My SmartThings Z-Wave Experience So Far


(C L Sanchez 1877) #1

Hey all,

I have not been too active on here lately, but I wanted to post an update on where my house is and where I think I am headed next.

Current Home
My home is a 2,450 SF 1-1/2 story home with two HVAC. In all, I have about 110 light bulbs (switched fixtures), 14 lamps, 4 counter lights, 41 switches, 9 two-way switches, 5 ceiling fans, 4 bathroom vents, 3 smart outlets (12 at christmas time), 2 HVACs and a partridge in a pear tree. My home alarm is hard wired and not smart. I also have about 20 low voltage garden lights in the front.

What I Have Done So Far
17 switched lights and 12 lamps have been changed to Philips Hue lights. All other lights are dimmable GE LED’s.
7 Phillips Hue switches have been added to the setup.
24 light switches have been changed to GE Z-wave switches.
5 two-way switches have been upgraded to GE Z-wave add-on switches.
Exterior garden lighting is on GE Z-wave appliance outlets
2 HVAC units were upgraded to Ecobee Thermostats (1 up and 1 down). I have 12 remote sensors on these (one in each room with a register).
1 Kwickset Z-wave front door lock
1 Ring Doorbell
1 zigbee contact sensor on mailbox

What Works So Far

  • I have learned that the Z-wave system in itself is solid within in its own environment, and that Phillips Hue system is solid within its own environment.
  • I find the Ecobee system is rock solid within its own environment.
  • I find the Smart Light app to be very reliable given the limited functionality of it, albeit I find sunset/sunrise scripts are only 90%.
  • I find WebCore to be very reliable as long as the pistons remain small, but I find motion based commands to lag considerably.
  • I get a reliable notification when there is motion at the front door.
  • I get a reliable notification when mail is delivered.
  • Front door lock is solid - no issues.

What Does Not Work So Far

  • I am disappointed in the reliability of SmartThings to read a Z-Wave switch action and issue a Phillips Hue command. I have two or three switches where I have to toggle the switch on and off a few times. I attribute this to interference, but I have exhausted changing wifi, z-wave and hue channels to resolve this. I have an environmental issue where every house in my neighborhood has multiple wifi networks (I have two myself) and there is a lot of interference.

  • On both Webcore and the Smart Light App, I find the sunrise and sunset commands to be hit and miss…roughly only 60% accurate if I had to guess. It is not an exaggeration to say that 3 days out of a week that I have to either still manually turn on exterior lights at night or turn them off in the morning.

  • In general, I find WebCore pistons to only be reliable if they remain small. Large WebCore pistons run unreliable. The Catch 22 to this is I need multiple pistons to operate a single light, which leads to conflicts. I am really disappointed by the size limitations for pistons for reliability.

  • I find the WebCore lag time unacceptable for motion sensor based operations. It is not always long, but it is too long often enough to not be reliable.

  • I am struggling with home detection due to battery life. My wife does not want location services on her phone because her battery drains quickly. The fix was a Samsung presence sensor, which also quickly burns through batteries. This issue, kills what I wanted the SmartThings hub for the most.

  • The maintenance free operating period (thanks to @JDRoberts for coining this term) is unacceptable to use SmartThings for critical applications.

  • SmartThings is bricked without internet. This is just piss poor design from the root. Really, this is. Vera was all local, but sadly did not have the 3rd party product integration. But I should not have to choose giving up my GE Z-wave plus device type or local control.

Wife Approval Factor
Wife approval factor was long lost on this project. Mostly due to the unreliable and inconsistent nature of this beast. My previous forays into HA were invisible to here because they worked, but were limited in scope. A part of it is also my wife apparently fears a house smarter than her :stuck_out_tongue: For example, she does not want lights to come on automatically; if she wants them on, she will turn them on. Same for off. She was more open to this in the beginning, but the unreliable nature of smartthings has completely turned her off.

So Where To Next
I’m still figuring this part out. I am recalibrating the “What do I want out of this” before I can answer this question. Some key functions I want are:

  • Automatic detection of home mode (Home, Night & Away). I may use the Ecobee sensors to determine this sense using my phone alone does not work and I cannot rely on hers (we may get her a new one this fall so this may change). While she wants to still manually turn lights on and off, I still want lights to automatically turn off when we leave home or when we go to bed. The ecobee sensors have a long lag time, but should be sufficient for this task.

  • Automatic operation of exterior lights based on sunset, midnight and sunrise. I am still working on the reliability of this solution. One thing I have done was I moved the Hue Lights automation to the hue app and the z-wave automation is still on SmartThings (SmartLight App). I hate having this in two locations, but it eliminates the single point of failure and so far is working.

  • Automatic turn on of interior lamps only when no one is home. My wife does not want lamps coming on in the evening when we are home. This I understand as with kids, anyone, including her, could be taking a nap. However, when the home is in away mode, I still want them to come on. One, makes home look occupied and two, we come home to a lit house. Lights should turn off at Night mode as per bullet above based on no occupancy after a set time so lights don’t remain on if we are on vacation.

  • Upgrade patio door locks and garage door locks to the keypadless kwickset z-wave locks. We have gone to bed or returned home to find an occasional door gets left open. I don’t live in a “bad” neighborhood, but homes and cars do get robbed if unlocked doors are found. A sad reality and an easy fix as I find this to be one of the reliable aspects of SmartThings.

  • Ceiling fan integration. I’m just not there yet. I would like fans to turn on automatically when the room is occupied and the temp is above a set point. Then turn off when unoccupied (not at night) or the temp is sustained below the setpoint. Easy enough in WebCore, but the infrastructure is lacking. All my fans have integrated fan and light on one switch. Still giving this thought. Again, I want to also retain local control (WAP) in addition to automation.

  • Bathroom ventilation integration. Pretty soon, I will be replacing all my bathroom vents and installing a new house ventilation system. I would like to use smartthings to integrate the systems. Auto on and off based on humidity in each bathroom. Also would like to operate the fresh air vent based on indoor vs outdoor air quality comparisons…but then override on when a bathroom vent is on. I am in south louisiana so a dehumidifier will also be part of the fresh air vent, but this will be controlled by a humidistat. I dont know of any smart ones, so I may pick up a used Ecobee and keep it in that system.

Some Key Decisions To Be Made
I really wanted to upgrade more of my house to the Hue lights. These things are great. I love the app, I love the native Siri control. I do not love the lack of a native wall switch replacement. The reliability of using SmartThings to translate Z-wave to Hue just is not there. Most of my switches (almost all) are in multi-gang boxes, so a retrofit with the hue switch on top just does not work. Having Hue in just my lamps really limits what I can do with the app. The ideal situation is having total lighting control in one app, and they only using SmartThings to tie it to total home modes or other smart systems. But I find running some lights in Hue and other lights in SmartThings is a broken HA approach. If SmartThings was actually reliable, I would go all in and leave Hue behind. The other night, we have some locally severe electrical storms. Internet was intermittent. Hue was reliable, SmartThings was not.

Alarm System. Not really discussed above but I really like my dumb alarm system. I looked at some other options to upgrade to a smart alarm system, or integrate it with SmartThings with konnected or switching over to Scout. The more I investigated these options, the more I liked my system. So much so I just renewed the contract and upgraded it to 4G from landline. I looked up the manual on my alarm system and I did find some ways to integrate this into SmartThings. I can use a relay module to notify SmartThings using a Z-wave sensor that the alarm has tripped. Additionally, I can have zones programmed to arming zones; one for home, away or sleep and then use SmartThings and Z-wave relays to set the alarm. One thing I would never do is setup SmartThings to allow disarming the system. I want someone to physically enter the code. The problem I have is the local alarm company sells home control systems so they are not interested in helping me with this, even if I am willing to pay them for the installation and programming. I have not given up on this, but it is not likely to be a priority for them.

Anyway, not really looking for anyone to come solve my problems for me. This is certainly not a rant and I’m not looking to leave SmartThings. I am re-evaluating its place in my HA scheme and I am finding it to be more of a unit protocol translator and human cyborg relations than to be the centralized controller that I originally wanted. I am working through these issues at my own pace. But thought I would share the story and welcome any feedback.

As far as other systems are concerned, I have already thrown out Lutron systems because the range on Caseta is too small for my house and the bigger systems are closed systems. I have thrown out Vera and that remains the case because it is closed to 3rd party vendors and requires too much custom scripting (same for HomeSeer); the Vera days are behind me. I am looking into HomeKit again as it seems to be much better than when it first came out. I do not find my connection to be very reliable when not at home and I suspect that is wifi interference related again. I have also dismissed anything that requires individual bluetooth or wifi devices as I think those wireless protocols are not reliable in my house. Zigbee and Z-wave work flawless so I intend to remain on these systems.


#2

Very interesting report, thank you for sharing.

Thanks also for the shout, but I didn’t invent the MFOP term. It was coined by the UK Ministry of Defense about 20 years ago, and has since been adopted into general manufacturing in both Europe and the US. It’s included in Six sigma, for example.

https://books.google.com/books?id=5_amcGFkhEIC&pg=PA99&lpg=PA99&dq=six+sigma+MFOP&source=bl&ots=A3J6_b7bYa&sig=60glHdaLRgxGiv45cSVfGlcqrjA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwitxfiC26ncAhWohVQKHasODSoQ6AEwAHoECAAQAQ#v=onepage&q=six%20sigma%20MFOP&f=false

I believe the following 1999 paper was the first academic use of the term:

It’s most frequently used in situations where reliability is a top priority.


#3

Smart Lights should have power to them all the time so I don’t think it’s a good idea to also use smart z-wave switches on them which is probably the reason why you have to toggle several times to get the lights to work.

You might want to consider using these hue switches which are battery powered.

There is also the Hue tap for even more control options


(jeubanks) #4

This is oddly familiar :crazy_face:
.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #5

I meant within the realm of this forum :smiley:


(C L Sanchez 1877) #6

Where I have the hue bulbs on a switch, the bulbs are wired in parallel to the switch. The switch provides the local control (via SmartThings) and the apps provide the automation. This is only the case in 4 applications.

In almost all hue applications, I have the hue dimmer (perhaps I called it something else in my post above, but I have seven of them deployed. Two issues with them. One, they are not intuitive to people, so they gravitate to the wall switch instead (or turn the lamp off at the knob) and they clutter the wall when you have a bank of traditional light switches AND hue dimmer switches.

My ultimate plan was to have a Hue dimmer at the entrance to each room, but SmartThings does not recognize them and thus they only control the hue bulbs (mainly lamps). I am slowly adding programing via SmartLight App and/or Webcore to capture GE on/off and double tap on/off to control local loads AND hue bulbs. The success rate for this is about 90-95%. Good enough to me, not the wife.

I patiently await the day for their to be a release of a native hue dimmer switch that is a direct replacement for a wall switch. Something that keeps the power to the bulb 100% for intelligent control, but has an air gap switch for manual off for when needed. My GE switches have this. I am preoccupied with life so I don’t have time to invent it LOL

I have one hue tap switch and do not like it.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #7

It is. I have played around here for better than a year (I think) but have also been in the HA hobby since the X-10 days back in the 90’s. I smile when I see people jump in, get frustrated and quit…not because I laugh at the failures of others :smiley: but because I have seen this play out in cycles over the past 30 years. It started with X-10, then Insteon, then Z-Wave…and this was before “smart” bulbs and devices came out. I never jumped in with the expectation of full proof working system - they exist but are professionally installed closed systems. I jumped in as a tinkerer and a learner and fully expected problems. I just wanted to share them as more of a wholistic experience as opposed to eclectic collection of individual problems.

It is quite possible some newer local control hubs can resolve these issues and I just have not looked at them yet in a while.

In researching the Hue issues, I came across an insightful Reddit post where a person was running into issues at the 100 bulb limit in HomeKit. He received no helpful responses other than if you have that much money to throw away, you should have gone professional. For some of us, we are more interested in the journey than the end product.

I am more interested in a system that I enjoyed building, fully understand and can change or upgrade myself without having to pay $199/hr so a light changes red instead of blue or I want my lights to dim at 11:30 instead of midnight. I would like the reliability to be better than 95% though and I think a hub with local control would get there. Finding a good one that also preserves 3rd party product integration is the riddle I have not solved yet.


#8

Have you taken a look at https://hubitat.com

There have been several experienced Smartthings users migrating over to that platform which is all local control but offers many similarities to Smartthings.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #9

I have not yet. I was hesitant at first as the product was a new development when I first started. I had already purchased SmartThings and wanted to get fully versed in it first. It is hard to understand why you need to solve problems you had not experienced yet :smiley:

Now this product has had quite a bit of maturity and is exactly first in mind when I stated local control hubs with 3rd party product support.

Im not in a position to jump in it right now, but I watch it with a keen eye and next time Im ready to make another investment in the system, I will definitely consider picking one up to see how it compares.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #10

I see Ecobee is still not listed on their product support page. So I need to do some digging. The Ecobee is the most reliable part of my HA system to start with, so that is an absolute must for me. Everything else is negotiable.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #11

I forgot to add also on our list is a wifi robo-vacuum cleaner. I’m looking at the irobot 960. We were going to get it sooner, but we got a golden retriever puppy instead. At 6 months and 50 pounds, I think we are going to wait for him to stop eating toys and furniture before I bring that into the house. But the idea is to have it operate via command on Away mode and have it reduce at Home mode.


(Dan) #12

I noticed you have a Ring doorbell as well. I am using Hubitat now as my main hub. I still use ST for a few devices that are not supported by Hubitat yet, including my Ring doorbell. I then have the Ring Motion Events forwarded to Hubitat. It is almost instantaneous and very reliable thus far.

As for your desire for decent, good looking, wall mountable remotes, Lutron Pico remotes fit the bill very nicely. Hubitat has native integration for the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge Pro via Telnet. I use this to control smart bulbs and ceiling fans via wall mounted Pico remotes. The response time is nearly instant as it is all local processing. Hubitat also has native Philips Hue bridge integration, and an Alexa Skill.

Most of your home would migrate over very nicely.

Something to think about… :wink:


(jeubanks) #13

I think you’ve simply over looked it.


(C L Sanchez 1877) #14

No one picked up my C-3PO reference…


(John C) #15

Very thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Our experience has been similar. It should “just work!” to receive spousal/family acceptance. I am more likely to accept shortcomings of the system because I’m the tinkerer. My engineering background leads me to “find the solution” to a problem and I don’t mind false starts nearly as much!

That being said, SmartThings frustrates me to no end some days! :crazy_face:

If it weren’t for Alexa integration, we probably would not have any lighting control automated except when in “away” mode. I am about to replace our older under-counter lighting in the kitchen. Was originally considering an un-automated, manual, “dumb switch” approach, when my wife asked, “Will Alexa be able to control that?”


(Paul Haskins) #16

Nice post. All I can add of relevance is that I use Sunrise/sunset for my landscape lighting and works 99.9% :slight_smile: Just using the standard smart lighting though I do have separate actions for on and off. I add the Xmas stuff seasonally (usually a few walwarts - that may change from year to year).


(KL Forslund) #17

I have to ask, why are you using smart bulbs when you have smart switches?

I just have ADT Pulse, it sends email alerts to gmail, which IFTTT relays into status changes for the ST SmartHome settings of Armed Away/Disarmed

I have no WebCore, just ST Classic’s basic automation. Which I’ve got it so on sunset/sunrise, it changes the Mode from Day to Night. I’ve tried using 4 modes to combine the Away/Home mode with day/night, but I see some logical confusions come up, and the SmartHome status covers the Away/home mechanic better.

I only have GE Z-wave switches & Kwikset lock. Every room has a light controled by z-wave (and an Echo).

The front porch light comes on when I get home at night, not daytime due to the presence detector on the phone and my fiddling with modes.

We have very few problems and the WAF is high. She has all the manual control she wants. When I say “Alexa, Goodnight” it turns off all the lights. When I set the alarm for the night, it autolocks the doors.

I think part of the problem is the hybrid of light control, z-wave switches vs. Hues. I’m not a fan of smart bulbs, so take my bias as it is. But it adds a layer of complexity, that for on/off behavior can be solely solved with z-wave. z-wave does not align with wifi radio frequencies. Hues, I believe is zigbee based, which does (do not quote me on that, it’s just a possibility).

I still see wierdness in my 4-mode model (awayday, awaynight, homeday, homenight) when the sunset/sunrise automations fire. But I suspect a mistake on my part with the mode wireup or a race condition as I get home right at sunset. I don’t really need the away/home aspect of the mode, as the only thing that matters is “somebody” arrived while Mode is Night, so turn on the front porch light.

Don’t know if this will help you. I’m only saying it’s possible to get a higher WAF with this tech.

PS. how did you get native Homekit support with SmartThings?


(C L Sanchez 1877) #18

The one thing that is holding me back is the need for Siri integration, that is native in my house. We are an iDevice house, for better for worse. I know I can make everything work easier with Alexa, but now it’s another protocol to add to the house. Having said that, it appears HomeKit is the better direction for me, but I’m having a reliability issue with networking in my house. I’m about to bring another iPad online with Homekit installed to see if having two devices working as bridges brings the missing stability.

Z-Wave to homekit is still a huge missing link but I am investigation installing homebridge on my home server to fill that gap.


#19

Very weird your installation, I have all my house smart switches, I have my old wired alarm changed to Konnected, I have locks, Ring, Google Home, webcore, Smart tiles, everything works fine, every day on sunset the lights I choose turns on, at sunrise turns off, when my wife arrives the front porch light turns on.

I had Hue, I had smart bulbs, I ended replacing all smart bulbs for dumb bulbs and smart switches, my house now has all z wave switches, not a single problem, I have 4 lamps with z wave dimmers and dumb bulbs.

I have all my doors, all my windows, my storage door, my mailbox, 6 motion sensors, no any problems, yes, sometimes gets slow or you must update some settings but must of the time it’s just fine.

My only concern was the internet, and I already solved it, now I have backup so it must be very weird to have 2 internet services down and smartthings cloud down at the same time, including my ring cameras and my analog cameras, everything down at the same time? I will call the police lol.

I suppose you have some color hue lights, you should take them out of any smart switch, they need power all times to work properly, I know you said you have them wired in parallel with the switch but are the bulbs with power all times? Sounds like they not, that’s why you need to turn on and off multiple times to get them work. I did some kind of your setting in my friend’s house, ended changing everything because did not work properly. And by the way, my wife will criticize but not this, and she recommends smartthings because she had very little problems with it, now, I’m screwed because her friends are calling me, as a consultant…

From your not working list

  • Interference between z wave and wifi? This is completely wrong, now, between zigbee and wifi it’s true. I believe your problem is delay, the way you setup the z wave switch with hue is not working fast and reliable.

  • webcore and smart lights sunrise and sunset worked for me always, are you using them with the same problems lights from point above.

  • Webcore has some delays, that’s normal because it’s cloud based, but I think is pretty good for my applications. What kind of big piston are to trying to config in the same light?

  • what motions are you using? I have one motion in my hallway with a piston to turn on the hallway when my kid goes to the hallway bathroom and it works instantaneously.


(KL Forslund) #20

homebridge is probably what you need for Siri to ST, though it might have latency relaying from Siri to HomeKit to homebridge to ST cloud and back to your switches (the path I suspect it takes as a 3rd party entity)

We generally ignore Siri (all iDevice, just not a feature we ever used), when I got started last year, HomeKit looked expensive and incomplete. Instead I got ADT Pulse (z-wave only) and discovered it was lame for Alexa integration and added ST.

Aside from service outages in AWS, internet or ST cloud (relatively rare for us to see them live), it works pretty good. Alexa gets confused on which speaker to listen with for the kitchen/living room despite their ESP and considerable distance and proximity to the user as the most vexxing problem.


something we haven’t addressed is how the signal is from the hub to your individual devices. Your house is bigger than mine. Could have more walls. When the internet is happy, try turning one device on at a time and count how long it takes. Keep score. Notice the switches that take longer or don’t seem to get the signal.

If you see any problems with that basic test, odds are good it’s going to make your automations fail. So prove that’s solid first. Add repeaters if needed.