Blank Slate Considerations from Experienced Users

Hi folks. I’m new to Home Automation (but not technology or electricity) and have begun trying out a few products for evaluation purposes. My wife and I are beginning the design process for building our beach house where we will retire. I want it to be substantially “smart” (e.g. more than just lights and fans). I would like to be able to smart power some high draw devices (i.e. water main valves, compressor motors, elevator motors/control systems, etc). Think 20 Amp 120V motor loads. The budget is pretty generous. My question is: If you were starting with a blank slate and strong budget, what protocols, hubs, platforms, servers, devices, etc would you chose and why?

I know it’s a loaded questions with tons of “Depends on what you want to do” type of responses, but would love to get points of view from you folks.

So far I have messed around with Lutron caseta, Aeotec gen 3 hub, inovelli switch (Blue 2-1 On/Off/Dimmer - No mm wave yet). I like what I see but this is all pretty basic stuff.

Forgive me if I should have posted this in some other section.

Like you said, of course the answer is going to be “depends on what you need” in the end… but from personal experience, if you’re somewhat technical and handy (and it sounds like you are), I’d recommend just installing Home Assistant somewhere and checking out all of the different compatible toys and relays to see if they fit your use cases. From the list you outline, there’s likely devices that will integrate well out of the box.

It’s an amazing feeling when you’ve wired and programmed all of your things to be perfectly orchestrated how you like versus buying and overpaying on a prebuilt system (like Control4), but it really comes down to your own motivations and interests.

I’m up to about 30 Blue 2-1 switches and I have so much fun and satisfaction making the switches show effects for sensor status and have them trigger things like curtain/garage door/door lock open close on triple clicks. Everything I install in my home needs me to add it to HA, but that’s part of the fun.

TL;Dr: spend some time with HomeAssistant and plan your smart things around compatible devices and you’ll love the experience.

Cool, Thank you Justin! I’m already getting a little bit of that sort of feeling for even the minor test stuff I’ve done. I’ve looked at HA but my (limited) understanding is that it “requires” a “server”. It looks like “raspberry Pi” will fulfill this prerequisite. Q1: Is that correct? Q2: Is that what you use or are there other options I should investigate?

Q1: Correct
Q2: Now you’ve opened a whole can of worms!! From the HA analytics - Installations | Home Assistant Analytics ( - RPi’s do seem to be the most common platform. But Pi 4’s are a bit hard to come by these days (supply chain issues, apparently). Pi 5’s are imminent - don’t know if that’s going to help or harm those issues.
Looking at the next most popular - Virtual Machines & x86/64, begs the question, what do you have lying around already? Any network or storage hardware that might support VMs or docker containers? Any old PCs or Laptops?
Another slight consideration is power consumption. The machine is going to be running 24 x 7, and not sleeping too deeply. So RPi will be least - I make an RPi ~$5.00/yr (at 5W). a lower end PC ~$50/yr (at 50W). (Mine is a Ryzen 5800X at about 80W, but not dedicated to HA - HA is just one more VM, with virtually no incremenental cost)

Hi @CovetousAutomaton ,

I have a use case similar to yours. I’m a smartthings hub user (from the very beginning) with about 250 devices, primarily all Zigbee and just 3 Zwave. I have some wifi and virtual devices in the mix too.

All my switches at our main house are all Inovelli’s Blue, and I’ll soon be using their Blue series fan switches. These switches are very good, and we really like the ability to use the led notification capabilities.

I don’t have anything on our high draw devices yet, but we use Zigbee valves on our main line and a couple others. We also have Fortrezz’s zwave water meter, which has been very useful for monitoring water usage while we’re not home. I can go into more detail on that device if you’re interested.

I also use a few zigbee relays for triggering doors and gates, which could also be used in other applications.

We also have a whole home energy meter, security system integration, and soon to be sprinkler system.

As you said, it depends. There are so many options and possibilities that what you want to do is likely possible.

I’ve got Emporia, but not yet integrated into anything. What do you use?

No problem here waiting for the Pi 5. We’re just starting design phase, expected 6 months for design then a year for build. I saw one reference for 5 release October 23 so I’ll see what I can get then.

I don’t want to deal with VM’s here in my current home (Read: Breadboard/Alpha/Beta/Test bed) as whatever I put in here, I’m leaving behind when I sell and don’t know what sort of buyer I’ll get when the time comes. KISS principle.

Great segue: I’m thinking Solar for the new place, which helped kick start this whole endeavor

I’ve got a combination of EmonTx ( an IotaWatt ( Both reporting to a local EmonCMS. Then there’s an EmonCMS integration with HA… however, I’ve not been able to get the usage graphs I’d like out of HA - so I ended up embedding the ones from EmonCMS.


There’s a similar discussion in the Home Assistant community - Best hardware to run HA on in 2023? - Hardware - Home Assistant Community ( - you might keep an eye on that too.

Hi @CovetousAutomaton , nothing special or from our power company (Duke). I’m using an older home energy monitor 2 clamp device by Aeotec (formerly Aeon).

I put a bunch of low voltage wires to various spots in the ceiling so I could install sensors. I have used a bunch of the locations already. I put plastic “bubbles” in to seal the locations for insulating purposes so the wires are there I just put a hole in the drywall and plug the sensor in.

Put wires to the corners of windows too so you can install powered drapes or blinds. I’m running 4 powered curtain rods in my main area and it’s nice having them just open and close by themselves.

You can run higher power stuff with a smart switch and a relay. My big compressor, 5hp 80 gallon, is turned on and off with a red switch so I can set a timer to turn it off each evening.

how blank slate are we talking here? New construction home, even?

cause I’d consider one of those leviton smart circuit breakers, even:

I have a sense which does load monitoring but it’s not perfect, and this would actually let you switch on/off entire circuits with smart control, plus give direct monitoring, which, it sounds like you may want to do, given you want to control some some pretty heavy-load stuff. I’m considering upgrading to one of these panels at some point.

the alternative for high-load stuff has been things like that one zooz relay, but it’s still somewhat limited in application compared to a switchable breaker.

I definitely agree with above - look into those “best hardware for HA” threads, inovelli is obviously high on that list, but anything with good local control that wont take a dive if the internet goes out, aeotec, zooz, eaton, leviton generally all reliable, but the bigger names tend to have more basic features…Anything with homekit support is usually gonna support local control. Esphome is also great and can probably take the place of 90% of the sensors on the market. Hue & Sengled bulbs generally always good to me, lately also enjoying phillips “wiz” bulbs which have local wifi support, seem to work great, and are often on sale.

as for protocols, platforms, hubs, servers, etc…i can tell you what i did, i took a lenovo mini PC that has dual NVME (in raid1) plus room for a half-height expansion card, which I dropped a 10gig nic, it runs docker, home assistant, various supporting containers, is networked to my NAS which provides backups/some redundancy to it, etc…it’s all designed to be somewhat modular, I plan to eventually build a 2nd, identical machine and have some notion of failover, but for now, my NAS could also serve that purpose in a pinch.

It’s got a gocontrol Zigbee+Zwave hub, plus the minipc has built in bluetooth, etc. I also built two zigbee CC2530 routers to expand the zigbee range of said hub, as it’s in my basement, although now that my mesh is pretty large, I’m not even sure they’re necessary anymore. lastly, if you want to be truly paranoid, ECC ram+raid for everything, especially nas/storage. It’s funny how often I find a way NOT to use raspberry pis in my setups, for these reasons…failed SD cards not my idea of a reliable setup.

another blank slate consideration, obvious thing is to pull tons of cat6a (or better), less obvious thing for your hub - if you’re going more DIY/server route, see if you can run some heavy duty shielded USB3.0 extenders to keystone jacks, sounds crazy, but plugging your zigbee/z-wave dongle into a 15ft USB that you’ve ran up from the basement to the 1st floor, can be a huge win for signal strength, you can hide various equipment a lot easier, or simply use it to provide power to a sensor, rather than using battery powered sensors. And that’s yet another consideration for blank slate, if you know it’s going to be there, hard-wire as much as you can, no batteries.

WOW! this is exactly the kind of idea farm I was looking for. Thank you all for these points of view and ideas. YES. This is total blank slate. Its a raw piece of waterfront land. We just signed the contract to generate architectural drawings. I love the smart load center idea of being able to turn off/on individual breakers.

Also, any update on when the mm wave Inovelli (Blue) will be available for purchase? (Part number please). I want to throw a couple into my current house for alpha/beta tests.

Is anyone familiar with any sort of servo driven baseboard heating register controls? I’m thinking something like having individual room (forced air) heating registers that can be opened/closed basis sensors placed in the rooms. Think building your own dynamic Variable Air Volume (VAV) system.

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i think the mmwave stuff is shipping year-end, I have two on pre-order.

Are you talking about smart vents like Keen or Flair? if so, yeah, I have used them, but, no HVAC contractor will advise you to use them, especially not on new construction. Mind you, they’ll gladly sell you a super-expensive zoned system with zone dampers.

I’m using them mostly in a bathroom and some bedrooms at the far-end of the house, but, I would definitely not be using these at all if my house was done properly. You’d want proper zone dampers, possibly even duct booster fans, but, if it’s only heat we’re talking about here, skip all that, go radiant heating. Controlling those types of radiant heat loops is so much more effective than trying to control air, which just creates back pressure on the system anyway. If it’s mostly heating only, it’s not as big of a deal as when it’s also cooling, because changing the airflow dramatically will start messing up coil temps, etc, etc…modern systems like the carrier infinity system i now have, will run with continuously variable fans 24/7 to try and keep temperatures more even, but I still went full-crazy with esphome sensors to graph it all out and control a handful of smart-vents and a vent booster fan, mostly trying to replica what I had with my ecobee before I had a new HVAC installed, which replaced the ecobee with it’s two-way communication thermostat.

It’s funny, the deeper you dive into smart-HVAC systems, you realize all the “smart” thermostats like nest and ecobee, actually aren’t smart enough to control anything beyond 2-stages of heating & cooling. This is a deep rabbit hole, given there are now fully variable gas heaters and multi-stage AC compressors (with or without heatpump)…It’s almost a similar situation with newer DC ceiling fans, like, they’re almost harder to control than the older, dumb, pull-chain fans, and need very specific controllers. It’s the same deal with these new multi-stage HVAC systems, for better or worse. It’s going to come down to how much you want to spend, end of the day.

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Totally agree. I had Keen vents everywhere a while back, but they are gone except in a scenario like yours.

Yes. This is exactly what I am talking about. (And I don’t care what any HVAC contractor will tell me they want. I’m doing this and they will do what I tell them to do ROFL). We are writing an exhaustive specification for this house.

Is Keen out of business or does their web site just suck? I tried to buy a test vent, but couldn’t even book it on their site. (looking for a part number for a 6 x 10 vent.)

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Hi @CovetousAutomaton ,

Looks like they’re out of stock, but not sure. I see that they combined with Ecovent, so I’m not sure when that happened since it’s been a while since I’ve been on that site.

If I were to do it again and used Keen vents, I would somehow make sure power (w/ups backup) was available at each floor and ceiling opening vs. relying on batteries. That was one of my biggest complaints with these things. These devices chewed through batteries like crazy.

I also needed sizes they didn’t have, or were planning on making. Since you’re starting from scratch you can ensure you don’t run into a situation like that. Also, our first floor is all hardwood flooring, with wood vents. We didn’t want to lose that, nor have anything sticking up above the flooring. Luckily we were able to trim off enough of the plastic from the vent to have it sit below the wood vent cover and rest on exposed subflooring in just the right way to make it look like nothing is there.

I’m pretty sure keen went under, they were plagued with issues, to be honest. i think i have two dead ones and it was very hard to even just get like, a replacement battery compartment from them. The notion of sticking batteries where there’s hot air blowing is not great, I had even tried using lithium AA’s etc, but it was futile in the end. Flair generally had the better reputation, but I would probably just avoid this type of thing entirely, use proper duct zone dampers, hardwired, they won’t intrude into the vent, no batteries, etc, etc.

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Yes, I’d highly recommend dampers in the pipes before installing motorized vents. I don’t have a good recommendation, I want to try some but haven’t yet.

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It’s your money, but that’s a good way to burn up an ECM motor every 6mos or so. There’s a reason why people are telling you not to do it.