Home Automation Catch-Up

As the weather has now improved beyond the need to turn the heaters on, I temporarily decommissioned most of my Sonoff S20 sockets until next winter and thought it was a good opportunity to catch up on my home automation endeavors.

Core Tech

In short, adopting Tasmota and homebridge has panned out wonderfully over the past few years with very little hassle, and many of my early hacks have gradually been phased out in favor of new features all across the board.

(I still have zero interest in overly complex all-singing, all-dancing setups with HomeAssistant, and that will likely remain the case until such time as Apple decides to break HomeKit, which “just works” as is.)

A cardinal example of that is that my 2018 LG TV, , was recently upgraded to support both Apple TV+ and HomeKit support–I have not (yet) had the time to remove all the shims I was using to integrate it since I still need to from the Vodafone set-top-box (which still does not support CEC), but that’s something to while away another weekend afternoon.

Also, hardware reliability has been decent. One (out of ten) of my Sonoff S20s quietly (and safely) blew its internal fuse when handling one of our older heaters, but I have plenty of spares (and actually ordered two more, just in case).

The only long-term annoyance I can foresee at this point is that I won’t be able to get rid of my 2.4GHz Wi-Fi while I’m using them, but then again there are hardly any comparable options out there, especially if you factor in the flexibility of Tasmota firmware.

Wi-Fi

Which reminds me that, during the pandemic, I decided to second-hand instead of trying to go for a meshed network setup, largely because a meshed setup would not be as effective in our building (there are two lift shafts and lots of armored concrete throwing radio shadow between parts of the house) and managing them would be trivial (they have given me zero issues for years).

Wiring them together and broadcasting the same set of 2.4GHz and 5GHz SSIDs has been quite effective, and although I do plan to replace them in a couple of years finding something else that doesn’t have too much useless functionality and doesn’t talk to any cloud will likely be my biggest challenge.

Cameras

I’ve been playing a bit with HomeKit cameras, initially for experimentation and later to try to figure out if it was feasible to put one on our flat landing to monitor deliveries during lockdown.

I could never sort out the physical aspects of putting one outside our door (or even powering it when mounted to the peephole), but I now have two M5Stack ESP32 cameras that work decently with esp32-homekit-camera, and an Aqara G2H Hub Camera that can record to iCloud.

This last was also quite nice to play around with, as setup worked almost entirely over HomeKit. I only needed the Aqara app for firmware updates, and ditched it right afterwards, plus I (obviously) blocked the camera’s MAC address from any form of direct outbound access (the only way it can speak to anything is via the Apple TV acting as home hub).

The video quality is great, and its mic and speaker work well enough to hold a conversation if you set it up at a relative’s.

Plus it can act as a Zigbee gateway, something that I may well need in the near future.

Zigbee Sensors

Speaking about that, have, for the most part, turned out OK, although they are not clearly designed to deal with a house with this much armored concrete in the middle.

Every now and then I need to do a round of battery swaps on them (another is soon overdue for the second batch of sensors I set up) but they are mostly reliable, except when the entire Zigbee network collapses and I need to manually unplug and re-plug the controller.

Coverage has improved somewhat after I got an IKEA light bulb and some RGBW LED strips (which I use for indirect lighting) that all act as Zigbee routers, but it the controller sneezes, no amount of routers is of use.

On that regard, things could be better. Only a few weeks ago, died for no reason (good thing I had spares) and apparently did something to the USB port it was plugged into for a couple of years.

Software-wise, zigbee2mqtt in itself has been mostly hassle-free if left alone - it’s broken a few times when upgrading (something that I’ve backed off from doing regularly unless I have the time to fix it), and I suspect this is largely due to bugs in the CC2531 firmware.

But the core zigbee2mqtt software is pretty solid. I recently upgraded it to a new version with a built-in web front-end and decommissioned my custom dashboard, further simplifying maintenance.

Nerve Center

Everything is still running off the Apple TV as HomeKit Home Hub and an for custom logic and third-party integration because that is the smallest, quietest and most reliable little machine I have (partially because it has EMMC storage instead of SD cards), using docker-compose, MQTT and a homegrown dashboard to tie it together.

I’ve thought once or twice of getting a HomePod Mini to act as a home hub and replace the Apple TV, but they are still not available directly in Portugal and the grown-ups in the house are used to speaking to Siri via their watches, so that’s kind of moot (although I do have an Echo Listen in my office for streaming music and minding the lights, again via some glue).

But I have been pondering moving the back-end stack to a new machine as I’ve had some .

Even then, since I only fuss about with it every three months or so things have been mostly stable, which is what you want from this kind of homebrew system.

So I think it’s stable, at least as such things go.