Now that I’ve set up and configured a Raspberry Pi to run the open-source Home Assistant software, I decided to take a closer look at the device integrations and remote access of the system.
Since this is a DIY solution, you don’t just get remote smart home access like you would with a Samsung SmartThings or Wink Hub.
Instead, you have to pay $5 per month for it because the cloud component to use it isn’t free for the Home Assistant team. The other option is to poke holes in your home router firewall or use some other technical solution, but I’d rather go with the official one for simplicity and security.
I’m signed up for a free 30 day trial through Nabu Casa, the official Home Assistant cloud service and although I can’t leave home much for testing right now, it does work quickly over my phone’s LTE connection. I’m using the official Home Assistant mobile app on my iPhone; it’s also available for Android. Even over LTE, tapping a virtual switch on a light in the app takes less than a second before I see the light turn on or off. And using Google Assistant on my home network was fast too; I did have to add the Home Assistant skill to my Assistant first though.
One interesting note if you’re used to using a different hub or app for your lights: Dimming and brightness in my testing didn’t happen gradually. Instead, the light immediately changed to the new brightness setting which was jarring at first.
I wasn’t too keen on the monthly subscription at first but let’s face it: Remote access to control and monitor a smart home are key features. And the fee also adds support for Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. So if you want those, you’ll need the subscription anyway.
Armed with remote access and voice command support, I dug deeper into the Home Assistant device integrations. And there are a ton of them, far more than Wink offers and at least as many as you’ll find with SmartThings, if not more.
And for the most part, I’ve found them easy to install and configure. But not all of them.
For example, I searched for supported video doorbells but didn’t find my Nest Hello. Instead, I saw Ring, August, Doorbird, and Skybell. A search for Nest did yield results but there’s a catch or two.
The Nest integration only supports cameras (video stream, not live), sensors, and thermostats. Even worse is that to configure the Nest integration for Home Assistant, you need a developer account for Nest, which you can’t currently get due to Google sunsetting the Works with Nest Program. That’s not the fault of the Home Assistant project, of course. And then you have to do some manual file configuration; well, if you have a developer account, that is:
And I know Stacey loves her Lutron Caseta switches, which are supported. However, to integrate them, she would have to do the following:
[Y]ou must first log in to your Lutron account and generate a certificate that allows Home Assistant to connect to your bridge. This can be accomplished by downloading and executing get_lutron_cert.py, which will generate three files: caseta.ke[Y]ou must first log in to your Lutron account and generate a certificate that allows Home Assistant to connect to your bridge. This can be accomplished by downloading and executing get_lutron_cert.py, which will generate three files: caseta.key, caseta.crt, caseta-bridge.crt when you run it. See the instructions at the top of the script for more information.y, caseta.crt, caseta-bridge.crt when you run it. See the instructions at the top of the script for more information.
I spoke with Stacey and asked if she would follow those steps. I got a resounding “no”.
And that further emphasizes what I was wondering about when starting my Home Assistant setup: Is it easy and capable enough for mainstream consumers to choose over a store-bought system?
I think it can be for those willing to push beyond their comfort zone. And it’s surely a powerful brain for the smart home given what I’ve seen so far. My gut says that most people would rather deal with an off-the-shelf solution instead, which is a shame: Home Assistant is among the best solutions for keeping your smart home data inside your home.