Saturday, October 1 2022
Enlarge / The Apple Home app is seen on an iPhone screen November 15, 2017. The Home app allows people to control home accessories, such as living room and kitchen lights, from their phone.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I’ve been buying and tinkering with smart home devices for years. As a result, my home network looks like some sort of ONE model of devices, bridges, protocols, assistants, and apps. I try to broker alliances, resolve differences, and assure everyone, myself included, that this whole messy business is still worth it.

my salvation was home assistanta small server that gives you local control and lots of automation power. Every device in my house is connected to Home Assistant, which runs on a tiny Raspberry Pi 3B+ under my printer. I have a custom dashboard with all my switches, sensors, speakers and lights. I have full control, a custom dashboard, and endless automations.

But sometimes I just want to change the thermostat from my iPhone lock screen or tell Siri on my phone or watch to turn on a light. Yes, Home Assistant has its own app, as well as a mobile-friendly website. But I also want to save my partner from learning how an entirely different and somewhat cumbersome app works to access lights and switches.

Practically, Home Assistant is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Of course, you can use it to weed out big tech companies from your smart home and design your own dashboard. But you can also use it as a gateway between a motley collection of non-HomeKit-enabled gadgets and Apple’s home system. Or you can switch between the two for more control or easier access.

Let’s see how Home Assistant can help HomeKit find all the devices in your home for free, even devices it doesn’t officially support. It can also connect Google and Amazon’s apps and assistants to the few devices they don’t support, though it costs $5 a month (but also supports Home Assistant development).

One final note before we dive deeper: if you only use Apple devices to control your smart home devices, only care about HomeKit compatibility, and have a spare Raspberry Pi, HomeBridge is another solution. Its range is more limited than Home Assistant, but that could be a plus for some people.

Put your house in order

Home Assistant configuration, pre-organization.
Enlarge / Home Assistant configuration, pre-organization.

First, you’ll want Home Assistant up and running and connected to your devices. It is beyond our scope here to guide you through this process, but there are many resources you can consult. start with Home Assistant Official Guide to run the system on a Pi, NUC, NAS, always-on system, Docker container, or in a virtual machine. Basically, Home Assistant can live on any small computer that can always be turned on.

Once Home Assistant is running, add as many devices and services in your home (called “integrations” in Home Assistant) to it as you want to access from your phones or speakers. If you hit a wall, the home assistant subreddit, forumand Discord are good places to look for troubleshooting advice. I found a lot of advice on Kiril Peyanski’s blogtoo.

If you’ve searched Home Assistant and can’t find an integration for one of your devices, consider installing the Home Assistant Community Store (HACS), an unofficial collection of integrations and other community-driven add-ons. Do a search (at the top right corner of the HACS page) to see if your device or brand is offered.

Home Assistant Community Store (HACS), the place to look for the coolest gadgets you own (and Nest Protect).
Enlarge / Home Assistant Community Store (HACS), the place to look for the coolest gadgets you own (and Nest Protect).

Some HACS integrations may require more work to set up. I had to set up a Mosquitto Email Broker on setting up a friend’s home assistant to access his Ring path lights. For some devices (usually the cheaper off-brand variety), you can sign up for an API key on a little-known company’s developer portal. You can decide if the extra steps are worth having instant, drop-down access on your phone to these gadgets.

If you already have Home Assistant running and connected to everything and want to add a HomeKit bridge, you have a special task: GeGet rid of as many outdated, redundant, or unresponsive devices as possible. Head to Settings, Devices & Services, then the Entities tab and sort by status to see what is no longer connected or unresponsive. When you connect Home Assistant to HomeKit, Google or Alexa, the server sends entire categories of devices whether or not they are duplicates or unresponsive. On HomeKit, in particular, getting rid of dead or duplicate entries is annoying, and the Home app will ask you to set up devices until you do.

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