Newbie - Getting Started with Home Automation (UK)

Hi
I have had a few smart sockets around the house for a few years.
I also have a single internal camera for checking on pets.
I have an LG smart TV and a tp-link mesh wifi

Due to have some panels installed in the new year which require a controller and smart meter. But the app for these gets horrendous ratings in the app store, so maybe not ….

I feel I probably need a hub now, to manage all the automation and reading up smart-things seems to be recommended in a lot of places.

I dont fancy alexa, google or homekit for privacy and voice control reasons.

If I go down the smart-things/aeotec route, where will I have problems?
Will most modern solar panels be monitorable from such a combo?

If I decide later that Ive taken the wrong route, will I be able to step back easily?

And guidance for a relative newbie?
TIA

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Welcome! :sunglasses:

Of the ones you listed, HomeKit is actually the best for privacy right now, because everything is local, except voice control, and that’s anonymized. But people have all different reasons for choosing different platforms and many of us use more than one, so you’ll have a lot of choices.

As to how easy it is to move from one platform to another, it’s never easy, but it’s often doable. Right now there is a brand new industry standard, matter, which is just starting to ramp up. Its main purpose is to make it easier to use a device with all of the different major platforms. So if you’re just starting now and you want to only get matter certified devices, you’ll have quite an easy time moving to a different platform if you make that decision in the future.

Consumer reports has a good explainer on the new matter standard:

Matter Smart Home Standard FAQ - Consumer Reports

As to the question of whether you’ll have problems with SmartThings, the answer is most assuredly, yes. But you’ll have some problems with any of the platforms, that’s the nature of the industry right now. As to whether the problems are only occasional annoyances or dealbreakers, that depends on your own needs and preferences.

For myself, I started my own Home Automation journey back in 2013, so 10 years ago. After a few years went by, I made the budgeting decision that I would assume that any device I got, including the hub, would have to provide its value in three years, because after three years, I might want to change it. Even change platforms altogether. Maybe it wasn’t what I really liked, maybe there were other newer features that I had decided were important, who knows. But I budget time and money for Home Automation in a similar way to the way I budget my mobile phone. I don’t expect I’m going to have the same one in 10 years, or even five. so I get my value out of it, and I spend my money based on that assumption, and then, if I do change, I’m ready for it. And if it ends up being something that I stick with for longer than three years, that’s gravy, and means extra money in the Home Automation budget to spend on other fun stuff.

If you like long, detailed discussions, the following is the list of questions I usually ask when I’m helping someone get started. But if you find it boring or tedious, don’t worry about it, there are lots of other ways to make the decision, and matter is making it easier these days.

Top Level Priorities Checklist: what to consider before you start selecting smart home devices (2019)

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As to this, the first rule of Home Automation applies: “the model number matters.“ Some models will be, some models won’t, it just varies. :sun_with_face:

I use solar power at my own home, but I’ve never seen any reason to integrate it with my Home Automation, so I don’t. If I need to check something, I check it separately through its own app. But again different things will work for different people.

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And I would say, that to make recommendations, it would help to know what the OP would like to do with home automation. For example, one of my goals was to be able to have certain actions happen when we arrived or left our house (lock/unlock doors, turn on/off lights, put thermostat in away mode, etc). Another was to change the behavior of motion sensing dimmers at night vs how they operate during the day.

Knowing the “what” makes it much easier to recommend the “how”.

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Indeed. :sunglasses:

Although there are some people who are hobbyists first, and are more interested in the capabilities of the platform than in a specific use case. Choice is good.

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Also, just because many people don’t know this, although some automations can run locally on the SmartThings platform, it’s still largely a cloud-based system. The SmartThings app always requires an active Internet connection, even if it’s on the same local Wi-Fi as your hub. They didn’t have to design it that way, but they did.

The hub itself also expects to communicate with the cloud pretty often. Certainly at least once a day. Otherwise somethings can get out of sync. And all notifications require the cloud.

So, just in case you were looking for a primarily local system, since you mentioned concerns about privacy, that’s not smartthings. HomeKit, Hubitat, or Homeseer are all Home Automation platforms that do run pretty much everything locally except voice control, and there are other choices as well if that’s a top priority for you.

What’s your opinion of Homey, @JDRoberts ?

I like Homey as a candidate for Europe. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t support as many integrations in the US model. In particular, the 433 MHz radio was a really nice feature and helped justify the premium price, but they aren’t turning it on for North America.

I find the business model confusing. :thinking: I like the backup option, although that’s a paid extra.

I’d like better HomeKit integration, but that’s just me.

So I’d put it on the candidate list if I was in the UK/EU. But it’s probably not worth the extra cost to me in the US.

If I remember correctly, @Automated_House has looked into it.

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The thing that is foremost in my mind is to automate my kitchen lights. There are 4 individual lights in the kitchen and I would really like to switch them all on or off at once from any of the current switch points.
My thoughts are to wire them all to ON, add digital switchgear and new switches, and use a hub to set them to be controlled together.

The second on the agenda would be adding room thermostats and a better CH controller and then be able to monitor and change the heating around the house

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You shouldn’t need to wire them together. Most current Home Automation products are RF (radio frequency of some kind.). So you use either smart switches, or smart bulbs, and then just create rules So that you can tell all four to come on at the same time, or whatever combinations you want in different scenes.

The advantage of doing it that way is that the switches, whether they are smart switches or dumb switches, will still work normally if your home automation system is glitching. So just something to keep in mind. :sunglasses:

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JD beat me to the punch! What he said is an excellent way to go. Personally, I like in-wall switches (such as the current line of Zooz ZWave devices) which can be controlled manually or by the hub–perhaps using motion sensors or simply asking Alexa (or other voice control) to turn on a Scene controlling the lights.

A similar application we use here is running a Scene to control our great room lighting, in turn activated daily by a Routine that runs 18 minutes before sunset–but only when we are here, determined when the hub’s Location Mode is Home, Night, or Evening. (It doesn’t run when Location Mode is Away.) The Scene, called Evening Lighting, turns on some indirect lighting set to appropriate brightness levels controlled by in-wall ZWave dimmers. Just food for thought! :wink:

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Keeping in mind that certain actions and conditions cause Routines to run in the cloud, if that is important to you or not.

I have a similar Routine to turn on a Scene slightly before sunset every day. It turns on a number of different smart in-wall outlets for some lamps and in cabinet lights. There is another Routine that runs a different Scene to turn them off later in the evening.

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Agreed, I personally prefer smart switches for most use cases, but there are two specific situations when smart bulbs can be more useful.

  1. if you want color changing, or color temperature changing bulbs, including “circadian lighting“, then smart bulbs are definitely the way to go. You can do dimming with a smart switch, but to actually change the quality of the light itself from the bulb you need a smart bulb.

  2. if you have a setup somewhat the opposite of what the OP just described where you have a large room, like a recreation room, or sometimes a kitchen, with multiple bulbs all controlled from just one switch, but you would like to be able to create lighting zones within the room without having to rewire everything. Then Smart bulbs can be really useful.

For example, we used to have a family room in a converted basement where there was a pool table on one side, a sort of home theater setup over towards the other side, and yet another small alcove section for storage. All controlled from one switch at the base of the stairs.

With Smart bulbs, we could make the lights right over the pool table very bright, the lights in the home theater area separately dimmable and less bright most of the time anyway, and have the lights in the alcove actually off most of the time, unless specifically needed, again, all with just one switch and not needing to rewire anything.

We added a batterypowered multi button control pad next to the main switch, and you could push the different buttons to get different scenes in the room.

It’s good to have choices. there are very few things in Home Automation which are always true for all situations except to follow the safety code. :sunglasses:

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Thanks so much everyone.
Really helpful and welcoming.
Last (?) question.
I have an existing mesh wifi with 3 access points which has greatly improved coverage in the house. Reading up, it seems that Zigbee is also a mesh wifi. Does that mean I will have 2 networks?
Will they clash interfere with each other?
Any precautions to be taken?
Thats 3 last questions :grinning:

Hi @Crispness,
Welcome to SmartThings (even if you end up elsewhere).
As you are finding out, there is a fairly steep learning curve to home automation which can involve many dead ends (which can get expensive). Spend time reading in this excellent community.
Zigbee is indeed a mesh and it is 2.4GHz, but it is not WiFi. Yes, they can interfere (both with yours and neighbours) but can be configured so that they don’t. I have never had any issues.
Where are you based (that impacts available devices). I am based in the UK and may be able to make some UK-specific observations. I also started out automating lighting and moved on to thermostats, etc.
To add something to JD’s excellent advice above, I am extremely careful when buying Zigbee or Z-Wave devices. Buying a device that does not play ball with your chosen hub (SmartThings V2 in my case) can be very wasteful.

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Wi-Fi is a much much stronger signal than Zigbee, so the issue is almost always Wi-Fi drowning out Zigbee. It’s unlikely that your Wi-Fi system will even notice the Zigbee is operating.

There are things you can do to try to keep them from interfering with each other, which mostly has to do with the fact that, although they are both broadcasting at the same “frequency“ that frequency is broken up into multiple “channels” and it is possible to set them so that the Signals are relatively far apart, reducing the likelihood of interference. There are FAQ threads in the forum that discuss those details. But you can save that for later.

For now, it might be helpful to learn a bit about how to set up a strong home automation network. See the following community FAQ. Start with post 11, read that, then go up to the top of the thread, and read down. I will link directly to post 11. :sunglasses:

A Guide to Wireless Range & Repeaters - #11 by JDRoberts

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Hi Aidan
Yes, I am UK based. Should have said that at the start.

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OK @Crispness, getting down to details.
I am a big fan of SmartThings and would recommend buying a SmartThings hub (V3 [ethernet/wifi], V2 [ethernet only], or station [Zigbee only]). I bought a second hand V2 hub on eBay for £13 years ago and have not looked back since.
What lighting fittings do you have in your kitchen (your starting point).
In the UK, most light switch wiring only have a live and a switched circuit (no neutral).
While you can find on/off switches that operate this way, there are light restrictions (commonly, the lights have to be dimmable, even though you are not dimming). This is a bit of a generalisation.
For this reason, I use Zigbee bulbs and LED drivers. I use mostly Ikea Tradfri, which are great value.
Note: the physical switches will be left in the on position and the bulbs will be controlled. The physical switch must not be a dimmer (even LED safe, even if left in the full on position). All on/off/level controls are in the bulbs themselves (which will use a fraction of a watt even when off).
Thermostats are a bit tricky in the UK, especially if you want ‘local’ (not cloud) control.
I am hoping that somebody with more knowledge than me will step in on this subject.
I went with two ‘Secure’ branded Z-Wave thermostats that were not directly supported by SmartThings. SRT323 contains a relay that controls a classic UK ‘wired’ thermostat, and SRT321 wireless that controls the heating via an SSR303 relay.
Initially I used a community custom handler that was cloud based but I then wrote my own ‘Edge’ drivers which I share via this community. They are now ‘locally’ controlled; so automations work even if your internet is down (as it was for 24h for me in October).
As you may be gathering by now, home automation is not quite plug a play, unless you hire a contractor and pay a monthly maintenance fee. But if you are a bit technical and persistent, it is very doable; just start simple (e.g. lighting) and work up.
Good luck, Aidan

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Just a note: the current model of the V3 hub is now made by Aeotec under contract with SmartThings. Same device, just a different logo.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Aeotec-Smart-Home-Hub-version/dp/B08MXG6WTB?th=1

Also note that Z wave varies by region, so you will want to make sure that you get a UK or EU version of the hub. Not the North American or Australian versions.

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