The simplest SmartHome technology uses the cloud to do the hard work. But that means you give up your privacy. And if the company closes, then so does your smart home. Here’s how to bypass the cloud in your smart home setup.
Why Locally Managed SmartHome?
Cloud smart homes are rich in features and include some niceties, but they come with their drawbacks.
First, you must give up privacy. Google, Amazon, Apple, and even Microsoft’s voice assistants recorded everything you said to them and often sent those recordings to people for viewing. While Google, Amazon and Apple have taken steps to alleviate these concerns, Microsoft still hasn’t changed anything. Some cloud devices also record your activities. Manufacturers use this information to improve systems, but in some cases they sell your anonymous data.
Second, if the enterprise cloud that manages your smarthome technology closes the store or retires the smarthome category, your devices will no longer work.
This is exactly what happened with Lowe’s Iris and Revolv centers. In addition, Best Buy recently announced the closure of its Insignia line of smart homes. As such, Insignia smart plugs, cameras, and light switches will stop working. And if you have an Insignia Smart Wi-Fi Freezer, soon it will be just a freezer.
If you create a locally managed smart home, you bypass all these problems. Your data doesn’t leave your home, and even if the manufacturer leaves, your devices keep working.
Keep in mind, however, building a smart home with local control is not for the faint of heart. But here’s what you need to do to kick the cloud to the curb.
Start with a Locally Controlled Center
Every smart home needs a brain to power it. Unfortunately, in most cases these «brains» are associated with the cloud. For example, both Wink and SmartThings offer hubs with some local management, but they still turn to the internet for some functionality.
Luckily, you have other options like Hubitat, a completely locally managed hub. Any command you send to it, or any automation you set up, is done locally. Another benefit of Hubitat is the turnkey system. The downside is that the process of configuring it creates automation similar to the complicated interfaces of a router.
Home Assistant is a solution for building your own hub. With this option, you will get exactly the house you want, with all the features you need. However, you must do everything yourself, including building a hub from a Raspberry Pi.
Of the two options, the Home Assistant interface is more polished, but the Hubitat installation process is more user-friendly.
Other options, such as OpenHab, offer similar features. However, in every case, you should expect more customization than with cloud storage like Wink.
Also, be careful what options you enable — if you connect to a cloud service, all your data in SmartHome can and will be sent to the cloud.
Switch to Z-Wave or ZigBee devices
Now that you have a local hub, you need devices to power your smart home. Any plugs, bulbs, locks, or Wi-Fi based switches should be turned off. Most Wi-Fi smart devices connect to the cloud service even when you use them with a hub.
Use Z-Wave or ZigBee devices instead. What you choose is up to you, but they are more similar than different.
Z-Wave devices tend to broadcast over a longer distance, so you can place the devices farther apart. ZigBee devices create larger mesh networks, so if you have a lot of them, distance isn’t an issue. Either way, pick one protocol and stick with it as much as possible.
You can purchase Z-wave or ZigBee lamps, switches, plugs, locks and more.
RELATED:ZigBee vs. Z-Wave: Choosing Between Two Big SmartHome Standards
Ditch Voice Assistants
Voice assistants are one of the most convenient ways to control your smart home. But whether you’re using Google Home or Amazon Echo, you’re using the cloud. What you say may end up on the company’s servers, even if Google allows you to opt out.
Even with the opt-out option, you are still using the cloud and your voice is always routed to the company’s servers. If the goal is to ditch the cloud, that’s not enough. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend a viable local voice assistant since everyone uses the cloud, at least to some extent.
Giving up the convenience of voice control might seem daunting, but you have another option: automation.
Without a voice assistant, you need another way to control your smart home. Thanks to your hub, you can control everything in one app. But that’s not always convenient, especially if you have younger family members who don’t have smart devices.
It’s ok though. When you use a locally managed Z-Wave or Zigbee hub, you can turn on your smart home’s superpower: automation. You can use automation to turn lights on or off when you enter or leave a room. You can turn on your heated blanket when you enter the bedroom on a cold night. And your smart home can turn off when no one is home.
The most expensive and difficult part of this venture is setting up the automation. First, you need a variety of motion, temperature, contact, and water sensors. Expect to spend somewhere in the $30 to $60 range for a sensor. And, since you’ll probably want to automate your entire home, you’ll need more than one sensor.
Once your home is equipped with sensors, your next step is to learn how to automate your hub of choice. The basic premise is usually «if this, then this» conditions. If the sensor in the bathroom detects movement, turn on the light. If it’s more than 10 minutes in the living room, turn off the smart jacks.
Once you get the hang of the rules, some hubs (like Hubitat) can run more complex scenarios. For example, you can combine conditions such as the time of day and if anyone is in the room before the hub turns on the floor fan.
The end goal is a smart home that anticipates your needs and actively works, not one that responds to voice commands.
It takes some effort to put together a fully locally controlled smart home. You may also need to buy new components, learn new rules, and opt out of voice commands. But you will have complete control over your data and a smart home that works exactly the way you want. The process is expensive, but may be worth it in the long run.