SmartThings Community

Bulbs, switches and sensors, oh my....what to buy (device class features FAQ)

Battery-Powered Contact Sensor Features

There are many different brands of battery-powered contact sensors, operating on many different protocols. There are zigbee ones that use the Zigbee home automation profile and work directly with SmartThings. There are proprietary Zigbee sensors which cannot talk directly to SmartThings. There are zwave versions. There are security system versions using 433 MHz which cannot talk directly to smart things.

Sometimes a manufacturer will make identical-looking ones in several different protocols, so you have to read very carefully to make sure you get the one you want.

It’s also really common that someone moves into a house that already has sensors set up from a previous security system that they want to try to use with smart things.

It is sometimes, but not Always, possible to rig some kind of integration with some of these legacy sensors. You will find topics in the forum that discuss that. It’s not necessarily easy and may require additional hardware pieces.

All of these are often called “door and window sensors.”

For the rest of this note, I am only going to discuss sensors that can be integrated directly with smartthings. So that means zigbee home automation profile, zwave, or sensors like the kumostat wireless tag which have a cloud to cloud interface.

Quality

Pretty much all of the sensors are what are called “magnetic reed” sensors. These have a thin piece of metal (the reed) which gets pulled by a magnet to close a contact.

These sensors vary hugely in build quality. Cheaper ones have less powerful magnets, cheaper cases, flimsy battery holders. They can be very finicky in getting the magnet placed in exactly the right position to close the circuit. They’re still usable for many purposes, but it’s important to understand why one sensor might be $17 and another one might be $40.

If you intend to try to use a sensor outdoors (in a sheltered position) or on something that has more of a gap, you will probably want one of the more expensive higher-quality builds.

If you just want one on a cabinet door, a cheaper one may be fine.

Protocol

As always, Z wave plus will have a longer range then older zwave.

Zigbee sensors tend to be smaller with better battery life. Zigbee also tends to transmit better through rain, so if it is often chosen for sensors which are transmitting in outdoor spaces, for example to report if shed door was left open.

And Z wave is limited to four hops per message while Zigbee can do up to 30 which means if you have a really big house or if you have a lot of architectural features that you need to bounce signal around, zigbee might be better.

But then we always come back to the Wi-Fi issue. Wi-Fi doesn’t interfere with Z wave, and it sometimes can with zigbee. So a lot of people just find zwave easier to work with as long as the maximum distance from the hub is no more than 200 feet.

form factor

There are two common forms. Surface-mount have two rectangular pieces, one with the radio and the reed and one with the magnet.

Embedded have a tube that goes inside the wall and a small contact piece for the other side.

Triangle shaped window sensors have become more popular in 2016, and are intended to be a little bit less bulky. They are normally less than half an inch tall and are intended to fit in the corner of the window. Aeotec makes a popular version.


Sensative has just released a new line of very thin strip sensors which are nearly invisible on the door. They are weatherproof and can be painted.

Other reports

These days many sensors include a temperature sensor as well. Some even have a lux sensor also. However a cheap contact sensor probably has a cheap temperature sensor so it’s pretty common for these temperatures to be off by five or 7°.

Other Uses

Some models have “dry contacts” which are unused electrical contacts inside the sensor case. This allows you to wire other devices to them, in effect adding A Zwave or Zigbee radio to the other device. Some typical projects utilizing this would be pressure mats or doorbells. If you’re going to do this, you’re probably buying the contact sensor for that specific project, so you can investigate model options at that time.

brand notes

Aeotec has several different models in different shapes with different features, including a tubular model intended to go into the wall, the thin triangular model for window corners, and a regular rectangular style. All have different features and are quite popular.

Fibaro sensors come in several different colors and have a good quality temperature sensor.

The PEQ sensors sold At Best Buy are excellent Quality, and occasionally go on sale for $20 a sensor which is an excellent price.

Lowes iris devices come in two generations. The first generation is not compatible with SmartThings. The second generation, which uses the zigbee home automation profile, is. These are quite inexpensive and include a temperature sensor, although there are a number of forum reports that the temperature is not very accurate. Some community members have also reported that they seem to go through batteries very quickly.

NYCE sensors. Again, the first generation is not compatible with smart things. The one that uses the zigbee home automation profile is. These are very small.

Kumostat wireless tags. These do not connect directly to smart things, but there is a cloud to cloud integration or you can use IFTTT. They are significant because they have a much longer range than Zigbee. Customer service on these is reportedly terrible, with people having a really hard time doing returns if they happen to get a bad device. But the general quality is good, and if you pay with a credit card you could have your credit card refuse to pay on a defective item. Search the forums for more information. You will need to buy their Ethernet manager as well as any individual tags. Most people won’t need to consider these, but they do fit the bill for some specific use cases. Reports temperature and humidity as well as open/close.

Sensative has a patent on their very thin strips which are intended to be invisible when the door is closed. These are particularly helpful for sliding glass doors where conventional contact sensors may not fit easily.

Xiaomi is a very large consumer electronics company in China that has their own home automation line. These are zigbee devices, but not certified for the zigbee home automation profile. However, a number of community members have verified that they do work with SmartThings, although the pairing process is pretty tedious. These devices are very inexpensive, typically about twelve dollars a sensor, and seem to be well engineered. They don’t have any frills like extra temperature or humidity sensors. And you may have to wait about a month for delivery. Gearbest will ship them to both the US and Europe. You don’t need the Xiaomi Gateway. The devices which have been verified to work are the contact sensor, the motion sensor (called the “human body sensor”), The humidity sensor, and the battery operated button.

http://www.gearbest.com/smart-light-bulb/pp_257677.html?wid=21

All other brands are pretty similar, with the understanding that cheaper devices probably have lesser build quality and shorter warranties.

6 Likes

I don’t know what kind of humidity sensor it’s using, but, yes, that’s the likely reason.

1 Like

I’m tired now, so somebody else can do motion sensors. :wink:

2 Likes

Good point…I just learned this the hard way. Bought some Philips e27 but they don’t fit my wall uplighters. Looking around to replace them and generally it seems many wall uplighters have this constraint.

I used to own a couple wemo light switches… they “can” be wired into a 3-way circuit but it takes a bit of messing around depending on the wiring you have in your house. Search on the wemo community forums and you will find a thread that MikeP explains it.

@chadbaldwin,

As JD and others have said, different things for different people depending upon the situation. I have a large number of devices, probably half zigbee and half zwave. Some are used as intended, and others, like the Ecolink open/close sensors, I’ve repurposed into a doorbell and lock sensors because they have dry contacts inside I was able to use.

As for motion sensors, I use monoprice, Ecolink, GoControl, PEQ, SmartThings, and Iris brands. By far, the most I have are the Iris motion sensors. They are made by the same company that make ST’s and PEQ’s, and can use the same ST default device type without a lot of work.

The first three I listed all have pretty much the same guts. All of those I have in locations where looks don’t matter because they are big and very visible. I also have them in outside areas, typically under eves or areas where rain won’t hit them directly. All are working great so far, some being there almost 2 years.

The monoprice/GoControl ones face down at an angle, and seem to take a little bit more motion to trip them than any of the others I’ve listed. They do have a very good range, and report temperature, but I have them mounted high (10’). They can be adjusted for a timeout, and also have jumper setting for sensitivity (pets perhaps) but I’ve not used the jumper for that. The Ecolink sensor faces straight out, and is like the other two except they don’t report temp (my model), and do advertise the sensor as pet immune via the same jumper config as the others.

The old PEQ’s are also large. There’s a post somewhere in the community where I posted a pic of the PEQ, ST, and Iris sensors side by side. I bought these because the deal was too good to pass up when Best Buy was unloading these at $19. I only have 9 of these, and I’m glad I didn’t get more. They work great and report temperature, but like I said, they are big and I wish I would have waited for the Iris sensors. They come with a mounting bracket, but it’s useless for mounting in a corner but I’ve been able to make that work.

ST’s sensors are small and flat, and come with a mounting plate and report temperature. They are also the most expensive, and I only have 3. Like the PEQ’s, they don’t mount well in corners. Because of all that I won’t be getting any more. They work great, but the form factor isn’t there for me. I have them sitting on door frames pointed into a room, and they seem to work very well. Be aware though - the design of the battery compartment is terrible. I’ve had to exchange 2 of mine already because the little plastic tab holding the coin battery breaks easily when removing the battery if you’re not careful. Also, the way the battery comes in contact with the metal tabs is poorly designed, and one of mine required a little fiddling to get the battery to make contact. If I have the opportunity, I’ll replace these with the Iris sensors.

My favorite motion sensors are the Iris ones, and I have lots of them. They report temperature, and are very quick to respond to motion. While they don’t come with a mounting plate, their form factor is designed for any type of mounting conditions - including a corner. The backs are angled perfectly for corner mounting. They are also very small and light, and are not easily noticed in a room. The mounting tape provided is significant overkill, and only small pieces are needed. It does take a little bit of effort to include the device, but it works and the device works very well. The device will also quickly flash a green light when motion is detected. Some people may not like that, but I’m ok with it.

Hopefully all that info helps!

6 Likes

Vibration Sensors (Accelerometers)

In addition to the regular motion sensors, there are more expensive ones that also include vibration sensors. These are usually marketed as “multi sensors.”

Different ones will have different Added features. The vibration sensor itself will be used to detect when a large appliances running, like a washer. When there’s a knock or collision of some kind. Or when the sensor itself is moved, which is often described as a “tamper alert” if the device is marketed as part of a security system.

This last feature can also be used as a tilt sensor. One popular and very cool project is to put one of the sensors inside a wooden cube and then have each side of the cube trigger a different home automation event. Lots of variations on this in the community.

brand notes

The fibaro multisensor is very small and intentionally looks like a colored eyeball. Some people love this look, some find it creepy. Motion sensor plus temperature, light, and vibration. Its vibration sensor is used as both a tamper alert and an earthquake detector.

The Aeon Labs multisensor includes a lux sensor. It’s rated for outdoor use, but only if you disable the motion sensor, as it’s very prone to false alerts when outdoors. Still useful for light and temperature detection. Also a popular indoor motion sensor.

The SmartThings multisensor is very unusual in that it combines an accelerometer (tilt sensor) with a contact sensor. So it’s a two-piece device. It’s particularly popular as a garage door sensor where you want to distinguish between four states: open, Opening, closing, and closed. It does not detect motion of other objects nearby, but it does detect its own motion as its position changes. Also popular for the mood cube projects.

2 Likes

To be honest, from an engineering standpoint I’m amazed whenever any of the doubletap smartapps that use precision timing works in a cloudbased system like SmartThings. The problem is that the round-trip time just varies a lot. This makes it extremely difficult to capture a true double tap on the switch.

Because i’m quadriparetic I don’t use this feature at all myself, so I don’t have any personal experience with it. From what I can tell from just reading the forums, it seems to break, regardless of the app or switch you’re using, pretty often. Which again I put down to different processing times because of the cloud architecture.

It would probably be best to start a separate topic in the smart app section of the forum and just ask if people are successfully using any double tap smartapps at this time. (Look for answers from people other than the author of a particular app to get a full picture.)

Meanwhile, as of April 2016, there is a new line of switches from homeseer which offers both double tap and triple tap functionality that should work well with SmartThings because it uses an entirely different method. Instead of trying to precisely time events that are sent through the cloud, the switch itself determines if it’s a double tap or triple tap and then sends a single code to the cloud. this removes most of the problems with lag.

2 Likes

Holy crap everyone, thanks for all the responses, especially @JDRoberts. I was honestly only expecting to get maybe a few words at most from the responses. This has significantly helped.

I was expecting people to just say “get these, they were great, that’s what I use, don’t get these, they suck” haha!

1 Like

And that’s the great thing about this community. Those with the knowledge are happy to pass it on.
… And then there’s me! I know just enough to break stuff and pass on totally useless knowledge!

4 Likes

Yeah, this community is certainly different from many other forums I’ve been on. Usually when you post something like this, you get flamed and ridiculed. I was very hesitant to post at first.

1 Like

There’s not much of that in here at all. It really is a huge base of knowledge. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people.

Use the search often to see if your question had been answered. And if you find a conversation about the subject, post in it about your experience too, even if the thread is old.

Check back often and be active. You can get all kinds of crazy ideas and inspiration from this place… I know I have.

1 Like

@JDRoberts, @fstbusa, @tlrdstd, @johnconstantelo

I’m reading up on the in-wall light switches. Do you guys know if there are any dimmer switches that are (not sure the best way to say it) “data only”…if that makes sense? For example…I install a dimmer light switch…and I set the dimmer to 50%…all it does is send the 50% brightness event to an assigned bulb…it doesn’t actually do any physical dimming.

Does that make sense?

The main reason I want this is because I don’t like the placement of the kitchen light switch, and we have another light switch that is in the perfect place, and it’s never used. So, it would be cool to install a dimmer switch in the light switch I want to use, but use it to dim and control the kitchen lights…

there are some battery powered switches that would work. You would also need to replace the kitchen switch with a dimmer or replace the kitchen bulbs with smart bulbs.

http://www.cooperindustries.com/content/public/en/wiring_devices/products/lighting_controls/aspire_rf_wireless/dimmers/aspire_rf_battery_operated_switch_dimmer_rf9500.html

1 Like

The plan is to install all LED bulbs in the kitchen (only 2 bulbs). Then I wan to use a completely random light switch, that doesn’t even go to the kitchen lights (it actually goes to a plug that is never used…ever). I want to install an in-wall dimmer switch in that light switch, and use it to control the brightness of the kitchen lights as well as to turn them on and off. Because the placement of the kitchen light switch is in a terrible place, and that other switch is in a perfect place.

That’s what I mean when I say “data only” it does not perform any physical dimming or switching…all it does is send the signals to the ST hub, and the actions can be managed from there.

That switch above should be able to do just that. You will need a physical way of dimming your kitchen lights in order to control them. Whether that is a zwave dimmer that replaces your current kitchen light switch or replacing the bulbs with smart bulbs.

1 Like

You could put smart bulbs in the kitchen, two bulbs are pretty budget friendly, even the hues…

You could then either cap off the offensive light switch our just ignore it.

Then use a remote button controller, like a Minimote to turn the bulbs of and on via a smart app.

Such as… (on a Minimote)
Button 1 - lights on at 25%
Button 2 - lights on at 50%
Button 3 - lights on at 75%
Button 4 , lights on at 100%

Also, you could go from 25 to 100 by pressing the appropriate button.

And a second press on each button would turn the lights off.

And you also have the use of the long press on each button.

This remote could be mounted on the wall, and you can use multiple remotes, one by each door.

This would give you a huge amount of flexibility, and could probably be done for less than $100.00, if you get the hues and one remote.

1 Like

The Cooper 9500 is one of the most popular choices, as it looks just like a regular switch.

There are lots of other options:

Or you can also use a $20 wifi no contract phone and use SmartTiles (.a very popular 3rd party customizable dashboard for SmartThings that runs in any web browser)

www.smarttiles.click

By the way, the distinction you were trying to draw is between a “load controlling” switch, which controls the amount of current sent to the light, and one that works just as a “remote” or “wireless controller.” The wireless controller may be wired into mains power on a different circuit, or be battery operated.

1 Like

I’m not the OP, but I gleaned a lot from this thread. I’ve read through it several times now, trying to store it all away. Based on this and some other research, I have purchased:

With these – and the Schlage smart lock I picked up in the clearance/returns section of Home Depot today – I’m looking forward to expanding my smart setup and (hopefully) writing some code soon!

2 Likes

I’ve learned quite a lot as well.

I ended up ordering 3 more OSRAM Lightify Tunable White 60W bulbs, the SmartThings pocket socket, the Aeon Labs Z-Wave minimote, the SmartThings motion sensor and the SmartThings multi sensor…mainly for the temp sensor. I’m going to play around with the minimote to see if I can use that for the kitchen lights instead of the normal light switch. It will also be nice to be able to set up some rules like when I go to sleep to shut off everything…same for when I leave the house.

I’ve been really happy with the OSRAM bulbs and don’t really have a need for color right now. The only time I can see wanting color would be for notifications or something.