My DIY Smart-Home set up is significantly cheaper, performs similar functionality, and is more flexible than commercial systems. It takes some more hands-on work to get running than a commercial product, but it is a worthwhile and fun hobby. I really enjoy the process of building, configuring, and living in my Smart-Home. Here’s a list of the tech I used:
- Raspberry Pi – Don’t let this scare you away! I’ll go over everything.
- This price can differ based on your needs. There are three options:
- Broadlink RM Pro
- Etekcity Radio Controlled Outlets
- Amazon Echo Dot
With these connected devices, I was able to configure a system that controls these items in my apartment:
- Living Room Lamp
- Living Room Fan
- Entry Lamp
- Entry Fan
- Bedroom Fan
- Window Fan
- Fish Tank Lamp
- Fish Tank Filter
- Fish Tank Heater
- Christmas Tree (when we set up)
- Bedroom Speaker
- Roku Express
- Bluetooth Speaker Bar
- Wall A/C unit
Now I’ll compare my devices to their alternatives and show you the differences.
Raspberry Pi- Your “Hub”
Smart-Home set ups typically utilize a central “hub” for connecting and controlling your devices. A Samsung Smart Things hub usually run around $100. I use a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant. I was intimidated by these little machines for a while, but it turns out I had no reason to be. These are cheap, basic computers that are made for learning and hobbyists… even new hobbyists! How cool is that?! The great thing is that everything runs off a Micro SD card. So, if you mess everything up terribly, you can just reload Home Assistant back onto the SD card and you’re back in business. I had to do this many times, hopefully with this guide you won’t have to.
BroadLink RM Pro- Your Remote
In order to control my Infra Red (IR) devices, I needed a universal remote. These devices can learn codes from your TV, DVD, A/C or any IR remote and broadcast those same signals through your Smart-Home set up. For this, I use the BroadLink RM Pro. It can be used to control Infra Red (IR) devices as well as Remote Frequency (RF) devices. This little device replaces the popular Harmony Home Hub which sells for more than twice the BroadLink.
A large benefit of the BroadLink, is the additional ability to broadcast RF signals. This will give us much more affordable outlet options in the next section. The BroadLink also has an interior thermometer that you can access in Home Assistant. This would require a separate sensor, if using Samsung’s Smart Things system, that would run an extra $20 or so.
The BroadLink’s IR signals require line-of-sight to the device to work, just like your TV remote. RF control will work through walls and barriers. I own the 2016 version and it works great. The 2017 version is boasting 3x stronger RF function, for the same price!
Remote (RF) Controlled Outlets- Your “Smart” Outlets
A majority of my Smart-House is controlled using connected outlets. This is the most effective way of making the dumb devices you already own a little smarter. Samsung’s compatible smart outlets are about 9 times the cost of RF outlets. It would cost me close to $450 just to provide smart outlets for all of my devices! My RF outlets are a fraction of the price and come in packs of 5.
RF outlets work a little differently than other smart outlets, but provide very similar functionality for a fraction of the cost. They respond to 433MHz remote frequency (RF) signals, the same RF signals that the BroadLink can broadcast. They also have an on/off button on the front for easy access. When turned on, the light is red. RF outlets cannot communicate back with Home Assistant (on the Raspberry Pi). More expensive connected outlets usually have 2 way communication with their hub. This is a very cool feature, but unnecessary for most devices.
What this means for you is Home Assistant will send the signal to the outlet, but it cannot know if the signal was received or not. It will assume that the signal was received and update the device’s state accordingly. Turning the device on and off with the button on the outlet,will not change the state in Home Assistant. Occasionally the device will not receive the signal, but not enough for it to be an issue.
I ended up with almost 3 full sets of these outlets. I purchased 2 sets, but each set had a dud. I reached out to the seller and they sent me a 3rd set for free. The Aukey ones I use don’t seem to be available anymore, but the Etekcity outlets are very popular.
Echo Dot- Your Voice Control
The Amazon Echo Dot is the voice interface for my Smart-Home. Alexa can easily access the devices inside Home Assistant. Not only can it be used to interact with your devices, but it is also an internet connected smart assistant that can play music, set timers, and keep a shopping list. The Echo Dot is fairly inexpensive but is not necessary in order to access Alexa.
|My Way||Other Way|
|Voice Control (optional)||$||$|
|Total Cost||Around $200 Total||Around $700 Total|
With just these connected devices you, too, can take the plunge into cheap, but effective, Smart-Home tech. This guide will walk you step-by-step through setting up a system similar to mine.