but simple, reliable, easy to use, and excellent customer service from all 4 companies.

And there is a no neutral Lutron Caseta Switch (Not dimmer) that works with fluorescent tubes, although you may need to add a bypass device if the load isn’t high enough. Model PD-5WS-DV

The new free Alexa Guard feature will turn the lights on and off to simulate occupancy when you are away, but takes a few weeks to learn your habits, so that bit’s annoying. But once you’re out of the setup phase, works fine.

Amazon Guard Available yet? (May 2019)

You could also add some hue smart bulbs in table lamps. There are lots of third party apps for those that do simulated occupancy, and you could have the Caseta switches follow the bulbs via HomeKit as well.

Note: all of the above except the Apple TV streaming box also work with SmartThings, although you have to use IFTTT for integration with the iDevices in wall outlet.


As far as only using Amazon, no HomeKit, there are WiFi wall switches including from brands with good safety features like Leviton and IDevices if you want to go that route.

But no good WiFi motion sensors, they’re all pretty flaky. :disappointed_relieved:

You could still use the Hue motion sensors for table lamps with Hue bulbs, but I don’t think they’d trigger the Lutron switches unless you go through IFTTT. So more complexity for fewer features. But possible.

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You could go with the Echo plus, since she is use to Alexa devices. It only handles Zigbee and I think some Wifi devices.

Also for light switches with no neutral I have had good luck with Thirdreality switches listed below. The house I just bought was wired with most switches having no neutral. I had most re-wired and added neutrals but I still have a couple that do not. These switches have worked well for me, and they do work with Echo plus. No real use of motion with this approach though, but Amazon seems to be adding capabilities at a pretty good pace, so they may have something some day.


Good point. :sunglasses: There are several zigbee motion sensors which can work directly with an echo plus or echo show second generation.

The problem is that right now the rules complexity for an Amazon-only is really limited. You’re probably OK if you are only using the motion sensors to turn the lights on, but not off. But if you want to turn them on and off using the sensors that connect directly to the echo device, you will find yourself in the dark occasionally. The OP mention specifically that they wanted to avoid that, and it can be a real issue in fall prevention for older people.

So I prefer using one of the integratable systems that has a little more smarts, either the hue bridge for the Hue sensors or HomeKit.

But it all comes down to the details. :sunglasses:

As far as the third reality switch cover, I have one at my house connected directly to an echo show second generation specifically so I have voice control if the Internet is out. So it’s the back up to my back up system. :wink:

But most people who come over think it looks really weird. So that’s another factor, although I think the newest all white model may help with that issue. On the one with the silver block at the bottom, people kept trying to push that instead of the actual button.

1st generation

2nd generation



Wow, so much solid feedback so fast! Thanks! Feeling pretty positive about all this based on what I am hearing. Also makes me realize that the best course here is slow introduction of pieces for stability. My usual mode is test the waters then dive into the deep end. Need to temper that here. Not that money is no object, but my mom will surely pay a premium for easy, stability, and support. Me on the other hand, I like to tinker so cost is a bigger factor.Unfortunately spawning so many questions on my end, so here goes:

Is HomeKit local or cloud processing or maybe a combo like ST?

To clarify, this enables the HomeKit to reach the internet, is that accurate?

Is any of the integration cloud to cloud making it internet reliant and/or laggy? Or is it Hue hub talks to HomeKit (I assume a hub) which talks to Lutron hub?

What’s the thinking on using these vs just plug in? Just because it gives you two controllable sockets?

Good suggestion on switches that actually flip another switch. I assume these are battery powered right? I assume these work by pushing the round button and that toggles the underlying switch back and forth right? Not independent on and off.

One final pretty unrelated thought, is I just convinced my Mom to switch over to Android from Apple. she had an old Iphone 5 she got refurbished from Verizon for $100 and almost keeled over when she saw the prices of even the many generations old Iphone 8. A cool $300 got her the Moto G7 which has been great so far. . . .but clearly won’t play well with Apple and their HomeKit.

They use 2 AAs, and they can operate a toggle or paddle switch. You push button and it mechanically flips the switch.

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I too was going to recomend the Echo Plus and their new Guard feature that launched yesterday.

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HomeKit is an Apple feature that allows Siri (apple’s voice assistant) To talk to end devices that are HomeKit – certified. Siri can both Control them and query them for status.

In addition to Siri, there is a HomeKit app built in to iOS so you get a dashboard that way.

Everything runs locally except the Siri voice parsing, and that can use cellular on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch.

If you want to be able to control your devices when you are not at home, then you add either an iPad at home or an Apple TV streaming box so you get Internet access. But again, you don’t need that while you are at home.

If you want to be able to set up rules so that the motion sensor triggers the lights or one light switch follows another, then you need to have either a plugged in iPad that stays at home or An Apple TV streaming box and that then acts as a hub. But again everything runs locally.

(If your mom can still return the android phone, I would do that. Get a refurbished iPhone, and you’ll pay about the same price. Not only will she then have HomeKit options, she’ll have a more secure app environment. Plus in my experience customer support is much more helpful to non-technical people.)

When using HomeKit, it’s all local. Very reliable and fast.

If using IFTTT, there’s a cloud component, and the lag just varies.



IDevices WiFi inwall Outlet

What’s the thinking on using these vs just plug in? Just because it gives you two controllable sockets?

Mostly aesthetics and simplicity. You don’t have to worry about somebody unplugging it and moving it somewhere. It just looks like a regular outlet.

I have one health aide every single time she wants to plug-in the blender, she unplugs the pocket socket first. :scream:

So this:

Vs this:

Optional, but I just thought some people would like to know that option exists. :sunglasses:


Is the 2nd Generation of ThirdReality Smart Light Switch quieter. I have the Gen1 and it is noisy.

Still much noisier than a device that doesn’t physically move the switch underneath, but it is somewhat quieter than the first generation.

From the manufacturer:

Compare with Gen1, it is simple and clean, quieter and thinner. Better on connection range and lower on battery consumption.

Note that some reviewers report that it works fine with Alexa, but the Google assistant integration is still buggy:

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Did some reading and it sounds like in the model you have setup, HomeKit is where you have likely built any if/then (ie motion or presence) events right? So it’s not a hub in that it has devices directly connected to it, but it sounds like where the automation brain lives as well as has a dashboard and funnels Siri voice commands to the devices. I was struggling with how the Echo and HomeKit fit together, but it sounds like they really don’t. Tell Siri to turn on a light and HomeKit issues the command. Tell the Echo the same and it directs the light to turn on outside of HomeKit. I’m assuming you can’t tell the Echo to execute a routine that you setup in HomeKit right?

As for the phone, unfortunately the return window just expired. The upside of Android is I’m well steeped in Android so can support a lot. I know very little about iOS and don’t have any devices so it’s hard for me to help troubleshoot remotely. I know Apple has great store support, but she always says the Apple stores are so packed so it’s overwhelming to go in. Not sure she’s ever tried phone support, that would be best option.

Based on what I’m seeing I think the best place for me to start is with Lutron and try and get a couple lights automated and park looking at trigger based automation till later since it seems like whatever solution I choose it will likely include Lutron. Before I do that I’ll read up on what Lutron offers for scheduling, routines, and Alexa integration.

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Echo and HomeKit don’t fit together for most people. I use both because I prefer the voice recognition on echo and the rules set up on HomeKit. But I do use Siri on my Apple Watch as well. So I look for devices which support both.

Lutron and the Philips Hue Bridge Are two brands which have decided to work with pretty much everything. And even better, to allow multiple parallel means of control, where some other devices require you to choose between either using HomeKit or using echo.

There is a way to use echo with HomeKit devices via Siri shortcuts, but it’s pretty technical to set up. Or via homebridge, but the same issue. So it’s easier just to choose devices that work with both. :sunglasses:

Doh! Was just reading up on Lutron and they said the radius is only 30 feet with only 1 range extender allowed to give another 30 feet. My mom’s house is a long ranch with a second floor in the middle and the router is at one end. I’m assuming the hub has to be connected to the router via Ethernet in order to have internet access. I might be able to get away with just doing lights that are within range, but this is a surprising limitation to me.

You can use HomeKit with multiple Lutron Smartbridges. So it’s annoying in the lutron app itself because you have to set up one account for every 50 devices, but you hardly ever use that once you have everything set up. :sunglasses:

While the Lutron app can only connect to one Bridge at a time, any HomeKit app can connect to any amount of Bridges simultaneously. So while you will need the Lutron app to setup your devices, you do not need it to control your devices.

multiple smart bridge pros in the same house?

The alternative, which is what Lutron support will suggest, is to go to their “whole house” system, radioRA2 instead of Caseta. But those devices cost a lot more, and, again, if you use HomeKit you don’t need to do that. :sunglasses:

Another option would be to use Homeseer or Hubitat, both of which can handle more than one Lutron Smartbridge, but then that’s a much more complex system than HomeKit is.

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I think I am missing something, how do multiple bridges help with my range issue? Wouldn’t they both still need to be connected to the router which is at one end of the house?

That being said I was thinking of getting my mom a mesh wifi system as wifi struggles to reach the whole house also (we setup an extender but never works very well), and that would mean I could have 2 bridges connected at 2 points in the house to the mesh points. That would give me about 120 linear feet of coverage if I can place them just right.

Lutron’s guidance on range is very conservative, IMHO. I have 50 Caseta devices (one is an extender) and have never had any issues, whatsoever. I am amazed at how much more reliable Lutron’s Clear Connect wireless protocol is compared other technologies.

If you’d ever consider using a Hubitat Elevation hub (all local processing), be sure to buy the Lutron Smart Bridge Pro2. has decent prices. The “Pro2” version supports HomeKit and offers a LAN-based Telnet Integration protocol. Hubitat uses Telnet for 100% local communications with no cloud needed.

So, the Pro2 version is the most future proof version, even though it costs a little more. It will work with HomeKit, SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Hubitat.

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I’ve bee thinking about Hubitat for myself, but based on what I’ve been hearing it doesn’t sound mature enough yet for my mom. Also, it doesn’t have much for remote configuration access yet right?

Correct. Hubitat has made it clear that Administration of the hub will be via web browser on the local LAN. I accomplish this remotely via a VPN connection through my ASUS Router’s built-in OpenVPN server.

As for maturity, I can honestly say that I have a much more “automated” home using Hubitat than I ever did with SmartThings. Not relying on the cloud for basic functionality has allowed me to trust the automation. My wife now asks for lighting to be automated, versus before she would “tolerate” my hobby.

It’s not for everyone, but for me it fulfilled my number priority of local processing and permitted me to easily port my custom groovy drivers and apps.

I’m not trying to sell you on Hubitat… I just wanted to make sure that you don’t buy a Lutron SmartBridge without all of the facts to make the right decision for your needs.

Oh, and one more thing… Lutron Pico Remotes + Hubitat are an amazing solution for button controllers. They easily wall mount and blend in seamlessly with decora style switches.

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