Getting Started with Home Automation

I’ve been trolling the internet for a long time, reading posts on r/smarthome, r/homeassistant, r/homelab. I’ve found Reddit to be a really great source of information, and a curator of resources all over the web. Automation has always been an interest of mine, but I found it hard to justify a budget when the motivation was just “tinkering.” What pushed me to take the plunge was a series of minor car break-ins, where video footage from surveillance cameras actually helped capture the thief.

Justification in hand, architecture needed.

Camera System: Swann NHD-885MSB & ZoneMinder!

I decided on a Swann camera, but didn’t go with their NVR system. I wanted open source, mainly for the “hackable” element. From my Reddit trolling, I decided to go with ZoneMinder. I’m a linux advocate. BlueIris looks pretty fantastic, and I wouldn’t mind paying for it, but the Windows requirement is a tough pill to swallow. For now, I’ll stick with ZoneMinder.

The camera is a refurbished 4k resolution bullet camera. Probably overkill, but I knew I wanted to place it high, but still be able to see details like license plates and faces. I got a cheap PoE Gigabit switch, ran CAT6 cable from my basement server to the camera, and I’ve got at least the hardware portion in place.

Configuration of the camera is specific to the hardware. Swann is not known for being particularly compliant with standards, but I was able to configure the camera with information from this post. Perhaps my next camera will be a brand that publishes RTSP and ONVIF endpoints to make it a little easier. Live and learn.

ZoneMinder keeping an eye on the driveway

ZoneMinder keeping an eye on the driveway

SmartThings

I went with SmartThings as my smart home hub. It is great as a standalone system, with a whole community built around devices and SmartApps built on the Samsung platform. It is the interface between my IP network and my Z-Wave devices, and it has been very stable. I haven’t done much with smart automation workflows in SmartThings, because I found a better way: Home Assistant.

Home Assistant (hass.io)

I’ll save the details for this for later, but I decided to deploy Home Assistant in the form of hass.io. I tried deploying Home Assistant as a container first, but found that it was more manual configuration than just going with the hass.io virtual appliance. Hass.io is awesome.

Node-RED

Node-RED is an open source project for creating logic flows for sensors, devices and integrations. Basically, it is a visual tool for creating logic for your smart home. It integrates very well with Home Assistant, and makes automation logic MUCH easier.

What’s Next?

So those are the main tools I’m using to build my little home automation empire. In my next home automation post, I’ll go over how I set up some simple automation to make my life easier, and significantly more geeky… just the way I like it.

Post-Script:

There have been some resources that I have used extensively to build my understanding of home automation, and as a trusted resource for advice and configuration guidance. Here’s the ones that I have found to be excellent resources:

  1. Smart Home Beginner. Fantastic descriptions of practical configurations, and reviews of products.
  2. Smart Home University. Especially their articles on getting started with Node-RED.
  3. ZoneMinder Docs. ZoneMinder is a bit of a beast, and has lots of knobs. I like knobs, and learning what they do. But don’t choose ZoneMinder if you don’t like reading about knobs :).