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Elk health, UPB/SA health, State of DIY HA - rambling questions

Linwood

Active Member
I'm not even sure what I am asking here, other than maybe some pointers to reliable sources (or direct input). 
 
I have been doing a fair amount of electrical work lately at my house, and also finally got the last RF sensors converted to wired. This has be re-examining the state of what is a reliable fixture -- the Elk M1G and some UPB controls I have on it.  Should I add some more, should I change?  Also, my wife's growing frustration with anything that looks like a remote (but fascination with Google Assistant) added into the mix.
 
So I started reading; I now know a lot more technically about UPB vs Zwave vs Zigbee, a bit about some various HA hub-like tools (but mostly enough to be confused by old info on old webs ites).  I also started pricing stuff and found out Automated Outlet passed, then looked on the SA site for dealers and 2 or 3 of those seem like dead links, and some others are dealer-only (Yes, I did find some that are DIY friendly, but it was the trend I was noting).  I also have a vague recollection that Elk's new ethernet board had some dealer-only aspect (though again, vague). 
 
So some questions (bearing in mind I pay attention only when something needs changing, so am badly out of the loop): 
 
Is Elk Products healthy?  Are they continuing to be DIY friendly?  If a year or three from now I need more Elk parts, am I likely to find them?   Am I likely to need to find a friendly dealer/installer to get parts, or use services?  (Unlikely here at least last time I tried). 
 
UPB seems to be extremely stable and reliable and... dying. Not much new comes out, and while almost every retailer sells other various smart devices, no one in-store sells UPB and the number online seems shrinking.  I have only 6 or so devices.  Starting to think I am better off changing if I wanted to double that, rather than adding on? 
 
Caveat: I resist strongly any HA system that requires cloud accounts or stores/controls from the cloud.  If I do a Google Assistant integration it will be an add-on for my wife, not something required to make it work.  If I want mobile access I'll do my own tunnel back into my network.
 
I see lots of projects, some free/open-source, some not too expensive, but I am struggling to figure out which ones really appear to have longevity and stability.  I'm a developer by trade and interest and do not mind working on them to get it set up, but I want something that afterwards will just sit there and work.  Kind of like the M1G does.  Not a daily hobby to keep tweaking.  My philosophy says go with open source stuff, my gut tells me after reading from the firehose that a lot of those projects are pretty fragmented and a bit rudderless (even if fairly active).  But that same gut tells me the more interesting commercial offerings from small companies are going to get slaughtered by the big guys (who invariably seem to require cloud accounts). 
 
Just wondering if someone has good pointers to current "state of DIY Home Automation" from people that know?   As opposed to inarticulate and uninformed fanboy postings, which I can find far too many of.
 
And last more concrete question: Where would a happy Automated Outlet customer (US) buy from now for someone trustworthy and with decent pricing, as a DIY'er?
 
Linwood
 
PS. I have the security system (M1G) also doing automation now.  I have little need for that, it could be completely separate, or better yet just have an input.  It's just convenient now.
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
Hi Linwood,
 
My favorite online retailer has always been HomeControls based out of San Diego, CA.  They had a more robust offering than AO and have been around a lot longer, though I did use AO for a while since they had active members around here that we got to know.  They carry Elk, UPB, etc and will provide excellent tech support.
 
Simply Automated recently relocated - I believe the owner passed away and one of the sons took over and moved the business to Arizona, but when I talked to them last, they claim to be alive and well.  I do worry about the protocol though since none of them have gotten the products included in any of the hubs - that will be their downfall.
 
I'm in a similar boat - we sold our Elk/UPB house and moved - our new place is a much higher-end house so I'm cautious about what I install.  I'm really getting the feeling that it's not the best products winning - just those with the best integrations into the popular hubs that allow a larger audience to DIY automation and get "close enough" to the type of tight integration we had before.  I'm finding myself heading down the path of RadioRA2 because it seems to be a well backed product that's not going anywhere, and is recognized in the million dollar homes everywhere.  I'm mixing that with some commodity hardware for the convenience, then will figure out how to tie it in together best.  I'm not thrilled that I'll likely be using multiple apps now to do what I used to do in one - but I'll see how much I can do with Alexa and HomeKit I guess. 
 
So far, I have some hue bulbs mostly for the table lamps in bedrooms - the kids like to pick colors, and the guest room has a white light with the remote.  That's handy enough.  We use HomeKit or Alexa to set that for the kids at night.
 
I just ordered a VeraPlus so I can finally do something productive with my z-wave deadbolts and get some water sensing in place since we've had a few water issues that have already cost me thousands this year.  I just ordered Ecobee thermostats too - I should be able to manage them via their own app, or homekit or alexa... and I'm going to do Rachio for the sprinklers.  For lighting, I already bought a bunch of RadioRA2 switches - but haven't installed them or bought the hub yet. 
 
I'm still on the fence about security... but one thing I've definitely come to terms with, is that even if I go with another Elk, it won't be the center of my automation anymore... it'll be one of the peripheral devices and I'll cross-control where I can, but most of the thinking will happen elsewhere on a hub that's more capable and interoperable.
 
It's sad that, as home automation has become so popular, it's no longer as good as it used to be in a lot of ways.  Good products are dying off in favor of subscription models and cloud based backends with inferior hardware. 
 

ano

Senior Member
Work2Play said:
It's sad that, as home automation has become so popular, it's no longer as good as it used to be in a lot of ways.  Good products are dying off in favor of subscription models and cloud based backends with inferior hardware.
I certainly don't agree with you there. It is better than it ever has been, but it has changed. "Good products are dying off"  We'll maybe the product was good, but the business model wasn't. UPB is a great technology, but unless they sell more and more every year, its not a great business model. I have about 40 UPB devices and in the last few year I have bought zero, because they all work. Good for me. Not great for UPB sellers.
 
Subscription models help those that don't have $50,000 for a custom installer. The ongoing revenue gives them reason to grow their business.
 
I also use a SmatThings hub, which is a great product. It always works and is easy to set up.  This is the future. I can control things with voice, or my phone or automatically.
 
Before moaning and groaning so much, maybe try the new technology.  I can control much of my home with voice, or use the web, or Android or iPhones and setting it up took almost no time, and it cost very little. It is certainly a BIG step forward. I can say "Alexa activate Christmas Lights On" and it works. Let me see your Elk or Omni do that? 
 
Home Automation definitely HAS changed over the years, but its 99% for the better.
 

Linwood

Active Member
ano said:
I certainly don't agree with you there. It is better than it ever has been, but it has changed. "Good products are dying off"  We'll maybe the product was good, but the business model wasn't. UPB is a great technology, but unless they sell more and more every year, its not a great business model. I have about 40 UPB devices and in the last few year I have bought zero, because they all work. Good for me. Not great for UPB sellers.
...
Before moaning and groaning so much, maybe try the new technology.  I can control much of my home with voice, or use the web, or Android or iPhones and setting it up took almost no time, and it cost very little. It is certainly a BIG step forward. I can say "Alexa activate Christmas Lights On" and it works. Let me see your Elk or Omni do that? 
 
Home Automation definitely HAS changed over the years, but its 99% for the better.
 
Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between "old and stuck in my ways" and "too experienced to do something that stupid".   Take that as a caveat.
 
I come from the software business, so I do get the revenue stream issues.  That does not mean I have to like it, or even buy into it except where it seems to benefit me.  At least until it is the only viable option left.
 
Take Adobe - they shifted Lightroom and Photoshop to subscription only.  I use it regularly, Adobe improves it regularly, and there's a viable path once I decide not to subscribe to not lose my work. I'm in.  Sign me up.  Now take Adobe further -- now they are trying to replace Lightroom with Lightroom CC, which is a cloud-only (THEIR cloud-only) subscription, where they keep your image masters and charge you for storage.  You can't even reliably do your own backups, you just have to trust them.   No thank you, not going there.
 
BUT... most people will go there (many have), because it is convenient, and works on their phone, their tablet, it's all magic.  Less to understand and set up.  Same price by the way.  It's fans could care less about backups or security (or they are heavy on trust for Adobe).
 
Which of us is right?   I am not sure that question even makes sense -- there is no objective "right". 
 
And in your case I argue that "better" is equally in the eye of the beholder.
 
I know a LOT of people who have web cameras on a cloud service.  It does not bother them that they stop working in fundamental ways if the internet is down. It does not bother them that they are frequently shown to be insecure.  It does not bother them that they require you have an account set up, and you have no control or awareness of what information might be uploaded to that account, or disclosed if they get hacked.
 
It does bother me.  So my web cam solution has a local NVR, an encrypted cloud account that is not a security vendor, and I programmed the upload so I know exactly what is going where, when. This is a LOT less convenient, a lot less user friendly, and a lot more expensive (to buy).   
 
Is mine better or is the off-the-shelf stuff better?   Again, I argue it is not an objective decision, depends on your needs and wants.
 
I want a monitored alarm service from a certified vendor.  A LOT of people I know are happy with an alarm that just sends email to their phone if there is an alarm.  Their's is also a lot cheaper, and a lot easier to set up.  Other than not getting an insurance discount, it is all about people's risk and cost tolerance.
 
Sorry... I'll stop ranting now... but I really think the argument that a cloud based, subscription model is "better" is in the eye of the beholder.  For some time (until we all die off  :blink: ) there are still going to be people who want more control, and less trust.
 
I certainly agree it is what the mass volume of development and products is heading toward.
 
I think the point of my original question is more about "where is the industry now, for those of us left".   
 

vc1234

Active Member
I use RadioRA2 for my lighting.  It is reliable mainly due to Lutron managing to convince FCC to allow them to use  the 434Mhz bandwidth and decent protocol design with proper packet acknowledgments and dimmer/controller status synchronization.  There is nothing magical about their RF/protocol design. Zwave folks might have done as good a job but they did not for whatever reason.
 
There are some drawbacks wit this choice. Lutron is primarily about controlling lights. So, I have to complement whatever is missing by various zwave devices:
 
1. Locks.  Lutron's ClearConnect RF protocol does not support encryption and transmits everything in clear text (or bytes). It is unlikely Lutron will ever support security devices, therefore.
 
2. Receptacles. Lutron does not make them.
 
3. Pluggable appliance modules.  Lutron's offering is uglier than even Zwave's and as far as I know does not support 20A appliances.
 
One positive zwave area I just discovered with a new pluggable zwave appliance module in my garage was zwave's S2 security implementation.  The older S0 protocol that's  used by the majority of  zwave locks (e.g. Yale) is extremely chatty, about a dozen packets are exchanged just to execute one command, and slow. The new S2 protocol requires just two packets: the command and the acknowledgement., the same as the unencrypted version.  I was pleasntly surprised by that given the abysmal zwave design record.
 
I am not interested in cloud solutions due to technological (unpredictable latency) and privacy reasons.  I may get interested in voice control if voice recognition happens on the control device itself.  Right now Alexa voice recognition takes place on Amazon servers and the  actual command is sent back over the Internet.
 

ano

Senior Member
There are so many example of things changing for-the-worse.  Renting Microsoft or Adobe products are good examples. For the last 20 years, my wife and I have gone on cruises with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, etc.  20 years ago it was a great experience, you pay for the cruise, and everything is included. Over the years that changed. Now cruises cost half the price, but they nickel-and-dime you for everything. EVERYTHING. The new ships are giant and crame packed with people, but they now include "exclusive" areas to go in if you book a big expensive room. 
 
I do not like it, and probably won't go on these lines again, but they must be making the money with these schemes, and to companies, this is really the only thing that matters. Unless their economics change, its not likely these companies will change either. 
 
The olden days are not coming back, and in some ways that's good, and some ways, not so good.
 
vc1234 said:
I am not interested in cloud solutions due to technological (unpredictable latency) and privacy reasons.
I can't speak for all hubs, but most of SmartThings processing occurs locally.  For me, a Zigbee motion detector to SmartThings to a Zigbee bulb occurs at least twice as fast as a wired motion detector to an Omni Pro II to a UPB light switch.
 

Linwood

Active Member
Work2Play said:
Hi Linwood,
 
My favorite online retailer has always been HomeControls based out of San Diego, CA.  They had a more robust offering than AO and have been around a lot longer, though I did use AO for a while since they had active members around here that we got to know.  They carry Elk, UPB, etc and will provide excellent tech support.
 
Simply Automated recently relocated - I believe the owner passed away and one of the sons took over and moved the business to Arizona, but when I talked to them last, they claim to be alive and well.  I do worry about the protocol though since none of them have gotten the products included in any of the hubs - that will be their downfall.
 
Thanks for the HomeControls pointer, that looks good.
 
As to SA and hubs -- on the HomeControls page for US1-40 (was browsing prices) it says "works with Alexa and Google" with appropriate hub, but doesn't say what hub.  But they advertise there as working, but I cannot see anything on the SA site itself.
 
 
I'm still on the fence about security... but one thing I've definitely come to terms with, is that even if I go with another Elk, it won't be the center of my automation anymore... it'll be one of the peripheral devices and I'll cross-control where I can, but most of the thinking will happen elsewhere on a hub that's more capable and interoperable.
 
Yeah, I agree, if I had to start fresh now.  But right now the M1G is rock solid.
 
 
 
 

Linwood

Active Member
ano said:
I can't speak for all hubs, but most of SmartThings processing occurs locally.  For me, a Zigbee motion detector to SmartThings to a Zigbee bulb occurs at least twice as fast as a wired motion detector to an Omni Pro II to a UPB light switch.
 
I did some quick looking.  I checked the Android SmartThings app.  Here's what bothers me about these things.
 
It loads: 
  • My identity info (ok, maybe ok).
  • All your contacts -- why should Samsung get YOUR phone number just because it's on my phone?
  • Location (GPS) 
  • Phone numbers 
  • Directly call phone numbers (why should it ever be able to initiate a phone call?)
  • Device and app history (reading my phone's logs that records everything done by any app)
 
So if I understand -- I must allow all these things to make ANY use of the hub itself.  I have a particular problem with the idea of it reading all my contacts and being able to (but does it?) send them to Samsung.
 
I should be able to trade these sorts of things for specific features only if I want them.  But I can't -- I give them up before I can even configure the device.
 
Or am I missing something?  It says I do not need to pay a monthly fee, but I do not appear to be able to avoid using their app.
 
I generally like what I see with it, but why start off with an information grab?  Is that their alternative to a monthly fee, they make me and my info their product? 
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Information grab is integral to most of the new companies getting into this. You think they make real money selling hubs for almost nothing? The hub is their trojan horse into the home, as is the Echo, and all of these companies. All these big companies know that information is the new gold, all following Google's lead. 
 

Linwood

Active Member
Dean Roddey said:
Information grab is integral to most of the new companies getting into this. You think they make real money selling hubs for almost nothing? The hub is their trojan horse into the home, as is the Echo, and all of these companies. All these big companies know that information is the new gold, all following Google's lead. 
 
Absolutely.  What bothers me most is them pretending it is not true, that they value your privacy, etc.  Honestly I think most people who opt in for it now would still opt in if they were just honest and said "you are the product, give us your privacy and we give you cheap stuff".  I hate the hypocrisy of it all.
 

123

Senior Member
@Linwood
 
I also have an ELK M1 and UPB lighting. Long story short, I'm following Rasczak's philosophy, you're it until you're dead or I find something better.
 
[url="https://youtu.be/HAqszxJSP6I?t=13"]https://youtu.be/HAqszxJSP6I?t=13[/URL]
 
 
As my SmartHome X10 Switchlincs die, I replace them with Simply Automated UPB switches. Yes, the technology is long in the tooth but they have a proven track record in my home and 'just work'. They're also easy to configure and manage. When they're no longer sold, I'll turn to something else (zwave?). Similarly, the M1 'just works' so I'll continue to expand it until parts become unavailable. Proven reliability is worth a lot to me.
 
I'm not concerned that the UPB switches aren't compatible with an Amazon Echo or Google Home and can't be accessed remotely. That functionality is provided by my home automation software.
 
FWIW, I've also been reticent to embrace Amazon Echo and Google Home. As a toe-in-the-water experiment, I'm using something we already have in our home, namely my wife's iPhone (if you're an iOS or Android user, Apple/Google already know a lot about you). I'm using Apple's HomeKit and Siri for voice-control.  I can say 'Hey Siri! Dim the mantle light' and a second later the mantle lights (US11-40 UPB switch) gets dimmed. I can also use Siri to control my HAI Omnistat/2 thermostat, a homebrew (hard-wired) door-lock, and our Sears garage-door opener. All of these devices pre-date the current crop of so-called 'smart devices'. However, that 'gap' is bridged by the use of appropriate home automation software. So far, we like the convenience but aren't ready to make the leap to multiple 'listening posts' throughout the house. When my wife leaves with her phone, our home's voice-control effectively leaves with her as well. 
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Linwood said:
Absolutely.  What bothers me most is them pretending it is not true, that they value your privacy, etc.  Honestly I think most people who opt in for it now would still opt in if they were just honest and said "you are the product, give us your privacy and we give you cheap stuff".  I hate the hypocrisy of it all.
 
It's also of course now moving up a meta-layer. Companies are have been for a while now trying to push the people who write the programs to use their online services to create their products, and hence be the upstream revenue and information gatherer. So it's like, hey, if you want to do face recognition or speech recognition or AI analysis of customer habits or data, use our cloud based services to do that. So now these other companies are basically their on the street dealers. They are making the same deal with the online devil that users are, and then getting those users via ever more avenues. That information all still goes to the Google or Apple or Microsoft or Amazon servers, it just seems like it's part of this other program or box you bought.
 

ano

Senior Member
Linwood said:
I did some quick looking.  I checked the Android SmartThings app.  Here's what bothers me about these things.
 
It loads: 
  • My identity info (ok, maybe ok).
  • All your contacts -- why should Samsung get YOUR phone number just because it's on my phone?
  • Location (GPS) 
  • Phone numbers 
  • Directly call phone numbers (why should it ever be able to initiate a phone call?)
  • Device and app history (reading my phone's logs that records everything done by any app)
Yup, that is why I would never touch an Android phone. You think Google cares about your privacy? They have no reason to.  My iPhone SmartThings app. never requested this other than location, and if I don't approve it, it doesn't get it. Location is used for the feature i make use of that will tell SmartThings if I'm home or not. I tell it the radius of when I'm home and when away.
 

Linwood

Active Member
ano said:
Yup, that is why I would never touch an Android phone. You think Google cares about your privacy? They have no reason to.  My iPhone SmartThings app. never requested this other than location, and if I don't approve it, it doesn't get it. Location is used for the feature i make use of that will tell SmartThings if I'm home or not. I tell it the radius of when I'm home and when away.
 
All that may be true, but it is the people who wrote this App (now Samsung) that decide what permissions are required.  I credit Google for clearly showing what the app requires to run.
 
Someone who cares about privacy would not require location UNTIL you ask that it use location, then ask for that permission from the OS (and in turn the user). 
 
I don't know that Apple is quite so forthcoming about what is applications are allowed to do, but only my wife has an iPhone, not me.
 
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