Looking For Info on Automating My Lights


(Chris) #1

I’d like to begin automating/monitoring some of the electric in my house, specifically some light switches.

My intial goals are:

  1. Have some select light switches in the house connected to my home network so I can program to come on/off while I am away.
  2. Monitor/log when lights are on/off.
  3. Control lights via the internet.

The lights I have in mind are on a dimmer. There are three locations within the house and need to be controlled independently, so no coordination is needed directly between any lights.

A phone app would be nice as well, however there must be an API so I can write my own automation code to control and log data. I prefer to have direct, local access to the device via my home network, but a cloud based approach is ok if thats all that is possible.

Lastly, the lights I want to control are a mix of incandescent, low voltage (from Tech Lighting), and CFL.

I finally found SmartThings. Before I buy anything, will a SmartThings Hub coupled with GE Z-Wave dimmable switches fit the bill?

Thanks!


#2

Hi @slaterson, yes indeed it will. Welcome to Smarthings and the community! You will find tons of information about devices, the IDE, and getting questions answered.

I have almost 160 Things in my ST environment that I use for light and temperature management, as well as smoke/CO2’s, leak sensors, water valve, garage door openers, motion, presence, etc… I also have a home energy monitor that I use Grovestreams to collect and graph data. If you do a search on that you’ll see how it works, and what to do to get started.

You’ll also find threads on what devices work well with LED’s, incandescent, etc type bulbs. I have a mix of all, and all my switches are GE, including my fan controller and dimmers controlling halogens and incandescent bulbs.

For me, ST has been very stable the last few months - including managing and controlling my home remotely while in Italy for 2 weeks last month, and London the previous month. There are “times” when things just flake out for a bit, but that’s where patience comes in.

The mobile app UI needs a good overhaul though. I think in the beginning ST had a vision for how their app would function, but now I believe that strategy needs revisited. Device tiles use icons (which are very limited), not names unless you shake your phone to see it. That is just not acceptable when you have the number of devices like I do. There’s also not a lot of user interface changes you can make to tailor the app to how you may like to use it. For me, I’d prefer Things to be the landing page for the app, not the Dashboard. Also, finding where to do what in the app can be very frustrating. There are lots of threads on all those subjects.

Hope that helps!


(Karen Baker) #3

So I have some ST in my home, I also just added a vacation rental with it’s own hub. I bought the GE Z-wave switches. They claim to work but you need to be sure you have a neutral wire and be careful with the different bulb types. I don’t have answers just cautions. I had to return 4 switches because I couldn’t find the neutral and didn’t want to pay the electrician. Will continue to study and see what others have to say here.

Karen


#4

160 devices would be very hard to use with the official app.

I know you’ve been in the community for awhile, is there a reason you’re not using the free SmartTiles dashboard? It’s gotten official recognition from SmartThing now so it’s hosted at SmartThings and there’s a quick install procedure.

It basically does start with the Things page, and allows for lots of customization. It runs in a browser, so should work on most phones.

It doesn’t do everything the official app does, but as far as the Things page goes, it’s a great improvement.


#5

Hi @JDRoberts, no particular reason. I’ve gotten use to the app and have “mastered” moving around and getting stuff done. So have my wife and kids, believe it or not. While ST still needs to implement true individual user settings and devices, permissions, etc, we’ve moved from ST being one of my typical gadgets/toys, to becoming how we interact and use our home. I hope to some day soon have my Amazon Echo be a part of this environment as well! Sure, my kids still mess with each other, but that novelty has pretty much gone away and I’ve not put a lot of worry on when ST will address what I mention above beyond what’s there now. The one thing SmartTiles appealed to me was the ability to individualize and do what you mention, plus even more.

My wife and I spent time together setting up Groups based on each room, or what logically made sense based on how we live and work around our house, and what we wanted it to do. At first she was very skeptical, but after really using ST for a while, it was my wife that said we should buy more, and we serious took advantage of Best Buy’s recent 50% off Peq devices.

One thing that was pivotal for her and the kids using ST was the significant improvement in the Android app’s performance in starting up. Remember how long it took just for the app to start? It was terrible. Early on she was like “it’s faster for me to get up and turn off a switch than this stupid app”, now it is much much better and stable overall (for us at least).

Additionally, my “hack” for naming devices was also a game changer. As you are well aware, shaking a device is not for everyone, or anyone for that matter, and for someone like yourself it is completely unacceptable IMHO. My wife was creeped out a bit, and it reminded her of those stupid Shake Weight as seen on TV commercials… ST should have changed that a long time ago, and I remember a long way back when I participated in the first few Android betas where everyone complained. Unfortunately, it’s still here for now…

Saying all that, sorry for the length of this post, I did use SmartTiles to create a Guest Room controller for my in-laws when they stayed here for a couple weeks. I had an old Samsung S4 sitting around, so instead of giving them complete access to everything, I only set up things they needed to use and control. It worked perfectly, and my father-in-law became a fan of ST. Like you said, it doesn’t do everything, but in this situation it was spot on.


(Chris) #6

I’ve got 3 wire with hot (black), neutral (white), and ground (bare). Sounds like those dimmers will work.

Is anyone using these switches with Tech Lightning fixtures? Also, besides GE, what are some good quality dimmers? I’ll be starting with a couple switches, but eventually will replace many more. I’d like to use identical switches throughout the house, of course.

Thanks!


#7

My personal preference is for devices which not coincidentally also have longer warranties.

The GE/Jasco and Linear switches have 1 year warranties. Cooper’s Aspire line have 5 year warranties.

But the Cooper do cost more per device.


#8

Based on your technical description, I am not sure that SmartThings fully matches what you want to do.

Although custom development is encouraged, there are many functions kept “behind the curtain,” and there is no full API in the usual sense. Even the very experienced coders don’t always know exactly how functions work, and there is no prenotification of back end changes.

There are several developers who have written a lot of their own control systems, you might want to check with them before deciding.

I’d include @pstuart , @geko , @scottinpollock among that group, but I’m sure there are others as well.


(Chris) #9

Thanks JDRoberts.

The type of things I’d like to do are:

  1. Automating lights to come on at random times within a given window. I.e. I wake up and get to my desk around 6:15 am, and I always turn the light on. I’d like to program the light to come on, especially, when I’m travelling, between 6:10 and 6:20 am on week days, then not until 6:45 am - 7:15 am on weekends. Likewise, I’d like to turn them off automatically bed time, again at a random time in a given window.

  2. Poll the system to get status of all connected devices. I’d like to know when lights are on or off and if possible get a history of power consumption. This could be done in ‘realtime’ (poll every 10-15 minutes) or if logged by ST, poll once a day. I’d like to take this data and cross reference it with things like the amount of electricity the power company is saying I have used, my monthly bill, etc… I’ve got the data, so why not report on it. :smile:

If there are supported apps that do #1 already, great. For #2, I want the data available to download and store locally. While the cloud is great, it’s my data and I’d like to retain a copy of it.

Thanks for all the replies from everyone. This is very enlightening!


#10

I think you can already do what you’re asking for if you use some of the community-contributed code. @tslagle13 has written several popular “director” apps that might fit the bill. See the following topics for an overview of how things work. These aren’t technical topics, but they’ll give you an overview of how the pieces fit together.

.

You’ll have to ask about the logging. The system keeps 7 days, but I don’t know if anyone’s set up a scraper yet.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #11

I’d love to take the credit, but the lighting director etc., SmartApps are by the wonderful @tslagle13!


#12

My bad! Thanks for the correction, I’ve updated my post.


(Tim Slagle) #13

Well I guess if I HAD to be mistaken for someone else @tgauchat isn’t all the bad :wink:


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #14

But you’re a cat… A CAT! :cat:… Grrrr. :dog2:


(Chris) #15

I have looked into the Cooper switches and they get pretty good reviews everywhere I look. I also just checked SmartThings compatible list and there are no Cooper products listed. Do the Cooper dimmers work with ST hub?


#16

A number of community members are using Cooper switches. There are some caveats:

  1. if you’re just installing one load controlling master, you’ll probably be happy.

  2. if you want to add aux switches for a 3 way, you’ll need a Minimote to associate them and the results may not be quite what you expect:


(Chris) #17

Thanks for that.

Are there protocols other than Z-wave that offer better functionality? I mentioned Z-wave in my original post only because it’s what I landed on in my searches. After looking at SmartThings compatible list, it seems there are many other options. The goal is to have the things I’ve listed above in a high quality product, with high functionality.


(Chris) #18

Based on the reading I did last night, Z-wave is the way to go for lighting, ZigBee for items like locks.

Is there a more functional/higher quality dimmer switch than the Cooper?


#20

See this FAQ on Zigbee vs Zwave. Zigbee dominates the smart bulb market (both Philips Hues and GE links are zigbee), but Zwave switches with dumb bulbs may be cheaper.

I don’t know of any reason why you’d choose zigbee over zwave for locks in the US, or vice versa, same pluses and minuses with both. If you live in Australia, zigbee gives you more choices, not many zwave locks made for that market.

Most big home automation companies are using zigbee locks, but that’s because of the advantages of zigbee sensors, not the locks themselves. Since SmartThings allows for both protocols, you can choose zigbee sensors and still have a zwave lock if you like.

Within the SmartThings community, I think more people have zwave locks, they work well.