6 Months Later...

Having lived with my home automation system for approximately 6 months; Why not provide an update..

The technology itself has not been life-changing or "unable to live without". My outside lights go on and off in time with sunrise and sunset. Every 3 to 4 weeks, my Zigbee bulbs seem to lose communication with the hub, which requires a reboot of the  D-Link hub. Not a bad work-around, but only appears to effect the Zigbee portion of the hub.

I've ended up disabling my motion sensor triggers to turn on lights since it became more of a nuisance than anything, but prove useful when the Staples Connect software is changed to Vacation mode.

The Honeywell Z-Wave thermostat was very handy during the winter months. Our oil consumption was minimized even during the extended cold weeks leading into spring. For now it's powered off until October, unless we upgrade our furnace to add central air.

The most valuable sensor is our water probe in the basement sump pump. Occasionally we trip the sensor during basement cleanup (floor spray-down) which fires an application push notification on our phones. ...works every time!

Eventually I plan to a front door lock and fire/co2 sensor once we turn the furnace back on.

 

Thermostat

When we moved into our house it had the standard rotary/mercury thermostat controlling an oil furnace. Unless you are a paranoid heat-miser, these old rotary units are highly inefficient and are typically the cause of your high heating bill, second to your drafty doors and windows. From past experience, I decided to replace the old unit with a digital programmable thermostat.

Typically we keep the thermostat set to 62 degrees overnight and at 65 during the day, starting 15 minutes before I wake up. Typically when I get home from work in the evening, I will manually increase the temperature to 68 until it resets back to 62 at 11PM.

Even with the programmable thermostat, there have been many times where I’ve been in bed and ended up being too hot or too cold. If I go to bed early, it’s pointless to keep heating the house until the programmed 11PM temperature drop.

Wanting even better climate control beyond my existing programmable unit, I decided to install a Z-Wave enabled Honeywell thermostat. It is important to note that this thermostat requires 24V AC via the standard “C” wire, found on most HVAC units. My particular system had only 2 wires running to the thermostat without the “C” wire. This would require new wire to be pulled and the installation of an external transformer.

Without having a “C” wire connection on my furnace, I had to install an external 24V AC step-down transformer. This appears to be a common add-on item for HVAC systems and was readily available from Lowe’s for $30. The transformer also included an ingenious junction box mounting plate, making installation clean and easy. Once I had the transformer installed, I had to run new wire to the thermostat. I was very fortunate that I had a short cable run as was able to snake a new 5 conductor thermostat wire using the existing 2 conductor wiring.

After the wires were terminated, thermostat mounted and power switched back on, the Honeywell unit lit up and was ready to be programmed. Initial configuration was very simple, although the manual was needed to configure it for heat-only, fan setup, and z-wave communications. Initially I was under the impression that this thermostat was not programmable, but judging by known feature set and price, this didn’t seem right at all. Reading the manual revealed that scheduling is disabled by default.

Adding the Honeywell thermostat to the hub software was uneventful and worked immediately. While I don’t plan on using the hub software to run a schedule, I plan to use it to remotely control the thermostat, particularly when I’m away from home.

Project notes:

  • As mentioned he Honeywell unit I’ve documented requires a 24V AC “C” wire. If you already have the “C” wire, installation should be fairly easy. With my technical ability I was easily able to add the “C” wire capability, but I highly recommend contracting an HVAC professional to assist with your installation.
  • READ THE MANUAL!!! Many of the programming and configuration items are hidden in a numerically coded menus which are only accessible by holding down unmarked keys.
  • If you have to replace your existing thermostat wiring, use the appropriate cable. The individual conductors are color coded. Keep with the standards, you’ll thank yourself down the road.

Lighting

In this post I’ll cover the most common item in home automation, lighting. Initially this topic was low on my list but definitely something I wanted to integrate into my smart home project.

I’ve found when integrating lighting there are two approaches that should be considered, installing smart outlets/switches or connected bulbs. Each have their place, but some forethought may save you some frustration in the end. For example, the decision to use a connected dimmer to control multiple standard bulbs or use connected bulbs instead.

To start, I wanted remote control of my living room track lighting. For this project I chose a Lutron Caseta dimmer which includes a handheld pico remote (pictured). From an ergonomic perspective, I don’t yet have a use for the pico remote, but I may at some point. The Lutron Caseta utilizes their proprietary Lutron Connect protocol which works seamlessly with my Staples Connect hub.

Now that I have the living room addressed, I wanted to add motion controlled lighting to my music room. This room is lit with two standing floor lamps with standard bulbs. Initially I attempted to use GE Link light bulbs that utilize the Zigbee control protocol. While at the time the Staples Connect hub was Zigbee capable, the control software was not. Alternatively I chose to go with another Lutron Caseta dimmer. Oddly enough, the very next day Zonoff released version 1.6 of their control software which supports Zigbee. Timing!

The only thing left to do was obtain a motion sensor. I was lucky enough to find an open-box deal on a few Ecolink Z-Wave motion sensors on ebay for about half price. The motion sensor ships in test mode. This is set by way of a jumper on the circuit board. In test mode the sensor’s trigger resets after 5 seconds. In “normal” mode, this cycle is 4 minutes. Most likely you will want to pull the jumper in favor for the 4 minute cycle, otherwise your lights will turn off 5 seconds after leaving a room. There are also small and large pet setting jumpers. Set these accordingly.

In order to trigger motion activated lighting, you will need to create an automatic activity. These activities will be triggered by the motion sensor device. An activity is needed when motion is detected, and one when no motion is detected.

What to do with those two GE Link bulbs unused from the music room? I replaced the bulb in my front yard post lamp and also my front porch wall lamp. With these Zigbee connected bulbs, I could now set my outdoor lights to come on at sunset and off at sunrise. The sunrise and sunset times are based on the zip code provided when the hub was initially configured.

Project notes:

  • Not all bulbs are compatible with dimmers. It’s important to read the instructions on the packaging.
  • GE Link LED bulbs are not compatible with dimmers. The bulb itself is the dimmer. Using this bulb on a dimmer could ruin the internal electronics within the bulb.
  • I have experienced some link stability issues with the GE bulbs. I don’t believe they are supported by the Staples Connect platform, but have worked a majority of the time.
  • The Zigbee protocol utilizes the 2.4GHz ISM band. This can cause interoperability issues with wifi networks also on the same band. From what I had read, Zigbee devices should be kept at least 3 feet away from a wifi signal source. In some cases wifi channels needed to be changed to mitigate Zigbee communication issues.