Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hue lighting vs Z-Wave - you probably want both

Common applications

I was just talking to a guy about which is a better fit. He said wall switches because most of the lights in his house a single switch controls all the ceiling lights in a room. Could be as many as 6 bulbs on switch so he is saying wall switches are cheaper. Wiring wise, my home is just the opposite. So is my shop though my barn is wired like he described. My barn is wired like a office with sectional fluorescent lighting because you do not want to step on something sleeping in a shadow. Other than the barn and some outdoor lights almost none of the lights are multiple bulbs. Almost every one is controlled by multiple switches. My house and shop are both very open plan with vaulted ceilings and 2 to 3 doors on almost every room. My living room for example has 4 ceiling lights and a fan light combo. Only 2 of those ceiling lights are on the same circuit and all of them are wired to 2 to 3 switches so you can control them from related entrances. Any home designed to be energy efficient would be done similar since you do not want to be turning on all the lights when you just need one and you do not want to have to cross a dark room to turn on a light. But even if your room is wired with 6 bulbs on a single switch, being able to control that group lights individually or as group like adding Hue bulbs would do would be seem to be an added feature over the wall switch as well.


First if you are looking at smart lighting I'd kind of assume you have, or will get, some sort of home automation hub. Not long ago I replaced several hubs, including a SmartThings, awhile back with one huge Homeseer server that oversees all 3 buildings. So the real question is never a Hue vs a Z-Wave hub. Hue is an add on not a central controller any more than Nest or Echo is. You can sort of do some limited stuff but again if you are reading this you have probably already out grown those limitations. Personally I have most my controlled lights linked with motion detectors so the lights come on when I enter and off after 10 minutes of no detected motion. I can also control them using Echo Dots around the house and a few are also linked to local z-wave and Hue remotes. Another advantage of Hue is they can be controlled by multiple controllers since it is in effect a WiFi enabled device when the Hue hub is used. Note the SmartThings hubs can talk to the Hue lights directly but people seem to have less issues using the hub instead.

So bottom line, the only bits that differ between using Hues or not are the Hue stuff and the wall switches. If you have even 1 Hue light you are probably going to have the Hue hub so it is really a non factor after the first bulb but lets looks at your example of a first time Hue install 2 bulbs on 1 switch:

  • 453761 Hue Lux 60W Equivalent A19 LED Personal Wireless Lighting Starter Kit sets you back $40 and that is really all you need to turn them off and on via phone, Echo ect. You just leave the switches on. You can turn them on locally by flipping the switch off and back on. Now this brings up what I see as the only real downsides to Hue.  1) if you turn them off at the switch they are off and 2) they all come on if the power goes out and back on. Though a flash outage or brown out does not seem to flip them on. 
  • if you want local dimming or to be able to turn them off locally add a 455394 Hue Wireless Dimmer Kit, 1 Dimmer and 1 Hue White Bulb at $35 yes but note what does yield you an extra bulb to use else where too. So you really need to compare that to 2 wall switches which would be $5 more. Plus the Z-wave dimmer only will work with certain bulbs. If you want dimmable you really out to go with Hue.
  • Lastly if you have family that forgets and flips switches off add a Mitzvah Family 1007 Magnetic Switch and Outlet Cover for Toggle Switches, 6 Pieces at $20 that works out to $3.33 EACH
  • Now after you have the hub I found 3 packs of 455295 Hue White A19 LED Bulbs for as little as $22. Looks like on Amazon right now the best prices are on 2 packs for $18 but also watch for 3 packs. Always good to grab extras when they are cheap.
  • Or you could get a Hue bulb with remote + the switch cover $38.

Note assumes you have usable bulbs for the switches already. If not you need to factor in at least $5 a bulb for the wall switches as well and their might be issues with dimming them.

Also some other bulbs work with Hue. For instance I have a GE Link Smart LED Light Bulb, PAR38 Floodlight (3000K), 90-Watt Equivalent that seems to work find with Hue though its short neck and wide face limit the fixtures it will work in. I got it for just $14 though on sale.

Now you could get something like the GoControl Z-Wave Dimmable LED Light Bulb, LB60Z-1 for $17.50 but then you have all the same issues as the Hue bulbs and none of the advantages. Plus each bulb is twice as much.

If you start talking 3 way you are looking at more like $60 per circuit going with wall switches. $80 for a 4 way ect. Plus I ran into issues with a 3 way setup for example where the only bulb that would work was an incandescent because it needed a trickle current through the bulb like the old X10 stuff did.  

All the above said I still like wall switches for specialty lighting like track lighting or even flood lights as even the white Hue floods are still on the pricey side at $22+ each Same with their 468926 Hue White Ambiance E12 Candelabra 6 Watt Connected LED Bulb. In both cases the applications generally call for 2 to 4 bulbs and in the case of floods I want something brighter than 60 watt equivalent. Not to mention they are not rated for outdoor use.

Research update: what about Ikea's TRADFRI lighting

It does look like it might be an affordable alternative to Hue once it is more supported given the prices I hear people are finding. Right now comparing the Ikea site prices to Amazon's Hue prices Hue is slightly cheaper. Alexa, HomeKit and Google Home support is supposed to be coming soon.If you are hardcore DIY there is a SmartThings hack out there to get it to work. And Homeseer looks to have a plug-in in the works. So it might be a question of waiting or taking a risk that this will work for you some day but it is not ready for the average consumer yet. Note Ikea does not have an outdoor option yet but they do have a track lighting one. Though again at $20 / bulb that can get pricey real quick. Their candelabra option LED bulb E12 400 lumen is a cheaper than Hue $15.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quick work around to Google Home - IFTTT bug

If you want to set up a take a memo applet like my Take a memo you have the problem that the created date is not getting added to the sheet. To get around this you need to add a trigger to the sheet. To do this open the script editor

Paste this in the script editor
function onEdit() {
  // Use start & stop to time operations
  var start = new Date().getTime();
  var active = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet().getDataRange();

  // We want the size of the sheet, so will select ranges across and down the
  // whole sheet. Cannot use getDataRange(), as it selects only occupied cells.
  var numCols = active.getLastColumn()
  var numRows = active.getLastRow();

  var stop = new Date().getTime();
  var timeToMeasure = (stop-start);
  //Logger.log("Sheet is "+numCols+" by "+numRows+".");
  start = new Date().getTime();
  var cell = active.getCell(numRows ,3);
  cell.setNumberFormat("MMM/dd/yyyy").setValue(Utilities.formatDate(new Date(), "CST", 'MMM dd yyyy HH:mm:ss'));
  //cell.setNumberFormat('MMM dd yyyy HH:mm:ss');
//  cell.setNumberFormat("MMM/dd/yyyy");

  var stop = new Date().getTime();
  var timeToStore = (stop-start);  

 //   Browser.msgBox("Sheet is "+numCols+" by "+numRows+"."
 //                 +" ("+timeToMeasure+"ms to measure, "+timeToStore+"ms to store.)");

Run the script so it will ask you permission to link by clicking on the run icon.

Now open the triggers editor
Add a trigger like this
Now when IFTTT adds a row to the sheeet (or any edit is made) at time stamp will be placed in column C of the bottom used row.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

First Look: Google Home is still a work in progress

Google Home is not quiet as polished as the Amazon Echo For instance the Echo will search your network for devices while the Home you have to tell it which devices. Homeseer is not supported yet even though it is listed on their web site. Though the Home plug-in for Homeseer is supposed to be ready soon.

The main thing that I bought it for is the one thing it does do that Echo does not. Pass a string to IFTTT. So you can for instance make an applet to log your dreams or ideas you have. And the recognition seems a bit better than Echo too. But do not get too excited because not all actions take a parameter. For instance you can not set up an applet to run any event you say. You still have to do one for each event. Hopefully that will get sorted when the Homeseer plug-in for Home gets released.

Update 8/8/2017

Unfortunately Homeseer still is not linking but I have to say I'm liking this name your own trigger phrase feature more and more. It basically lets you add skills using IFTTT as long as you just want to send a message some where. For instance I used to have an IFTTT applet set up so when I'd add a to-do via Alexa it would get added to my Remember the Milk inbox. The problems were at first that meant using some extra channel to get it from the Amazon list to Remember the Milk. In my case Twitter which meant I got a DM notification every time. Then Remember the Milk got a skill about the same time the trigger word "remember" seemed to stop working. So for example, instead of "Alexa, remember, pick up milk" it became having to say "Alexa, tell Remember The Milk to remind me to pick up the milk at 5pm". I would still need to clear out my Amazon to-do list. Todist on the other hand has a much less polished interface than Remember the Milk BUT it interfaces directly with Amazon so anything I do in my Amazon shopping and to-do lists syncs without any plumbing on my part. So now I can say  "Alexa, add 'pick up the milk' to my to-do list" and get it added without all the notifications.

Now compare that with Google Home. I just create an IFTTT  applet that lets me say "Hey Google, remind me to pick up milk" and it adds it to my Todoist inbox with a priority, due now and a couple tags. The phrasing just flows. Like the memo one above it is nice to be able to pick my own trigger phrase. Note to call an IFTTT from Alexa directly like that you have to say "Alexa, trigger [phrase]" and [phrase] just tells it which applet to run and it does not get passed on. Plus Google Home seems to be better at transcribing text than Alexa. For instance for testing I tried to add "convert homeseer counters to objects". Google got it right. Alexa transcribed it as "for home seer counters".

Updated 10/20/2017

Still can not get Awair or Homeseer to link.

I did get Harmony linked but I can only link in one of the hubs. By default you have to start everything "ask harmony to" as in "Hey Google, ask harmony to turn on hulu". If you want to just say "turn on hulu" like you would do with Alexa then you need to create a shortcut. Note if you have a Chromecast linked by default "turn on Hulu" will try and stream to it. Also when you set up short cuts use the mic to input the shortcut or it may not work. This is a bit more of a pain to set up but it does let you choose what device to play what on though since Fire TV seems to be unsupported in might not make that much difference. Unfortunately you can't just create a shortcut like the "Remind me to" one above but at least you can create a simple one like "to do list" which will bring up the Todoist app which will prompt you from there so you do not have remember which app to bring up and how.

I should probably note here too in order to change the friendly names in Google Home you currently need to unlink and relink Harmony. There is not edit. In Alexa you can edit the names names now of smart home devices, groups and scenes. Scenes is were you will find the friendly names for Harmony activities, channels and devices.

Updated 12/31/2017

After seeing posts in the Homeseer Facebook group claiming it worked with Home I decided to give it another go. This time I did get Homeseer to link accounts and import 83 controls which is short to all of them. It still seems to not grab room info. IIt appears to have pulled in about half of the Hue lights and dimmers (for some reason) on the house hub and none from the shop and barn hubs which my Homeseer knows about. No groups but the all lights on hub. So about 10% of the Hue "things" Homeseer shows. This is fewer than Home pulled from SmartThings months back. (I still have SmartThings hubs for some legacy stuff and experiments.) It does appear to have imported in most (maybe all but hard to tell with so many and the diff in interfaces) Z-wave Switch Binary devices from the 4 networks connected to my Homeseer, my Nest thermostat and virtual devices. It did see the Lifx bulb but not the Ranchio, Harmony hubs, Sonos speakers or Onkyo that are WiFi controlled by my Homeseer. One more point. While linking stuff to rooms I ran into a few problems. When adding a new room the rooms got double added some how. I had to go back and remove the duplicated rooms that had no devices in them. Sometimes adding devices to a room did not save either and I had to go back and link them again. Also it appears you can only add a device to a room. That is fine for filtering lists but if you are grouping for control, which is the case here, that makes it not very useful.

BTW Awair still asks for your login and then just goes back to the devices screen with out error or linking. Tried Lifx and TP-link for first time now that I have a devices to test with and it imported fine. Thought my Nest account was linked but was shows as not so relinked it without issue. Note it took me 3 tries (that Google Home said it understood) before I could turn up the heat on my Nest Thermostat. "Tell Nest to set the temperature to 70" did not seem to actually do anything despite it saying it was doing it. "Set the living room temperature to 70" did seem to work but it could be it just took that long for the first command to make it though all the hops.

For added fun I thought I'd try relinking my Hue account to Home to see if that would allow Home to see the other hubs or just switch hubs to get control of the shop lights. Unfortunately it gets all the way to the final step and flashes a quick message about failing to update. After doing this a few times it did actually update despite the error. But it still only sees the house hub. I'm guessing because when you log into the Hue web interface you can only view one hub (like the official Hue app) and Google goes though the cloud instead of talking directly to the hubs like Alexa does.

Updating devices list

You can now (Dec 2017) say "sync my devices" to Google Assistant (on your phone, Google Home, etc) to refresh all of your smart home services. For example, if you have Philips Hue lights and WeMo outlets, Google will pull the full list of your devices from those services. You can also just refresh a certain category, with something like "sync my lights."

Others thoughts

Granted the landscape is changing fast but here are some articles of where things were at times.