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The MotoRetreat is my second home, located 170 miles away from my primary residence. When I purchased the property in Jan 2019, I had the opportunity to start fresh - use my knowledge of the consumer home automation offerings and purchase exactly what I wanted.

I am a home automation backend software developer. I love to “geek out”, but one of the most rewarding challenges for me is to make home automation invisible. My home binder/instruction manual has no dsetails on smart home operation - because you don’t need instructions. “The hardest thing about technology is making it easy.”

My automation is centered around a hub. Many people shy away from home automation hubs - yet another device they have to find a place for. I argue that hubs are quite beneficial, and for the following reasons:  

  • Hubs allow you to use devices that use different wireless protocols. For example, the Hubitat hub (my recommendation), “speaks” both zigbee and zwave. These are two popular home automation wireless protocols. The benefits to using zigbee or zwave devices (over wifi):
    • Less devices on your wifi network! Your wifi router, especially if it is an older or simpler model, can easily become bogged down with too many devices. You don’t want your automation getting in the way of your guest experience
    • Many more sensors available due to lower power requirements. Zigbee/zwave are protocols made for home automation. You can buy inexpensive battery powered sensors such as: open/close sensors, motion sensors, leak sensors, etc - these sensors are not possible on wifi due to the increased power requirements. On wifi you’d be changing batteries weekly… with zigbee/zwave, devices can often last 6-12 months on a single battery
    • If you ever have to change your wifi name/password, you won’t have to reconfigure your zigbee/zwave devices because they connect directly to your hub, not your wifi network
    • Zigbee, Zwave, and Matter are standards. Many manufacturers offer these devices - you are not locked into a specific hub (there are other hubs that support zigbee & zwave devices, not just Hubitat!)
  • Hubs give you a single app to control all of your connected devices
  • Hubs often have automation engines that let you build powerful automations between all things connected to it

Lighting

The home I purchased had no neutral wires in the junction boxes, limiting my choices for smart switches. The switches were also located in odd places due to a prior remodel. I am happy I went with Lutron. They are fantastic dimmers/switches that work with Hubitat. They offer the super thin Pico remotes (with a 10 year battery life) - when you buy the wall plate adapter & a normal single gang wall plate, you can stick these onto the wall anywhere you want (with command strips!) and have them “mirror” an existing switch. This means I can make sure all switches are in “intuitive” places as you walk into a room - and you’d never guess that they weren’t real switches with wiring behind them. They also offer pico remote stands, which allows me to have on/off light switches on the bedside tables in each bedroom, allowing guests to turn the lights on/off from bed. I’ve gotten multiple reviews that specifically mention these!

Thermostats

Many people ask if any of the automations below are compatible with their Nest thermostats. In 2018/2019, Google “revisited” the Works With Nest program. It was this program that allowed “outside” automation systems to control your Nest thermostat. My presumption is that Google didn’t like this because they didn’t know why automations were happening - they want to be in control (or at least understand) of all the logic that controls the Nest. Their new policy is to not allow any new Works With Nest connections - if you want a device to form automations with your thermostat, that device must be integrated into the Works With Google Assistant ecosystem, and then you must create that automation in the Google Assistant/Google Home app. Unfortunately, the WWGA ecosystem does not yet support most automations that people would want to implement at their Airbnb.

Short answer: buy Ecobee, not Nest.

Automations

Automation Devices (from list below)
Smart lock coding: Automatically program smart lock based on Airbnb calendar. Set code to last 4 digits of the guest’s phone number at a specified time. Delete code on check-out day at a specified time. Makes access control completely hands off!! 1,2,12
Energy savings/check-in&out actions: On day of check-in, at a specified time, set thermostat. Return to away mode on check-out 1,12,13
Energy savings: Turn off heat/AC if the patio door is open for 15 minutes 1,7,13
Energy savings: Automate whole house fan. Automatically turn on if a specific window is opened AND it’s <75º outside AND it’s warmer upstairs. Automatically turn off if the window is closed OR the temperature drops below 70º upstairs 1,7,17
Energy savings: Turn electric hot water heater on/off based on airbnb calendar & my phone’s presence. 1,12,16
Guest arrival: If the guest unlocks the door after sunset, turn on lights 1,3,4,12
Garage access: Allow the guest to type in their door code to a keypad outside the garage to open & close the garage 1,10,12,14
Garage security: Automatically close the garage after it’s been open for (X) minutes 1,10
Home security: If motion is detected outside the home when no one is scheduled to be there, flash strobe and send push notification 1,6,8
Home security: If a door/window opens when no one is schedule to be there, sound siren and send push notification 1,7,8
Home safety: If a leak is detected under any water source, shut off the water to the house 1,9,11
Home safety: Send me a push notification if a guest left a door open for a specified amount of time. 1,7
Home safety: If smoke detector goes off, send me a push notification, turn on lights, and unlock doors. Optionally text neighbors. 1,3,4,15
Network security: Send me a push notification any time a new device connects to my network 18

Devices

# Device Approx Cost
1 Hubitat C-7 Hub $130
2 Schlage Connect Lock $180
3 Lutron Wall Switches $50 ea
4 Lutron Bridge (Pro version) $100
5 Lutron Pico Remotes $15ea, $5ea for wall plate, $10 ea for bedside stand
6 Motion sensors (Zigbee) $15-30
7 Open/Close/Temperature Sensors (zigbee) $5-10ea in qty 10
8 Strobe/Siren (Zwave) $25-50
9 Leak Sensor (zigbee) $20-30
10 Garage Door Controller(Either all-in-one, or zigbee tilt sensor + zwave relay) $120
11 Water valve (zigbee) $40
12 Airbnb / Hubitat Integration Open-source available here (requires that you run it on a Raspberry Pi or similar) $0
13 Ecobee Thermostat $200
14 Zigbee keypad outside the garage (XHK1-UE) $40
15 First Alert ZCOMBO Smoke+CO detector (zwave) $40
16 GE Embrighten Plus Heavy Duty 40Amp Smart Switch (zigbee) $170
17 Zooz Zen16 3-in-1 Relay (Zigbee) $38
18 Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro & Access Points $400+

Infrastructure

  • Netgear Cable Modem
  • Wyze v3 Pro Cameras (Under $50).  Include an SD card for 24/7 recording with no monthly fees
  • UPS to keep the internet up until my generator comes online
  • Generac whole home generator (20kW)
  • Back up internet - Netgear LB1120 LTE modem with pay-as-you-go SIM

Other services

  • HostTools - Automatically send messages to guests at a specified time. Request names of all guests, give directions/check-in instructions, etc
  • TurnoverBNB - Platform so my cleaner knows when to clean the home. She follows a checklist in the app then when she says she is done, she gets paid from my bank account. +4% on payments

Other things to note: In August 2022, I moved from a SmartThings hub to a Hubitat hub.  Hubitat is completely local (no cloud dependence)