*Need Advice* -- Just getting started

I’m new to HA and ST, of course. The closest I’d come before a week ago was programmable thermostats and installing Mr. Beams on my stairs.

I’ve been lurking in the forums for a week or so now, and I’ve noticed the community effort and willingness to help. So, I figured I would reach out to the community to try to avoid initial missteps.

So, my current setup:

  • Echo Dot
  • ST hub
  • Harmony Hub (not setup yet)
  • (2) Wemo switches, (1) GE z-wave fan switch
  • (1) Wemo plug
  • (2) Lightify full spectrum, (2) Lightify white, (2) GE Link
  • (1) Iris motion sensor
  • (1) Osram gateway purchased for firmware updates (which ironically can’t complete the firmware update on itself).

I’d like to know:

  1. What’re the most reliable motion sensors to add that are relatively inexpensive?

  2. What are your favorite brands/manufacturers for each class of devices (sensors, switches, etc)?

  3. Are there websites I should be monitoring regularly for products, deals and information? Or can I reliably use the ST community as my hub to the HA/IoT ecosystem?

  4. I’m thinking about automating a gas fireplace with Switchmate, instead of going for a more complicated microswitch solution. Any thoughts from Switchmate owners?

  5. If there is something you wished you knew when you started out, what would that be?

My main concern is reliability (with a healthy “cost vs performance” balance). I’ve been building out this system as a Christmas present for the wife, so I want it to be as solid as possible despite having a tight budget. That darned Echo Dot was the gateway to all of this. I bought it for her birthday last month as a cute little kitchen assistant for recipes and trivial info. Big mistake to have that thing in the house with a technophile like myself. It opened so many doors…or it will one day. :wink:

I appreciate any advice you can provide.


:sunglasses: The deals thread in the forums is usually very quick to post deals. There’s also a list there of reputable HA dealers. Always shop around as prices vary a lot.

If you haven’t already, you might also want to take a look at the following:

If your main concern is really reliability, though, SmartThings may not be the best match for you. It is a very powerful, versatile system, but it requires a lot of handholding maintenance and typically there’s some flaky bug introduced every two or three weeks. :disappointed_relieved: It won’t affect all customers all the time, but it’s just a reality of the system.

The company is very aware of this and has made improving reliability their top priority, but they just aren’t there yet. The zigbee update last week is a perfect example. It improved things for many customers, but for some customers it broke things which had been working well for months.

If you need a highly reliable system in this price range, I would suggest Lutron light switches combined with Eve motion sensors and Apple’s HomeKit. You can also add the Phillips hue smart bulb system if you want. All of these devices also work with echo so you can use both together. This is a very limited feature set compared to what you can get with SmartThings, but it meets the high reliability requirement.

Different things work for different people. Just be honest with yourself about what kind of reliability you require, because in general the more features and flexibility a low price system has, the lower its ongoing reliability will be.

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These are highly subjective questions, but i’ll put my $0.02 in:

  1. Best bang for your buck i’ve found are the Iris v2 motion sensors. Great form factor, very fast response and can find some good deals on them periodically. I did have one that drained the battery super fast, but Lowe’s swapped it without issue and the new one is fine.
  2. i’ve been happy with GE Switches, iris v.2 contacts and motions, and homebrewed water sensors made with go control contact sensors. my main decision maker is always price and I can usually find deals on those products.
  3. ST Deals forum and Lowe’s price checker (google it if you don’t have it)
  4. haven’t done this yet so can’t comment
  5. I wished i knew how addicting this stuff is and wished I would have jumped into the CoRE smart app faster

As far as WAF, your reliability is only as good as your mesh. So sprinkle some mains powered devices around the house. The iris plug is popular since it repeats both z-wave and zigbee. Also check your wifi and zigbee channels for interference.

Thanks @JDRoberts. I will read through those sources of info. And I guess I should have phrased it as “relative reliability”. :slight_smile: I actually enjoy the trouble-shooting and tinkering. It helps me get my feet wet faster and increases my understanding of my ecosystem’s faults and flaws.

@Automated_House: Thanks for the advice. I was leaning towards GE switches with Iris sensors already. I just didn’t know if my perception of more bang for my buck was actually accurate or not. It’s reassuring that you’ve had a good experience with them. I am keeping an eye out for repeaters. Unfortunately, I fell asleep last night and forgot to order the Iris plug from Lowes while it was on sale.

As far as Lowes price checker, I got blocked from the Lowes website when I used it to scan all stores. I assume it triggered some DoS blocker. So, I’ve been hesitant to use it again.

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:sob: i slowed down the check rate when i saw reports of that

As far as the GE switches go, they can be very inexpensive, often at Lowe’s you can stack a couple of different coupons together and get them.

That said, they have a known issue where a relatively high percentage, maybe 15%, tend to go bad about six months after the end of the warranty. They aren’t technically defective because they’re out of warranty and many people feel that they save enough money that even if they have to replace some of the switches every couple of years they still save on the overall project. So they are still popular, you should just know what you’re getting into.

Also, the GE switches do require a physical traveler wire between The auxiliary switch and the master and they have to all be on the same neutral circuit, which limits the placement somewhat over switches that communicate wirelessly. But that only affects you if you are doing a three-way or four-way set up.

So as always, different things work for different people. discussion of switch features begins in post 35 of the following:

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First, I do have to state that everyone’s situation is different and there are some cases (no neutral wire) where you do need to use smart bulbs but when I was starting out, I wanted to keep cost as low as possible and the GE Link bulbs were the least expensive. Come to find out later, those bulbs have a firmware issue and they tend to lose connection to the hub which requires resetting and rejoining. Other smart bulbs work great such as the Hue bulbs and their prices have dropped down. However, smart bulbs require constant power to work and if someone physically turns them off, they won’t work any more. Smart switches work both manually and remotely so I now personally think that is the best way to go. Working manually is important if you lose Internet or the ST cloud has issues.

I think my choice in switches will ultimately be a trial and error process. Right now, the GE switches are more attractive to me simply due to the initial cost. I’m also approaching this with the mentality that everything that I’ve installed today will be replaced within a couple years.

This is something that I’m accustomed to from gardening/landscaping, computer tech and vaping. Landscaping because many plants simply fail or don’t “mesh” well in that particular location. Computer tech because things change rapidly. Vaping because, like the current state of HA, it reached a tipping point from being a small, obscure niche to becoming mainstream with broad adoption. When this happened, vaping tech was being modified, improved and disrupted at a rate that within 30-90 days there was something newer, more efficient and more reliable.

Samsung, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have entered the HA fray. We have WiFi, RF, Bluetooth Mesh, Zigbee, Z-wave, and Thread. We are sure to see many improvements and disruptions (like Echo and Google Home) over the next 2 years.

If we’re lucky, my GE switches will be obsolete before my warranty ends. :slight_smile:

@Jimxenus, your starting situation was similar to mine. I also want to keep costs as low as possible. I was telling @JDRoberts that I got really lucky in the time of year I decided to start, as prices have been extremely competitive over the past several weeks. I have managed to get a decent selection of the low-cost product lines to integrate and test.

I hope companies start to see this as a highly competitive market, and that consumers will need to be taken seriously when it comes to quality of product and responsiveness to defects, especially firmware.

Fingers crossed for a HAppy 2017!

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One thought I have, is how open is/will she be to all this? I started slow too with an Echo and a couple devices (my daughter actually suggested it). . . then I started watching the deals thread and SlickDeals and all of the sudden it ramped up fast. In the beginning there was high tolerance from the family for it because it was small and worked well but then when lights started turning off during parties (had a sensor placed where a door blocked it), thermostats weren’t adjusting at the right times, alarms going off, etc the acceptance dropped fast. Just this morning my daughter asked when I was going to make our chairs smart. Most of these problems are likely caused by my rapid expansion and not setting up the logic in the apps correctly (Core is a double edged sword like Tasker for Android) but some are the platform as others noted. Fortunately I went long enough with the small scale operation that it was already in the door and physically installed in the walls (i.e. switches) so I can continue in relative harmony.

  1. I have been very happy with the Iris V2 motion sensors but those are the only ones I own so not much to compare. I have 5 and all work reliably. One chews batteries though. Temp reporting on them is slow though, but seems to be accurate once calibrated.

  2. I watched the deals thread on this forum and setup SlickDeal alerts.

  3. It gets expensive fast. Not many single items are excessively expensive but after you replace all your light switches with smart dimming switches. . . ouch. Fortunately I read a really good post before getting into this describing how they got into this with the idea of saving money from energy use. . . but that it turned out to be too expensive for that and the time to recoup would be very long. Going into it knowing I was doing it for fun made it a lot better. The other thing is hard wiring things is always more complex then I think its going to be. Every time I think I’m in good shape the next attempt throws a curve ball from wiring jungles, to 3 way switches, to not fitting on the box, etc.


Thanks for that @farlicimo. I believe I spent a year in my house last week. Meaning, I experienced a lot of what you mentioned already. My first Iris v2 motion was a battery drainer…returned and replaced. I’ve had phantom lights and logic issues. I have also spent more than I initially planned. (Remember, all I really intended was the $49.99 Echo Dot. Then a couple Wemo switches/plugs just for the novelty of it after I realized the Dot could control them…)

So, I’m receiving wide acceptance now too…and a smiling wife. Lord knows that goes a long way. Nothing critical is currently “connected”. I’m trying to ease in gradually as things go on sale. I have only paid retail for the fan switch and echo.

I have also taken the “for fun” or experimental approach instead of the reduced energy usage approach. I knew immediately that my energy bill would increase due to standby drain. Replacing all the lights (switches where applicable) would actually increase my energy costs by $100-300/yr based on standby drain alone.

Where I may stand to gain is by replacing thermostats and sticking to scheduling. I have programmables now, of course, but we usually manually adjust to comfort levels instead of sticking to “dumb” scheduling. So, it’s more our fault than the system.

All that said, the biggest impact so far is that my wife has been extremely happy with the changes. She is jealous of my relationship with Alexa: “You talk to her more than me!” The addition of Harmony Hub made her giggle, despite the voice limitation to Activities only. I have setup a nightlight for her groggy bathroom treks using a ST “Asleep” mode, an Iris motion sensor and a Lightify which dims 30% and changes to a hellish red that doesn’t wake me up.

Remember that high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) when things don’t always work like they should. Although my wife probably won’t admit that she enjoys the automation such as the night light you mentioned or the gentle wakeup of lights slowly brightening in the morning (to simulate sunrise), she does laugh when I’m making my rounds “fixing” things like lights, motion sensors, or contacts that drop of the network for whatever reasons. She says that I must like to wallow in my own misery. Of course, that is why I’m on this board, when I read about the troubles others have, I don’t feel so bad. :wink:


It’s funny, my family makes fun of me a good but for doing all this. . .but at the same time I can see they have gotten very used to the lights just being on when they enter a room to the point where they question what’s going on if they aren’t. I enjoy the fact that they turn off after they leave! My kids leave lights on all the time and its a real plus to have them turn off, especially in the basement. I would frequently go down stairs to find 10 recessed lights all on full blast and had been for hours. Granted they are now LED so not all that bad. . . but still gnawed at my frugal nature.


So, @farlicimo, I’m starting to run into the same problem. Even though we’ve only been partially automated for the past week, everyone is now used to the automation in the high-traffic areas, so they are starting to FORGET to turn non-automated lights off. Sometimes you can’t win for losing.

Looks like I’m throwing occupancy sensors in all bathrooms and water closets.

Yup, that’s another symptom. One of our big culprits for getting left on I was all excited to install a hard wired switch this weekend, but after spending two hours I failed. The box just wasn’t big enough, I already had one smart switch and another dinner in there and it just wouldn’t fit. Too many bundles of wires. I’m sure it’s possible to rewire to get rid of some of the bundles but I’m not that confident yet.

Yes, that also happened to me, I had to constantly remind family that, that light isn’t automated, don’t forget to turn it off. Eventually, I just started automating more and more areas of the home. Next thing you know, you become addicted to HA…that’s why I started this little thread awhile back. My devices have definitely grown over the years but so have trying to keep up and maintain so many devices to keep things running smoothly.


LOL, Jim. That thread was scary for 2 reasons:

  1. The amounts that people were spending.

  2. It gave me more ideas! Like @JDRoberts pressure mats. That would be a nice intermediate step until I decide to fork out the cash for a Ring doorbell.

Being one of the new kids on the block, I think I’ve been lucky. Not only do I get to benefit from the ST vets pool of knowledge, but I’ve also come in during some major price drops. I got ST v2 and Harmony Hub for $50 each, Echo Dot for $40, Lightify whites for $9 each, and colors for $26 each. I snatched a CT-101 Thermostat for $33 on closeout, and I’m driving 2.5hrs tomorrow to pick up two Iris kits (1 motion, 2 open/close, 1 plug in each kit) for $51 each. I only paid close retail for a few GE switches and bulbs. Even those were 10-25% off. Most everything else was 40-50% off.

One big purchase almost got me. That was the Samsung connected washer. I cancelled the order and switched to a regular steam washer because we really couldn’t see much value in controlling a washer remotely (except rare corner cases). The biggest benefit would’ve been notifications when the washer was done. I think I’m going to buy a vibration sensor to monitor the on/off states of the washer to solve that problem. Hopefully it won’t kill the battery in the first month.

Another thing that I’ve been seriously considering is an Aido, Jibo, Zenbo or Buddy. Obviously, that’s just a novelty buy, so I think I might wait for 2nd or 3rd generations to make a decision, especially since Alexa is sufficient for now.

I think my biggest flub was not knowing that I’d want/need a few Fire tablets when they were $33 and a couple Fire Sticks (to extend Alexa) when they were $29. I’m patient, so even if I have to wait 'til next Black Friday, I’ll get them cheap.

One huge thing I learned from that thread, though, is the value of being patient and rolling out in planned phases. So, I’ll probably stop buying and start prioritizing and planning projects. The family room will be fully automated (minus blinds and some Blooms) once the thermostat arrives. The game room has lights (not sure what else I want to do in there yet). All bedrooms have lights and will be motion sensor controlled by tomorrow. The master suite is fully setup with color lights, ceiling fan, motion sensors and occupancy sensors for walk-in, bathroom and water closet.

I think the next phase will be tackling the 3-way and 4-way lights, but the gain won’t be that great because those are all in light-use common and walk-thru areas. The garage might be a better choice for high impact with minimal effort.

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Vibration sensors can be unreliable so you might want to take a look at this older thread about using a power metered plug to sense when voltage drops down for an extended period of time. I use this and it works really well.

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Let’s be honest. . . It’s a self fulfilling rationalization to feed the addiction. “Well obviously since they don’t turn off these lights now I have to automate them!” even though they never turned them off in the first place lol.

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Haha @farlicimo. So true, so true.

Actually, I think the wife knows that. She wants more now, but she doesn’t want to admit it. Instead she kinda gently complains about the ones that DON’T turn off. Hint-Hint Wink-Wink