My journey to Home Assistant

Hello Community,

For those of you that don’t know me, I am a long-time (independent) developer of various SmartApps and DTHs including Ask Alexa and the GE Motion Sensor DTH, to name a few. I even have my name immortalized in the SmartThings app for one of my first apps, Color Coordinator.

Anyway, I have always (tried) to treat this forum like a training area…this is where I came when I first started using SmartThings in 2015, and I was always in awe of those ‘community masters’ that would unselfishly share their knowledge with the community. With that in mind, I always wanted to ‘pay it forward’ and help the community like I was helped.

As such, I wanted to post my journey off of SmartThings, as I have seen that bold statement many times, but no one ever shared how they did it or their outcome…Typically, you simply get a long post about everything that is wrong with SmartThings and a ‘see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya’ type of good bye. While this post will be long, I hope it never comes across as that I hate SmartThings. Just the opposite…When SmartThings first started, it was a FANTASTIC concept. Did it work all of the time?..oh, heck no! But the concept was there, and that is what I bought into.

As I learned to program for the environment, I spent a considerable amount of time in the forums, and even got a call from Amazon to interview for a position in Seattle as an Alexa Evangelist because of my work with Ask Alexa. While that job didn’t fit where I wanted my career to go, it was an honor just to interview.

As mentioned above, SmartThings started with a great concept, and while it was buggy and inconsistent in the beginning, most of us ‘old timers’ were able to work around it. After Samsung bought SmartThings, a funny thing happened…the platform became MORE stable. I know this wasn’t everyone’s experience, but there was a full year where I had to do practically nothing with my implementation and my automations simply ‘worked’.

However, this move to Samsung also started closing the door on some of the uniqueness of SmartThings. The ‘community’ feeling went away, and slowly, some of the ‘openness’ of the platform was depreciated in the spirit of ‘stability’. I work in the tech industry, so “I get it”…the cloud is expensive, and the original platform did not scale as it needed to. While there was a time I would have loved to see SmartThings charge a subscription to keep the old environment, I also applaud them for keeping the service free. In retrospect, this was the right move as another funny thing happened since 2015+…Smart home automation is now no longer ‘fringe’…everyone can and does do it in some form or fashion. Looking at the industry, we can probably partially thank Amazon for making this a reality, but the truth is that was happening already with ISPs and security companies packaging motion sensors and light switches with their services.

While I lived through the Samsung ST app change, then the Alexa smartapp change, the piece that really concerned me was the move away from Groovy. After 2019 I no longer spent time programming and had no desire to learn ‘the API or Edge’. So to ‘mentally prepare’ myself for this Groovy change, I began removing ALL non-standard SmartApps and DTHs in an attempted to run ‘stock’. You know what…I was ALMOST able to do it…but two things stood in my way…WebCore was about 50% of my automations, and about 10% of those required my GE DTHs…While I figured out a way to mimic the DTHs functionality with a few automations, I couldn’t stomach the loss of WebCore and the automation power it provided that everyone in the household just took for granted.

About 8 months ago, I began teaching myself Docker with a small cluster of Raspberry PIs. It had been a while since I had looked at these small credit card sized computers, and they had become rather powerful…so much so that I starting just experimenting with OpenHAB and Home Assistant. While I didn’t really like OpenHAB, Home Assistant really impressed me by integrating items that I never even considered adding to SmartThings (Because you simply can’t)…This included my home’s IP camera, my LG TV, Washer, Dryer, etc. There was even an integration to control SmartThings through Home Assistant…so I could have everything in one platform! And, since HA has its own automation engine (or you can integrate with Node Red), I figured I would try to re-write all of my WebCore apps to Home Assistant. After a few days, I had done that without any perceived change to the way my home worked day-to-day. However, since my GE switches were still in SmartThings, I was worried that when the day came that Groovy was gone I would not longer be able to use them as I had…so I made a ‘silly choice’…I bought a $50 Zwave stick for Home Assistant so I could “simply move those 12 switches to a system where I could control them as I had been accustom to”. You probably see where this is going…One week later I moved ALL 50 of my Zwave devices to this stick. Now, since I was only using SmartThings for Zigbee, I didn’t have 100% local control…So we all know where this ended up…I bought a Zigbee stick and moved all of my devices over to HA as well. It has now been one week since I put my SmartThings hub in a drawer just to make sure I didn’t need to plug it back in…and I haven’t.

If have have read to this point, I will now get ‘to the meat’ of what you want to know…How ‘hard’ was the transition, should you do it, and what are the advantages/disadvantages.

To address the difficulty, that is hard to say…Home Assistant is VERY well documented…Think of their forum as the SmarThings forum on steroids. Any question you run into probably has an answer…literally! There hasn’t been one question about programming, error messages or bugs that I haven’t been able to find an answer to. However, this will NOT be a simple ‘set it and forget it’ system…there is no company running this…it is all community driven (Just like ST in the ‘before times’). As such, you get a hit and miss on the quality of the information you read online. However, it is VERY well baked, and if you are willing to put in the work, it can be rewarding. However, be ready to dive into APIs, YAML and concept changes like devices that then have entities driving them. You don’t turn on a device, you toggle the on/off entity.

As for ‘should you do it’, I would say the way I went about it was a good way to start. Don’t buy a PI and simply set a weekend aside to convert. Instead, install HA without any ST devices and just play with the ‘other’ integrations.Then, integrate ST into HA. You don’t have to change one thing with ST or your automations to do this, and you don’t need to install ZWave or Zigbee on HA as the ST hub can be a ‘slave’ to your HA implementation. Then, if you want to go further, start simple and do some automations for your ST devices in HA. If you have WebCore, it takes some work (And mental concept changes), but everything I was doing in WebCore I was able to do in HA. If you then take the plunge into the USB radios, do the devices one at a time. The great thing about HA is once you build an automation, even if you remove the device (entity) from ST and move it to HA, the automation still works if you name the device the same (you MAY have to edit some automation YAML if the device ID changes, but the main point here is that you don’t lose the automation work you put into HA because a device is deleted then added again).

Finally (whew), the advantages…local control. If any of your automations in ST run locally, you know the advantages of this. Even with an internet outage, your stuff still runs. HA even emulates a Phillips Hue Hub, so you can have Alexa access your devices without paying for the service that allows this natively in HA, And, you can pick and choose which devices Alexa sees. Just be prepared to learn a little YAML!

However, there are a few ‘disadvantages’. Again, if you came into my house 1 year ago and today everything works as it did while in ST…the lights come on when you enter a room, and when I say good night it locks the doors and shuts off all of the light. This is because I spent WEEKS converting everything over. So, disadvantage #1…If you have multiple (I had 100+) devices and automations, etc, plan to cancel some of your free time, This is a time sink! The rewards when it ‘just works’ are great, but you DO need to invest the time. One big disadvantage in the HA world is that you have to be VERY careful when editing automations or rebooting the system. Remember, everything is operating from a single Raspberry Pi…when you edit an automation it re-writes the WHOLE automation file where the other automations live. As such, if you have a timer set in a triggered automation and you save another automation, the timer will just stop for the original (and all other) automations. Also, with this being a non-cloud implementation, your compute platform is a SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE. If you ‘fry’ something, have a power glitch or something happens to that small computer, you will have to start over. Now, this leads into another advantage if you never liked the concept that there was no migration tool for the ST hubs…The paired ZWave and Zigbee devices ‘live’ in the USB sticks; if you ‘fry’ your PI, simply set up another one and plug in your USB sticks. If they survived, you should NOT have to re-pair any devices. And, since the data lives in the stick, as long as you back up the memory (NVM) of the sticks, you can move that to another stick and STILL not have to re-pair your deices. Backing up is ALWAYS good advice and it becomes paramount here; if you follow good backup practices for your HA environment, you can literally recover from a drastic failure of hardware in about an hour.

The last item can either be a disadvantage or an advantage; updates come out for this platform constantly…I like this as the community is always fixing things and adding things. However, some things break in these updates…Eariler this week I was unable to edit the names of any of my devices because of an update. However, 24 hours later there was another update and it was fixed. If you are OCD and like consistency, HA will be VERY ‘triggering’ to you as things are constantly changing…however, from my view, this is always for the greater good so I enjoy it.

I hope everyone found this post useful. While I don’t want to hijack SmartThings’ forum for this discussion, I am open to providing ‘broad advice’ in this thread or through PM, as another user here has done for me (you know who you are :)).

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Don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at the edge beta, but I am feeling mildly optimistic with regard to the new architecture. There will definitely be a lot more local processing: all the hub connected devices (zigbee and zwave and some LAN) Plus the official rules engine will all run locally. (For real this time. :wink:) Not sure about the app: I haven’t been able to get an answer on that yet.

But you take that base and add one way matter support to it and there is a definite possibility that a year from now smartthings out of the box will have decent local operation. We’ll see. :sunglasses: if it does, it will be a lot easier for most non-technical people than home assistant.

That doesn’t mean home assistant won’t be a better option for some people. Every system has pluses and minuses, and everyone has to decide for themselves what works best for them.

I appreciate the amount of detail you put into your post. I’m sure it will be helpful to a lot of people, if only to give them a clear picture of what some of the options are.

For myself, one of the things that SmartThings taught me is that I have to put reliability at the top of my own list of requirements. Because I am quadriparetic, for me, home automation isn’t just an interesting hobby. It’s an essential part of my everyday routine. So as you may remember, a few years ago I moved my mission-critical use cases to Apple HomeKit. It doesn’t have the same power or flexibility (although it’s been getting better on both), but I have never had the experience of having something that worked on Monday suddenly stop working on Tuesday without me having made any changes. And I need that. But I do still use SmartThings for the versatility it gives me for the nonessential use cases. Again, different things work for different people, and I appreciate having choices.

I also appreciate everything you’ve given to this community over the years. Well done.

JD,

Agreed…Unlike some of the posts I have seen the past, I was trying to be careful not to say “you need to move because I did”. This was more for the folks that want to move from (or supplement) ST but have no idea what Home Assistant is like or if they believe it will be a 1-hour migration. Just want folks to have all of the info to make an informed choice.

And you are right…Home Assistant is NOT for everyone. Again, it ‘feels’ like SmartThings circa 2018…Customization and ‘open’ but as reliable as it needs to be. If people need an ‘appliance’ where it works closer to 99% of the time, then HA is NOT for them and SmartThings is a better choice. And as you pointed out, with less ‘flexibility’ the possibility of better reliability can even be achieved. If I have to admit it, I DO like tweaking and HA fits my requirements…but I DO pay the price in causing my own issues (Just a few minutes ago I was ‘tinkering’ and just had a misspelling of my code and maxed my CPU… :slight_smile: ) I do believe if I had stopped midway through my conversion (HA as a controller for ST) I would have been perfectly content and had a system that didn’t rely on WebCore so much (which will be going away someday).

I don’t disagree that Edge sounds like a good solution. I DO question the power of the hub for some of the ‘high end’ users…even the PI struggles in certain circumstances with HA. My fear is that some users may eventually require a new hub to get some of the high end features they want to run locally. ST has been slow (but to their credit, diligent) with the Edge implementation, and had timing been different, I probably would have put the work into learning Edge/API programming. But, each to their own and I will hang out here to continue to watch the progress.

On a personal note, you have always been a beacon of reason and sanity in this forum. Your insight from a different point-of-view helped me with my various code-endeavors here! I have always appreciated your leadership here.

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Thanks for the kind words, but I consider myself more of a resource than a leader. Sort of like that old guy behind the desk in the hospital reception area who tells people where the cafeteria is. Or the x-ray department. :thinking: It’s useful information, but not exactly frontline work.

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Leadership is also humbleness…

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For those of you that liked my original post, thank you! I wanted to do one more post now that I am about a month of living without the ST Hub in my life. In addition, I want to expand on a couple points from my original post that I think are important and as I look back, probably the main reason I enjoy Home Assistant so much.

The big question…do I miss my SmartThing hub? No…simply put. But remember, outside of the Alexa integration and the other things around the house that were compatible with ST’s infrastructure, SmartThings was simply turning devices (mostly Zigbe and Zwave) on or off in ‘fancy’ ways (automations). As I reread my original post, the thing that impressed me the most with HA was NOT that aspect…it was the fact that I could now, from a single dashboard, see my washer/dryer (Non Samsung) my television (again, non Samsung), my IP cameras video streams (non SmartThings) and other things that that were NOT Zigbee and Zwave. Once I was fully in on HA, I could then use the simply on/off aspect to control a wider range of devices around the house (i.e. Turn a television off when the house lights are off and in ‘sleep’ mode). Yes, you CAN do that with SmartThings…if you happen to have a Samsung product. I think this is the biggest ‘sin’ of the ST infrastructure…the ‘easy’ integrations are wrapped around Samsung’s other products. I never even considered adding my LG washer and dryer to ST, but this was easy with HA and I found uses for it that I never dreamed (i.e. keeping track of the number of washes and alert when it is time to do a tub wash). When you start having ‘brand tie in’ you start to limit your options or freedom of choice. Now, is it theoretically possible to add LG (or other brands) to ST using the new Edge platform? As near as I can tell, yes…but you (as an end user) will have to wait for someone to do that, or you do it yourself. That same is true for HA, but many of these were tackled in the past few years, so going from ST to HA feels like a door opening up to a wide, open field.

And as we are taking about ‘open possibilities’, I discovered something in just the past few weeks that has me really excited. The ‘holy grail’ (IMO) of home automation is ROOM PRESENCE detection. I played with with when I was on ST, but it seemed overly complicated and not very precise. Enter the integration of ESP32 micro controllers in HA. These are little ($3-$4) WIFI and Bluetooth devices that sit in each room. Pairing this with Bluetooth Low Energy (i.e. Fitbits or cell phones) I carry around, I now have rather decent individual person room detection in my house…for less than $50.00 all in including the small cases and cables I bought to house these units! Now, it is NOT 100% perfect, but works MUCH better than multiple motion sensors in a room that become less important for room detection when you stop moving (like sitting watching TV or working in an office). No more waving my hands in the air to ‘remind’ the home automation system that I am still in the room. Again, not saying this isn’t possible with an MQTT integration to ST Edge, but this literally took less than one hour to set up and get working in HA. Nothing I ever did in ST ever seem to take less than an hour :slight_smile:

I will reenforce my recommendation/warning from my other post as to whether you should do the conversion to HA. This, again, is really up to you…but I reiterate the fact that you WILL have to put some time into HA. This is an ‘investment’…When I first got HA working and transferred my automations I spent a LOT of time plugging away in HA as the logic of automation is slightly different than ST with WebCore. However, now that everything is ‘tuned’ I spend about 90% less time ‘babysitting’ the platform as it hums away. I have had some (Zigbee) mesh issues and devices that seemed to stop working for no reason, but the recovery of these is easy (which is usually popping the battery and reinserting). And, to be clear, this has only happened twice and is NOT unique to HA (this happened in ST).

So, overall, a month in, I haven’t looked back…ST was great for me to learn the concepts of HA, but in my circumstance where I want a bit more control over the environment and don’t mind spending a bit more time ‘hand holding’ the system, it was right for me to switch.

Hope this is helpful. I won’t post any more about my journey as I think I have closed the door to ever come back to ST and I think ST folks are tired of hearing about how great the ‘other side’ is. It really depends on your needs, and I won’t play the game of “come over to the dark side, your side sucks”. Each to their own…

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Before transitioning to HA, had you considered migrating to Hubitat as an alternative to ST? Personally, I’m 100% in with Webcore, so I envision the transition for me to be less intensive than rewriting everything in HA-speak.

I was 100% into WebCore as well and I did indeed consider Hubitat before I started my journey. However, since I already had the Pi I did OpenHAB first and then HA, and didn’t consider anything else after running HA. Yes, I had to re-write my automations, but I did that over a week as I transitioned certain devices, so it had dual purpose…let me migrate and learn the HA environment at the same time.

No knock on Hubitat, but even as I continued my research it felt like HA had a bit more integrations that I was looking for.

At the end of the day, I now have local control which is what I was looking for (outside of control over my specialized devices that always needed customer DTHs).

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I’m curious how you got LG integrations as I thought LG is being brand centric with their “thinq” platform as they no longer link to IFTTT?

I seem to be the oddball, coming into the ST platform when others are considering leaving it or already have.

I’m a Hubitat user that was augmenting things with Home Assistant/zigbee2mqtt and a CC2652P coordinator to cover devices that are not, and will not be, supported by Hubitat on their current hub (and possibly future hubs).

Over the last few months, I’ve had two occurrences where all of the zigbee devices that were tied to HA/z2m just fell off the network for no obvious reason.
Took about 10 hours combined effort to get everything back in working order.

That was definitely a hit to the WAF.

A YouTube channel I follow is really big on SmartThings are did a video about the Edge drivers.
I liked what I saw enough to buy yet another hub.
That’s how I ended up here.

The devices that were on HA/z2m are now running on an Aeotec V3 hub with Edge drivers to see how it works out. I’ve also moved some devices to ST from Hubitat as well.
So far we’re liking what we’re seeing/experiencing with the Edge drivers.

It’s not perfect automations-wise, but it’s usable.
My wife isn’t complaining that something stopped working, so that’s an added bonus.

I won’t connect HA and ST together since I’m not willing to pay Nabu Casa a monthly fee to access it, and I don’t feel like investing the time and effort to do that myself right now.

There’s no denying that HA is very powerful and you can spend a lot of time configuring, tinkering and learning.
It’s just not for us as our primary home automation device.

No idea where I’ll ultimately end up with all this automation stuff…

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By going to Home assistant I was also able to ditch IFTTT. The LG integration is part of the ‘community’ integration part of Home Assistant:
image

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Each to their own, but no subscription is needed to allow ST to integrate with HA. If you are familiar with SSL certs and port redirection on your router you can integrate it natively. That is how I ran for a few weeks and worked great. I was also one of my goals…no subscriptions.

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Curious, what specific brands/models of Zigbee devices ‘just fell off the network for no obvious reason’ ?

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They were all Tradfri devices with fresh batteries; motion sensor, on/off dimmers, 5-button remote, shortcut buttons.

Batteries were fine before and after the occurrences.

Ah yes, IKEA devices… IIRC, some of these don’t use the traditional Zigbee HA1.2 or 3.0 standards that are most popular amongst many of the Smart Home Hubs. I believe the IKEA Motion Sensor and Button devices use TouchLink, instead of traditional ZHA (somebody please correct me if I am wrong about this!) The IKEA devices seem to work most reliably when paired to an IKEA hub. The IKEA Bulbs and Outlets do seem to work well on most hubs, however their color bulbs don’t use the same color scheme as pretty much all other bulbs on the market.

BTW - there are numerous reports of battery life issues for the button controller when paired directly to a ST hub, for example

The other troublesome brand of Zigbee devices are the Xiaomi/Aqara devices. These are very challenging to keep connected to a standards-compliant Zigbee Home Automation (ZHA) controller (i.e. hub). They also perform best when paired to their own hub.

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I use a number of Tradfri devices paired to their own gateway and then used with HomeKit and they have been very reliable for me. And I do the same thing with aqara devices with one of their camera hubs. Solid, reliable, well priced, but neither works well with smartthings for me. Or with other zigbee hubs, and I’ve tried several. :disappointed_relieved:

My hope is that once smartthings has Matter support it will be able to bring the IKEA and aqara gateways into the smartthings app with everything except the ST app running locally. So basically the same way the hue bridge works except with even more devices exposed to smartthings.

I can’t say for sure that that will happen, But I am mildly optimistic. And if it does happen, for people like me who don’t mind having an extra hub in the mix, I think it will be a very solid solution. But we will have to see. :thinking:

I should also say that given my own background as a network engineer, and my own life experiences as someone who is quadriparetic, my personal high priorities at this point are an easy to use voice accessible app, good voice control, and high reliability, preferably with an MFOP of six months. If I can get that, I don’t care how many brands or hubs it takes, because it doesn’t change my day-to-day experience.

But I know there are other people who just can’t stand the thought of needing multiple hubs, so as always, different things will work for different people.

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While I promised my last post would be my actual last post on this subject, I did want to share what happened tonight as the ‘other side of the coin’ discussion.

To ensure no radio interference from the Raspberry Pi, I mount the USB radios (zigbee/zwave) away from the Pi with a USB hub. You probably all know what I am going to say next…yep…the hub blew up. It was a cheap hub (blessing and curse) so I was able to cable up extension to both radios and get everything working within 1/2 hour, and then get a more reliable hub (and spare cables) ordered for delivery tomorrow.

So, obviously this goes to show that this is NOT an appliance and you have to have some troubleshooting ability (and spare parts) to ensure you don’t have a lot of downtime. On a more positive side, if my ST hub would have blown up I would probably be down for a week while I wait for a replacement, and then the task of re-pairing every device (100+) to it.

Again, if you ARE looking for an alternative, be sure to go in eyes wide open!

THIS should be my last post on this subject…thanks to everyone that found it useful.

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Thanks, it was a helpful post. I have a vague idea of moving over to HA if/when Samsung decide to brick the V2 hubs like they did with the V1s.

I would be sad to leave ST behind as ive got everything ticking along very nicely, I just know I’d hate to be forced to upgrade by a planned obsolescence of my current hub

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Well, promises broken again…someone asked me to post a ‘6-month’ report on how my Home Assistant implementation is going, including any major accomplishments or regrets along with way. Here we go:

Overall, I do NOT regret moving…my house has never been as stable as it has in the 6 months or so that I have had this installed. While I commented in my earlier posts that Home Assistant needs to be ‘watched or tweaked’ a bit more, I am finding that isn’t the case so much when you have everything ‘dialed in’. Automations just run, and when they don’t I typically investigate and it ends up being a ‘edge case’ my automation didn’t account for. In fact, I am going to admit that the LESS I look at it, the LESS problems I end up having. Even when I have had issues, I found I was the root cause and was ‘playing’ with the system instead of letting it run. The GREAT thing?!? Even when I toast the whole system, recovering from backup with a fresh install takes less than 1/2 hour with the automated backups I perform. My system is running so great that I have taken opportunities replace ‘questionable’ devices that have been flaky over the years. I always hesitated doing this in SmartThings as I was never sure of where the problem was…HA has great logging that I can now identify when a device is the root cause. And replacing a device does NOT trash your automations…simply name the device the same as what you had it before and 9 times out of 10 you won’t have to do a single thing in the interface.

Other positives (at least in my view) are these…constant updates. Last month I counted 8 updates to the core, OS and ‘supervisor’ that installed without a hitch. And, while there are downsides to multiple updates for community software (i.e. bugs), I will say that while they do happen, they ARE rare…The flip side to this is that each ‘module’ in HA has a owner that you can get bug reports to very quickly. I had an update last week that messed up Google Calendar integration (yes…this is as cool as it sounds as you can create automations with what is in your calendar). I immediately filled out an issue report in GitHub. The next day a few other users experienced the same thing, and within 48 hours the ‘owner’ of the code fixed it and put it in the second overall update of the month. There are STILL bugs in ST that I put in years ago that are not fixed. :slight_smile:

The negatives? Well, I am hard pressed think of any major ones. As mentioned above, the updates are a double-edged sword, but new features are ALWAYS coming out, so I can tolerate the minor bugs for those new features! Other than that, there are no ‘functional’ bugs I can speak to. There are interface items and other nuanced items, but nothing I can’t work around. When there is an issue (i.e. the device you are hosting this on fails) the failure is typically spectacular (in other words, you reboot and then it won’t come back). This is stressful, but as mentioned before, if you keep spare parts and good back ups, you can be up and running again VERY quickly.

The big picture message is that I don’t regret for one second the migration. I know Matter will be a part of HA seamlessly after it is released, so that is exciting. And as mentioned way back in my original post, I love being able to get a wider variety of devices into my ecosystem and simply having them work instead of writing my own DTHs for them.

As always, each to their own…I am not one to say that everyone needs to convert. There is a HUGE learning curve going to HA, but I spend most of my time now looking at the interface I created for my house for information instead in the ‘guts’ of the system troubleshooting.

In fact, it is time to move on completely from SmartThings…If there is anyone that wants to give me a fair price for my SmartThings hub (version 2), PM me…While I kept it around for sentimental reasons ( and to ensure I didn’t need it), I am ‘all in’ on HA and would love to find it a new home in the community.

I hope this helps those that are curious about how my migration ended up 6 months later!

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Thanks for the update! I’m glad it’s working well for you!

As for this:

I’ve been following the matter discussions for home assistant pretty closely. Matter Support with a Thread radio has been announced for HA yellow, but that’s not in production yet. It’s due out later this year.

As for any other versions, I’m seeing “possible“ but definitely not “seamless.“

Is there something new in this regard? :thinking:

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