I’m going to keep adding to this and be the guinea pig for others. Everyone is aware of the outages, firmware, problems that ST has been having since the beginning of the year. There have been numerous discussions around LOCAL processing, the benefits and downsides thereof and many of us (myself included) have really wanted a more local system. So in this great adventure I have ventured out into the Home Automation market to try to find the ONE. I’ll try to update this often.
This is a really good system for a DIY open source project. The entire environment is written in Python and has integrations with a ton of systems. A primary example that lots of people find with other systems is the lack of support for Lutron Caseta if you don’t have a PRO hub. Well HA supports Caseta standard. As with everything in HA it is not “official” because there’s nothing official. But it works. Other pieces such as Harmony, Hue, etc do work. One problem I had was with Barrier class devices (Garage Door). Because the system is based on Open Z-Wave there’s some catching up to be done with devices and so device support for some “normal” things is lacking. But for others they have good support. However there’s a steep learning curve on setup and for a lot of what we think of as standard sensors, they take a bit of coding and patience to get working.
Wink Hub 2
I bought this system as it was all the rage with everyone and all the big names “Nest” are promoting it and such. So I bought one (I already was running ST). I waiting a while and after another outage hit I decided to take it out of the box and set it up. Setup was easy as it was advertised. Then I started trying to add devices. The Android app is nice, clean somewhat confusing as there’s a lot of pages in the app to go through for the settings and such. The first few devices I tried adding was my thermostat (StelPro Ki Z-wave) and it added without problem and worked. Yay I thought. Then I added a motion sensor. Well it came online with a device type of “Door”. Open/Close state. I was like ok I’ll just change it to “Motion Sensor”. Yeah, no go with that. So I had a motion sensor that was now a Door… hmm… well it worked. I could go with that. But I myself didn’t like that. So after a few other devices and other sensors I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like the way things were presented and the lack of control. Now this may also be lack of experience and knowledge with the system. But again my opinions. I wanted a Motion Sensor to display as motion and not have to think too hard about what device was really what and especially when creating rules (robots). So the Wink is sitting in my pile of things to figure out something to do with
The new kid on the block. Everyone is reading the threads on it. So far the system seems good. It is young so pace your expectactions accordingly. As for device support I’ve been able to get a lot of stuff directly ported from ST into Hubitat with very little effort. I have found a few devices that for the life of me just won’t work. The strange device is a Zooz Motion Sensor (ZSE02) which in ST used the Generic Z-Wave Motion Sensor DH but for whatever reason it just doesn’t work in Hubitat. So that’s a work in progress and very weird. Otherwise things are working and being integrated. Third party integrations are slowly coming. Again if you have Caseta Pro then it’s great, if not then you’re out of luck at this time. Hue integration is in progress as with other things. A few nice things are the Life360 for presence was available on day one and so was Entry/Exit delays. The delays alone caused an entire thread here in the community.
[UPDATE]: A lot of progress is happening with Hubitat. A new dashboard is available. It originally started here, but was a good fit for Hubitat. That answers one of the questions about access. Still no mobile app, however I think the dashboard could be mobile friendly. Lots of continued devices are working. WebCore is in process of porting and has very good results so far. Keep an eye out for that.
So with all of the new stuff I went ahead and ordered a Vera Plus system to play with. I figured hey, why not. It’s been around a long time. It should be a mature product and every site I go to for devices and sensors and what not all have Vera plastered everywhere like it’s the defacto standard and everyone supports Vera. I even checked StelPro and their documentation is only geared towards Vera. So in the time waiting for arrival I spent some time browsing their forums and reading and seeing what is happening. I noticed a few things immediately. A big one is their forum system is ancient and in desperate need of upgrading, but that’s more opinion than anything. The second thing was a lot of complaints about firmware and stability and such. Typical type complaints, a lot of what we see here. Then came the next thing that happened early early this morning that I noticed today when I got online. I posted a message last night. Late last night with an introduction and some questions regarding certain devices, and what is used for a rules engine and what is the status of firmware and stability issues and I think was caused the issue was I asked, with all of the complaints and problems on the forum I want to know if I should return the Vera Plus system before I even open it as there are a lot of complaints. Well. My post went into “awaiting approval” status. Ok, that’s interesting. So I check today. My post is GONE. No where to be found. I even check my profile for posts. Nothing. Doesn’t exist. So I have created another post asking about it. We’ll see how that goes. But it seems that Vera is not very keen on criticism or questions about their products. Very sad for a “professional” company that is trying to sell security services to behave in such a manner. I will update as I learn more.
[UPDATE]: As I wait to get my Vera Plus box, I posted another question on the Vera forum this morning. It is still pending "approval:
[UPDATE]: My original post has “magically” appeared. Some views and no replies.
[UPDATE]: The forum manager for Vera contacted me. He was very sorry that my message was removed by the spam filter. Whether true or coincidence doesn’t matter, as Vera staff appoligized and things are fine. I have been browsing their forums and posting with no further problems.
[UPDATE]: With my continued fun with Vera Plus I ran into stability issues. Most of these issues came from “plugins” or apps that I was using. The idea that a plugin could crash the entire system seems a little silly, but it is true. So the whole thing of it’s all local is true, except if an app you use depends on internet access and then when internet is not available that crashes the whole system because the plugin throws the entire system into a loop.
This plays into the factors of the hardware. The hardware specs are ehh… ok. and fine for running z-wave devices and zigbee devices, basically for all of the low level things. However when you want to actually DO something with those devices you get into the realm of what Vera calls Scenes.
Scenes are very limited and don’t even provide an “AND” condition. You have 1 trigger and OR condition and 1 action. That’s it. Not very powerful, just a very simple system. It is fast though. In order to do more complex or even really complex things you need a plugin called PLEG. PLEG is the best Vera plugin out there. It provides full support for very complex automations and they all run local. There is a rather steep learning curve to PLEG, but once figured out it is very powerful.
Alexa integration works well. There’s separate control to change the Alexa name of a device compared to what you name it inside Vera. The vera names are limited to I think 20 characters so being able to have full names in Alexa is good. The integration is simple and fast and you can include/exclude devices which is also nice.
Google Home integration requires a 3rd party plugin and a separate server app Google Concierge. I didn’t bother setting it up as I have Amazon Echo’s all over the place and the Google Home wouldn’t provide me with anything else.
The Vera Plus has great z-wave support and it works great and handles everything I had to throw at it. The Zigbee support is very limited. If it’s not on their “supported” list on the website, then it won’t work and Vera support will try to help, but it won’t work. Just an FYI.
I did go ahead and purchase a second Vera Plus unit to test their Multi Controller master/slave setup. For the most part this works very well. It allows to have a slave controller connected to the network at a distant location. All of the devices show up on and are controllable from the master as well. You can centralize your automations at the master and all is good. Now for the bad. If you decide to have plugins on the slave you have to have the same on the master otherwise things get wonky and start having problems because the plugins want to “replicate” to the master as well as the devices. Every plugin creates a “device” that’s how you interact with it. All devices are then populated from slave to master. So if you use the slave purely as a device controller then all is good.
There’s also the OpenLuup project which is running a open source version of the Luup engine (vera core) on a raspberry pi or even any computer system with Lua. This is a cool project and it interfaces/bridges with vera perfectly. It’s nice and can be used as a “control point” where you have your plugins there and then the vera is really just for PLEG rules and device control.
Ultimately I ended up using Vera as a device-controller and then used Home Assistant as my front end and automation system. Vera integrates with Home Assisstant very nicely as a hardware controller.
***[UPDATE]***There’s this very good thread going on currently that really goes into the claims of LOCAL capabilities from Vera. It details out the actual internet dependencies that exist with a Vera system. There’s the well known RTC (Realtime clock) deficiency with Vera, but there’s even more.
They so far, seem to be quite responsive. I got an email this morning about a question I had regarding how to make my GE Fan Control show as a Fan Control and not a Dimmer. I was surprised to have a support response on a Sunday morning. Vera has a “remote access” capability through their support portal where their staff can remote into your Vera box (it’s a unix/linux of some kind, I’ll update once I know more). This is nice and you have to manually enable and provide them with the access key which is nice and secure.
I have decided I would go ahead and up the ante and I introduced Homeseer into my evaluations.
I’m sure most everyone has heard of Homeseer, but many may not have used it or looked into it because of the high cost. Yes Homeseer is expensive. Even the software only solution is expensive, and then a lot of the plugins are additional cost. However In my evaluation as of yet. I’m learning the old saying “You get what you pay for” is very true with Homeseer. There is a reason why there are integration companies that make lots of money deploying and configuring Homeseer. It’s very powerful and in many areas complex. But after spending time messing with it and being on their forums things are getting much easier.
If you go the software or hardware route you still need a “controller”. The controller for z-wave is either a USB stick (Homeseer branded, aeotec, nortek, zwave.me) they all work well. Or you can use a Homeseer Z-Net which is really cool, but expensive. It is a z-wave controller connected to your network. This is z-wave over IP. Yes technically it is a raspberry pi with a z-wave board but it integrates directly with Homeseer as a remote z-wave controller. Great for that far away place z-wave just can’t reach. For Zigbee you will also need a controller. This can be a ConBee zigbee usb interface or the RaspBee board. I tested with the Nortek/GoControl usb stick as well but it worked for z-wave but not for zigbee.
Hardware: You bring your own hardware or you buy one of their controller systems. This is pretty cut and dry with the choice depending on how much you want to pay. They have offerings that start very reasonable so they are worth looking at.
Zigbee support is well… almost non-existent. There’s a great plugin for Hue lighting and one for Osram/Sylvania Lightify. That’s about it currently. The Hue plugin is expanding to support additional ZHA devices, but this is a known limitation of zigbee support. Know and understand this going into things.
So far HS has accepted everything I have thrown at it without a problem. Probably the best z-wave support out there. There is no searching for a device handler, things just work. I’m sure I will eventually come across something that doesn’t work, but so far I haven’t. Even the obscure Fibaro Button (big red one I like) and the Fibaro Keyfob were both included and ready to use and create events for the buttons. Top notch z-wave support.
[UPDATE] One of the really cool things with Homeseer is their Z-Net device. It is a simple Raspberry PI with a custom Z-Wave HAT or add on-board. But this simple things makes the impossible possible. This is a Network Z-Wave controller. If you have out buildings or a large house and trying to figure out how to extend Z-Wave to distant locations. This is THE answer. The Z-Net has wired Ethernet or WiFi networking options. It can also be used as an inclusion controller. This is very unique to Homeseer and very powerful for large installs.
It uses a Web based UI for administration. Some will say the UI is old and dated. I don’t really agree. Yes it may be old looking but that’s appearance and up to peoples opinions. I find the interface to be very friendly and usable. I’ll take usable over pretty any day. I can easily find devices, sort them configure them modify, look at events (get to those) and look at, sort, query my logs. Having logs right there and filterable is great!
***[UPDATE]***For those that say the GUI is old and Ugly I say then change it. It’s wide open and the full SDK is available. The extension capabilities are enormous. I think this is the intention, that the built in web GUI is just for “admin” purpose any presentation should be done through the HSTouch interface capabilities. Although HSTouch is cumbersome to learn it is powerful. There’s also open source and third party tools like The Home Remote that works with Homeseer and with SmartThings as well. So if you are looking for a very custom dashboard this is a good option for lots of systems. I like Home Remote I may do an article on it alone.
Events: aka automation
HS calls automation’s events. Like Vera calls them scenes it’s different terminology. However when you step into the realm of events… we’re not in Kansas anymore. The event system is VAST and powerful. This is the part that I’ve spent a lot of time with and only feel like I’ve scratched the surface. There is a learning curve but there’s a lot of help on the forums or with HS direct. Example of a curve is using a timer. When I first thought of timer, it was like a kitchen timer. It counts down right? So set a timer for 5 minutes and when done do something… nope. Timer is more like a stopwatch. It starts and keeps going until you do something with it. So instead of setting a timer for 5 minutes and then when it stops do something, you have to set a timer and then when it reaches 5 minutes do something. When you think about it, it opens a whole world of possible things. You can check the time, pause it do something, check something, resume the timer, repeat etc. Just a lot of options. Anyways the point is the event system is poweful.
I have not had any interaction with support other than the forums as yet. I haven’t had the need to call them directly. I search the forum and if I don’t find it, I ask a question and someone answers and sometimes it is the HS support that answers. HS staff does a good job of participating in the forums.
***[UPDATE]***I have contacted support with some questions. They are very quick to respond and provide valid answers. I have not had any problems yet that were not my own cause (playing with events).
I have ran SmartThings, Hubitat, Vera Plus, Home Assistant as my primary systems all with time to evaluate. I can rank them in order of stability.
- Vera Plus
- Home Assistant
I have used each system for greater than 30 days and within that time period if I had an outage not caused by myself or a third party plugin that I was playing with it was noted.
I have had the greatest stability with Homeseer running on my Windows 10 PC that I also use daily for web surfing, development with Visual Studio 2017, Postman, My Blue Iris server etc this ran on my daily use system and not a problem or issue. I do plan on moving Homeseer to it’s own dedicated system.
As you can see SmartThings is at the bottom of the list. This is due to the Internet requirement and cloud dependency on the system working. At any given time Samsung/SmartThings can and does do updates or changes and that causes problems for lots and lots of people. There’s also the local internet factor of if you lose internet at your house. It may be isolated to only you, but your system is now down.
The Smartest House
The Smartest House
Ok, why am I including TheSmartestHouse? I have been in email conversations with them regarding a recent order and getting details on things. They are extremely helpful and quick to respond. I voiced my issue with Vera and they volunteered to contact Vera to resolve the issue with my posting. I’m impressed. I’ve since asked them my questions/concerns in regards to Vera and if their forum behaviors are to be expected. I’ll update as I learn more. However I have purchased many things from thesmartesthouse and have had excellent customer service in all regards.
I’m going to continue updating as I feel there is more to add/correct and soon I will have a conclusion of what I end up running at least for that period of time.
Please reply with your experiences with other systems that I don’t have listed. My intent of this is for my own education on the market, and to see what’s what with the Good The Bad and The Ugly that is out there. Perhaps my money and pain will save others from the the same experiences and I guess I’m trying to find out what’s good for me. The grass is always greener when looking at it from one side of the fence. So I’m going to eat the dog food and see how it really is and then make my decision on what system or maybe combination of systems is right for me.
As you may have seen in other postings I have made public that I have switched my primary system to Homeseer. Is it perfect? No. But it is stable and reliable and does what it’s supposed to do if I don’t break something… which I do. But there’s no coming home and things acting weird and not working. Or strange lights on/off in the middle of the night. I have no Poltergeists anymore as @JDRoberts refers to the issues :)
Each system that I have reviewed I have done at my OWN EXPENSE. Nothing was given to me or on loaner for evaluation. I have spent a lot of my own personal time and money in trying to find the best system for my use and still have full control over it. To get any better I would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a managed system from one of the BIG vendors and then I would have no control or tweaking ability with the system. If you’ve bothered to read through this entire thing congratulations. My intent is not to disparage SmartThings as it is a good system and has it’s place in the eco system. If anyone disagrees with any of my points please reply and provide your feedback.