Using Amazon Echo as a Hub?

I was chatting with a guy at work about how I’m switching from Wink to SmartThings and he told me that he does all kinds of stuff in his house directly through his Amazon Alexa without any need for a hub. He says he controls all of his outside lighting (landscape lights, exterior house lights, spotlights) through Alexa and he even has his landscape lighting to come on automatically at 30 minutes after sunset each day.

He also controls his thermostat through Alexa and his interior lighting as well. He told me that he’s using smart bulbs, smart switches, and even a few plug-in smart receptacles to control stuff inside the house.

So this had me thinking—in my house, I control mostly lighting and thermostats. If I can do everything that he does with his Amazon Alexa, do I really even need a dedicated hub? What are the advantages or disadvantages?

There are indeed many people who just use an Echo, and that may be all you need. With some Echo models you can also use some Zigbee devices, which lets you use Some sensors as well. All good. :sunglasses:

The main reason to use a dedicated hub rather than just an Echo is if you want to add Z wave devices. If you had a bunch of those already from Wink, then just using Alexa wouldn’t be enough.

The other reason is because you will be able to create much more complex rules with smartthings then you can with just Alexa. But maybe you don’t need more complex rules.

How to Get Started Creating Complex Rules in SmartThings

So basically there are plenty of people for whom just an echo-based system is all they need. Different things work for different people.

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It depends on the devices you may eventually want to have part of your home automation system. If you stick with devices that are assured to work with Alexa w/no hub, then you’d be fine; BUT…

If you plan or want to do a lot of automation, like turn off valves, lights, etc based off of complex scenarios, then you’ll want a hub that can do that for you.

EDIT: I was typing as fast as I could, but @JDRoberts’s voice control and the shortest reply from him I’ve seen in a while, beat me again to a reply!

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LOL!

@johnconstantelo , you know speaking is faster than typing. Every time. :wink:

Speaking of John’s setup, One more thing I forgot to mention…

If you are depending just on Wi-Fi devices, most residential Wi-Fi routers max out at under 50 devices connected at one time, and that includes all of your regular phones, tablets, streaming boxes, echoes, etc. If you want to go higher you have to invest in a more expensive router.

One of the big advantages of using protocols like Zigbee and Zwave is that you can have literally hundreds of Home automation devices attached. You might not think you’ll ever reach that number, but if you start replacing lots of bulbs, switches, and adding sensors, you’ll get past 50 quicker than you might expect.

John himself has hit even the smartthings limit more than once, I think he’s at 300 devices now, so that’s an advantage of a dedicated hub as well.

Also, WiFi devices have a higher power draw than Z wave or Zigbee. It’s the main reason there aren’t more battery powered Wi-Fi devices. Just as one example, the august Wi-Fi version of their lock has an expected battery life of 3 to 6 months. The same lock in a zwave version has an expected battery life of 6 to 12 months.

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Good points @JDRoberts.

I did start out pretty basic, but as our family had more use cases for automation and notifications of events, the more and more devices we added. Here are just some of mine and why I have so many devices:

  • Teenage daughters don’t know how to turn off ANYTHING when they leave to go anywhere. Motion and contact sensors everywhere, as well as power reporting switches/outlets come in very handy.
  • Have you ever had a cat or a dog get stuck in a closet or room? We did, and it’s wasn’t pretty. Contact sensors for all doors helped a lot. We had a dog chase his toy behind a door and it closed as he got it, but the problem was it was a door to a room with no water or food. Poor guy was never so happy to see us. The cat on the other hand was very creative in finding a litter box. Now we know when door is closed that shouldn’t be when we’re gone.
  • Catching water leaks. Alexa won’t help you much there yet closing a valve or letting you know you have one. Every penny spent on setting that up is worth it if you’ve ever had to repair a ceiling or replace flooring. Been there, done that.
  • and many more!
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Hmm…okay. My co-worker claims to use z-wave switches for all of his lighting and he says his Alexa works fine controlling them.

This really has me considering abandoning a hub for now and seeing if I can get everything I currently use controlled by my Amazon Echo. I didn’t think it was possible to have my exterior lighting turn on every evening at sunset, for example, without using a dedicated hub. But he apparently does his using nothing but his Amazon Echo.

None of the Echo devices can control Z-Wave devices directly. Some Echo devices can control Zigbee switches and dimmers, as well as connect to Zigbee motion and contact sensors (as mentioned by @JDRoberts and @johnconstantelo.)

Perhaps your co-worker is using a lighting system like Lutron Caseta, which has an Alexa Skill. While not z-wave, Lutron’s Clear Connect protocol is a radio frequency based system. Perhaps he is confused as to the underlying technology his switches use?

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There are a few Wi-Fi Valve and leak detection systems that will work with Alexa.

Phyn is very expensive but works:

Moen also has one.

Globe Suite has a $35 leak sensor, but no valve control.

There are some other options as well, I haven’t really followed the category closely. :sunglasses:

If he’s using Z wave, he has to have a Z wave hub. Of some kind. It could be the ring alarm system, that one’s popular with Alexa users.

Or maybe as @ogiewon said his smart switches are Lutron Caseta, which isn’t Zwave, they use their own proprietary protocol. But then he would have to have the Lutron smartbridge as well.

So it all comes back to the first rule of home automation: “the model number matters.“ :sunglasses:

Or maybe he has Wemo switches and thinks that those are Z wave. When they are Wi-Fi.

A lot of consumers don’t know the difference between the different protocols, and it’s easy to get confused.

But you could definitely solve all of the use cases he mentioned with just an echo and some smart switches. But not just an echo and Z wave switches.

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The Echo Plus is the one that controls Zigbee devices - see if your coworker is using that one.

Personally, I’ve got both. I use ST to control just about everything, because I can tie in the weather, old motion sensors, all kinds of nutty things.

But Alexa, with her Skills, really comes in handy too. I’ve got a few generic smart plugs that ST can’t/won’t pick up. So I have ST “turn on” a virtual switch, which in turn triggers a routine in Alexa and that turns on/off those plugs.

I’d say, if your family likes to talk to robots (I know I do), then there’s no harm in Alexa. She can do your basic stuff. When you want to turn on the living room light when it’s below 750 lux outside due to clouds at 7:30am so you can see your shoes for work, then you’ll want to upgrade to ST.

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Yeah, forgot about Phyn and Moen as a standalone solution. Ask This Old House just ran a segment on these and other leak sensors/valves that I still have on my DVR.

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Alexa Routines are limited vs what you can do with SmartThings. Actually, SmartThings is rather limited, in my opinion, when it comes to complex rules. However, the ability to use 3rd party apps and device handlers makes ST a gem!

ST is my central HUB and from there, I connect everything else to it. Price is super cheap with no monthly subscription.

But echo is more reliable. Cheap complexity comes at a cost. :wink:

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