Building a Smart Home in the Costa Rican rainforest

Hi guys

I hope everyone is having a great day. I figured this might be the place to get answers regarding our ‘Fusion home’. In a nutshell, my partner and I left the ‘real world’ and have been volunteering in the rainforest for the last 3 years at a place called ‘Finca Bellavista’. It’s a beautiful jungle paradise were we all live in trees - thats the short version.

During that time we have been designing our dream home, again I will keep it short. It’s designed to be completely off grid and to never cost us money (this is the short dream scenario version of the story). It is built of long lasting products, photovoltaic solar system. home biogas, superscreen, wood composite etc etc. Imagine the best of both worlds - the modern infused with the jungle, outside is paradise while inside is techy and comfortable. You can view more of it on the ‘Fusion Home blog

I’m going to get to the point here…HGTV is filming the construction of the home, woohoo!!! We start construction in 2 weeks and are estimating the build to take 4 months. During that time we have to find the coolest smart home system that is going to work seamlessly. We hope to have wifi but need to find a way to pick up wifi signal about 1 km away (we are high up with a clear shot - if anyone has any ideas, please help) but will pick up 3G. I’m hoping to rely on bluetooth more but from what I understand the technology is not quite there yet.

Here are my questions:

Will the smatthings work in Costa Rica?
Do I have to be connected to the internet all the time to make them work?
Will they work in close proximity with no internet?
Weather is no issue, its always hot and we have screen, not windows. What gadgets would you recommend?
Is there a monthly fee? We don’t want that :smile:

Any advice, ideas, support etc will be very much appreciated.

Thanks for your time guys!

Pura Vida


Smartthings pretty much needs internet all the time. Smart lighting can run local but only with certain devices which makes it very limited.

The service is free. There has been talk of a fee for camera monitoring. No other fee I know of right now.

Hi Bernie

Thanks for getting back to me. Ok, at least its a start. I will play around with the lighting and do some research. We use iphones out here because of the humidity (less ports), I imagine that would work?

So to start, I should purchase a hub and the lighting devices? Anyone know about the plugs. I read that bluetooth tech is installed but not activated. Maybe soon?

Appreciate the help.

Thanks again

Correct on the bluetooth.

To have local lighting work with Smart lighting it needs to be switches or plug in outlets(wired in may work I don’t have any) as far as I can tell. Motion detectors, Moisture and contact sensors work local with the correct device type. There could be more, that’s just from my setup.

Non of my smart bulbs will show up local. :frowning:

Sounds like a very exciting project! I wish you much luck with it.

Unfortunately, as was already mentioned, SmartThings will not be a good match.

You didn’t mention whether you will be using US-style 110 volt power or 220. That will affect the devices you can use.

I recommend you look into indigo with Zwave devices. It runs on a Mac and is rock solid. Zwave is a very low power home automation profile, so is a good fit for most off grid solar homes. Indigo runs locally after initial account setup, so you don’t have to worry about continuous Internet availability.

Some typical uses would be to use motion sensors to control lighting and even things like hot water on demand. These can save a lot of energy.

I would recommend smart switches with dumb LEDs in your set up. One of the issues with smart bulbs is that almost all come on at full brightness after a power outage. This can be tricky in a setup like yours. This is not an issue with smart switches.

Again, best of luck!

Fantastic, so it is possible. Hopefully someone can confirm the wired lights etc. I’m hoping to get as much information as possible before purchase (wise move when living in the rainforest).

I would like it to be wired. Its more for personal use than checking in from the other side of the world. We would like to be able to control them manually and via app. As we run on solar, it would be good to be able to turn everything off from one device.

Thank you for the information. I welcome more :smile:

The SmartThings mobile app requires that your hub have an active internet connection. It’s just the way the architecture is designed–it’s cloud-based, even if a few devices can run locally for brief periods of time. SmartThings is just not a good match for your project.

Hi JDRoberts

Interesting, just saw this after replying to Bernie. We run on the 110, (we use outback, midnight systems).

So these devices will not work unless we are online? Ok, would you not recommend the lighting then? Sorry for my lack of knowledge on this stuff (been in the jungle for 3 years). We do hope to have wifi but it’s not guaranteed and may be limited.

Im going to look into Zwave quick. Thank you so much!!

You will need internet to setup smartthings and it is designed to be connected 24/7. The local stuff is more for if you lose internet for a short period.

It’s the only HA system I have experience with so others like JD can give you more info on a non internet system.

I could not recommend the SmartThings hub for your project, whether limited to lighting or not. It’s just not a good fit. Look into Indigo and see if it meets your needs.

Im researching them now, thank you so much for the help!

There are a couple of other options that might be suitable, but I think indigo is the most likely match.

For one thing, in your situation I would want to feel confident that whatever you have installed would continue to run even if the company goes out of business or changes its product line. You don’t want to be orphaned in the jungle in that sense. Of course, no electrical device runs forever, but cloud-dependent architectures can be turned off at any time, leaving customers with nonworking systems. One of the advantages of indigo is that since it is software that you download onto your Mac, it will continue to run even if the company disappeared.

When it comes to looking at light switches, again, in your situation, I would first look at the warranty. There is a significant difference in quality among the various switches available on the market. This is generally reflected in warranty. The device with a one-year warranty may be engineered to a lower standard then one with a five year warranty. Of course, the better engineered one will probably also cost significantly more. But evaluating that is a different situation for you then for someone who could just run down the street to a local Home Depot and buy a replacement.

But I’m sure you’re making similar decisions for everything else you’re putting into the house I just wanted to verify that the same is true in the home automation market. :sunglasses:

One more thought: Zwave operates on different frequencies in different countries. A device or controller cannot change frequencies. So you have to make sure everything is on the same frequency as your controller before you buy it.

There is an “official” z-wave frequency for Costa Rica, but it is used by very few other countries and I’m not sure if it’s required by law. Judging just from Internet postings, there are many people in Costa Rica using the US frequency instead, which gives them a much wider choice of devices.

So one of your first steps for z-wave will need to be to find out what frequencies are legally allowed at your location.

For example, in New Zealand use of the US z-wave frequency for home automation is illegal, because the same band is used in first responder radios. But in many countries it’s legal to use the US frequency even if another is recommended first.

JDRoberts! Thank you so much for this insight - a lot of it is over my head but I’m researching it to get a better understanding. I will report back with what I think would be beneficial for the home.

I would never of got this far so thanks again!

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I have a ST installation in the Central Pacific near Jaco Beach, Costa Rica. I have the ST hub, wifi router and CableTica modem (ICE Kolbi would work too) all connected to a UPS. The Internet reliability isn’t as much of an issue as the reliability of electricity from ICE. In your case, you may not have this issue with solar.

I have motion sensors, connect, and presence sensors as well as sirens, switches, outlets (both z-wave and Zigbee), Hue lights and door locks. All working flawlessly here in the jungle.

Use the US frequency devices as they are more widely available. Bring as much as you can in your luggage on your next trip. Many of these devices are available at BestBuy or Lowes/Home Depot. Devices that aren’t available at a retailer you can order and ship through a company like American Export or Aerocasillas. Although the import tax may bite you there.

Good luck!

Hi Larry

Fantastic news, one question however - what if I can’t get online? Is that where the z-wave / zigbee applications come in?

I will be shopping in the states end of April and hope to bring back everything I need with me.

Do you have any product recommendations?

Thank you for sharing

As stated earlier, you need to be online. Internet service in Costa Rica has become extremely reliable over the past several years. I’d be more concerned with the reliability of your electricity than that of ICE’s Internet service.

If your internet connection is unreliable, stop right here.

As for products, that will really depend on what you want to accomplish. Security? Energy Consumption Control? Home Automation? Other objective?

I started with 3 Nest thermostats to get my monthly $1200 electric (A/C) bill under control. Then added a ST starter kit to provide a basic level of security. To the starter kit, I added additional contact sensors for all the doors and windows, as well as additional motion sensors. I also purchased a Schlage z-wave door lock that I could control and monitor with ST. A couple Aeon sirens later and I have a self monitored security system.

I’ve since emptied the shelves of a couple Miami Best Buy stores of all the Hue lights they had in stock.

Next things on my list are z-wave switches to control things like my pool lights and hot water tank.

The possibilities are endless, but you need to figure out what you want out of the system. You can control who has access and monitor entry of both who and when. You can set up rules with Rule Machine to ensure you never have to leave the comfort of your hammock.

I’ve cut my electric usage in almost half, and I can’t buy enough devices to keep up with all the money I’m saving.

While I haven’t experienced some of the frustrations others in this forum have, I would still caution anyone who doesn’t have a technical side to proceed with caution. Device setup isn’t always intuitive, nor straightforward. On the flip side, the folks here in this community such as @JDRoberts and many others are so incredibly helpful and patient that you’ll be able to get assistance along the way.

Hope that helps. Pura Vida Mae. :smile:

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We hope to have wifi but need to find a way to pick up wifi signal about 1 km away

@mattynew - Normally 1km would not be a problem, but it all depends on the wifi signal on the other end. Is it on a commercial tower or is the wifi simply from some business or other home nearby?

Hi Shawn

It’s simply picking up from a router in a building about 1km away. So far my potential solution has been this:

If that link doesn’t work then I have the page I’m buying it from here (it’s in Spanish):

It was recommended by Ubiquiti (chat person)

I’m slowly making sense of these new age technologies (remember I’ve been living in the jungle).

The INSTEON looks like the best bet but I’m unsure how it will work with the hub as from what I can tell, it needs to be connected through an ethernet cable?

Ideally I want a system that works offline (but I will hopefully we able to pick up wifi with an extender). I don’t need the system to be monitored online.

Still got lots of research to do :slight_smile: thank you for your help!

Pura Vida! Thank you so much for the continued support. I’m gonna review this all and get back to you.