Home automation to save money and/or save time

Oh yeah. I forgot in my OP to mention I have moisture sensors next to my hot water heater and washing machine.

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https://farmbot.io/

It’s not cheap, but it’s awesome.

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When we first moved into a house, we kept forgetting to close the garage after parking :blush:. After one too many reminders from a friendly neighbor across the street, I hooked up an Amcrest cam (one of the best selling and not too expensive HD wifi cameras on amazon) in the garage, and set it up to email me on motion detection (and record video to local ftp server). I can also access it securely from my smartphone (fwknopd + SSH tunnel into OpenWrt). We don’t forget to close it anymore. I also want a Raspberry Pi garage door remote that I could control from my phone, but haven’t figured it all out yet. My neighbors are part of my home automation plan – if the door somehow opens when nobody is home, I’ll just call them and ask to close it :laughing:

@BostonOne - can you provide more info about your moisture sensors? What are they connected to? I think we had a thread on FWF about this recently, but I didn’t read the whole thing.

Yeah, if all you have is a lawn, then it’s probably not worth it. You only need to water once a week and it’s basically the same amount everywhere. For us though, we need to irrigate almost every day in the summer and it’s all done through drip. I tried a manual timer when we only had one small section we were irrigating, and I would keep forgetting to adjust it for rain, temperature, etc… Plus the cost really only makes sense if you build your own controller so that you can use local weather sources (as opposed to commercially made ones that only use basic weather data from national sources). All you really need is a raspberry pi and a relay to control as many zones as you have (<$50 total) plus time to set everything up.

There’s also the simple solution on some garage door openers. Mine lets me specify how long I want it to be open for (by default) and it auto closes after that time. As cool as home automation sounds, personally I find simple solutions to often be as effective and cheaper.

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I don’t think mine is smart enough to have anything like that.

I have similar setup.

  • Automation centered around Echo and HomeKit.
  • Ecobee thermostat
  • Lutron Caseta lights and shades
  • Big Ass Haiku fans
  • Chamberlain garage door and gate opener (only garage door works with HomeKit at the moment)
  • Rachio irrigation controller
  • Sonos speakers
  • Harmony remote
  • Apple TV / Roku streaming devices
  • Mobotix Cameras
  • Nest smoke detectors

Other items items considered but have not purchased:

  • Ring floodlight cameras (they have mixed reviews at the moment; hope someone else comes out with something similar)
  • Locks (most seem buggy)
  • Alarm system (All of them that integrate to automation system are wireless which I don’t like)
  • Temperature controller for hot water heater (I don’t change temp very frequently)
  • Water shutoff valve (low risk of water leak)
  • Robot vacuum (tried before but generally unreliable)
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First, on the garage door. I have mine set up to text me if it’s open for 10 minutes. It also tells me whether it’s open or closed and I can close it from my phone if it’s open. Never have to worry about it.

On the moisture sensor - it is wireless/battery powered Zwave sensor that connects with the SmartThings hub and notifies me if there’s a leak. The one I use is similar to this one:

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Schlage Lock : Tells me the status but doesn’t let me unlock through the app. I use IFTTT from the ring door bell besides usual answer. Newer cheaper version of Nest thermostat, but still sticking with Honeywell wifi.

I went ahead and did lots of home automation stuff, but have found its more of a hassle than anything.
For example, I did some z-wave stuff and got very expensive z-wave smoke detectors. I never had a fire and they died after about a year (constant beeping even with a new battery) so they were a waste of money. Regular cheap ones would have been a smarter choice.
I got a underground sprinkler system called rachio. However, there is complicated setup. For example, it asks what kind of soil you have such as loam, silt, clay, etc or a combination of those. It also asks you for the slope of your yard. I don’t know much about dirt and I am not going to measure my lawn with a protractor so its pretty tough for someone like me to set up. Then after everything is said and done, it seems that it waters just barely enough to keep the lawn and plants alive. I’d prefer to have things watered more often. I often have to override the automatic watering schedule it set and do manuals waterings.
I got a fancy cctv security system that will alert you if it detects motion. The problem with that is that a tiny spider (who are attracted to the infrared lights) right next to the lens looks the same as a human many feet away. So I have spiders tripping my security system and waking me up at night.

In the end, I’ve found that cheap smoke dectors and cheap battery powered motion detectors like the ones sold at harbor freight for $10 are the way to go.

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I also have a Samsung SmartThings Setup.

A few of my favorite additions:

  • Controlling Christmas lights from my app or on timer (on at Sunset, off at 10pm).
  • Outlet plug hooked up to small electric heater in the bathroom turns on 30 minutes before my wife wakes up.
  • Alarm siren that can be triggered by door or motion sensors.
  • Water leak sensors

Future additions:

  • Controlling gas fireplace (Tricky since the switch doesn’t use AC current, need a relay)
  • Water sensors will turn off power to the well pump and/or close a valve.

I also have the LiftMaster gateway and app so I get alerts if the garage door is left open and I can close (or open) it remotely. This came in handy when FedEx ignored a vacation stop and delivered something while I was away for a week. My neighbor texted me and I opened the garage so they could drag it inside.

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OP: First thanks for the thread, a lot of helpful information here!

My main concern is security. 3 houses in my area got break-in. Of cause added convenience is nice also.

However, if all these are using wifi then the system would become useless when they cut off the Comcast cable outside. So I wonder if I can get a “brain” inside my home to control the system.

Chester215
"When we go away for the weekend it is nice to turn on the alarm settings and get a text if there are any problems."

The above function is what I want the most.

Thank you!

ADT and SmartThings just announced a combined system that might appeal to you on those concerns. It’s crazy expensive ($550 for the controller, two door/window sensors, and one motion sensor plus a monthly monitoring fee from ADT) but it does have a 4g LTE cellular backup connection and battery backup in case your home internet/power is cut off. But it does give you both a “real” home security setup with monitoring and the automation that comes with a SmartThings hub with Z-wave and Zigbee devices.

I would wager the odds of a thief going to that much effort to cut your internet/power before breaking in is pretty slim though. From a Bureau of Justice Statistics 1994-2011 study of burglaries, most of the time they’re looking for quick and easy to steal things like cash, electronics, and jewelry. If you have a sizeable gold collection that a thief is actually going to plan a heist in advance your puny home security system probably won’t catch them anyway (under 4% immediate arrests when police were called, 10% arrest rate overall).

When we’re out of town we rely on our SmartThings setup with some strategically placed motion sensors inside the house to alert to a possible break in. That along with a couple PTZ cameras to check in on our cats has been enough piece of mind.
If power or internet goes out, the SmartThings service will send a notification that the hub disconnected and we can send a nearby relative/neighbor over to the house to see if anything is wrong.

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I’ve had various home automation stuff over the years. My opinion is it’s cool to have and a fun geek project, but rarely saves any money vs the cost of the gear unless your electricity costs are ridiculously high. As for security cams- the wired kind with a 4 or 8 channel dedicated DVR seem to be a better value than pricey ip cameras, unless you just want a single cam to spy on pets or whatever. Or maybe you’re a renter.

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Yay, I topic I know something about!

I moved into a 2600sqft 5bd/3ba 2 story last December. Married and have 4 kids under 6 (twins, :disappointed_relieved:). I decided to replace all lights with LEDs and move all “useful” switches to z wave. I use open source controller software called Home Assistant running on a Raspberry Pi 2 (with an Aeotec zwave USB controller) to talk to the switches. 3 cheap ip cameras (baby monitor, security cams), 2 “dumb” motion detecting switches for closets, a ring doorbell (yuck), a 4 TB NAS, 3 amazon echo dots, and a few custom built wifi devices to control irrigation and talk to the old security system round out my current setup.

Pros of home automation:

  1. Self managed security system. I get texts of pictures/gifs of movement near my house and FMV clips saved to the NAS, texts when my security system trips during certain hours and when I place the system in vacation mode, and easy access to live video feeds via encrypted web interface.
  2. Voice controlled lights/dimmers. Individual control is convenient but it’s the scenes that are awesome. I tell Alexa to activate the night time scene after the kids are in bed and all the lights in common areas adjust to preset levels. Similar scenes for morning and movie night. The SD card in the RasPi died 2 months ago and I didn’t have time to fix for a few days; my wife was appalled at having to manually activate switches for a few days.
  3. Sensor/measurement based automation. Exterior lights, sunrise simulation in bedrooms linked to phone alarm times, vacation mode that randomly changes interior lighting after dark each night, and irrigation and thermostat changes based on weather conditions/forecasts.
  4. Home network control. I run a PiHole DNS proxy on the same RasPi and link it into the home assistant control panel for easy dns tracking. I can turn any kind of pre-built or custom web filtering on/off from the web interface (I hid these functions from Alexa since she doesn’t require a password).
  5. Location tracking. My wife and my Google accounts report our locations to the home network via our phones. I previously had an automation to text my wife when I arrived at work in the morning and when I left in the evening but she didn’t find it very useful so I turned it off. Should be incredibly useful when my kids get older and get phones.

Cons:

  1. Expensive! I have been very cheap and only purchase items on sale but have still put ~$800 specifically into home automation.
  2. I have spent days of my life figuring this crap out. When it breaks, I have to dig up another few hours to get things running again (started a weekly image backup to the NAS to at least get me back to functional quickly on the case of major issues).
  3. Not necessary. This is totally a luxury. Yeah, I can save a few hundred bucks a year on utilities with this stuff but I could easily make that much (and probably more) if I had put my home automation time into consulting or freelance work.
  4. Doesn’t transfer to another home easily. If I move, I’d either have to take a bunch if time and money to replace everything I’ve installed or leave it all in place and let the new owner figure it out but be out all the hardware. Either way, no fun for me.

Anyhow, it all comes down to how much I enjoy tinkering and having home automation as a hobby. If that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll be hard pressed to find an automation solution at a price that would justify any potential savings.

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I move too much currently to have anything more on the “convenience” side than an Amazon Echo paired with a Harmony Hub for the home entertainment system.

I do own a house still in Hawaii which has a Rain Machine, and I am currently looking into installing this little guy on the solar water heater: https://aquanta.io/product/aquanta-water-heater-controller/

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What software are you using for the camera system? I didn’t think Home Assistant had those features.

The webcam itself does motion detection - HA polls the device every 10 seconds to see if motion has been tripped and then launches a script to capture/save/text the event. Here’s a link that helped me figure out my own configuration: https://community.home-assistant.io/t/cameras-and-motion/13561/16?u=beanholio

My NAS runs a cron job every night to clear out stuff old than 2 weeks. If I want to save anything past 2 weeks I have to manually save a copy somewhere else (usually on my desktop PC).

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I think if you needed to summarize this thread, home automation:

  1. has few uses that will save you substantial money (irrigation may be the only one I’ve seen)
  2. can save you some time as a matter of convenience, but depends highly on your lifestyle
  3. can be very useful for security

but, any money you save will likely be offset by the costs of the system and any time you save will likely be offset by the amount of tinkering needed to make everything work.

That being said, if you enjoy tinkering, don’t get frustrated when stuff breaks randomly (just as you need something to happen), and have extra money, it can be a fun hobby that makes things nicer around the house and potentially more secure and/or less expensive.

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I will let you know if we can add water heater to this list