Archive for House Stuff

Zwave vs. Wemo Switches

Our home has a detached garage. It is only a few meters from the house, but I thought it might present difficulties for the wireless “smart switches”.

Zwave Light Switch:

My first effort was with an “Evolve Zwave Switch” to control the interior lights of the garage. The Zwave device is paired directly with the Micasa Vera (Zwave does have the benefit of creating its own network, with devices relaying commands to each other).

The garage is just at the edge of its effective range (and with no other Zwave devices just yet there’s nothing to help boost the signal in between the controller and the switch).

The Micasa Vera log shows multiple attempts to contact the switch before registering success. In practice I have it set up to automatically turn the lights on when the garage door opens, and then to turn them off again when it closes, and there is not noticeable delay.

Belkin Wemo Switch:

The Belkin Wemo switch relies on the Wifi signal from your home router. Setup requires you to use your smartphone to connect to a wifi signal generated by the switch, you then provide the app with a password for your home wifi and it connects directly to your router.

I attempted to install a Wemo switch almost immediately beside the Zwave switch mentioned above (same distance to router etc) in the garage and this was a total failure.

The Belkin Wemo switch was simply unable to consistently connect to the router, and would not complete it’s setup. I disconnected the switch and used it in a different location within the house.


I like the Wemo switches because they can be operated throught the Wemo app if there is a problem with the Micasa Vera Controller. This kind of failure of the Micasa renders the zwave devices effectively inert.

I am impressed with the range of the Zwave switch, and will be adding a few more devices (door lock, thermostat, switch) to see if this improves the connection to the garage. Zwave also offers a wide selection of devices including three way switches, dimmers, relays – the list is endless) where Wemo is limited to single switches and individual appliance outlets.

For now, it’s 80% Wemo and 20% Zwave, but those numbers should balance out in a bit.

MiCasa – Vera Lite (Day 2)

So the learning curve continues.

First tip…don’t use the “Utility/Reboot” command lightly, it appeared to default the device when I tried it (simply to move the device to its static IP address) and all my programming up to that point was lost.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me a fresh start with my new found experience, and the setup was less than an hour.

Vera Lite device main page

As I mentioned, the fact that the VeraLite could make use of my already installed WeMo switches was ENTIRELY unexpected, and I had already ordered a new wall switch to experiment with (ZWave).

The Evolve Wall Switch is paired with the Vera by physically taking the Vera to the install location and pairing them (the Vera is equipped with AA batteries for this specific purpose). I installed the Evolve switch in my garage to control the lights, paired the device without an issue and then returned the Vera to its typical location.

No good. The device is out of range.

It’s important to note that the ZWave devices create their own network, and act as repeaters for each other. The more devices you have the further you can extend the network.

I’ll be comparing the range of the WeMo switches (which are Wifi based) to the Zwave switches, and we’ll see which fares better (they are both the same price…so it’s a wash on that front).

Mi Casa Verde VeraLite – Day 1

I’m impressed.

I tinkered with the Veralite today for the first time. Plugged it into the home network, let it download its updated firmware, registered on the corporate website and then got stuck into the task of getting it to recognize the components already in place.

That was a snap!

The device lets you download “apps” that take care of the basic interaction with different devices. It took me no time to download the DSC app (interaction with the alarm system), the WeMo app (interaction with my Wifi light switches), a CCTV app to bring in the feed from the surveillance cameras and even an IP Ping app that can ping our cell phones to keep track (in general) of who is home.

So, now the device list is complete, I need to start learning about “scenes” and “triggers”.

Home automation…baby steps

Ok, enough reading.

I’ve ordered the Vera Lite from Vera Controls as an entry level home automation system, along with a wireless light switch. This will give me that chance to play with the thing (undoubtedly turning the front hall light on and off endlessly and annoying Lisa) and see what it can do.

Going to experiment with this a bit and see if it gives me the features and flexibility to do the stuff I’m after, then we can get into more advanced functionality (and add more of the rather expensive devices).

New gizmo to play with, coming through.

Thinking about home automation again…

I like the idea of home automation. I like the thought that the lights, the alarm system, the thermostat and other sundry techno-toys can interact in a meaningful way.

In practice however I am a cheap fellow, and don’t want to spend a gazillion dollars on what is little more than a fancy gizmo.

I’ve done a bit of reading on this, and the leading contender is the ZWave system which offers a dizzying array of toys, er…devices, and integrates with my alarm system.

The benefit of the alarm system integration is that it allows the home automation computer to use the devices and status of the alarm system to operate lighting and temperature inside the house (system armed to “away”, kill the lights and drop the temperature a bit – fire alarm in the house? Turn all the lights on.).

I’m going to tread carefully here, I’ve already got a few Wifi light switches which don’t work with the Zwave system, and before I have to replace too many brand new toys I want to be sure Zwave is going to do what I need.

I’ll throw some updates as I try this stuff out.

Smart Exterior Residential Lighting

Our house has a few exterior lights. The usual porch lights (front and back) and a security floodlight and sconce light on the garage (as the garage end of the driveway becomes the “pit of eternal darkness” after dusk).

I’ve tried a few different ways of automating when these lights turn themselves on and off. I added photocells to both lights, but found that without direct sunlight the lamps would typically stay on all day. In the case of the garage I added a digital timer, but have to adjust the timing throughout the year to account for sunrise and sunset.

I recently replaced this arrangement for the front porch light with a single Wemo Wifi Light Switch which can be programmed locally according to a schedule, or which can be triggered by the associated If this then that service.

Belkin Wemo Wifi Light Switch

This has worked swimingly so far, and I plan on replacing the photocell/digital timer in the garage with just the Wemo Light switch (this also means I can switch these lights to CFLs instead of incandescents – incandescents were needed for use with the photocell devices to prevent “strobing” where ambient light approaches the on/off value).

It’s also cool because hey….WiFi light switches.


As we’ve renovated our new house I’ve taken the opportunity to run wire for both the alarm and CCTV systems whenever I get the chance. More renovations means more coverage for both. The system now, after four years of renos, is really quite substantial.

An early issue was the location of the recording/distribution hardware for the system. I chose a high shelf near an outlet in the basement for convenience. This area has become quite a mess as I’ve run in new cameras and have left long loops of wire (for later relocation) dangling around the shelf.

Home CCTV system

Our long list of other projects trumpted CCTV as a priority, but I’ve now arranged a proper location for the CCTV system, and have just finished relocating it (hence the picture of the old setup).

We’re not done yet, but it is coming along nicely.

(For the record, the new location is much better organized and looks less sloppy)

The anatomy of a burglary

The video below shows a few kids breaking into a house just before new years. Not a lot of technical expertise here. Give it a watch, and you’ll see a team of young burglars tackle a residential burlgary on a Saturday night at about 8:30pm.

This looks to be a fairly typical B&E, they ring the doorbell repeatedly and peer in the windows to make sure the occupants are not simply ignoring their efforts. The last thing these guys want is to run into a homeowner. An alarm system would likely not have prevented the burglary, but it would have certainly reduced the kids time on the ground inside the house.

Media Server Capacity Issues

Our most recent Home Media Server upgrade saw us transition from a cludged arrangement involving a pacific rim NAS and external USB drives to a Buffalo Linkstation Duo (4TB). Content is backed up to two USB HDDs every month (a manual process), and we are now hovering at about 75% capacity (3TB).

Buffalo Linkstation Duo

The Linkstation Duo can handle twin 3TB HDDs instead of the 2TB HDDs presently installed, and you can hang a USB HDD (up to 2TB) capacity off the NAS.

That said I can’t help but find myself browsing through 4 and 5 bay NAS devices with up to 12TB of capacity (and a $700-1100 pricetag). I think I’ll spend some money on the 3TB HDDs, which can always be moved to a larger NAS down the road.