We’ve got a security system from
Alarm.com running on a Qolsys IQ Panel 4 and Home Assistant 2022.8.7 running on a Raspberry Pi 400. Ideally, we would have only one phone app to deal with for the day to day stuff while either at home or remotely. Switching to another app for more granular stuff is fine (setting up automations, seeing detailed information, etc.), but having two apps to control devices (e.g. one for thermostats and a different one for locks) is a non-solution to us. We currently have multiple apps, so that’s why it’s a non-solution. Since we have to have an internet connection for
Alarm.com to work, we figure that might as well be the one app. But, we’re not stuck on that idea.
We’ve tried to connect the Qolsys to Home Assistant, but it isn’t working too well. It’s using the qolsysgw integration. That integration is built as an AppDaemon app and communicates over MQTT. So the setup is running the AppDaemon and Mosquito add-ons. It intially connected after getting things setup, but it only lasted a few minutes before everything became unavailable. If we restart the add-ons, it’ll sometimes reconnect for a few minutes, but then everything is unavailable again. It doesn’t consistently reconnect, though.
After struggling with this for a few days, I figure maybe I should see if there’s another way to approach the underlying problem. I could probably power through this and figure it out. But, it doesn’t hurt to pop up real quick to see if I’m not digging a deeper hole. I also decided to order a Z-Wave USB antenna in the hopes of using Home Assistant as a secondary controller to the Qolsys. It hasn’t arrived yet, so I don’t know if that will work or not.
Are there other ways to go about getting what we want? Nothing about our setup needs to stay the same, we can do something different in Home Assistant, drop Home Assistant completely for something else, even change the security panel (as a last resort, seems more intrusive).
The long backstory
I’m very new to home automation. I’ve always been a “no smart things in the house” kind of person. So, I hadn’t heard of things like Z-Wave, or scenes,or any of this stuff until recently. We bought a house a few months ago. The sellers left a bunch of owners manuals (thankfully). On a couple of the manuals, I noticed this Z-Wave stuff.
One of the first things we did was setup an alarm. We got a Qolsys IQ Panel 4. As we were setting it up the alarm, it mentioned that it could connect with Z-Wave devices. I remembered the thermostats mentioning Z-Wave, so on a whim, I connected the thermostats. Then, I remembered the locks mentioned Z-Wave, so I connect them.
At some point we decided to try out scenes on the Qolsys. Since we’re in the process of moving from one house to the next, we setup a scene for going to the new house (turn on the A/C to cool the house) and a scene for leaving the house (turn off the thermostats, lock the doors, and set the alarm). None of this is ground breaking from the perspective of what you can do with home automation. But for someone that’s been anti-“smart home” for a long time, this sold me. It was something about being able to press a few buttons on my phone to do all the things I’d manually do–and be able to do it from miles away.
Fast forward a few months, and something I’ve been wanting is to automate more stuff around the house. The Qolsys can only really work with Z-Wave devices and the few integrations it supports (e.g. Lutron Caséta, Aladdin garage door, etc.), And it doesn’t have the best as far as automation. I’ve been reading a ton of information and watching a ton of videos over the past few months. I was reluctant to run Home Assistant at first. My day job is a Software Engineer. The last thing I wanted was to setup my own server that I had to maintain at home. Plus the price and scarcity of Raspberry Pi 4’s was unappealing. I heard good things about Hubitat. It has a Z-Wave and ZigBee antenna, is local first, was supposed to be easier than Home Assistant, and was a bit over $100.
So I bought a Hubitat, and tried to get it working. The first thing I found was that the UX was really poor. Everything’s an app, but nothing gives you help out of the box, so you end up having to learn how to do everything from scratch. After a few days, I was able to connect one thermostat to Hubitat, connect the TV, solar data, have a dashboard that showed one or two things, and semi-connect to the Qolsys. The Qolsys connection came after at least five different attempts to integrate the different apps (a very long and unfun experience).
But importantly, it could only read the sensor data. It can’t see any of the Z-Wave devices connected to the Qolsys. Neither hub wants to be a secondary controller to the other, so they don’t really work together (as far as I’m concerned). Another snafu is that Hubitat only lets you add bulbs, dimmers, and switches to scenes. We didn’t have any of those, so Hubitat scenes we’re completely useless to us. The workaround suggested was to use a virtual button or switch and run an automation. But the UX for buttons/switches is poor (no feedback when pressing a button, switch needs a timeout to turn off that doesn’t visually work all the time, etc.). This whole experience felt like running a Linux setup many years ago. Sure, you can do a lot of stuff if you try hard enough. But you have to try really hard to get basic affordances.
After the experience with the Hubitat, I figured that Home Assistant couldn’t be that much worse, so I gave it a try. Since I didn’t want to buy hardware just yet (in case it ended up like Hubitat) I threw a setup onto a k8s cluster running on Digital Ocean. It took all of 20-30 minutes to have something running. Noodling around with the UI, it was so much better than Hubitat. Adding integrations is simple, they automatically show up in the managed dashboard, and buttons actually worked like a normal UI button. I bit the bullet, bought a Rapeberry Pi 400, a separate SSD, flashed it with Home Assistant OS 2022.8.7, and was up and running locally. This took maybe 30 minutes to an hour, all up.
Most importantly, things Just Work™ with Home Assistant. It automatically discovered all of the same devices I had to manually add to Hubitat with different third party apps. It even found more devices that Hubitat doesn’t work with (printers). It automatically adds them to the dashboard. But there’s still a way to gain control if something isn’t setup right. I even tried integrating the Hubitat through the Maker API app so I could just use the Hubitat as a glorified Z-Wave/ZigBee antenna, but I don’t get us any closer to controlling the Qolsys. Overall, I’m sold on Home Assistant. The main issue we’ve got, is connecting the Qolsys to Home Assistant.