Home automation advice needed

Hello all! I was hoping to get some advice on using ST. I’m currently in the process of building a new home and would like to integrate as much home automation as possible because it’s impressive. I’ve honestly been pumped about ST, reading about it, seeing videos, etc etc. But recently I’ve seen many bad reviews and people who simply can’t stand it. What’s the reasoning for this? I love technology, but my beautiful lady wouldn’t be happy if stuff starts malfunctioning like crazy.

Next, if YOU were building a new home, what would you install? Things you would skip? Things you can’t live without?

So far, I’m sticking mostly to switches. The reason being, correct me if I’m wrong here, but even if ST malfunctions, at least the light switches will work normally. Just haven’t decided what’s the best wifi switch to go with because I’ll probably need close to 30 switches.

Thank you for your advice in advance. Glad I found this forum, great information here.

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Hi @irfhuss,

Here is my two cents.

Stick with the basics:

  1. Lutron or GE Z-wave in wall switches.
  2. Z-wave Motion sensors for motion lighting control in rooms and perimeter security.
  3. Smart thermostat. e.g. Honeywell wifi thermostat or NEST which can be connected to SmartThings.
  4. An inexpensive connected wireless camera system for security and integration with ST. e.g. Blink/Arlo/etc.,
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@irfhuss

Hi Ifran. You asked “But recently I’ve seen many bad reviews and people who simply can’t stand it. What’s the reasoning for this?”

I think there are basically two reasons:

1 IOT is new and there are questions if IOT can ever be completely reliable as everyone’s internet reliability is different. Everyone’s environment is different. Some people have very reliable internet connections and no interference in their environment. Smartthings works very well for them. Others not so much.

  1. IMHO Smartthings grew much faster than they anticipated and are experiencing growing pains. Sometimes they fix one problem only to break another.

Any way, if you are able to be patient and live with some quirks, go ahead and buy it. Smartthings is very addictive although most of us have a love/hate relationship with it. We are hoping that eventually things will settle down ad we will have a great reliable product. Just don’t hold your breath. It might be a while.

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Hello, I am pretty new and I am in the same boat as you. I have not had any time to develop the system as I’d like but I have been testing some stuff out. I bought a new home and even thought I am not living in it yet (will move next week) this is what I bought in general:

schlage lock be469 (works as expected but I had to install a repeater close to the door)
logitech harmony hub (no tv yet to test)
3x motion sensor (DWZWAVE2-ECO) works great (turn light on after door open)
two blink cameras (works great) pretty much activate when I leave the home… I am guessing I will setup Core piston to be disabled after 10 minutes after arriving the home but I have not yet investigating on how to do it.
1 amcrest camera 720p I have downloaded the smartapp but I have not set it up yet. Gotta connect to the router and assign static ip, etc.
two cheap amazon tablets for smartiles. There’s a thread here on how to setup for walls, always on etc but I have not done anything yet.
1 minimote (not setup yet)
1 fibaro mtoion sensor I had it setup and it was working but it fall to the floor with the tape. Still works just had to install on the wall with the screws.
Siren gen5 aeon not a lot to comment I have not setup the security yet after reading so many reviews here I’d like to live the house first before configuring home security.
4 ecolink motion detection. Works great.
3 ge plugin 1 outdoors two internally. Works great so far and are excellent as they are repeaters.
3 of GoControl WO15Z-1 Z-Wave Single Wall Outlet, White not installed yet.
3 Philips 456210 Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 Bulbs Wish I had more.
GE Z-Wave Wireless Lighting Control On/Off Switch, In-Wall, 12722 (not installed yet)
4 iris contact sensors (not yet installed)
I have a sonos system which is integrated but I had not had much time setting up… I’ve done sound alerts when a door it’s open, etc…
2 of GE Link, Wireless A19 Smart works great so far
1 water sensor aeon not installed yet.

I would have like to setup more switches but I have not investigated all of my outlets to see if the neutral cable is available. I have not bought any thermostat as I live in PR and we generally do not use central air just mini split in each room, areas, etc. I will be buying soon an aeotec smart home meter and probably a couple of more outlets, switches.

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If you have a bad Internet connection, it’s a problem, but most of the problems with SmartThings have nothing to do with your Internet connection. They have to do with random errors in the cloud. This is acknowledged by SmartThings engineering staff, and they are working very hard on fixing it. They’re just not there yet, and it’s not a quick fix.

When SmartThings works as intended, it is absolutely my favorite home automation system. It is flexible, versatile, with an excellent vision and a great community.

The problem is that it is at present a very high maintenance system, with a lot of “minor” errors that pop up every week or two and major errors every couple of months. Since last November I have yet to go 10 days without some impactful failure. These are all situations where something that worked on Monday just stops working correctly on Tuesday. Very frustrating.

I myself am Quadriparetic (use a wheelchair with limited hand function) so I have to pay somebody else to do any maintenance, including “just” opening the mobile app and saving something again. Or resetting batteries on a balky device. Initially I had a lot of stuff on SmartThings, but it was costing me 30 or $40 every week in these kinds of fiddly maintenance issues. So I have since moved any “mission critical” tasks on to other systems. I still use SmartThings for some convenience cases like getting a notification if the guestroom window is open when it’s going to rain, because it just does this kind of stuff great. But I can’t count on it.

If all you want is automated Light switches, get Lutron Caseta switches. If you want to add voice control, you can get either an Amazon echo or use apple’s HomeKit. The Caseta line works with both, and I use it with both. ( it doesn’t work directly with smartthings, though.)

What you can do with SmartThings that you can’t do with just HomeKit is set up rules with multilayer stacked conditionals (if a, then b, but only while C and not D) and you can start adding a much wider variety of devices, including light sensors, pressure sensors, leak detectors, etc. All of which is great except for the instability.

If SmartThings reliably did what it’s supposed to, it would be at the top of my list, no question. But since after literally a year of living with it I found that I needed reliability at the top of my list, I’ve accepted having fewer features in order to have more stability for my primary automations.

But other people will make other decisions. Many people love the power of what SmartThings offers, and they’re willing to spend an hour or so a week keeping it running, and they accept the fact that the lights might come on unexpectedly at three in the morning or the ones scheduled to come on at sunset don’t sometimes. Choice is good, and different things work for different people.

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BTW, I don’t expect cheap home automation to be perfect. My own requirement is an MFOP (maintenance free operating period) of at least six months. Lutron Caseta lighting, Philips Hue lighting, Logitech Harmony a/v controls, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Echo have all met or exceeded that standard. But these are all limited feature systems, they are not trying to do anywhere near as much as SmartThings offers. But then my MFOP for SmartThings, as I’ve mentioned, has been about nine days during the last year.
That is, every 10 days I have to do something with it just to keep it going. :disappointed_relieved:

So you can get reliability in an inexpensive home automation system that has limited features.

Right now if you want much more versatility, the reliability has not been there for the low-cost systems.

You can get full features and very high reliability in the very expensive systems, Like Control 4, but those typically cost about 10% of the price of the house. way outside my own budget. :sunglasses:

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Also, I just need to say this because it’s going to drive me crazy if I don’t (network engineer issue, sorry)

There are only a few brands of “Wi-Fi” light switches. Plum is one. But that’s not the lighting protocol that most home automation uses.

Instead, the entire category is called “networked” switches or “RF” (for radio frequency). Different protocols cannot talk to each other.

Lutron

Lutron makes Excellent switches on their own proprietary RF protocol called “clear connect.” They also hold a bunch of patents, so most of the other RF device companies have to license some patents from Lutron. Lutron focuses on only one thing: lighting control. Their goal is a maximum of 500 ms before the lights come on, and they try to get it to 300 ms. They do have their own IFTTT channel and they do work with Apple HomeKit, so it’s not like they are completely independent of everybody else. They also have an open API so that some other companies like Logitech Harmony and Wink can include Lutron integrations. SmartThings has chosen not to directly integrate with Lutron.

Zwave

After Lutron, probably the most popular protocol for RF switches is Zwave. Switches using the Z wave protocol are made by many different brands, including Leviton, Cooper, GE/Jasco, and GoControl. Home Depot, Lowes, and Best Buy will carry some so they are widely available. Different models have different features, but there are quite a few choices and they’re generally good switches. Like Lutron’s clear connect, zwave doesn’t use Wi-Fi, and like Lutron it also doesn’t get interference from Wi-Fi, so that’s good. Most SmartThings community members using switches probably have Z wave switches.

However, almost all zwave switches require that there be a neutral wire at the Switchbox. The neutral is used to power the radio so that the switch can hear the next “on” command from the network even if it looks like it’s off. (Lutron switches don’t require a neutral because of another one of their pattents that they have not made available to other brands.)

If there isn’t a neutral at the switchbox, you have some options, like “fishing up” a neutral from a nearby outlet, or using an in wall relay and putting it at the light fixture instead of replacing the switch, but it’s something to be aware of. And it may be that some of the switch boxes in your house have neutrals and some don’t, this is common for US houses built before 1980.

Zigbee

Another possible protocol is zigbee home automation (ZHA 1.2). The smart things hub supports both Z wave and ZHA, and there are some community members who have opted for zigbee switches. Like zwave, these will require a neutral wire. Unlike zwave and Lutron, zigbee can be drowned out by strong Wi-Fi. Sometimes you just need to move the device a foot or so to the left or right to avoid interference , which works fine for sensors, but not so much for light switches. :disappointed_relieved::level_slider:. Many people, myself included, chose smart things because it can support both Z wave and zigbee devices – – but that doesn’t mean they use zigbee for light switches.

The general zigbee standard is popular in China so you can find a lot of cheap zigbee switches on international sites, but most of those will not work with smartthings because they are not certified for ZHA. Many use their own proprietary and coding and will only work with their own controller device.

Bluetooth

There are a few Bluetooth switches starting to come out, but it’s hard for them to compete with the other protocols because they have much shorter range and they usually have to be paired to a phone. They’re OK for some very specific use cases, typically an outdoor light with a switch indoors in an inconvenient location, but I don’t know anybody using them as a whole house solution yet.

WiFi

And, as mentioned, there are a few Wi-Fi switches, notably Belkin wemo and plum. These will also require a neutral wire. The Wemo are compatible with SmartThings. WiFi draws much more energy than clear connect, Z wave, or zigbee, so you get better energy savings if you choose one of the other protocols. Also, many Wi-Fi routers are limited to handling 30 to 50 devices, and if you start using those up for light switches then you may not be able to use them for your game players or tablets or laptops. If you use clear connect or Z wave or zigbee doesn’t affect your Wi-Fi at all, and while the total varies, most of them can handle many more devices then your typical Wi-Fi router.

So that was probably a lot of stuff you didn’t really care about, but it’s just an explanation of why most automated switches aren’t actually “Wi-Fi,” and that’s generally a good thing. :sunglasses::bulb:. But it does mean you need to select your switch protocol with the pros and cons of each in mind, including which systems it can interact with.

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True, true… I have 3 wemo wall switches and 4 wemo insight switches. They work great but not better than a zwave or zigbee switch / plug. I am considering selling them to free up space on my 2.4ghz wifi band. I’ll keep the one wemo insight switch so I can remotely & schedule my ST hub to turn off/on…

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@JDRoberts
Here is what is driving me crazy. My primary security system is cellular only except for video cameras where I will have to connect the cameras to the internet. It is not as cool as the Right Now feature in Smartthings, but by looking at the notifications in real time it works the same way. It has never missed a lick. So I have often wondered that if Smartthings worked on cellular wouldn’t it be more reliable, although there would be a small monthly fee for cellular service to pay the carrier?

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my own minimum requirements for a home security system is that it do cellular notifications. My medical monitoring system does. SmartThings does not.

I don’t consider that essential for a home automation system, but then I’m home most of the time. Someone who was also using a home automation system to monitor a rental property or a vacation home or an elderly relatives property might well prefer cellular notifications as well.

I had hopes that when the V2 have came out with two USB ports on the back that would be able to add a cellular dongle, as some other systems like Iris do. But those ports are still disabled a year later. :disappointed_relieved: Maybe in the future.

If I were building a new house:
Start with lighting. Make as many switches as possible z-wave switches. Switches are the best, because they are manual and automated. Use smart bulbs for any lamps (I love Cree connected). If you need color - Phillips Hue or Osram Lightify.
Controls: My favorite HA component is my Amazon Echo and Dot. They let you use voice commands to control things. Plus all of the other amazing things it does.
I also have a few Aeon Minimotes that I use as light switches for lamps that are not on real switches.
The other thing I love is having SmartTiles on every device with a browser. Phones, tables, laptops, Smart TV - EVERYTHING! You can view and control your whole home from one beautiful screen. I use it 100 times as often as I use the ST app.
HVAC - I just got an Ecobee thermostat, based on tons of recommendations from here. Too soon to tell if it’s great yet.
Doors/Locks - I have Chamerlain MyQ doors in my garage and love them. Others have had problems, but for me their great. I haven’t done Smart locks yet, but my MOM of all people has them and loves them. So they have to work pretty well.
Security - Get a good 3rd party security system. Don’t leave security to ST - just don’t. I’d get good Smoke/CO2 alarms too. I have old dumb ones, but thinking about upgrading soon. Same for video cameras. Also, outdoor lights on motion sensors - smart ones are good, but dumb ones are just fine too.
Also - if you’re building a new house, wire up every room with Category 6 ethernet cable. WiFi is great, but having a hard-wired connection is always nice. It allows you to place things like the ST hub, Phillips Hue hub, and other components anywhere you want them to get great signals. While you’re at it, but the bestest, fastest new router that you can find.
Enjoy the adventure ahead of you!

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Absolutely, @hbr I think that’s a big reason as to why I’ll be integrating as many switches as possible. My goal is to ensure that if the system fails, we have other ways of controlling the lights.

Wow @kristianyonuel thanks for the info! Are you controlling all of these through smartthings?

Wow @JDRoberts thank you so much for your responses. You’ve really helped me understand this whole thing. One question for you. I really like the lutron switches, specifically some dimmers that they over and I like the fact that they work on lighting control and specialize in it. So would a solution be to use a smartthings hub, a hub that controls “clear connect” and an amazon echo to control both the smartthings hub and the hub that controls clear connect? This is all under the assumption that I really want Lutron switches, but also want the flexibility to use different Zwave options that smartthings offers.

That could certainly work. It just comes down to how integrated you want devices from the two systems to be. You can put them both in an echo group, which is very nice. But again the main issue that people usually run into is when they want a motion sensor controlled by SmartThings to trigger an overhead fixture controlled by Lutron. That’s when the lag can get you.

@JDRoberts
I mainly use my system for security backup but I would be somewhat interested in HA, but although all my outlets are three wire, none of my switches are. They are all two wire. That leaves me with few options, although it frustrates me when my wife leaves a room and does not turn off the lights. I am constantly following behind her turning off the lights.

Hello Irfan! Yes, still learning and installing the rest. I’ll move this
weekened to the house so I’ll start playing more. Just ordered today the
aeon home monitoring monitor.

There are several options for two wire switch boxes if you’re in the US. :sunglasses:

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