Forum Thread

Home Automation options - using Alexa as voice control

The Raddish 31,665 2,909 April 10, 2016 at 12:04 PM
We currently have an Amazon Echo and a couple of Dots on order. I want to use them as voice control 'hubs' for a home automation system.

I have two Ecobee thermostats (one for each floor) that I can already control with Alexa. I also want to be able to close my garage doors and control certain lights throughout the house. I would prefer for any control to be local and not require an internet connection outside my home if possible, which as I understand it, rules out the Samsung SmartThings hub.

I have Ethernet wired throughout my house and a large structured wiring cabinet that will contain whatever hub I decide to use. The structured wiring cabinet is on a battery backup solution that will provide (mostly) uninterrupted service during power outages.

I've also prewired my house for a video surveillance system and am currently eyeing a Swann 8-channel NVR PoE system [swann.com]. In addition, I'd like to install a locally-controlled (non monitored) alarm system. Again, the entire house is prewired for this. I haven't picked one out yet.

I've had X-10 in the past, and still have some of my old components from my previous residence, but I'd like a more elegant solution using Alexa so that my wife and kids can control things fairly easily.

What options are out there that work fairly seamlessly and consistently?

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#2
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
We currently have an Amazon Echo and a couple of Dots on order. I want to use them as voice control 'hubs' for a home automation system.

I have two Ecobee thermostats (one for each floor) that I can already control with Alexa. I also want to be able to close my garage doors and control certain lights throughout the house. I would prefer for any control to be local and not require an internet connection outside my home if possible, which as I understand it, rules out the Samsung SmartThings hub.

I have Ethernet wired throughout my house and a large structured wiring cabinet that will contain whatever hub I decide to use. The structured wiring cabinet is on a battery backup solution that will provide (mostly) uninterrupted service during power outages.

I've also prewired my house for a video surveillance system and am currently eyeing a Swann 8-channel NVR PoE system [swann.com]. In addition, I'd like to install a locally-controlled (non monitored) alarm system. Again, the entire house is prewired for this. I haven't picked one out yet.

I've had X-10 in the past, and still have some of my old components from my previous residence, but I'd like a more elegant solution using Alexa so that my wife and kids can control things fairly easily.

What options are out there that work fairly seamlessly and consistently?
Some of the nicest things you can do with a home automation system are automatic... requiring access to sensors to tell the temperature, sense motion, if doors/windows are open, light levels, etc.

You see some people who end up with two sets of sensors, one for the alarm and one for HA. Wireless alarm sensors aren't great for HA applications, they do things like timeout for 5-10 minutes after they detect something before they transmit again to save battery.

Since you're prewired for a wired alarm system, I'd make sure you can tie your home automation and alarm systems together. It will generally work better, but it's more work to setup. There are devices to bridge these systems, often using simple protocols like RS-232 and RS-485.

As to devices to control lights, the garage door, etc I'd probably stick to things that use the z-wave protocol (UPB and insteon are ok too, but z-wave enjoys broader support and development). Then you aren't locked into a particular controller. It's my understanding that the Samsung Smart Things 2.0 hub does function without internet, but some features may not work. Alexa doesn't work without internet either. You could hardwire the garage door. I'd skip the smart locks.

From a simplicity and sales volume standpoint, the Smart Things 2.0 hub isn't a bad choice (documentation I've seen is unfortunately dumbed down a too much for my tastes), not sure how it does on the alarm system integration I was mentioning above. Other hub/controller options:
HomeSeer - use their HomeTroller hardware or buy their software and add a dongle to a pc http://www.homeseer.com/ (this company has been around for 17 years)
Vera - a decent option, less expensive but less powerful http://getvera.com/
You'd have to check on Alexa integration with these.

Some alarm systems are capable of greater HA integration, options include Elk, Bosch, and Hai
The mode common offerings from DSC and Honeywell do have automation bridges, but I'd probably only use them for sensor data.
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Last edited by jkee April 11, 2016 at 10:38 AM
#3
If you do this now you will be an early adopter, in a couple years whole house automation through 1 vendor/manufacturer will be available. You have already experienced obsolescence ala X10.

You could and probably would invest in the wrong equipment if you choose to do lights via one manufacturer and home security via someone else.

We have an Echo and it is just a curiosity in our home. I doubt that the Echo will be the best choice for home automation.

I admire your thought process. It is obvious that you have given this some serious consideration but if I were you and I wanted to do what you want to do, instead of asking questions here I would seek out experts in the field.
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#4
Quote from dale_101798 View Post :
If you do this now you will be an early adopter, in a couple years whole house automation through 1 vendor/manufacturer will be available. You have already experienced obsolescence ala X10.

You could and probably would invest in the wrong equipment if you choose to do lights via one manufacturer and home security via someone else.
Some people would challenge if X-10 is obsolete. There are instances where it's still used, and sometimes X-10 is used to bridge an alarm system to Insteon and maybe UPB.

If you stick with a well established protocol like zwave or upb, you don't have that much to worry about regarding your choice. You're more likely to want to change the 'hub' than the devices around the house. That said I wouldn't invest in touch screen controls around the house from most companies. But with phones and tablets how necessary are they?

There are plenty of hubs and many security company's that are focused on a subscription model for home automation. You can get a better system that's more functional and cheaper long term if you bypass that.

There are some other forums that could be worth using for advice, including: avsforum, cocoontech, and a couple security ones I forget.
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Last edited by jkee April 11, 2016 at 10:37 AM
#5
Also you'll want to place your home automation controller/hub outside of your structured media cabinet, the metal cabinet will interfere with / reduce the range of the z-wave wireless.
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#6
So Since my initial post, I ended up purchasing a Lorex NVR system [lorextechnology.com] with alarm integration inputs, and just yesterday I picked up the Samsung SmartHub 2.0 for $30ish bucks since it was on sale and I had a $50 egift certificate from the $100 4K TV that didn't ship.

I also picked up the Rainmachine Mini-8 and it works really well with Alexa integration. I like being able to turn on zones/programs by voice, and my wife likes saying, "Alexa, run zone 'water my kids'" so that they can play in the sprinkler.

One of the first things I plan to do with the hub is choose some smart LED dimmer switches that I can voice control with Alexa. The thing is, I need dimmers that work with three-way switches, as the ones I am initially interested in controlling are all three-way. Prior to the smartthings integration, I was looking heavily at the Lutron Maestro [amazon.com] series, but since they aren't smart-capable, I'm obviously looking for a replacement. I'm open to suggestions!

Garage door integration is also on the short list. I want a solution that is smart enough to know the state of the garage doors and if I say, "Alexa, close the garage doors," the appropriate action will be taken so that the end result is that both doors will be closed regardless of their initial state.
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#7
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
So Since my initial post, I ended up purchasing a Lorex NVR system [lorextechnology.com] with alarm integration inputs, and just yesterday I picked up the Samsung SmartHub 2.0 for $30ish bucks since it was on sale and I had a $50 egift certificate from the $100 4K TV that didn't ship.

I also picked up the Rainmachine Mini-8 and it works really well with Alexa integration. I like being able to turn on zones/programs by voice, and my wife likes saying, "Alexa, run zone 'water my kids'" so that they can play in the sprinkler.

One of the first things I plan to do with the hub is choose some smart LED dimmer switches that I can voice control with Alexa. The thing is, I need dimmers that work with three-way switches, as the ones I am initially interested in controlling are all three-way. Prior to the smartthings integration, I was looking heavily at the Lutron Maestro [amazon.com] series, but since they aren't smart-capable, I'm obviously looking for a replacement. I'm open to suggestions!

Garage door integration is also on the short list. I want a solution that is smart enough to know the state of the garage doors and if I say, "Alexa, close the garage doors," the appropriate action will be taken so that the end result is that both doors will be closed regardless of their initial state.
First of all, it's worth noting that there are a number of other forums with much more discussion about home automation, 2 that come to mind are: http://cocoontech.com and http://www.avsforum.com/


Alarm I/O on an NVR really doesn't work like a traditional alarm system, it's they to make sure the cameras are doing what they need to and to alert you to certain problems.


On garage doors, you'll want to make sure you always pull in far enough and never leave the lift gate open... There are some simpler options like this http://www.amazon.com/Liftmaster-...00B8BFG0O/ that will auto close but also add MyQ support to older openers. In the ideal case curtain photo electric detectors would prevent auto close if you didn't pull in far enough or left the lift gate up, but doing that is more expensive and difficult.


With 3 way switches power can either enter the fixture box or one of the switch boxes first. Also most of these devices require a neutral, depending on how things are wired you may not have one in the switch box. The changed code to require it in 2011. There are a few devices that can work depending on how you're wired (Rtfm).
Leviton:
http://www.homedepot.com/p/Levito.../205298585
+ Addon switch for n-way locations (HD doesn't sell iirc).
GE:
http://www.homedepot.com/p/GE-Z-W.../205798441
http://www.homedepot.com/p/GE-Hom.../205798442
Lowes used to sell a bundle with these 2 packaged together.


If your wired in a way that wall switches don't work, there's http://aeotec.com/z-wave-in-wall-...oller.html


The addon switches with these require wiring between them and the main switch.
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#8
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
We currently have an Amazon Echo and a couple of Dots on order. I want to use them as voice control 'hubs' for a home automation system.

I have two Ecobee thermostats (one for each floor) that I can already control with Alexa. I also want to be able to close my garage doors and control certain lights throughout the house. I would prefer for any control to be local and not require an internet connection outside my home if possible, which as I understand it, rules out the Samsung SmartThings hub.

I have Ethernet wired throughout my house and a large structured wiring cabinet that will contain whatever hub I decide to use. The structured wiring cabinet is on a battery backup solution that will provide (mostly) uninterrupted service during power outages.

I've also prewired my house for a video surveillance system and am currently eyeing a Swann 8-channel NVR PoE system [swann.com]. In addition, I'd like to install a locally-controlled (non monitored) alarm system. Again, the entire house is prewired for this. I haven't picked one out yet.

I've had X-10 in the past, and still have some of my old components from my previous residence, but I'd like a more elegant solution using Alexa so that my wife and kids can control things fairly easily.

What options are out there that work fairly seamlessly and consistently?
This reference might be useful: http://www.cnet.com/smart-home/
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#9
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
Garage door integration is also on the short list. I want a solution that is smart enough to know the state of the garage doors and if I say, "Alexa, close the garage doors," the appropriate action will be taken so that the end result is that both doors will be closed regardless of their initial state.
It's not aware of the state of the garage door, but for inexpensive Bluetooth device that works well enough with Siri voice control, try http://www.bluemate.com/ I recently inquired about future functionality via Apple's HomeKit, and the developer responded in less than two hours. It was really pretty easy to wire into my Overhead Door unit. Quite basically, it presents a 'closed contact' signal to your garage door, telling it to open or close.
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#10
An update. I ended up purchasing a Samsung Smart Hub 2nd gen for $30ish. I had a coupon from the TV that didn't ship, so I got one of these.

Then I researched the living crap out of switches, and settled on the Cooper RF9540N dimmers. The biggest factor in my decision is that they maintain local control as well as control through Alexa, web interface, smart phone, etc. Apparently, the vast majority of Z-wave dimmer switches out there do not sync control between the switch and the controller, which is frustrating. I want my switches to work as switches, so that anyone walking in teh house can make them work without needing a connected device.

So far I've connected two of the RF9540N switches, and at $50~ish each, additional switches will come online slowly. The good news is that I am really only after another half dozen switches for the most part. The bad news is that most of those are three-way switches, and the remote accessory switches (RF9542Z) are the same price as the master switches. This makes a 3-way circuit $100 each. Ouch.

Tally as of now:
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo Dot
Ecobee Smart Therrmostats
Rainmachine Mini-8
Samsung Smart Hub v2
Two Cooper Smart Dimmers (RF9540N)

I have one more dimmer, but I haven't installed it yet.

This is fun. Expensive, but fun. Smilie
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#11
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
An update. I ended up purchasing a Samsung Smart Hub 2nd gen for $30ish. I had a coupon from the TV that didn't ship, so I got one of these.

Then I researched the living crap out of switches, and settled on the Cooper RF9540N dimmers. The biggest factor in my decision is that they maintain local control as well as control through Alexa, web interface, smart phone, etc. Apparently, the vast majority of Z-wave dimmer switches out there do not sync control between the switch and the controller, which is frustrating. I want my switches to work as switches, so that anyone walking in teh house can make them work without needing a connected device.

So far I've connected two of the RF9540N switches, and at $50~ish each, additional switches will come online slowly. The good news is that I am really only after another half dozen switches for the most part. The bad news is that most of those are three-way switches, and the remote accessory switches (RF9542Z) are the same price as the master switches. This makes a 3-way circuit $100 each. Ouch.

Tally as of now:
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo Dot
Ecobee Smart Therrmostats
Rainmachine Mini-8
Samsung Smart Hub v2
Two Cooper Smart Dimmers (RF9540N)

I have one more dimmer, but I haven't installed it yet.

This is fun. Expensive, but fun. Smilie
Thanks for sharing info about the Cooper switches, it really helps. How are you liking those Ecobee3 t-stats?
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#12
Quote from VorlonFrog View Post :
Thanks for sharing info about the Cooper switches, it really helps. How are you liking those Ecobee3 t-stats?
I don't have the Ecobee3. I have two Ecobee Smart Si [amazon.com] units, one on each floor. Interestingly, since the Ecobee 3 has been released, the prices of the Smart Si units have increased. I got mine for $125 each almost two years ago or so. They were the first 'Smart' items I bought for my house.

EDIT:
But I didn't answer your question. I like them quite a bit. I can control them with Alexa, my phone, tablet, or whatever, and also via a web app on anything that has a web browser. I even controlled it from my TV once, just to say that I did.

I've been very happy with them, and really don't see a reason to upgrade to the Ecobee3 other than the 3 can add remote sensors, and the Smart Si can not.
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Last edited by The Raddish July 4, 2016 at 02:23 PM
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#13
Quote from The Raddish View Post :
I don't have the Ecobee3. I have two Ecobee Smart Si [amazon.com] units, one on each floor. Interestingly, since the Ecobee 3 has been released, the prices of the Smart Si units have increased. I got mine for $125 each almost two years ago or so. They were the first 'Smart' items I bought for my house.

EDIT:
But I didn't answer your question. I like them quite a bit. I can control them with Alexa, my phone, tablet, or whatever, and also via a web app on anything that has a web browser. I even controlled it from my TV once, just to say that I did.

I've been very happy with them, and really don't see a reason to upgrade to the Ecobee3 other than the 3 can add remote sensors, and the Smart Si can not.
I'm wanting to install two of the Ecobee3 t-stats upstairs and down, but need to get under the house (awfully tight for this frog) and into the attic (too damned hot during the summer) to run some six-conductor thermostat wire. All we've currently got is four-conductor wire, with batteries powering the manual t-stats. And I'm sure as Hell not gonna pay anyone several hundred extra just to fish these two wires.
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#14
Quote from VorlonFrog View Post :
I'm wanting to install two of the Ecobee3 t-stats upstairs and down, but need to get under the house (awfully tight for this frog) and into the attic (too damned hot during the summer) to run some six-conductor thermostat wire. All we've currently got is four-conductor wire, with batteries powering the manual t-stats. And I'm sure as Hell not gonna pay anyone several hundred extra just to fish these two wires.
You can run the Ecobee3 on 4 wires. You'll have to install the Power Extender Kit (PEK).
https://youtu.be/Ws3Rv-cS1B0
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Quote from lowpro View Post :
You can run the Ecobee3 on 4 wires. You'll have to install the Power Extender Kit (PEK).
https://youtu.be/Ws3Rv-cS1B0
Thanks for that! I've been reading, and it appears the C wires from many HVAC systems supply too much voltage to the Ecobee3, while their PEK resolves this issue by better regulating the power.
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