So You Want to Roboticize Your House?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because living in a place that doesn't suck is much better than living in one that does.
By Michael Borohovski
It’s Silicon Valley. Your company gets bought. What to do with the proceeds? Buying a house seemed like a good idea, especially with the onset of COVID and deals to be had. But buying a house is different from having one, and both are entirely different from making one work, since it’s all about much more than unlocking the door and moving your stuff in.
And being in love with technology and tinkering, the thought arises: Couldn’t this have been done a little better?
Beyond a shadow of a doubt. So looking at our house like an engineering problem, I decided to make it a little better. And now so can you, because after all, a house is a big distraction and a fun toy if you approach it right.
So, if you’re keeping count? Thousands and thousands saved just having dashboards of data at my fingertips.
First thing I did was to automate everything, with 95 percent of it being stuff you can get off the shelves, which has already saved me thousands of dollars. Then I put everything on its own VLAN, or virtual local area network, on a separate network that has very strictly controlled access and is completely subnet’d off of my main network. Which makes it hard as hell to hack.
So smart home devices in place and hooked together with Home Assistant, an open source Python project, I customized it and made some edits and a few integrations. Don’t let “custom” scare you. These are open for everyone.
But let me give you some micro.
After I installed a Flo by Moen water monitor/emergency shutoff to prevent damaging leaks, I noticed that at 5 to 7 in the morning, my water usage was like 500 gallons or some insane red-flag amount.
The monitor is API-accessible and I have it in Home Assistant, so I discovered that my smart sprinkler/irrigation system Rachio was watering then. Which was strange since I have the water monitor installed only on the soft water line; that is, the water line that goes into my soft water conditioner.
What this means is:
1. The installer did not bypass my irrigation system, because it did not know that half my irrigation used this pipe.
2. Soft water, as is being used now, for irrigation, will kill the plants because it has too much salt and is devoid of magnesium, calcium and other minerals.
3. Soft water is relatively expensive to produce, and in small quantities found in normal use, is a nonissue. In sprinkler and irrigation quantities though, it has to regenerate far more often, meaning more salt is needed and way more water wasted. In the best of times, it’s not a perfectly efficient system, so for each gallon of soft water it produces, it also dumps some additional hard water because of how it works.
Meaning? Meaning that my Home Assistant integrations have now saved me thousands of dollars twice. And that’s just today. Now all I have to do is call the installer and be like “fix it, yo.” I have now found the irrigation line for that half of the house, confirmed it by turning the valve off, and also went into the crawl space to confirm it’s using soft water.
Before that, I also discovered that the heater for my pool was flatlining temperature, which it shouldn’t do until it’s at temperature. This meant? That there was low water flow, so I went down and checked on it and figured the pump speed was too low since the filter is dirty. Which was totally my fault and I need to clean it more. But I turned it up, and it happened again a bit later, revealing that the skimmer had no flow at all on account of the float valve was broken. I removed it and everything was fine, but in a few days I’d have run the pump dry and also destroyed the heat exchanger. So, if you’re keeping count? Thousands and thousands saved just having dashboards of data at my fingertips.
And inside the house? Let’s look at the oven: My oven is analog but electric. I installed a Sense power monitor, which has learned about my oven. On top of that, I thought of an awesome hack last night: My oven has no obvious “preheated” notification. No sound, nothing. Just a little tiny light bulb that turns off when it’s ready, so you have to check it every five minutes or whatever.
But because my energy monitor has discovered and tracked the oven, I just set a notification for when the oven turns off, because that is the same as “preheated.” It stops drawing power so as to maintain temperature rather than increase it, and I get a notification that the oven is off, and go and put food in. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Here are the nuts and bolts. Now go forth and roboticize your cave!
The Goodie List
- Apple TV
- August Smart Locks
- Bond Smart Bridge (RF remote-controlled fan, fireplace)
- Broadlink RM4 Mini (IR repeater for a “dumb” Dyson AM07 space heater/fan)
- Logitech Harmony (universal remote)
- deCONZ, along with a ConBee II USB stick (Zigbee devices, specifically used for a Xiaomi humidity/temperature sensor that I use in the bathroom to turn on the exhaust fan when the humidity gets high)
- ESPHome, along with a custom Wemos D1 Mini and ultrasonic distance sensor (water softener brine tank level)
- HOOBS (to integrate Nest, since the new Google API doesn’t handle Nest Protects and the old one does; this exposes my Nest devices via Homekit, which I then expose to Home Assistant)
- myQ (garage opener, used for Key by Amazon delivery too)
- Omnilogic (integration for Hayward smart pool equipment)
- Omnilogic Pump Power Usage sensor (custom integration that uses the mobile API for Hayward’s app, which I reverse engineered, to grab diagnostics for power usage)
- Philips Hue (smart bulbs, color changing, etc.)
- Hue Sync (syncs lights to movies/music)
- PurpleAir (air quality)
- SimpliSafe (alarm)
- Tile (device tracking; backpack, water bottle, phone, etc.)
- Ubiquiti UniFi (uses my UniFi home network to track network device location, stats, etc.)
- Arlo (video doorbell, live camera feed from both doors in HA)
- Lutron Caseta (smart light/fan switches for those rooms where I don’t want color bulbs)
- Eufy (robot vacuum)
- Kasa (a bunch of smart plugs around the house integrated into Sense to track power usage for individual devices Sense hadn’t yet picked up)
- Emulated Kasa (a fun hack that pretends to be a Kasa device, which Sense picks up; I use it to track my pool pump power usage, which can’t be plugged into a smart plug, 240v vs. 120v, and is a variable speed pump so it’s hard for Sense to pick up. But I can fake a Kasa device for the pool pump!)
And finally, the automations that tie it all together:
- Pool heater/pump automation
- Heated towel bar timer turns off the Lutron switch after two hours to prevent burns and …
- Turns on master bathroom fan if too much humidity is detected using a humidity sensor to turn on the fan, and turn it off after half an hour or when the humidity is down far enough.
- Michael Borohovski, OZY Author Contact Michael Borohovski