Home Automation Setup with Apple #HomeKit

I’ve been asked to blog out my current home setup and this is an attempt to do that. As well, I’m also posting some video reviews of different HomeKit accessories. Work in process, but I’ll do the short version here.

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Apple HomeKit

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I chose to use the Apple homeKit framework as the base for my home automation journey for a few reason. The biggest one is that I already owned a couple of Apple TV (gen4) devices which fit the home automation hub role. These devices are a homeKit hub and are the always-on/always-present devices that are used to perform orchestration/automation actions when I’m home or away. These also tie directly into Apple’s iCloud which allows me remote access to my homeKit gear without having to VPN into my home network.

 

Home Setup Room-By-Room

There’s a lot to talk about here, but I thought I would just do a quick description of what’s going on room-by-room with any specific features or automations that I’ve got setup. 

 

Front Entrance (outside)

DoorBell

I’ve got a Ring Pro Doorbell which is NOT HomeKit compatible yet. They’ve been promising for a couple of years and have assured me, both publicly and in DMs, that they are committed to updating the Ring Pro for HomeKit support. Small issues with the wiring of my house, but I was able to eliminate the doorbell chime itself and get the Ring Pro up and running. The Ring Chime Pro was a nice addition as well which I’ve got setup in the living room. 

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Lights

For the lights, I’ve got the front entrance lights tied to a Luton Caseta light switch in the house which is setup with an automation to turn the lights on at Sundown and turn them off at Sunrise. This is nice in that the system automatically checks the internet to see exactly what time those will be everyday. Living in a Northern country, Sunrise/Sunset can vary pretty wildly throughout the year. This automation lets me get the benefits of a timer system but without the hassle of changing the timer every month as the times change. 

The one thing I haven’t automation yet is the flood motion light.  I would really like to get a ring floodlight cam but I’m not investing any more money into Ring until they deliver on their promise around the doorbell. 

Front Entrance (inside)

Lock

I decided to not replace the whole deadbolt system and just use the August lock which fits nicely on top of most existing locks.  I particularly like the August iPhone App feature which automatically unlocks your front door as you pull in the driveway. Really nice to not have to mess around with keys. 🙂

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Sensor

In addition to the lock, I also installed an Elgato Eve Door & Window sensor on the front door. Just because it’s locked, doesn’t mean it’s closed. 🙂 Yes, I found that out the hardware. 

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Lights

In the mud-room, I’ve got a light which is connected to the same Lutron Caseta which controls the outdoor lights. Once you’re in the house, I’ve got a Philips Hue motion sensor which turns on a Philipps Hue GU10 light bulb at the bottom of the stairs. Unfortunately, the Philippe Hue motion sensors are not exposed directly to HomeKit, so I was forced to setup an on/off automation pair for a Lutron Caseta switch which controls 6 GU10 lights in the ceiling. 

Living Room

Sensors

I’ve got a Elgato Eve Degree for tracking general room stuff ( temperature, air pressure, humidity ). 

Cameras

I’ve got a Dlink Omna 180HD camera which, at the time of this writing, is the only camera on the market with official HomeKit support. I was unsure about it when I first installed it, but it’s started to grow on me.  The device is billed as a 180 degree camera which gives me full view of my kitchen/dining room/living room areas ( open concept ) and also provides night vision.  The one feature that seems to get used the most though is the 2-way audio which lets me talk with someone in the living room without having to be physically present.  

Parent note: Also handy to check in on the kids discretely to see what’s happening when you hear things starting to go sideways. 

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Lights

The living room definitely has the most complicated light setup in the whole house. I’ve got GU10 ( recessed lights.) through the whole upstairs which can be quite expensive with the Philipps Hue systems. So the living room is the only place I used the GU10 in mass. Typically, I would use a Lutron Caseta switch to power a bunch of GU10 bulbs ( anything over 2 bulbs and the Lutron is cheaper!!!), but for the entertainment area, I really wanted to have the ability to set different scenes.  Philipps Hue has a bunch of different models available and for the living room, I decided to use 

  • Philipps Hue GU10 lights ( both coloured and white )
  • Philipps Hue Bloom ( accent light )
  • Philipps Hue Light Strip

The combination of these products let’s me go from regular family to chill movie watching with the touch of a button.  I’ve also got a coupe of IFTT automations setup to help manage the kids schedule.

At 8:10pm, the coloured GU10 lights go purple which is a visual signal for them to stop what they’re doing and get ready for bed. If they are quick, they can come back and finish whatever they are doing. At 8:30, every light in the living room flashes to let them know it’s time to go to bed.  To be honest, the flashing light is pretty rough, but it is definitely impossible to ignore, even for a kid who’s deep into a Minecraft session. 

Other

The other thing I added to the Living room is a Logitech Pop button with the HomeKit Bridge.  Voice control with Siri is great and all, but it’s also nice to be able to just tap a button to set the scene.  You can set three different scenes with the button which I’ve chosen as follow

  • Single Press – Turns on the Living Room lights bright scene. This is “normal” mode
  • Double Press – Turns on Movie time Scene. Dims lights and turns on the Philipps Hue lights for accent lighting.
  • Long Press – Turns on Good night Scene which turns off all the lights, locks the doors, etc… 

Dining Room

Lights

Dining Room is pretty simple. I have 6 lights controlled by a Lutron Caseta light switch. I also got a couple of Ikea Accent Light Boxes which are hooked up to an iDevice plug. This gives me a candle-light vibe without the fire. 

BackDoor

The dining room opens directly onto a small deck. This is an entry point with I wanted to add a bit of security to. I used the Elgato Eve Door & Window sensors

To let me know when the door opens and closes. This is really nice when you’re leaving the house for a quick “Hey, Did I close the back door?” check.  It doesn’t tell me if I locked it or not. Still haven’t found a solution to that problem.

Kitchen

Lights

Kitchen lights are also pretty simple. Overhead is 6 GU10 bulbs controller by a single Lutron Caseta switch. I’ve got under cabinet lighting as well that I’m planning on adding another Lutron switch to control.  Idea here is to setup a motion sensor to turn on the under cabinet lighting at night. No need to blind anyone, right?

Sensors

 I have an iHome iS550 5-1 sensor in the kitchen. No particular reason to be honest. I originally bought this for the master bedroom but it didn’t work out at all. Constantly lost wifi signal and the fact that it’s a wall-powered device makes it difficult to hide. 

Hallway to Bedrooms

Lights

In the hallway to bedrooms I have a couple of Philipe Hue GU10 bulbs with a motion sensor setup. This automatically turns on the lights as you walk down the hallways. I have young kids ( 6 -10 -11) who need to get up at night, so I also setup a rule that turns the lights in to a “nightlight” mode if motion is detected after 9pm. Keeps the blinding of the children down and makes sure that they can still hit the target in the ‘wee hours of the morning. 

Kids Bedrooms

Kid1

Lutron Caseta Switch for the ceiling lights. I also setup a Philipps Hue bloom with the sunrise scene turned on to help him get out of bed in the morning. His room is in the basement, so I also got a fibaro window & door sensor as his room is in the basement. 

Kid2

I’ve got a Philipps Hue color light bulb paired with the Philipps Hue Light switch.  He’s also got a colorful “moonlight” which is connected to an iDevice plug. This is connected to a time-of-day based automation which turns it on at bedtime and off at midnight ( after he’s fallen asleep). The Philipps Hue color bulb is also setup for the sunrise scene

Kid3

Of the three kids room, this was the hardest. We had legacy fluorescent light that simply didn’t work with the Lutron Caseta light switch. I ended up replacing the light fixture completely as I REALLY like the Lutron switches. I also have a Philipps Bloom setup with, you guessed it, the sunrise scene.

Master BedRoom

Lights

No ceiling lights in the master bedroom, so I use a couple of different lamps. One lamp I’ve used a Philipps Color bulb, and then other large lamp I use a Lutron Caseta wall plug.  The large lamp uses small candle bulbs ( not sure the exact model ) and it was far easier to just grab the Lurtron Caseta wall plug. The Caseta wall plug also acts as a repeater extending the range and reliability of the Lutron automation. ( Luton uses a protocol called ClearConnect, not wi-fi or bluetooth).   There’s also a Philipps Go light in the master bedroom as well. The Philipps Go is great as it’s got an internal battery. This came in handy recently when we got hit by a power outage. 🙂 

Sensors

 I originally used the iHome iS550 sensor in the master bedroom, but it just didn’t work out. Iswapped it for the Elgato Eve Room Sensor which has been working great. The Elgato Eve Room sensor is a bluetooth device and is power by batteries, so no issues with disconnecting wifi networks or losing the device completely during a power outage.  The Eve room sensor gives me temperature and humidity. I then use this measurement as a trigger to either turn on the humidifier if the air is too dry. 

The room also measures VoC ( volatile organic compound ) or air quality. As allergy season is about to hit, I’m going to get an indoor room air-purifier and use the VoC measurement to turn the purifier on or off. 

Humidifier

The humidifier is a generic Honeywell humidifier. I got lucky in this is an analog switch based unit. This means that if it’s in the ON position and you plug it in, it just starts working. I use an iDevices wall plug (with Nightlight!) to control whether or not the power is turned on to the humidifier. Basically, if it gets to dry, as measured by the Elgato Eve Room sensor, a trigger is sent to the iDevices wall plug to turn on and start pumping a little moisture into the air. 

Air Purifier

 I don’t have the air purifier setup yet, but planning on this as my next purchase. Same basic principal as the Humidifier, but replace with the purifier. If the air quality is poor, as measured by the Eve Elgato room sensor, then the power to the plug turns on and the air starts getting clearer. 

Home Office

Lights

 The home office lights are using the Lutron Caseta switch. I also included an Elgato Eve Motion Sensor to automatically turn on the lights when I walk in the office. The Eve is Bluetooth based and doesn’t have the response that the Philipps Hue motion sensor does, but the 2-3 second delay doesn’t bother me at all when I know I’m going to be in the office for awhile.  The Eve motion sensor also turns on some desk accent lighting which has been plugged into an Eve Elgato Energy wall plug.  In a nutshell, the lights turns on when I walk in the office and the lights turn off when I’m no longer there ( after a 15 minute period of no movement detected ). 

Sensors

In addition to the Eve Elgato motion sensor mentioned above, My home office is in the basement, so I also included a couple of Eve Elgato Door & Window sensors to make sure the house is secured.  Living in a northern country, leaving the window open can have consequences. 

Laundry Hallway

Lights

This was my latest addition. I noticed that when I walked downstairs with the laundry basket in my hands, I had to put it down to turn on the light. I know. The horror!!!!   I installed 2 Philipps Hue GU10 bulbs with a Philipps Hue Motion sensor to automatically turn on the lights as I carry my basket.  Kid1’s room is also at the end of this hallway, so I also setup the nightlight ( 5% light.) to trigger if it’s after 9pm. No need to blind the kid, right?

BackYard

Plug

I have a single iDevices outdoor plug which I use to plug in my electric lawn mower. Although this is a dual-plug unit, both plugs are controller simultaneously meaning that they are both ON or OFF.  The plug is set up to be off during the week and power on at 9pm on Friday night. Just enough time to get a full charge to mow the lawn on the weekend.  

As the season gets colder, I’m planning on using this to power the Christmas lights as well. Plan is to setup a time-based trigger to turn on the lights at Sundown to save a little electricity. 

Garage

Lights

I have a single Philipps A19 bulb with a Philipps Hue motion detector installed to run on as motion is detected in the garage. I also had a spare Koogeek Smartsocket that I plugged a regular A19 light bulb into. I’ve setup an ON/OFF trigger pair to turn the Koogeek light to match the Philipps hue light.

The one other thing to note in the garage is a time-of-day automation I setup to prevent me from banging my head until the wee hours of the morning. At 11pm, the lights go into nightlight mode reminding me to go to bed and work on it tomorrow.  

Boiler Room

This is really just a small closet which contains the hot water tank and my furnace. I installed a Fibaro flood sensor in here to detect any leaks before they become a big problem. The hot water tank is a little bit older. Installing the leak sensor just gives me a little peace of mind. This sensor also includes a temperature sensor which is super important for a water tank in a northern country. If it starts to get cold, bad things can happen. Not a bill I’m interested in seeing. 

Downstairs Windows

There are a few different windows in my basement that I installed the Elgato Eve Door & Window sensors on. Peace of mind to make sure that we’re all locked up when we leave at night. Already mentioned, but also important when you live in a Northern country. Bad things can happen when the inside of your house goes below freezing temperatures. 

What’s next?

As you can tell, I’ve really developed a passion for home automation. I currently only have two projects I’m planning, but as new HomeKit enabled devices come out, I expect this list to grow. 

HomeBridge Nest Thermostat integration

The Nest thermostat is not currently Apple homeKit compatible. The Homebridge project exists to let non-Homekit devices participate in a HomeKit ecosystem. I recently purchased a RaspberryPi3 for this purpose. My goal here is basic thermostat integration into the rest of my smart home. 

Soma Smart Shades

Soma has recently announced a HomeKit bridge for pre-order. I’m pretty wary about ordering any products without the HomeKit certification. Too many companies which have announced HomeKit support and never delivered. Soma is an after-market device which connects to your existing shades and allows you to control them as part of your smart home.  Combine this with the different temp sensors and we can do some interesting things such as 

  • Shut Blinds at 12pm every day
  • Shut blinds when outdoor temperature exceeds desired indoor temperature
  • Open blinds at 4pm
  • Shut blinds for Movie Time scene

 

Hopefully this was interesting. If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to post in the comments below or to reach out on twitter 

@netmanchris

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Introduction to HomeKit Home Automation

Apple HomeKit was the logical place for me to start. I’m sure the other systems are great and I might investigate more in time. But HomeKit is where I started looking.

Starting a new blog is always an interesting moment. My other blog is still moving along, but I’ve decided that I want to keep my homekit adventures mostly separated from my normal tech related posts.  Hopefully there will be people who find both interesting and will have enough patience to add me twice to their RSS feeds.

So let’s start with some of the simple things, all of these could definitely use a deep dive, but we’ll dip our toe in the pool and get to the details later, ok?

Why HomeKit

There were other options out there such as SmartThings, GoogleHome, and others, but I’m already deep into the Apple ecosystem. I’ve got Apple computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, AppleTvs.  No Apple Watch yet. So Apple HomeKit was the logical place for me to start. I’m sure the other systems are great and I might investigate more in time. But HomeKit is where I started looking.

When it comes to things happening automatically in my house; security is top of mind for me and Apple has a pretty good track record here. Knowing Apple has taken the burden of ensuring that whole system is encrypted ( hidden ) and that the security of the  communication between the devices from the various ecosystem vendors meets a high-standard.

To go through the Apple certification process, it’s pretty strict and they also provide a hardware chip that needs to be put into the hardware device. This adds cost and time for vendors to bring it to market, but it makes me sleep better at night knowing my automated lock is a little harder to hack than the competitors.

What is HomeKit

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HomeKit is the home automation framework that apple released back in iOS 8. I knew it existed at the time, but honestly didn’t really pay attention too much as there wasn’t an ecosystem of products or applications that gave me a reason to be excited. Even Apple didn’t have an application that allowed you to work with HomeKit enabled accessories. It was, at best, a hobby project for Apple, at least from my perspective at the time.

From the iOS 8 wiki

HomeKit serves as a software framework that lets users set up their iPhone to configure, communicate with, and control smart-home appliances. By designing rooms, items and actions in the HomeKit service, users can enable automatic actions in the house through a simple voice dictation to Siri or through apps.[61]

Manufacturers of HomeKit-enabled devices are required to purchase a license,[62] and all HomeKit products are required to have an encryption co-processor.[63] Equipment manufactured without HomeKit-support can be enabled for use through a “gateway” product, such as a hub that connects between those devices and the HomeKit service.[64]

Why now

There are a a few reasons that I decided to take the jump.

Accessories

The big reason is that there are actually accessories available now. There just wasn’t enough available for me to bother historically. Now there are plugs, sensors, locks, cameras, thermostats, lightbulbs and ceiling fans already in the market not to mention the various other devices such as humidifiers and air conditioners and others we can only imagine that are hitting the market in 2017. The market is starting to offer enough choices in products and vendors for it to get interesting, but also for the prices to start coming down to a somewhat reasonable level.

iOS 10

Fast forward a couple of years to the release of iOS 10 and suddenly things got interesting enough to dip my feet in the pool. Apple actually included a native iOS app that allowed you to control your homekit accessories. Shocking I know. But this was the first sign that apple was actually somewhat serious about this home automation thing. As well, the ecosystem was able to mature a bit and start offering more options. Players like Philipps Hue, iHome, Lutron and others released equipment which was HomeKit certified. There were actually options and choice which means that these accessories all started to become *affordable*. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no cheap. But it’s not impossible for a middle-class house hold to start off with a plug or a couple of lightbulbs and start getting value today.  I also sincerely believe that the prices are going to come down quickly in the near future, so now’s the time to start building some skills and expertise before the market explodes with options and it becomes impossible to choose.

AppleTV gen4

I have owned pretty much every generation of the AppleTV.  The first gen was a decent media server, as long as you were in the apple ecosystem. Canada had it really bad as the applications were extremely limited. I upgrade to the ATV3 which was, again, an OK box, but still with a lot of well documented limitations. It’s really the AppleTV Gen4 where things started to get interesting. The AppStore becomes available. Siri is available right on the remote. Oh… and the Siri remote can also act as your voice gateway to your house. Pretty cool.

Support for hardware accessories to allow it to become a potential gaming platform.  But one really interesting hidden gem is that the AppleTV 4 is capable of operating as your HomeKit bridge.

What is a HomeKit Bridge?

A HomeKit bridge is the device that allows the magic to happen. The HomeKit bridge functionality, which is actually available in both the iPad and the AppleTV Gen4 does a couple of things which we need to get the most out of our home automation.

Remote Gateway

First, it acts as a remote gateway for HomeKit actions. By logging in with your iCloud account on multiple devices, Apple’s cloud service allows those devices to create a connection through “the cloud”. This means that if you’ve got the same account logged into your iPhone and your AppleTV, you can take control of your house from a distance. This is pretty handy for times with you want to be able to turn the temperature down in your house while you’re away, but make sure it’s toasty warm when you walk in the house after a long trip.

Home Automation Orchestrator

Home automation is cool and all, but the real difference becomes apparent when you can start to orchestrate, or chain your devices together through different triggers. Triggers could be a time based trigger, a sensor based trigger, or any combination of both kinds of triggers. What do I mean? Let’s start with a really simple example that most people have seen which is the simple motion detector and build from there.

Examples of Different HomeKit Orchestration.

Motion Sensor + Light

At it’s simplest this takes a light and a motion detector.  When the motion detector “sees” someone move in it’s range it then turns the light on.

This is something most of us have had outside our houses for years, right?  So how is HomeKit and home automation different from the example above? Well let’s add in a the AppleTV acting as the HomeKit bridge and replace the motion sensor and light with HomeKit compatible versions.

With just these three components we can start to do some interesting things. Let’s look at a couple of different combinations to give you an idea of how these might fit together.

Light + HomeKit Bridge

With a HomeKit light and the HomeKit bridge, you can now automatically have the light turn on when the sun goes down.

“ But I’ve had timers on my lights for years!”

Sure, there have been timers available for years. But generally, they are set for one specific time. I live in a nothern climate, so the sunset can vary pretty drastically from one point in the year to another. If I used a traditional light timer I would be having to touch it at least 12 times a year just to keep up with the differences in Sunsets. That seems like a lot of work for minimal convenience. I just don’t have time for that.

Because the AppleTV is connected to the internet through my home router; the HomeKit bridge is able to access the internet and check exactly what time today the sun is going to set, and once the clock reaches that time. “Let there be light!”  I don’t do anything. I just say “Turn the lights on at sunset and it happens regardless of the time of year. Let’s be honest, we all just want to set it and forget it right?

HomeKit + Light + Motion Sensor

So imagine if you move the motion sensor inside your house and install it in a hallway. Now you have the ability to turn on the light whenever anyone walks down the hall, which is useful, until you have a little one who needs to use the bathroom at night and suddenly there have a shining bright light confronting them from nowhere when they are half asleep. If you have kids, you can imagine how this goes down….

When we add the HomeKit bridge into this situation, now we can use Time of Day to modify this slightly and instead of turning on the lights full blast, you can say “hey, I want you to turn on the lights when you sense motion, but turn them on the dimmest possible, ok?”  This is much less intense on the kids not to mention the adults.

HomeKit + Motion Sensor

Anyone with a smart phone are aware of the notifications that we get on our phones. With the combination of a motion sensor and the homekit bridge, you can now have the system send you a notification if it detects motion when there shouldn’t be anyone home. For those of us who travel, it’s a bit of peace of mind and you can see how this could easily be extended with a video camera to take pictures of the culprets in the act. Maybe it’s relatives with a key, maybe you can call the police directly and catch them in the act.

Closing 

Hopefully this short introduction gives you an idea of what HomeKit is all about, why you might chose to explorer this particular ecosystem and a couple of small ideas of how home automation might make your life just a little bit easier. This is just a few small examples to get you starting to think about the possibilities. I’ve been on this journey for about a year now and I’m at the point where I think I know enough to at least have something worth sharing. Come back for some product reviews. App reviews, Apple HomeKit related news and other things that I just find amusing.

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but I’m happy to help with the knowledge I have.

If you find this useful please share. If you have questions or comments, please post them.

@netmanchris