ZWave, Zigbee, Insteon or Thread for HA in 2019?


10 years ago, I bought an installed an Elk M1G with the goal of using it for a security panel and UPB integration for HA.  Kids & life got in the way and HA never happened.  Fast forward 10+ years, and I find myself looking at starting up an HA project again.  At the moment, my M1G is just doing plain vanilla security, with a bunch of external door/window contacts and a few motion detectors inside the house.  I also have an Ecobee3 with a few temp sensors.  Otherwise, nothing of note.
I've been reading up on different options/etc and not sure where I should focus my approach, or which tech to choose.  I see that Thread is the new pony in the game, but can't find any devices that are Thread compatible.  In 2008, ZWave/Zigbee/UPB were still much in their infancy but they have definitely matured since then.
I'm also leaning prob towards a Homeseer instance although I see that a lot of ppl are using ISY as controllers.
My overall goals:
- indoor lighting controls (to start with, basic rules just for controlling lights when out of the house, etc)
- outdoor lighting (turn on and off automatically, trigger extra lights when someone approaches a part of the house, etc)
- patio lighting and music controls?  (not quite sure what I can do with this)
- temp controls (responding to external temp sensor)
- eventually integrate with some forms of IP cameras (not sure where to go with that one either, but definitely will want to start looking at IP cameras for security)
Given my "wish" list, which pony should I pick in today's race?  Is Zigbee still experiencing a lot of conflicts?  Is Insteon still an up-to-date tech?  At the time, I liked Insteon for using dual-mesh networks and being able to fall-back on power lines as a bus, but don't know if that is still a relevant issue today.  Is ZWave the wave of the present/future?
I also have some concerns that not all my outlets have a neutral wire; how easy can I get around that issue with any of these techs?
Thanks for any insights that can be shared!
One place to start is YouTube. There are a lot of videos about Homeseer to give a feel for what it is like to use. Likewise for Smartthings, Hubitat, etc. Even if you think you know what you want to do it is worthwhile to see examples of what other folks have done to see if there is something cool out there that you just never thought of doing with automation.
I personally would feel limited using an ISY or Elk M1 as my main automation controller. I use them as subsystems integrated into a Homeseer master controller. 
upstatemike said:
I personally would feel limited using an ISY or Elk M1 as my main automation controller. I use them as subsystems integrated into a Homeseer master controller. 
Agreed; I've been looking into the integration of homeseer with the M1. But right now, I'm wondering more about which tech to start using for switches/etc, Insteon, Zwave, ZigBee or Thread. Is there one tech which is more reliable than another? I saw posts about RadioRa2, but that seems to be too professional centric and not for the average homeowner.


I'm sure you will get lots of suggestions as different people here have their own favorites to recommend. My take on the various options:
Insteon- I have over 100 physical Insteon devices in my house (considerably less than i used to have) and I probably will not invest in any more. The failure rate has been pretty high with these devices and despite the dual mesh network I have had, and continue to have missed commands and other communication issues. The weak link in Insteon is the PLM interface which has a history of failing after a few years due to bad capacitors as well as limited memory and a slow processor which cause it to struggle once you start to scale out your installation. I would not recommend Insteon.
Hue lights are nice and are a great solution if you have situations where a switch or plug-in module is not feasible by letting you control the bulb directly. They even offer candelabra base bulbs and light strips so you can use them in most US lighting situations. Their motion sensor has been sensitive and reliable for me and i like some of the built-in options they provide like a different scene or collor used when motion is detected at night vs, during the day. The hub integrates with most major Home automation systems and the option to use color bulbs adds a level of versatility and fun. The switches are are reliable and can stick anywhere using the built-in magnets or supplied double sticky tape and the switch pops out of the back plate to act as a handy tabletop remote. Unfortunately Hue has not expanded their product line to include regular wired switches or plug-in modules so you have to do some funky non-standard wiring to use Hue lights and switches everywhere. To add insult to injury the Hue switches are also a non-standard size so they cannot be mixed with other switches in ganged plates and can be kind of an eyesore when mixed with other switches in the same area. For these reasons I would stay away from Hue.
Thread is a new protocol with little in the way of actual products and not much support from most controllers. Until there is something to actualy buy i would not pay too much attention to thread.
Z-Wave probably has the best selection of devices at this time and is very popular because competition has created some reasonably priced Z-Wave products.There are however horror stories about what happens if you try to scale Z-Wave out beyond a certain point with irrecoverably scrambled link tables, broken devices flooding the network and killing communication, devices getting unplugged and killing the only path to a whole section of the network and so on. I am planning to test out some Z-Wave devices to see for myself but I am not ready to recommend anybody go all-in with Z-Wave at this time.
Lutron Caseta/RadioRA2 Select/RadioRA2 all use Lutron's ClearConnect protocol which operates in a frequency that can punch through walls and floors with ease. It is know for being rock solid and the versatile Pico remotes work well as tabletop remotes on pedestals or ganged into standard Decora wall plates so they mix well with other switches. For some reason only the Caseta line lets you buy  wired switches that match the Pico remotes so that they can match exactly when ganged together. Unfortunately Caseta switches cannot be controlled by other Caseta switches. They can only be controlled by Pico remotes which makes them incompatible with many common wiring situations such as controlling two load switches as a virtual 3-way group or having lamps come on in syc when you turn on the ceiling light  switch in a room. For this reason I would rule out Caseta. RA2 has some training rstrictions as well as no switches that match the Pico remote styling (or wireless remotes that match their switch style). RA 2 also gets ruled out for no switches that match the Pico remotes.
UPB is not as widely supported as it once was and I would hesitate to go there if you are not already invested in the technology.
Wi-Fi is popular as an entry level protocol because it does not require any hubs. I use Lifx bulbs for my outdoor fixtures and have been happy so far but with no wired switches to control them directly i don't see them being practical indoors. Other Wi-Fi lines have cloud dependencies, compatibility issues, limited controller support and so on. Wi-Fi may settle out into something more standardized down the road but i would not use it as my main lighting protocol at this time.
Tried to come up with a way to visualize the lighting technology selection process. The idea is you make a list like this (see below) substituting your own priorities. Then go down the list and eliminate any protocol that does not meet all of your deal breaker requirements. Whatever is left can be evaluated based on what additional "nice to have " features they bring to the table. This is the only way i know of to get to the right conclusion for you.


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Great technique advice!
Trouble is, I find they all look about the same on a chart usually. (Think online store compare charts! ) Using Insteon, I never thought about looks but I hear people complaining a lot about the cheap look of other brands so the 'custom to fit your needs' on the chart is important. Many hidden features are never listed to make them apparent. Only some of the users of any particular brand even know and understand what that feature means.
Another problem is until you have a HA system for a year or more you don't know what you don't know. :(
upstatemike said:
Tried to come up with a way to visualize the lighting technology selection process. The idea is you make a list like this (see below) substituting your own priorities. Then go down the list and eliminate any protocol that does not meet all of your deal breaker requirements. Whatever is left can be evaluated based on what additional "nice to have " features they bring to the table. This is the only way i know of to get to the right conclusion for you.
Thanks!  The chart is definitely an insightful way to look at it.   But like LarryILix posted, unfortunately I don't know what I don't know, or what is important.  At the surface, the things that seem important to me:
- doesn't require futzing around with it on a regular basis; once it is up and running it stays up and running.
- basic operation will still work even if HA system is down (ie: I can still control lights on/off even if the controller/pc/etc is dead)
- can easily be swapped in/out in standard decora switches
- dimmable LED dimmers
- can be leveraged by a controller (either native or 3rd party like HomeSeer) to do indepth logic
- can interface with my Elk (via HS would be acceptable)
As it is, my wife get frustrated when her phone is having trouble casting to the chromecast.  The last thing I want is her to have fits because the lights don't turn on.
From everything I've been reading RadioRA2 is the only one that is unbelievably rock-solid stable.  But I get the impression that ZWave is a lot more flexible in terms of controls available.  I've been leaning towards ZWave (much cheaper to experiment with), but keep getting scared reading about networks that suddenly fail and have trouble reconfiguring/etc.   But the cost-barrier to play around with RA2 just seems prohibitive.
My house is also not wired with HA in mind; that is, a given room will have most of its lights all controlled via 1 or at most 2 switches.  And I only have 1 motion detector per floor; would have to start looking at the differences between motion detectors and occupancy sensors, and if it would make more sense to wire in more detectors into the Elk panel just for HA purposes.
Insteon has the capability to connect devices together in what they call "Scenes".  "Scenes" require no central controllers and works without any router, WiFi, cloud junk, and relies on only it's own dual band protocol (powerline and RF). One device can output 6 different commands and control hundred of slave devices. Insteon SwitchLincs are reported by many to be the best construction quality and looks over some other protocol brands.
I have about 9 Insteon SwitchLinc dimmers installed for the last five years and never had any problem with them, save once I had to factory reset one and restore it from my ISY central control box. If you don't need actual home automation, but only remote control between devices it could be an option.
I am not sure if Zwave or other protocols allow this independence from other technologies or cloud $ervice$
 I have been using Insteon for over 13 years, all of my original Switchlincs and Keypadlincs still work, there are a couple of 13 year old Keypadlincs that lose their mind after a power cut but other than some plug in dimmers that died after a nearby lightning strike, I have not had any other failures. The original PLC controllers were junk but I have not had any trouble with the PLM version. The ISY-994i is a great controller that makes the most of an Insteon system, I used the ISY-99i previously and was happy with it also. 
I often see this question of the different lighting technologies. Unfortunately, with RadioRa2 the primary issue you read about is with cost. Device design and Lutron differentiation are way down the list. I see people starting with one lighting technology and later switching to RadioRa2 because of reliability, which is much more expensive in the long run due to device cost as well as labor. I dont think Ive ever read about somebody starting with RadioRa2 and switching to another technology later. If reliability is on your priority list, unfortunately youre going to gamble or make the investment once. I upgraded rooms at a time starting with the kitchen, main areas (hallways), and master bedroom/bath before expanding to the kids rooms and extra rooms later. I definitely dont ever wish I had gone with another technology for lighting.

Another key, Ive seen many lighting device companies come and go while Ive been using RadioRa2 for 6+ years. There is a good chance that the company youre buying devices from today will either be out of business or no longer making the switches. Actually I just looked up the GE Zwave switches to see if they were still made and Im unsure as they arent sold at Home Depot or Lowes anymore. When I looked up recent reviews on Amazon, one of the first that showed up said 2 of 3 dead and are out of warranty. Saw another such review just a few down from that (again, viewing most recent reviews). Definitely sounds like that is a more expensive situation than buying RadioRa2 from the beginning. Lutron will stand behind their product as I know one person had an issue with an older main repeater but Lutron replaced it.

Looking at your most recent post, RadioRa2 checks every single box easily. It just works. The Lutron Connect App has worked for me on my iPhone. The switches/dimmers ALWAYS work in the wall so as a light switch first, it is 100% rock solid. As an automated switch, it also just works. Ive never had my wife complain about the light automation. Other automation Ive done with other systems and technology...yes Ive had complaints but nothing to do with RadioRa2. I dont work for Lutron and I dont get anything for pushing Lutron RadioRa2. Just a DIYer that chose it 6+ years ago and it works well. Other than the stupidly annoying product differentiation between Homeworks, RadioRa2, RadioRa2 Select, and Caseta, I have no complaints about RadioRa2. Even cost doesnt bother me much anymore knowing that I bought a vastly superior product compared to most automated lighting systems on the market. That is one decision that I happily dont have to revisit or second guess.
Another thing that complicates the decision is your motivation for doing Home Automation in the first place. If you have a set list of specific tasks you want to accomplish and just need to have it all work reliably without ever having to touch it again then one technology might stand out as the obvious choice. If you are doing automation as a hobby and want the maximum versatility to do new cool and even dramatic things (that aren't in any way practical or necessary) then another technology might serve better.
I also think the best choice for new construction might be different from what is best for retrofit because the latter demands a larger selection of devices and more versatility in configuration to get things working in a house that was wired back when electricity was new.
In no case however do you want a technology that is unreliable or that is too limited in scope.
Make a list of larger systems and put numbers one to six beside them. 
Now throw a dice and see what comes up. :)
If you want simple and completely reliable home automation get a dozen or so, in wall occupancy sensing lightswitches with dimmers.
For remote control get a half dozen Alexa Dots or Google Home minis.
When you want to do logical decisions with  real home automation (less humans required) now you have a tougher decision. Look for support and a complete package without moving parts and compact size and energy footprint.
If I was to do things from scratch I would consider DC wiring back to a central room and DC wiring to lights. I haven't actually researched it but it seems like it might be a good idea.
I know someone who has Lutron caseta and I was very unimpressed. It did seem to work well, but had very limited features.  I've heard amazing things about RA2 over the years and I would definitely look into that as an option if I was starting over. I constantly hear about problems with Z-Wave but I have no experience with it. This could likely be that it's so popular it just common to read about problems with anything that is popular.
I have UPB. It works well and I'm happy with the feature set. But like someone else in the thread mentioned it is a very dead product now. Nobody is buying it and it's rare to find support for it in new systems. I sometimes wonder how companies that make the product are still in business.
bbrendon said:
If I was to do things from scratch I would consider DC wiring back to a central room and DC wiring to lights. I haven't actually researched it but it seems like it might be a good idea.
Does DC mean direct current or some other acronym that I'm not grasping? Are you thinking of individually wiring every single light fixture back to a central closet? So in a room of 15 pot lights, have 15 runs of wire to a central location?

Indeed, I was wondering what the best design would be for a new install vs retrofit. In the case of a retrofit, somewhat stuck with existing wiring, but given a clean canvas is wireless still the best option? Is there a better wired option instead?
I don't think I would ever wire a house to depend on a proprietary wiring format. The market for high end hard wired systems is small enough that I would be worried that at some point you could no longer get parts for it. Maybe wiring that can support the centralized system but still be easily converted back to conventional devices would be the way to go. I could see that getting expensive though.