Converting my house into a smart home

(Links to all the suppliers below)

Smart home quick demo

Recently I’ve decided to start converting my home into a smart home.  Initially my idea was for a few smart lights to control remotely. I also wanted to clean up some older electrical outlets and change them to newer ones with USB charging built-in.

From this to..
To this ( 2 USB chargers)

While preparing for the installation I realised I could control my old infrared (IR) aircons (TCL) through wi-fi as well, using a wi-fi enabled IR blaster in each room where I have an aircon. 

Small IR blaster to control the old aircons, using 5V USB plug

Being an Apple user, I decided to use Apple Homekit to control the smart house.  I quickly realised that it’s difficult (and in some cases expensive) to find Homekit certified devices and products.  However, Homebridge is an open sourced software that can be used to integrate non-Homekit devices and products into Homekit.  I downloaded and tested the software on my iMac and it worked quite well. The only downside is that the computer it’s running on, should run 24/7 and I did not want to run my iMac as a server 24/7.  To solve this I bought a RaspberryPi, installed HomeBridge on it, and it runs 24/7 without using too much power.  I’ve even found a way to open apps on my PS4.

Raspberry Pi unboxing
Raspberry Pi installed and running

Each device has its own compatible app on your phone and the setting on those services can be accessed by Homebridge to control the devices.  With Homebridge running, I could use non-Homekit devices and still integrate them into Homekit.  

For the lights I decided to use native Homekit certified lights (bypassing Homebridge) and selected the Philips Hue system.  The main reason for this was the fact that each smart bulb does not grab an IP address and runs through the network, but uses the Philips Hue hub instead.  Each hub can support 50 devices and in most cases these will be bulbs, or LED light strips.  You also get compatible motion sensors and light switches.  The Philips Hue system is quite difficult to get in South Africa, but luckily it can be bought directly from Amazon (US) and is compatible on the 220V power used in SA.

Philips Hue bulb
Philips Hue hub
Philips Hue light switch (optional)
Philips hue motion sensor

In some rooms I have the long LED (florescent tubes in some cases) tubes light fittings. I did not want to change them to be compatible with Philips bulbs (screw type).  To solve this I replaced the light switch at the wall with sonoff smart wi-fi switch.  I managed to set this up in Homebridge and could then manipulate them using Homebridge. 

Old wall switch
Removing the old switch
New Sonoff Wi-Fi smart switch (neutral wire needed)

With this setup, and integrated in HomeKit, I could easily programme certain automated events.  For example, when the motion sensor in the hallway is triggered at night, certain lights will switch on for 5 minutes. 

For some devices, a smart plug could be used (for example a fan or lamp whose bulb cannot be replaced.). The one I found (Reef Aquatics – seems this is not available anymore as of time of writing) is compatible with South African plugs and no other adaptor is needed (usually smart plugs sold in SA is the EU type).  Again, this plug is not directly compatible with Homekit, but could be controlled through Homebridge.

Because everything is integrated into Apple’s HomeKit, it is compatible with Siri as a voice enabled smart assistant, and all commands can be given through Siri.  However, having Amazon’s Alexa (not supported in SA) on a Kindle fire I decided to test it out and was very impressed with Alexa’s responsiveness.  I’ve decided to start using Alexa to control the devices too. I got 4 Echo Dot (Gen 3) smart speakers for different rooms in the house.  The bonus feature was that I now have smart speakers around the house to stream music, news and audio books. 

Amazon Echo dot 2 (gen 3 – Sandstone)
Amazon Echo dot 2 (gen 3 – Charcoal)
Amazon Echo dot 2 (gen 3 – heather grey)

Shopping links:

Philips hue system and lights:

Philips Hue 471986 A White Ambiance A19 60W Equivalent Smart Bulb Starter Kit (Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant). Learn more:

Philips Hue 464487 Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 60W Equivalent Dimmable LED Smart Bulb Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. Learn more:

Philips Hue 473371 Home Hue Smart Dimmer Switch With Remote, 1, White. Learn more:

Philips Hue 473389 Philips Motion Sensor Lights (Installation-Free, Home, Exclusively Smart Bulbs), White. Learn more:

Wi-Fi infrared blasters:

Broadlink RM Mini 3 Smart Home Wifi Universal Remote Control\n\n

Sonoff light switches:

Sonoff Smart Wifi RF Light Switch 1  Gang\n\n

Sonoff Smart Wifi RF Light Switch 2 Gang\n\n

Sonoff Smart Wifi RF Light Switch 3 Gang\n\n

Rasberry Pi

Amazon Echo dot 2 (gen3) (Alexa)