Oct 182014

As I’ve been moving all of my home automation projects over to the SmartThings environment, I’m expanding my number of devices and scenarios in order to take full advantage of the easy monitoring and alerts which are possible within the SmartThings ecosystem.

The Problem

Leak detectors are normally pretty simple devices; water conductivity completes an electric circuit and a buzzer or alarm sounds.  This is great if you are within listening distance, but next to useless if you are away from home or even in a different part of the home.  Having recently seen the damaged caused by a burst hose at a friend’s house, the benefits to being alerted to a leak as quickly as possible are obvious.

When I initially started looking at z-wave devices to detect leaks and floods I found some things I didn’t like about most of the products available.  The first design flaw I found is that many of the devices were designed to sit on the same surface which was going to flood – they didn’t have a detachable monitoring lead.  This means that there is a pretty good chance that the devices are going to fail after or during a flood, as they are not designed to be waterproof.  The second thing I didn’t like about most of the devices on the market was price, with many starting around the $50 mark.

The Solution

During my search for an affordable z-wave smoke alarm I discovered that many devices made for the Lowes Iris system were z-wave compatible.  Searching that further I found that there was a leak detector made by Utilitech which was reasonably priced at around $30 which also worked with SmartThings – Utilitech Water Leak Detector White Indoor Flood Sensor (Works with Iris) Item #: 422362 | Model #: TST01-1.

Utilitech Water Leak Detector

I purchased one and put it to use with my SmartThings system.  First up, hardware impressions.  It appears to be well made, all of the pieces have a solid feel and the mounting is well designed (they also include a lot of mounting tabs if you have particularly long cable runs).  The device has a separate lead for the water monitor so that the device can be mounted above where the monitor contacts are mounted.  The leak detector was easy to pair with SmartThings and a number of SmartApps are suggested after the device is configured in the SmartThings system.  I chose to work with some of the included SmartApps for Damage & Danger to do two things when water is detected – send a push alert to my phone (and any devices connected to the SmartThings account), and send a text message to my telephone number.

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As with my smart smoke detection I used the Sonos integration with SmartThings via Sonos Notify with Sound to send a text to speech (SmartThings detected a flood) auditory alert about the leak as well.  I tested the alerts a number of times and it seemed to be fairly responsive, typically the SMS & push message updates were received on my phone in under 5 seconds.  In total the installation of the leak detector and setup of the SmartApps had taken less than 20 minutes.  Not bad for a bit more intelligence at home.

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Oct 112014

As I’ve switched my home automation from Vera to SmartThings I’ve also been expanding my network of z-wave devices at home. Since SmartThings does such a great job with different notification options I’ve also been looking more into monitoring our home for different kinds of damage or danger. One of the first tasks on the agenda was to make our fire detection much smarter and able to alert us even if we are not at home. I looked around at the available market for z-wave smoke detectors and found a bit of a mixed bag. I could splurge and purchase the Nest device at roughly $100, or go with the Monoprice version of the Everspring Z-Wave Smoke Detector which runs at roughly $40.

However, after reading through the SmartThings forums a lot of people were having success using some of the devices which are certified for Lowe’s Iris Home Security and Automation system. The system runs z-wave as well and a lot of the devices are compatible with SmartThings since they both speak z-wave. First Alert makes a battery powered smoke detector with a model name of “ZSMOKE” which has built in z-wave and only costs $29.97. Note that they also make a CO2 z-wave model, however I already CO2 detection in the house, and I’m not as worried about being alerted to CO2 even when I’m away from the house. The other thing to know about CO2 detection is that the detection components deteriorate much quicker than they do for smoke alarms, which can lead to a lot of false alerts 4-6 years down the road.

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The smoke detector was easy to install into SmartThings (simply hold the test button as you insert the batteries to pair it to the system) and mount in an existing bracket on the ceiling. The smoke detector will continue to act as a regular (dumb) alarm until it is extended further on the SmartThings network with some SmartApps to go with it.

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I’ve added several different SmartApps now that my SmartThings system has smoke detection:

Damage & Danger


SmartThings has some out of the box SmartApps which are already configured for common scenarios with smoke detectors. There are several different options within these SmartApps, which all fall under the “Damage & Danger” category. Using these apps my SmartThings system will now do the following for any smoke alert:

  • Send an alert via the SmartThings app to our phones (when it triggers and when all clear)
  • Send a text message for the smoke alert (when it triggers and when all clear)
  • Turn on specific lights (most using GE z-wave switches)
  • Unlock the front door (Kwikset SmartCode 914 Series Z-Wave Deadbolt which I’ll cover in a future post)

Sonos Notify With Sound


Sonos has some pretty cool integration options with SmartThings, some of which I’ll post further about in the future. For the smoke alarm, there is an app named “Sonos Notify With Sound” which will play a custom alert on any configured Sonos speakers when smoke is detected. This isn’t the most critical of features, as the smoke alarm is plenty loud, but generally I tend to think the more the merrier when it comes to fire alarms.

Low Battery Notification

SmartThings already has some low battery notifications built into the system, however there are other apps which people have created to select specific devices and battery levels and send an alert once they cross a specific threshold. I’ve installed one which I have configured to alert me when devices hit 10% battery.

Somethings with SmartThings are not always easy to setup and configure, but this was completely painless. The device works well and paired quickly, and SmartThings has most of the functionality needed in the SmartApps out of the box.

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Jun 072014

I’ve been using Vera and Z-wave for a number of years as my home automation solution. As I previously posted, Home Automation: Motion sensors and lights with VERA scenes (micasaverde z-wave), sometimes the Vera system requires some workarounds with smart switches or timers in order to accomplish logic tasks for scenes. This can get quickly convoluted when you have complex logic involved or multiple schedules.

For Vera you typically need to learn to write Lua code for more complex actions, however there is a plugin which makes it easy to do in a mostly point and click operation – Program Logic Event Generator (PLEG) from RTS Services. This plugin is free for use up to 30 days, and a full license is a very reasonable $5.50.


The first step is to install the PLEG plugin in your Vera system. In this case there are actually two plugins which need to be installed, the Program Logic Event Generator Plugin and the Program Logic Core Plugin. After installing the plugins, refresh your browser window. By default, PLEG will install a new device named “Program Logic Event Generator”. Edit that device to start using an instance of the plugin (multiple instances can be added for different tasks).

Program logic event generator

PLEG first allows users to set the Inputs for a system. The inputs could be a trigger, schedule, or some element of device properties (e.g. dimmer level). One of the powerful things about PLEG is that it lets you configure a window of time for a scheduled, start and stop values. This sounds simple, but this functionality is not easily available in the default Vera interface. In my example, I have two triggers, one is a schedule from 11 PM until 30 minutes before sunrise, and the other is a tripped motion sensor which has been armed. One thing to note about names – Logic used in the next step uses the names previously saved for triggers, schedules, or properties in free text (no point and click), so it helps to use descriptive names.

PLEG triggers

PLEG schedules

After inputs come Conditions. Conditions are the logic lines which need to be followed for a specific action. Each line must evaluate to true in order to fire the Condition Name (also the Action). In my example, the LightsOn action will trigger only if ArmedSensorTripped and From2300toDawn are both true. For LightsOff, the action will fire when 20 minutes has passed since the LightsOn condition was fired. My example only has two different states, but several can be used here.

PLEG conditions

After Conditions have been defined, Actions can be associated to each. The UI behavoir here takes a little getting used to – when the Edit button is selected for a Condition, the PLEG interface will go away, and will be replaced with a devices list. After selecting the device actions (in my case turning two lights on or off) select the FINISHED button at the top of the screen to go back to the plugin.

PLEG action

PLEG actions

Once finished with Actions the new plugin logic is ready to go, after saving the settings in Vera. My example is quite simple, but there are many other ways to make use of this powerful plugin. There are some good examples on the RTS page here: PLEG Usage and a message board here with some examples & troubleshooting posts: MiCasaVerde Program Logic Plugins.

Oct 272013

When we purchased our house a couple of years back I took the time to put in Z-wave switches around the house. I’ve dabbled in a few forms of home automation during that time (I’ll write more on that at some point), but the one I’ve stuck with is MiCasaVerde’s VERA system. It is awkward and occasionally very frustrating, but it is also one of the most powerful and cost effective systems on the market with a lot of community support.

VERA motion sensor scene needs

One of the more frustrating aspects of building scenes I’ve found over the years is when multiple points of automation are touching the same switches or sensors. Take the following example:

  • An outdoor z-wave motion sensor used which can’t detect light levels (Everspring SP103)
  • Z-wave light switch is already used for some scenes (turn on at dusk, off at 10:30 PM)
  • After 10:30 PM, motion sensor should turn light on for 5 minutes on motion trigger
  • Light should not trigger during the day

With the above example it is relatively easy to create a scene to turn the light on if motion is detected – the tricky bit is turning it off after certain periods of inactivity, but only between specific hours of the day.  Thankfully the community has found a workflow option – the VERA Countdown Timer.  Per the app description: “Make custom timers and control them with scenes. Timers can be started and cancelled on an event; timers generate their own event when they expire, and can trigger any other action.”

VERA Device configuration

Using the VERA Countdown timer plugin, create a countdown and set it for the idle time to turn off the light:

vera 5 minute motion timer

VERA Scenes


This scene is scheduled at sunset, and turns the light on, regardless of motion.
vera motion start light

10:30 PM

This scene turns the light off, then arms the motion sensor.

vera timer light off scene 1 vera arm motion sensor

Motion activated light

This scene will start the 5 minute motion timer, and activate the light on any motion – but only when the sensor is armed:

vera motion start light vera motion start timer

Motion sensor tripped while device is armed

Turn off motion activated light

This scene will turn the motion activated light off once the timer has completed (no motion for 5 minutes in this case):

vera timer light off scene 1

timer completes while not muted


This scene will be scheduled for sunrise and will disarm (bypass in VERA terminology) the motion sensor:

vera bypass motion sensor

The arm/disarm functionality of the motion sensor allows for layers of control which are not available on many z-wave devices.  The addition of the timer allows setting further runtimes for events when it isn’t supported within the scene or device itself.  As I said earlier the VERA system can be very frustrating with awkward sequences and Rube Goldberg-like logic flows, but the benefit of the system is that there is usually a way to get what you want in the end.