For the past several weeks, I’ve been continuing a journey to immerse myself with Home Assistant, the open-source software platform used as a DIY local smart home hub
If you’ve missed the previous steps I’ve taken so far with my Home Assistant project, here’s what I’ve been up to:
- Why I’ve decided to try Home Assistant
- Home Assistant smart home setup: Easy for techies, less so for “normals”
- Tested: Home Assistant integrations, remote access, and voice commands
- How secure is Home Assistant? (Hint: very)
With the system up and running for several weeks now, I haven’t had a single issue. It’s been rock solid. The only minor glitch I ran into was a software update where I got a pretty inexplicable log message telling me the update failed. Luckily, the Home Assistant user forums are packed with good advice and a simple remote reboot of my Raspberry Pi resolved that issue.
For months, if not years, I had heard that Home Assistant automations are practically unlimited, so that’s where I’ve focused my time over the past week. Long story short: The rumors are true. I keep coming back to the phrase that automations on Home Assistant are like IFTTT on steroids, and without any latency since they take place locally. As a sidenote, Stacey even tested latency to turn on a bulb in my home from 2,500 miles away: It was instantaneous.
The setup process for automations threw me at first because I had read you need to set them up on your Raspberry Pi in text files using the .yaml specification. That sounded tedious but I did install a Terminal & SSH add-on to make it easier; my Raspberry Pi is headless and I didn’t feel like setting up the monitor, keyboard, and mouse for it.
But it turns out that all of the test automations I wanted to create can be easily done without any text file modifications as Home Assistant is adding user interface options that can replace the .yaml file editing.
The Home Assistant Dashboard (called the Lovelace UI) offers support for automation setup using a card-like system. which should be familiar to users of SmartThings. Even better, you start out by entering a simple text description of what you want to automate and Home Assistant parses that to get the necessary information. It’s a clever system that’s actually powered by Almond, an open-source virtual assistant created by Stanford that runs locally to protect your privacy.
As an example, I want to know when my wife turns the bedroom light off each night as I’m typically in my office and usually need to then turn down sound on the TV or computer. I suppose I could wait until she bangs on the wall but I know from experience that’s not the best situation! So I decided to set up a simple automation that brightens my office light when the bedroom light is turned off:
After Almond parsed my automation name, Home Assistant knows that I want a trigger event and an action to occur. It’s now just a matter of picking these from the drop-down menus and choosing the Create Automation option.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for automation. The choices you have can lead to very complex but very useful automations, depending on your needs.
Even just this example can be modified in so many ways with different conditions (maybe I only want this automation on weekdays, for example), some other trigger event, or the ability to add multiple actions for various devices in the same automation.
Here are some examples to give you an idea of the multitude of options available to you:
There’s even support for custom notifications that can be sent to an iOS device so I may kick the tires of that functionality in the coming weeks. In some cases, a phone notification might work better than a light or other device to alert me that it’s time to keep the noise down, for example.
Regardless, there’s such a wide range of options for every piece of an automation, that it makes store-bought hubs look like toys by comparison.
Granted, for some of the options, such as MQTT or webhooks, you’ll need a little a bit of technical skill.
But not everyone needs to use those features and those that do probably understand how to use them. Even for people new to the smart home scene, powerful automations can be made quite easily.
All in all, Home Assistant automations live up to the hype based on my experience in the last few weeks. If you can think it, you can probably make it happen. And best of all, I’ve seen absolutely no latency for any of my automations: It’s like the house has a sharp mind of its own, and isn’t that what we really want: A smart home that’s actually smart?