What is Home Assistant? All-Inclusive Home Automation for FREE!

What is Home Assistant? All-Inclusive Home Automation for FREE!

Google with Home- and Assistant services, Apple which made HomeKit, and Amazon which created Alexa are all free cloud platforms for automating your home. All three of them are services that are decreasing in popularity. However – is a that clever to build your whole home automation system around these platforms?

By choosing one of these cloud services, you put all your eggs in the same basket and you are NOT in control of the basket. It also means that all your devices have to support this one specific service. By choosing these services, you will get a pretty limited setup (if there is one thing I don’t like – it’s being limited).

How do we get around these limited free cloud services? Well – we, fortunately, got Home Assistant. Thanks to Home Assistant, we are able to create the totally customized automated home of our lives – NO limits.

A short introduction to Home Assistant

Before we dive into this topic, I would like to give a short introduction to Home Assistant.

What is Home Assistant?

Open-source home automation that puts local control and privacy first. We have no need for the cloud to run our automated home. It will be powered by a worldwide community of tinkerers and DIY enthusiasts (you will be one of the in the future). It is perfect to run on a Raspberry Pi or a local server like a NAS (Network Attached Storage) in a Docker Container. Home Assistant is compatible with more than 1.900 devices.

Home Assistant, HASS, HA – Dear Child Has Many Names

Home Assistant (not related to Google Assistant) in short is a hub to control all of your house and it’s IoT (Internet of Things) devices. A Home Automationhub is a place, where different devices running at different protocols can communicate with each other. By using a hub you can connect all your devices at one single place and build automation rules for all of them, based on data from the devices.

An example could be: “Send me a notification when the dishwasher has finished cleaning”, “turn on the lights when you arrive home and the lux level in your house is below a certain level or the sun is gone for today”. It could also be a sensor in your bed registering if you are at sleep or not. If you wake up tin the morning and the sensor registers that you are not in bed anymore, it could turn on the radio and coffee machine for you automatically.

Everything can be based on weather, light level, times during the day, motion sensors, sleep sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors, switches, etc… it could also be done by physical buttons or virtual buttons on your smartphone. the options are many, you just have to let your imagination free. I tend to say: “If I can think it, I can make it”. I will be adding articles about Home Assistant on my blog with tutorials/how-tos on how to make cool automation in your home.

Home Assistant is available on both your computer (browser-based), iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Android devices (phones and tablets as well).

You will often find my referencing Home Assistant with the following, in my articles:

  • Home Assistant
  • HASS
  • HA

Ups and Downs of Home Assistant

The list is long for pros of Home Assistant, but I will try to keep it short. Below is a list of some pros and cons of using Home Assistant.

Pros of Home Assistant

  • ✅ Almost anything can be integrated – It could be your TV or thermostat from TADO, NetAtmo, Danfoss… everything can be connected.
  • 🤱🏻 Fairly simple to get started with. At the beginning of Home Assistant, the focus was at the core, but the community behind HA has really given the platform a great user experience in the latest updates.
  • 🤑 It’s FREE and open-source. Another bonus is that you own all data, nothing is stored at Google, Amazon, or Apple.
  • 📦 Frequently updated (~ about every tenth day you will get a new update)
  • 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 Huge Community with a lot of other smart and intelligent smart home tinkers.

Cons of Home Assistant

  • 🥧 Requires that you configure a physical device at home where you can run HA. Ex – Raspberry PI.
  • 🤓 It is the more geeky way to do it. The setup is not like Apple HomeKit – you can switch the design at the interface to make a look like HomeKit. I would prefer to expose Home Assistant as a HomeKit hub and integrate it that way.
  • ⏰ Requires you to use more time at the system. It will require more time in terms of configuration and maintenance, but it’s worth it!

Should I go with Home Assistant?

Home Assistant is an open and free platform. You can use it totally offline in your home without ever having to expose any of your data to any 3rd-party provider like Google, Amazon, or Apple. Because it runs within your home network, you will not be affected by internet disruptions. It is very flexible and support lot’s of smartphone devices with native apps, and it is stable as hell! What’s not to like?!

If you signup for Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, or Amazon Alexa, you will notice they are all very easy to get started with. Home Assistant is the more geeky way to go and requires you to use some more time at the initial setup (but it’s worth it). Trust me, I have been running Home Assistant for more than three years without issues and it is easy to use. It’s even approved by my girlfriend!!

You should pick Home Assistant if you are OK with spending some more time on the setup and configuration of your Smart Home. In the beginning, I knew nothing and the learning curve was steep, but that was because I didn’t understand the concept of how everything was connected. For each update they release, the system is made even better and more stable.

You might encounter that you have to write a few lines of code to get some things to work, but do not be afraid – it’s not that hard. However if you are totally afraid of writing a line or two (most of them are on the internet and I will show you the lines in my tutorials), then Home Assistant might not be the right choice for you.

# Configure a default setup of Home Assistant (frontend, api, etc)
default_config:

http:
#   base_url: https://your-ha-installation.com:8123
    ssl_certificate: /ssl/fullchain.pem
    ssl_key: /ssl/privkey.pem

# Text to speech
tts:
  - platform: google_translate
    service_name: google_say
    cache: true
    cache_dir: /config/tts
    time_memory: 28800
    base_url: https://your-ha-installation.com
    language: 'da'

group: !include groups.yaml
automation: !include automations.yaml
script: !include scripts.yaml
scene: !include scenes.yaml

If you continue to read my blog, I will do my best at getting you started with Home Assistant. This will be done through tutorials with step-by-step instructions and videos in English. This will help you avoid beginner issues and get going in a snap.

Requirements to get started with Home Assistant

To get started with Home Assistant, you have to install it on a computer that will be turned on 24/7/365. I am recommending a Raspberry PI 4 Model B with at least 4GB RAM. The Raspberry PI is low on power consumption and it is an easy device/computer to get started with.

Additionally, you are gonna need an ethernet cable, a microSD-card, and a card reader on your computer. The card reader on your computer is used to load the HA OS onto the microSD-card.

How much does it cost to get started with Home Assistant?

Last updated June 2022. A rough estimate would be around $130 / 120 EUR to get started. Let’s break it down.

Product~ Price ($ / EUR)
Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (4 GB RAM)~$60 / ~55 EUR
32 GB microSD-card (or bigger)~$11 / ~10 EUR
Pi case~$5.5 / ~5 EUR
Pi Power Supply~$8.5 / ~8 EUR
Ethernet cable~$3 / ~3 EUR
Mini USB 2.0 MicroSD Card Reader~$2 / ~2.5 EUR
DeCons ConBee 2.0 ZigBee USB Dongle~$40 / ~37 EUR

In total, you have to pay around $130 to get started. This includes all necessary parts to run the PI and a USB to integrate with your ZigBee devices. Say goodbye to multiple hubs for HUE, IKEA, etc…

🥧 Pi-tip: It’s often possible to buy it as a complete kit for about $85, without the ZigBee USB. 💡

Power Consumption ~ $2 every month

🔌 Depending on where you live in the world and the ever-changing high electricity prices at the moment I would estimate the monthly power consumption price to be around 2 or 3 bucks every month (danish prices).

The yearly cost for me is around $36 USD every year to run all my automations (a combination of Node-RED and HA) in electricity bills. That’s a totally fair price compared to how much time I can save by automating my home.

It is actually also possible to use your Raspberry PI for more than just HA. I will talk about that in other of my articles and videos on my blog. You could run a WiFi Controller or AdBlocking platform where all network traffic is routed through to get rid of commercials in free games/apps… Suddenly it’s fun to download a game in the app store where the developer would show an ad every 2 seconds!

Home Assistant Cloud: $6.5 USD

If you wish to connect Home Assistant with Alexa or Google Assistant you got two options. The first one is to buy a subscription for Home Assistant Cloud at $6.5 USD/month. This is the easy way to connect Home Assistant with Google and Alexa and it just works out of the box.

By signing up for a cloud subscription at Nabu Casa (developers behind Home Assistant), you will be able to access your HA setup at home, when you are not at home but would like to perform a task, automation, or check the surveillance cameras. It also handles the SSL Certificate and makes integration with IFTTT easy.

✅ Home Assistant Cloud is developed by Nabu Casa and by supporting them with $6.5 USD every month, you are supporting the continued development of Home Assistant. The monthly fee is used to pay for their servers and the full-time employed developers behind Home Assistant. 😋

😎 You can try Home Assistant Cloud free for 31 days before you have to make a decision about starting the monthly subscription.

I must admit I have gone the more complicated way and configured my own DNS and SSL Certificates to get around the monthly subscription. I will show you how to do this in my tutorials, but I still encourage people to support Nabu Casa.

Summary

Home Assistant / HASS / HA is the ultimate platform for making your home intelligent. It is a cheap solution to make a united platform for all your home devices and automate them.

Home Assistant requires you to gain a little knowledge on how to flash a microSD-card with a new operating system ( I will show you how to do that in the next article ). If you are ready to transform your home into a digital and intelligent home, Home Assistant is the choice.

In the next article, I will show you how to download Home Assistant, Flash a microSD, and install HA on the sd-card to get started with Home Assistant.

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