SmartThings Hub

 

Introduction

 

SmartThings is a home automation platform compatible with hundreds of devices. It uses both Zigbee and Z-wave wireless technologies to connect to devices to give you total control over your home’s automation processes. A recent update to SmartThings has extended its functionality enabling it to connect with LAN devices as well, meaning devices that were previously locked out of the SmartThings ecosystem are now compatible- such as Lutron Caséta.

SmartThings’ mobile app provides easy access to your home’s devices, both at home and while away. Voice-activation makes controlling your devices even easier by integrating SmartThings with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homekit with Siri, or Google Voice Assistant.

Most of your SmartThings automation will be set up using routines. Routines provide a convenient set of rules for things to automatically happen based on an event- you leave or return home, you go to bed or wake up, etc. The SmartThings app comes preloaded with 4 default routines:

  • Good Morning!
  • Goodnight!
  • Goodbye!
  • I’m Back!

You can edit or delete these routines, or you can create your own.

You can also set up custom alerts so you can be notified when things happen. You have options for text or push notifications. You can set up your lights to alert you of an event, and trigger your cameras to start recording. If you have a siren paired with your SmartThings hub, you can set that to go off too! In fact, SmartThings includes everything you need to create a self-monitored home security system!

SmartThings doesn’t stop with home automation and notifications. Their mobile app provides a Smart Home Monitor where you can include things that protect your home- alarm system status, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, leak sensors, and more. This gives you an overview of the safety of your home in one quick view.

 

  • Features
  • Reliability
  • Ease-of-use
  • Price
  • Documentation
  • Developer support

Summary

The SmartThings platform is an easy-to-use, easy-to-setup system that requires no previous experience with home automation. This is why SmartThings is one of the most popular choices for home automation. This was my first time getting into home automation and it didn't take long to pick it up. There are some more advanced options, like creating virtual devices and your own device handlers, that do require manual coding. Usually this isn't necessary. The hub comes stock with the ability to create a geofence around your home and perform automations as you come in and out of it. You can schedule lights, fans, TVs, pretty much whatever can connect to SmartThings, to automatically turn on and turn off. It's a great way to start a smart home!

4.4

 

 

Zigbee and Z-wave Communication Protocols

 

The SmartThings hub contains two radios used to communicate with devices- one is based on the Zigbee protocol, and the other is based on the Z-wave protocol. Both protocols are widely used in home automation, both share similar characteristics, but they are completely incompatible with each other. Both protocols fall under the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for low-power personal area networks, but they’re very different in terms of operation. For instance, Zigbee uses a 2.4 Ghz radio for communication, whereas Z-wave uses a radio band near the 915 Mhz range in the United States. The Zigbee protocol can support far more nodes (65,000 max) than a Z-wave network can (232 max). Zigbee also has the advantage when it comes to range and maximum data transfer rates.

Both protocols allow mesh networks, meaning that one device, such as the SmartThings hub, will be the primary controller, but it doesn’t require a direct connection to each device. Other Zigbee and Z-wave products can act as repeaters to relay the signal. So as long as there is a communication path back to your SmartThings hub, even if the signal has to go through other sensors to reach the hub, the device will be able to communicate. However, Zigbee products will only repeat Zigbee signals, and the same with Z-wave. You cannot extend a Zigbee network using a Z-wave repeater, or vice-versa.

Both standards incorporate at least some kind of security measure. Zigbee uses 128-bit AES encryption, whereas Z-wave uniquely pairs to your network. In order for a Z-wave device to be reused on another network, it must first be excluded (unpaired) from the original network.

Since both are short distance, low-power protocols, that makes each perfect for home automation. Most people won’t care which protocol their devices use, as long as they work. However, knowing the difference is important if you need a repeater to extend the signal.

Applications

 

So what can you do with SmartThings? SmartThings gives you a ton of options for home automation. You can easily mix and match devices from different manufacturers and never have to worry about compatibility issues. As long as the devices can connect to the hub, SmartThings will be able to monitor their status and/or control them. Thus, you can make “device A” do something when “device B” is in a certain state. It doesn’t matter who makes “device A” or “device B”. One notable manufacturer still missing from the SmartThings ecosystem is Nest. There are workarounds to add Nest products to SmartThings, but you won’t be able to directly add them through the app.

The SmartThings app lists a wide array of device categories:

  • Cameras
  • Doorbells
  • Garage Doors
  • Irrigation
  • Light Bulbs
  • Locks
  • Outlets
  • Remotes & Buttons
  • Samsung Products
  • Sensors
  • Smoke Detectors & Alarms
  • Speakers
  • Switches & Dimmers
  • Thermostats
  • Valves
  • Vents
  • Voice Control
  • Other
  • SmartThings Labs
  • Blinds & Shades



Installation

 

Installing a SmartThings hub is as easy as setting up a desktop computer. Plug in the power cable, connect an Ethernet cable to your SmartThings hub, and then plug the other end of the Ethernet cable into your network’s router or switch. Download SmartThings Mobile from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. If you plan on using SmartThings Mobile on an Amazon device , you’ll need to sideload the app. Start the app. If you don’t have a SmartThings account you can go ahead and set one up now. Your SmartThings hub is now installed and ready to go!

Your SmartThings hub isn’t very smart without at least one device to control. You’ll need to add a device. Most devices have a pull tab on the battery that starts the pairing process. The device and the SmartThings hub will both need to be in pairing mode. At that point, SmartThings should automatically find the device. However, sometimes the app doesn’t show that the device has been added. If you get the message “It’s taking longer than expected to find devices”, press the back button on your phone to see if the device was added to your Things list. If not, you can manually add it.

In this example we’ll add a water leak sensor , but the process is the same for other devices:


Slideshow- Tap or click to view

SmartThings should automatically find your device if it’s in pairing mode. If not, try going back to your Things list to see if it was added. If not, tap Add a Thing again and then press Add Device Manually.

Find the type of device you want to add, such as Sensors.

Tap the type of sensor you want to add.

Choose your specific moisture sensor model.

SmartThings will then find the device. You’ll see a screen like this. If you’re adding multiple sensors, consider giving them uniquely identifying names.

Rename your device, then tap Done.

Once you’re finished, tap Save.

You may get this confirmation dialog. You’ll have an opportunity to add more devices. If you only have the one, click OK to finish up.

You should now see the device you added in your Things list. SmartThings will suggest you add the device to an automation, but it’s not required.



Routines, Monitoring Rules, Smart Apps, and Smart Home Monitor

 

So you just spent all that money on a SmartThings hub. You connected your hub to your network. You created a SmartThings account and you’re signed in. You have your first device installed and connected to the app. Now you need your device to actually do something. This is where routines, rules, and smart apps come into play. Each can provide automation tasks, though routines are much more robust when it comes to capability.

Routines. As discussed above, routines are a set of rules that, when triggered, cause something to happen. The trigger is a condition (or a set of conditions) that must be met for the action to occur. This can be as simple as a motion sensor turning on a light. Or it can be as complicated as setting all your lights to a preset level, turning down the thermostat, disarming the alarm, unlocking the door, and opening the garage door when you come home after sunset on a Tuesday. Routines are designed to complete an action, or a series of actions, sequentially from start to finish. They only run once until they are triggered again.

This example is a completely useless routine. It turns the living room light and fan on any time the refrigerator door opens on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yet it still shows how you can tie multiple automation devices together as well as apply an additional condition.

A more realistic example might turn off the kitchen lights 1 minute after the refrigerator closes, but only between midnight and sunrise (so you can go straight to bed after getting up for a glass of water in the middle of the night). This would require an additional condition (the fridge door closes AND at a certain time), which routines do not support. If you select multiple conditions when setting up a routine, SmartThings will treat them as a logical “OR” (i.e., if this OR that happens, then do this). If you need more than one condition with a logical “AND” (i.e., if this AND that happens, then do this) you should look into CoRE.


Slideshow- Tap or click to view

First you’ll need to name your routine. Tap Next.

You’ll be able to control any of your devices with a routine. Select the device(s) you want. Notice that you can set the Smart Home Monitor from within a routine.

Scroll down to see the rest of your device options. Notice that you can change the mode from within a routine. Select Automatically perform… to set a trigger for the routine.

You’re given quite a few options.

Scroll down for more. Here we’ll use Something opens or closes.

Tap Which? to select an open/close sensor.

Choose the sensor then tap Done.

You have an option to set the days of the week when this routine should run. Tap it.

Select your schedule then tap Done.

If you’re happy with your settings, tap Done.

Tap Done to create your new routine.

The new routine will appear in Routines in the Automation section.

To edit the routine, tap on the gear icon.

Since we don’t really need such a silly routine, we can delete it. Tap Remove.

If you’re absolutely sure you don’t need the routine anymore, go ahead and confirm it’s deletion by tapping Remove.



Smart Apps. Some smart apps are similar to routines, but more limited in scope. Take SmartThings’ built-in Smart Lighting app for example . You can fully control your lights using various sensors, thus achieving lighting automation without using routines. However, you can’t change SmartThings’ mode (home/away/night) or Smart Home Monitor (arm/disarm) like you can with routines. Some smart apps are used for connecting a product to SmartThings, such as a Samsung SmartCam HD , but do little else. Others allow you to set up a device, like configuring a watering schedule using the Spruce Irrigation controller.

This example uses the Smart Lighting smart app to turn on the garage light when the garage door opens, and turn it off after the garage door closes, but only if the time is between sunset and sunrise.


Slideshow- Tap or click to view

We’ll update an existing automation.

Here’s what the basic setup looks like for this automation. We want the garage light to turn on when we open the garage but turn off after it closes.

Scroll down and expand More options. Tap on Only during a certain time.

Tap on Starting at.

Change it to Sunset. Do the same thing with Ending at and choose Sunrise.

You can see that the light will only operate between sunset and sunrise now since we probably don’t need the garage light during the day. Tap Next.

You can change the custom name if you want. Otherwise tap Done. That’s it.



Smart Home Monitor. If you’re familiar with a home alarm system, you’ll notice some similarities with Smart Home Monitor. SHM allows you to configure security, smoke, and leak devices. Security allows you to add open/close sensors as well as motion sensors to remotely monitor presence. Smoke allows you to add smoke and carbon monoxide devices to alert you of a fire emergency. If you add leak devices you can monitor for burst pipes or overflowing toilets. Once you set up your devices in SHM, you can then arm and disarm your home. You can even sign up for Scout Alarm if you want a professionally monitored service to alert the authorities in an emergency. Scout Alarm costs $20/month or $215/yr, but isn’t required.

This example shows how adding a compatible device to SHM changes the Dashboard, and gives you an idea of how you could use this feature.


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To actually use the Smart Home Monitor, you’ll need to set up either a Security, Smoke, or Leaks device. We’re going to set up a Security device.

Armed (Away) Intrusions sensors. You can either choose to use all of your open/close and motion sensors, or toggle the switch off and choose them individually. In this example, we’ll leave the toggle on. Tap Next.

Armed (Home) Intrusion sensors. Again, choose which sensors you want to use, then tap Next.

Tap Select Cameras.

Tap Select cameras.

Choose which cameras you want to start recording. Tap Done.

You can set the length of time the camera will record to suit your needs. Otherwise, just tap Done.

Tap Done again.

You will see your Dashboard has changed. You now have the option to arm/disarm your system, as well as obvious indications as to the health of your home.

If you swipe to the left you’ll now see a new Right Now tab that wasn’t there before. All sensors that you included in the Smart Home Monitor will be visible here. Also if you go back into Settings, you’ll see a new Scout Alarm professionally monitored service option that you can subscribe to for $20/month or $215/yr.







Monitoring Rules. Even if you don’t have any security, smoke, or leak devices, you can still use SHM to set custom monitoring rules that can send text or push notifications to alert you to the status of various sensors and locks. Monitoring rules are quite useful for letting you know what’s happening around your home, and also allows for automation.

This example shows how you can monitor the state of a lock to turn on lights to a preset level when it unlocks, but only if the mode is set to night or away. It also sends a push notification to let you know something has happened.


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Next, tap on Custom.

Tap on New monitoring rule.

Tap What kind of device do you want to use?.

You’ll be presented with a list of sensors. We’ll use a Lock in this example.

Tap on Select Locks.

Choose the device you want to use. Tap Done.

Choose the state you want to monitor for the change. In this example, we’re using Lock unlocks.

Expand More options. We’re going to set the mode to Away and Night. The rule will only run when either of these modes are set.

Next we’re going to set up a notification. Tap Text & Push Notifications.

Toggle on Send push notifications.

Set a custom message to let us know what just happened, then tap Done.

Tap on Alert with Lights.

Tap Select Lights.

Choose the lights you want to associate with this rule.

Tap Light Level to set a dimmer preset. We’ll choose 20%. Tap Done.

Tap Next.

You can edit the rule to give it a custom name or just accept the name SmartThings chose for you. Tap Done.

You’ll see your new monitoring rule listed now! If at any time you decide you don’t need it anymore, come back to this list and tap on it.

Scroll all the way to the bottom and tap Remove.

You’ll be asked to confirm the deletion. Tap on Remove only if you’re sure. You won’t be asked again.

You’ll see your rule has disappeared from your custom rules list.



Custom Notifications. You won’t find the phrase “custom notification” in SmartThings. This is just a custom monitoring rule, but I’m counting it as a different category because sometimes you just want a notification without triggering an automation.

This example shows how you can set a reminder to do something, in this case close the garage door if it’s been open for longer than 30 minutes between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. but only when the mode is set to home.


Slideshow- Tap or click to view

Tap on Custom.

In this example we’re going to look at a previously created rule.

Choose a device type and the sensor you want to send you notifications.

Next, choose the state the sensor must be in to send you a notification.

Choose how long the sensor must be in the current state in order to send the notification.

Click the + sign to expand More options. In this example, I want to get notifications when my garage door is left open at night, but only when I’m at home. Tap Next to continue.

Tap Text & Push Notifications.

I want to receive push notifications through the app, so toggle that on. Next, enter a custom message to let you know why you’re getting an alert.

Toggle the switch to edit the rule name. When you’re finished, tap Done.



Why SmartThings?

 

So now that you know a little bit about how SmartThings works, what it works with, and what you can do with it, let’s talk about why you would want it. There’s three main facets to SmartThings- automation, security, and monitoring. When you combine all three, you have device interaction that makes life easier and helps to give you piece of mind.

Why continually adjust a thermostat at certain times of the day when you can have it adjust itself? Why manually turn off the lights when you leave the house when you know you’re going to do it every time? What if you forget? Programmed devices won’t. Even if you don’t want to automate every device, having remote control of them can be extremely useful at times. Letting trusted people in your home while you’re not there is a possibility with SmartThings.

With SmartThings-connected security, you can keep an eye on your home while you’re away too. Connect security cameras that can upload snapshots to the cloud. Be notified if a door or window is opened when you’re not there. Set up alerts for when your kids get home from school so you know they’re safe. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

When we built our home a few years ago, we had a dishwasher leak because the plumber didn’t tighten the water hose connection all the way. We had to have part of our brand new floor replaced. If we had SmartThings at the time, it could have alerted us and maybe we could have stopped the leak before it destroyed that part of the floor.

I had a sprinkler solenoid malfunction this summer. The SmartThings-connected Spruce Smart Irrigation controller alerted me to the problem, which could have gone undiagnosed until the summer heat started killing my grass. This saved me time and money repairing my lawn.

In the end, you’re going to be the only one that decide if SmartThings, or more generally smart devices, are right for you. I’m a fan of SmartThings, but you may find something else that would meet your needs better. Whatever you choice, make sure it’s something that will work for you.

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