Choosing a hub

Hi all. I’m just now dipping my toes into home automation and looking for advice on what to buy. My girlfriend and I both use Apple stuff (iPhone, iPad, HomePod, Macs) and I like how committed they are to privacy and security, so that makes HomeKit sound attractive. But I have been reading that Zigbee is a better protocol because of its mesh design and the HomeKit issues with changing the Wifi password, etc.

I an what you might call a power user, so I’m not afraid of a little scripting and Linux DIY. But I absolutely do not want to juggle multiple apps to control everything on a daily basis. My roommates would especially hate this.

So far I just have an Ecobee and iDevices Switch and it’s all working great with HomeKit. I am trying to decide whether to continue buying HomeKit stuff, or to get some kind of Zigbee hub. My immediate need is 2 wall switches to control dumb lightbulbs and a porch motion sensor. I might get more lights and plugs in the future.

I have read a little about Homebridge but it sounds pretty buggy. Should I try to control everything through SmartThings, or maybe Hubitat with Homebridge, or something else?

SmartThings may be good by your description. If you want to stay with HomeKit, Aqara just released a zigbee based hub that is HomeKit approved.

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Lutron Caseta, using the Caseta Smart Bridge Pro, provides excellent HomeKit integration. Lutron’s switches, dimmers, and fan controllers are some of the most reliable on the market.

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They have a motion sensor now, too. :sunglasses:

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Thanks. But it looks like Caseta Pro uses a proprietary protocol so it can only control Lutron devices. Right?

Control directly, yes. But it also uses WiFi to communicate with HomeKit, the same as the Philips Hue Bridge does. So all these devices will appear in the HomeKit app and you can use that app to mix and match them in your HomeKit automations. :sunglasses:

Aqara hub looks cool. But I can’t find any documentation about which protocols it supports, i.e. ZHA, Zigbee 3.0, etc. It just says Zigbee. And do you know if it can work offline?

I’m also interested in the max number of devices. Aqara hub says 32 devices, same as ST. Hue hub says 50. I suppose this has something to do with CPU and memory resources. When you get close to the maximum, is there any noticeable issues with response time, etc.?

Ideally, I would want to have just one hub to control all devices, just to minimize clutter, wiring, and power consumption. Since I will build up the system over time, I’d like to have a hub with a high chance of supporting future devices.

Aqara uses their own zigbee protocol right now. But they have zigbee 3.0 devices coming this year. Doesn’t really matter when it comes to HomeKit since HomeKit requires certification per specific device. So you can’t buy a generic zigbee 3.0 device, pair it to Aqara and have it show up in HomeKit.

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OH! This is a really important detail. Are you sure about this? I was under the impression a single HomeKit hub such as Caseta Pro would present all of its child devices to HomeKit. For example the Caseta Smart Wall Switch doesn’t specifically mention HomeKit compatibility, but it should work anyway, no?

I used to be in the “one hub to rule them all” camp as well. However, I have to say that Lutron products just work…reliably…and consistently. If you want smart light switches, dimmers, and fan controllers, as well as Homekit support, Lutron is the solution.

Lutron integrates with SmartThings (except for the fan controllers, unless ST has added that support), Hubitat (local, via LAN connection, requires SmartBridge Pro), Logitech Harmony Hub, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit ( requires SmartBridge Pro2), Home Assistant/HASSIO, etc…

I used to have Z-Wave switches and dimmers, and they were always a bit flakey. I had issues with having to rejoin them to my hub, for example. Issues with them reliably reporting physical status changes, etc… With Lutron, all of those issues are gone. I have ~70 Lutron devices connected to my SmartBridge Pro2. The SmartBridge is then connected to HomeKit, Alexa, Google, and Hubitat all at the same time. Works better than any other hub I have ever used in terms of reliability and performance.

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Yes, a single Caseta Smart Bridge Pro2 (the 2 is important for HomeKit support!) will present all of its switches, dimmers, and fan controllers to HomeKit. You’ll want an AppleTV 4, most likely, to act as your HomeKit controller.

You can also add window shades to a Caseta Smart Bridge…but they are pricey…

Not necessarily. First rule of Home automation: “the model number matters.”

For example, the ikea Tradfri hub has HomeKit support, but they have added the individual devices that work with that hub at different times. First it was just the bulbs. Then they added the plug-in pocket socket. The blinds originally worked with HomeKit in Europe, but not in the US. (They just very recently added that.)

And even though the IKEA Tradfri bulbs can work with the Phillips hue bridge, if you use that configuration the IKEA bulbs will not be shown in HomeKit, even though they would be shown in HomeKit if they were connected through their own gateway. And even though the Phillips hue bulbs connected to the Phillips hue bridge will be shown in Homekit.

BTW, this isn’t only true of HomeKit. The Lutron smartbridge has an integration with SmartThings, but while the Lutron dimmer switches are exposed to smartthings, the Lutron pico remotes or not. However, if you use the same Lutron devices with Hubitat, they will all be available. There’s usually a technical reason why a particular model isn’t available when other models are, but it’s just something you have to look at model by model for any brand.

But not the Lutron Pico remotes. :wink:

and, yeah, I love my Lutron stuff. Best engineered devices in their price range, and they have the patents to prove it. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of the new motion sensors, they have engineered the heck out of that thing. :heart_eyes:

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Could have engineered some better packaging. Thing is huge!

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But it has a 10 year battery life, like the pico remotes!

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Pretty sure that’s to make it work freestanding without falling over. And there’s this:

The motion sensor has a 180-degree field of view, and Lutron says it can detect fine motion three times better its competitors.

This device was designed to be a motion sensor that turns on lights (and fans) rather than, like most of the competition, a motion sensor designed to be part of a security system.

We’ll see what kind of reaction it gets once it’s shipping, but I think consumers are going to be happy with it. :sunglasses:

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I have read a lot of positive things about Lutron. But why is it required to get the Pro or Pro2? On Lutron’s website it says even the basic SmartBridge works with HomeKit. The big difference I see is that the Pro model adds Telnet for local control, but Hubitat is the only hub I’ve seen so far to make use of that. I don’t have any plans for a security alarm system.

With Lutron SmartBridge, does HomeKit integration happen locally, so it would work when the internet goes out (and with lower latency)?

Also, will the Lutron hub allow me to automate with other sensors? For example, using an Ecobee motion sensor to trigger a Lutron switch?

You are correct. The Pro models include local LAN Telnet capabilities which can also be utilized by platforms other than Hubitat. Hubitat’s Lutron integration is amazing, especially since it allows for Pico Remotes to be used seamlessly as “Button Controller” devices. ST users have found ways to use Pico remotes as well via the Pro bridge, but it does require a man-in-the-middle server, like a Raspberry Pi, IIRC.

Spending a little extra money now for the Pro2, is simply a way of future-proofing your purchase. Many users buy it the Smart Bridge Pro2 via EnergyAvenue.com. I have bought from them multiple times without any issues.

Word of caution - do not buy a first generation Smart Bridge, as Lutron does not support activating these any longer. The second editions (both the Pro and non-Pro models) is what you’d want to buy to avoid any headaches. Many folks have bought the earlier generation on eBay, only to find out the hard way that they cannot register and activate the device. In these cases, Lutron support is usually willing to swap out the early gen for a second gen unit. Pretty amazing customer support, IMHO.

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Ecobee would be for a thermostat, correct? Integration wth Ecobee for everything except HomeKit, requires a cloud integration via Ethernet.

If your devices are already HomeKit capable, then the ‘Apple TV4’ HomeKit controller could be used to create automations that mix and match all of your HomeKit devices however you see fit (within the capabilities of what HomeKit automations offers.)

Using Zigbee and/or Z-Wave devices with HomeKit is where things get complicated quickly. As @prjct92eh2 mentioned earlier, Aqara is releasing a hub that is HomeKit capable and should, in theory, allow Aqara Zigbee devices to be easily ‘seen’ by HomeKit. They would then be able to be used in HomeKit Automations like any other device. I am not aware of a Z-Wave bridge to HomeKit that does not involve the use of a custom man-in-the-middle server solution like HomeBridge. Getting HomeBridge up and running is not terribly difficult, but is also not trivial or plug-n-play. You also need to have a Z-Wave controller that is supported by HomeBridge, like a SmartThings Hub or Hubitat Elevation hub.

As you can see, “Choosing a hub” is not a trivial decision. There are pros and cons in whatever you choose. Knowing what your long-term goals for home automation are will really help guide the decision-making process. Are you looking for ‘control’ of your home, or is home ‘automation’ what your looking for? Some platforms are more robust/resilient and perform quicker at certain tasks. Others offer for integrations, but suffer from a dependence on both your home Internet connection as well as the vendor’s Cloud Server platform.

Just thinking out loud… most home automation solutions revolve around one main automation controller, where the majority of rules/automations are executed. Popular choices for this are Apple HomeKit, SmartThings, Hubitat, Vera, HomeAssistant/HASSIO, etc… The list used to include Staples Connect, Lowes Iris, and Wink. Both Staples and Lowes have shut down their platforms, and Wink appears to be a sinking ship with its users jumping to alternative platforms that support the majority of their existing devices.

So, I guess we’re back to the question of “What would you like to accomplish with home automation?”

No matter how you answer that question, I believe that Lutron for lighting is never a bad choice, as it can be integrated easily with most every current home automation system on the market. Getting the PRO2 model of the Smart Bridge, just keeps all of your options open. I have replaced almost every wall switch in my home with Lutron Caseta, and I can honestly say that I have never had a single issue with any of these devices.

Hope this helps…at least it might generate some additional questions for you… :thinking:

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