New to home automation, looking for honest opinions & info

I’m new to the idea of home automation but interested in starting to develop it for our small 2 bed house in the UK. I’ve spent several days looking into various bits and pieces and while I kind of get the idea of z-wave and zigbee I still consider myself a relative novice so be gentle with me!

What I’m initially looking to set up is a thermostat, a few light bulbs and a couple of sockets. Nothing extreme or complicated, but I could see me wanting to develop my system further, probably into security, if it proves it’s usefulness. I have my heart set on a Nest thermostat but beyond that there’s a confusing range of things out there with huge price differences. Ideally I’d like a single integrated system I can add to rather than ending up with a whole variety of apps and having to connect everything via IFTTT (Nest excluded, I’m happy to control that separately for the time being) which is why I’ve been focusing on SmartThings. However, I have some questions/concerns I’m hoping you guys can help with:

  1. I’ve read a LOT of bad reviews on the reliability of SmartThings and obviously this is of concern. Is the system truly as unreliable as it seems? I don’t want to have to keep fiddling with it as this kind of defeats the point of it in the first place!

  2. I understand SmartThings is primarily z-wave based - does this mean in theory any z-wave device should work with it?

  3. Leading on from above, I’ve read a lot of comments about adding custom code to the IDE, especially to add non-certified devices. I’m reasonably comfortable writing in visual basic/VBA, css and some html so given these existing skills is coding for this IDE relatively simple? Is there perhaps a guide somewhere for it someone could link me to?

Stuff I’ve looked at so far: Nest thermostat, Philips Hue bulbs, Wemo switches. I’ve also considered Energenie Mihome switches as they’re very reasonably priced but couldn’t find any integration info on them so a bit cautious.

Basically any advice anyone can give would be much appreciated. This stuff isn’t cheap so I don’t want to have to try loads of systems before finding the right one! Thanks muchly in advance.

  1. It has its moments. When it works well, it works well. The biggest issues lately were forced hub updates that causes routines to run for people based on the hub having an arrival, a departure, and an arrival (causing doors to unlock, garages to open, etc). Other issues occur such as timing problems (having routines set for sunset or sunrise or at the top and half hour marks don’t always run correctly).
    The biggest potential issue is relying on the cloud for nearly everything. So far very few items (Smart Lighting is one example) run locally on the hub, without the cloud connection.

  2. I wouldn’t say it is primarily z-wave based. The first party items are Zigbee and there have been multiple mentions on the forums from ST staff recommending Zigbee for use with the system. In theory, most z-wave devices can be SEEN, but whether or not they can be controlled comes down to someone’s willingness to create a device type capable of communication with the device. There do seem to be a lot more Z-wave devices out there though.

  3. Documentation can be found here: http://docs.smartthings.com/

As for your lights, unless you are needing color for your bulbs, you might be better off going with switches in the wall. If someone physically turns off a switch connected to your smart bulb, you can’t control the bulb anymore until the switch is turned back on. If someone flips the switch on a smart switch with a standard bulb, it can still be controlled.
Definitely stay away from WeMo. It is very unreliable. You can get in-wall outlets or plug in modules (from GE or Aeotec) that work very well.

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…when used in SmartThings. If used without ST, I found Wemo to be rock solid! I so changed my opinion on Wemo since I took them off the ST and used their app to schedule them. No scheduling failure in over 2 months. On time for fixed schedule as well as sun state.

If that’s the case, then stick to what works with Nest, officially. They are rapidly adding partners and you have plenty of choices now for lights and security. The light automations in Nest universe may not be as sophisticated as you can achieve with SmartThings, but if you are looking at basic features, you should be able to achieve that.

Thank you both for your input - it is much appreciated, especially the link which I will let my inner geek out to explore fully later in the week.

Having looked at lots of smart thermostats Nest seems to fit best with what I want for the price I’m willing to pay. I’d love a properly zoned system but a) I can’t afford it and b) it’s a bit overkill for our small house. I appreciate it doesn’t really work with Smartthings at the moment, and may never do so, but I’m willing to forgo that piece of integration to have the best fit option.

I know that I could just pick and choose my favourite option for each area of automation and connect it up using IFTTT but it feels a bit tenuous, for want of a better word. I like it when things work together properly so I’m dealing with one system instead of several. Maybe I’m after too much given that I’m starting from a fairly basic, unknowledgeable stand point. More thought and planning required I think!

Did you look at the Ecobee3? If so, what were the down sides for you?

As far as I can tell the Ecobee3 isn’t available in the UK yet and I couldn’t find a specific release date. I’m looking to fit the thermostat pretty soon as our existing dumb wireless one is on the way out anyway and we’re fed up of constantly having to manually switch the heating on and off.

I know I could have the Ecobee3 shipped from the States but from what I read our old wiring could cause issues with installation and to be honest I’m leary of fitting something for which there’d be little/difficult manufacturer support when there is a UK option which fits my needs and wants.

I’ve had the Hive system installed, £150-£200 and fitted by British Gas (which is handy) as part of the price.

Someone has also just written a good app so it plugs into SmartThings so you can create rules etc for your heating (other than the ones which are included as part of Hive).

I’m yet to test the ST and Hive app personally as my IDE/API is broken and waiting for ST to fix it but there are plenty of glowing reviews on here about it, so looks good.

Kraeg

Ecobees are great but not available in the UK. If you are a pro with wiring (and not prone to letting @dckirker try to electrocute you), the Ecobee can support high and low voltage tstat wire.

Also, the reviews are getting better since we worked out some of the launch kinks - we’re rocking four beautiful stars on Currys (but I’m pushing to get that fifth)!

.
With regard the reviews on Currys website, approx 95% of those are marked up as

This reviewer was invited to try the product in exchange for their honest opinion

Most of which were reviewed on 23 Sep 2015

Also reviews have to be approved to be visible. I bought my starter kit through PC World and they don’t seem to have the corresponding review section, nor it seems can I contribute to the Currys one. I’d be pulling in the other direction Aaron I’m afraid.

http://stream1.gifsoup.com/view6/2436571/dogs-tug-of-war-o.gif

Even though you ‘have worked out some launch kinks’ the product is still fundamentally broken currently and not fit for purpose . In the UK even more so than the US. Progress is very very slow. No-one should entrust their home to automation by this product in its current state.

The fact that it can get a 4 star review in it’s current state, and that be touted in this forum by ST support employees with a view to pushing to 5 stars is very unsettling.

I’ll let go of my end if you achieve that by fixing the product… and I do really want that to happen.

Weird… you should be able to post a review on Currys ¯_(ツ)_/¯ there are some :cry: reviews on Revoo (ie we have no control over the feedback but can reply) - I’ll dig into why more people cannot.

The only other UK channel we have for sales is Samsung.com. However, I encourage you to read and provide honest opinions (especially if they mention how good looking our customer support team is) on Best Buy and Amazon US.

I have almost the said setup you’re after.

I’ve got Hue Bulbs, Wemo Switches, Osram Bulbs and all the Nest products.

  • SmartThings works well with Hue and Wemo. I’ve had no issues with the compatibility really.
  • Nest doesn’t work too well with SmartThings. The current implementation is a bit of a hack and against Nest T&Cs. Nest Cam is also not supported
  • Osram bulbs work the same as Hue, but they were a bit fiddilier to get setup.

As others have said, my biggest gripe with SmartThings is its reliability. I’ve got a routine setup which turns off my lights when everyone leaves, and turns on when someone arrives home. For no reason whatsoever, last night at 4am, SmartThings decided that only I had left (phone location),set my location to Away from Night (no idea why) and then decided I came home straight away, setting the mode to Home and turning on the lights.

This is where SmartThings fails, and fails on a grand scale. Imagine having your doors or blinds connected to SmartThings, and it unlocks the doors and opens a garage whilst your on holiday, or opens your bedroom blinds when you’re getting changed.

I’ve been on the verge of deleting all my routines in ST because of this, and exclusively using IFTTT to trigger all my actions. Unfortunately, this removes some of the functionality though.

Don’t get me started on the intelligence of some of the routines. It’d be nice do to multiple IF/ELSE/OR statements, but seems like its not possible.
SmartThings could also do with a 3rd party “marketplace” for people to upload device types and SmartApps too. The current method of scouring the forums is terrible.

I really think you need to scope out what you are looking for and how deeply your setup will be and THEN ask based on what setup you want to achieve how well will SmartThings work for you.

Bad reviews come in a variety of forms because of course their are a vast variety of setups. Basic setups with a few lights and motion sensors around the house are very different than a full one home automation including connected to door locks, garage doors, etc.

My setup is fairly simple. We have lights, motion senors which activate lights, open/close door sensors telling us when things are left open (or are closed), and our TV and we integrate all this into our Amazon Echo so we can do voice commands (as well as using IFTTT for a few other things).

We continue to get a little more sophisticated in our setup, but basically it is…well…basic.

  1. The system has run perfectly for us. We have a glitch here or there but no more than what we get with any electronic device. The timing issue mentioned is true but I rarely notice it, but again our system setup is pretty basic (turn things on at sunset, turn things off at bedtime, turn on lights at motion, etc.).

  2. As mentioned they use z-wave, zigbee, etc. But I’ve used GE lights that are z-wave and never had a problem. I use Ecolink motion sensors and never had a problem. Again, scope out what you want and ask for reviews on those manufacturers you wish to use.

  3. I’ve not yet done any coding but the link mentioned above will get you started and there are tons of helpful people on this forum.

Again, scope out your project and what you are looking for and then ask how well it will meet your needs. But I kind of shake my head when I read these horror reviews. Not that I’m discounting they exist, but not everyone’s setup is the same. And you can run a nice home automation with ST that (IMO) is pretty good and meets your needs (depending on what those needs are).

My view, based on a few weeks of living with it is that it’s not quite there yet. I’ll persevere because I’ve made the investment, but if I was starting again I might think differently.

I have WEMO LED bulbs, and have had no issues at all with ST seeing and controlling them.

That said, Philips Hue looks more promising for lights. Simple API for access from your home LAN for automation, and the option of wall mounted remote controls. I still find myself forgetting and turning lights off at the wall and I’m reluctant to get into rewiring switches. It does mean another hub connected to your router though.

Routines have been a bit flaky, especially setting away and home - the presence indicators show I’m away, but the away routine doesn’t always fire as a result. It’s not an issue with presence - it knows where I am - but with the resulting routine. I’m thinking a custom app would do a better job - just use ST as the link to the devices, but tell it what to do rather than let it decide.

I’m still not sure what route to go down with a thermostat, but I suspect I’ll get one that’s independent but with possible integrations. Hive is one option, but Tado also looks like it’ll fit well with my current wiring.

If I was starting again I think I’d pick the best option for each automation and worry about integrating them down the line.

Thanks everyone for sharing your recommendations and experience, it’s all very appreciated. I now have more of a plan for what I want to do in the short term as well as some ideas for longer term. I probably should also have mentioned at the beginning that for the time being I want whatever I fit to be removable as we’re hopefully going to look at moving in the next 2-3yrs.

My plan for now is to take Shaun’s advice above and go with my favourite option for each area, but to do so with an eye to having an integrated system in the future. So where I have two options I’m trying to decide between I’ll go with the one which would integrate better in the future. I plan to use IFTTT so that will also be a deciding factor.

I’m still keen on Wemo for smart plugs and I’m now erring on the side of Osram Lightify rather than Hue for a couple of reasons - it’s cheaper, I don’t have to plug the hub into my router and Philips’ recent firmware update that eliminated 3rd party bulb support didn’t impress me, even though they’ve supposedly rolled it back. Nest is still my favourite thermostat option.

Glad my advice helped. Actually should also have mentioned that although the Wemo LED bulbs work (and you don’t need their controller - ST talks direct to them), I’m not that keen on the colour, so definitely worth a look at Osram.

And it’s Sean, not Shaun :grinning: (don’t worry, everyone does it even when they’ve seen it written in my username!)

Ah sorry Sean! :flushed:
But yes, your advice is spot on. I’ve also just found out that Osram specifically works with Wemo so they look like an even better option. I’ll let you know how I get one with them.
Thanks again.