Is a wifi only smart home a bad idea?

I’ve been tinkering with HA and smart homes on and off for about 5 years now. I live in Mexico, so we have no attics or crawl areas under the house, so the classic sonoff wouldn’t easily work here. The sonoff basic got me to esp32s and esp8266.

Next thing I knew I was ordering parts from Ali express, and quickly started to configure what I referred to as my “poor man’s sonoff basic”. However the “sonoffs” I am creating now are anything but basic!

With a single esp8266 I am able to play with up to 9 sensors. Pretty much everything I’ve come up with I’ve been able to setup using tasmota. Temperature, movement sensors, sonic sensors for water tank level, weight sensor for my stationary gas tank, etc.

I’ve never played with zibee and the other platforms that are supposedly specifically for IoT. What am I missing on? A couple of years back I looked into it, and one of the main drawback of wifi is that once you have “many” connections your network might start acting up.

I could see how a “regular” set up would make many wifi connections. If you buy off the shelf ready to use sensors, then yes you would need one wifi for temperature, one wifi for PIR motion sensor, one wifi connection for one light switch, etc. You can quickly go over 100 connections that way.

For someone with a setup like mine, where I am connecting many sensors to ONE wifi (esp8266) connection, what would be the advantage of bringing in zigbee?

Another benefit I seem to remember from zigbee and others is better range, but to me it seems spending more money and more/better wifi access points would be a better investment than getting onto a zigbee hub, etc. Cell phones, smart tvs, etc work off of wifi, so better wifi signal never hurts.

Since I’ve never played with zigbee and the likes, I have no idea what I am missing out of. I am seriously thinking of offering my services to install smart homes for people here in Cancun, same way I’ve set mine up. Would it be a disservice for me not to include zigbee?

That can actually end up being a lot more expensive. Though it does have the trade off that your client gets excellent wifi coverage for their mobile devices.

Another thing to consider is wifi spectrum contention. Which can be problematic in high density housing areas where every wifi channel is used, especially by people who don’t understand the 1/6/11 rule. In these locations Zwave may be a better option as it does not contend with the wifi spectrum. Zigbee uses the same wifi spectrum so would be less beneficial.

Wifi is also a terrible method to use for battery powered devices - which you may need in some locations that are hard to reach with wired connections back to your ESP, or where you can’t power an ESP.

I used exclusively wifi devices for years. And with four access points to cover my entire property (inside and out) had no issue. It was fast and reliable - except for smart plugs. All the wifi smart plugs I tried failed not long after the 12 month warranty period. They are basically delayed ewaste. They run hot and fail.

Zigbee smart plugs run a lot cooler and while it has not been 12 months yet I am confident they will be more reliable.

Monitoring door and windows with contact sensors also led me to zigbee as they are small, battery powered (last for years) and responsive. With enough mains powered routing devices (e.g. smart plugs, light dimmers/switches) you can form a very reliable mesh network.

1 Like

Thank you Tom for your feedback.

For my setup so far I’ve stayed away from any battery operated sensors. For my doors I am using either a hall sensor or a reed switch, connected to an ESP. Most doors seem to have a wall plate less than 12 inches from the frame of the door.

I am one of them people that doesn’t understand the 1/6/11 rule. Will google it after I am done replying.

Also, you might help me confirm, usually a zigbee sensor (ie zigbee PIR sensor) used the same sensor as a wifi PIR sensor, with the only difference being the protocol it uses to communicate?

Pretty much, yes.

I only have one “smart plug”, and it is basically a relay behind the actual wall plug receiver.

Maybe I haven’t researched enough, but it seems in Cancun there is NO ONE offering smart homes like I am planning to do. The companies that offer alarm, video and smart home service ALL want to offer off the shelf, ready to use parts.

Perhaps you’d be better with esphome - yes, it’s harder to learn, but a lot more flexible.
I use wifi devices (almost all of them are on esphome) and some BT (BLE) sensors (Xiaomi thermo/hygro sensors). For BT working everywhere i have a couple of esphome “btproxy range extenders” and they work perfectly.

That’s interesting… no wifi device died on me (yet…) and it’s been a few years now. But, i do use “power_save: light” for most of my esp32 devices, esp’s temperature goes down significantly, while there’s no difference in operation.

This is not normal. It’s, in fact, very weird. I have 7 wifi plugs from various brands, and I didn’t have any that died. Some of them are 3 or 4 years old. They are not getting hot at all, why would they? For example shelly says its plug has a power consumption below 1 W, and this is believable to me. My shelly relays in the walls are getting way hotter, because they can only dissipate heat to the (brick) walls.

One of the plugs I’m using is powering car charger (slow charging, but it’s still a lot for such device, 10A at 230V). It sits outside, all year, which here means temperatures going down below -20C or up over 30C. It’s only protected by a roof. Actually I had two plugs there, first cheap tuya, which I later replaced with something better. But that tuya is still working correctly, now handling a floor lamp.

I recently got a couple of cheap (~5€ per one in European distribution) sonoff battery powered contact sensors, also wifi. Will see how long the battery will last. Product description claimed a year. People in reviews claimed wild things, one said 3 days, another a month. But they also talked about other issues which I haven’t experienced at all. So far after a month they are running well. I hope they will last at least half a year, but if not, at least they were cheap.

So, all I’m saying, wifi devices may have some drawbacks, but they really aren’t that bad.

Read the Australian Certified Hardware topic. It is full of reports like this.

1 Like

Oh, interesting. So you are saying the issue is specific to Australia?

I have a couple of Hue smart-plugs (Zigbee) and they have been working reliably for years now. The only problem I have is being able to set their default power-on state (Z2M).

Does this means the these 9 sensors share 1 IP ? (so you already have a potential “latency” build in here, as the 9 Devices have to share their communication-channel ) This would most likely not be a problem for i.e temp/humid-sensors, but maybe motion-sensors/switches could “suffer” in such scenarios )
You also don’t specify how many IP Device you currently have, or whether you use auto-select-channels, or specified channels(and how many) , and whether you have AP’s/MESH

Some things to also consider here is, your Customers most likely not have the same “Conditions”, in regards to i.e the housing density as (@ tom_l mention), other household utilities(using/disturbing 2.4gHz frequency), and i.e bluetooth devices etc… But also the distance to i.e neighbors/other WIFI networks, which could/would cause interference( +50m to nearest neighbor would be a “safe” measurement-point to consider. )

Chiming in on your problem with smart plugs getting too hot -

I have been piling up on Shelly sensors and swear by them. Rock solid (but then again I have a strong wifi network with strategically placed access points). I will report again later when I have more data but just for kicks I added all the temps for my Shelly smart plugs into a screen on my phone under the UI_minimalist dashboard. Here is a snapshot - the temperatures are pretty low -

These Shelly’s are all local - no cloud


So… wherever the heating problems with outlets comes from… not from Shelly!

I have used a few WiFi smart plugs from 3 different manufacturers. Never had one fail or overheat. For reference, I’m in the US with 120V mains voltage.

My problem with these (beyond what’s already been mentioned, above) is that they all want to “phone home” and use the vendor’s cloud solution. Some you can trick into running local, others you can’t. And of course the vendors occasionally make firmware changes which break the integration, or prevent local control altogether.

I’ve been phasing out off-the-shelf WiFi devices when I can. On the other hand, I’m finding ESPHome very useful for DIY devices.

@CancunManny - My home was all WiFi for a few years. I only added Z-Wave to dim a few lights. (I will not waste my money on smart lights). When my WiFi network grew to more than 60-70 clients, my ISP-issued router started showing its limitations. New clients wouldn’t connect and some clients dropped offline at random. This is when I started adding Zigbee devices. It was also time to upgrade my router. Today I have 110 WiFi clients and a Zigbee network of about 20 devices.

Smart plug overheating (including Sonoff Basic)
A plug may be “rated” for 20-Amps, but for how long? If you control a component that draws 17-Amps through a 20-Amp smart plug, IT WILL FAIL. Eventually.

The 20-Amp rating is OK for momentary power surges, like a pump motor turning on. But I would never run any 100% duty-cycle load at the rated power of the switch.

If you have smart switches installed, feel them. Especially if they are in a wall box. If they are warm to the touch in normal use, you have a problem. It could be as simple as loose connections or as bad as an overloaded switch.

That’s why first thing i do is change device’s firmware from original to esphome. If it can’t be changed i don’t buy it.

Agreed. But, this goes for all switches, not only for smart ones. Nothing will last if it’s pushed to it’s limits.

WiFi is great for smart home as long as you try to:

  • Use Tasmota or ESPhome (or, now, Matter) to keep your traffic local, preferably on a private vlan/subnet prevented from accessing the internet.
  • Avoid using your ISP router and WiFi, preferably getting “prosumer” (WiFi 6 or later) access points and a separate non-WiFi dedicated router with good security.

Both of these have side benefits — custom firmware is so much more flexible and customizable, and investing in decent WiFi also improves your streaming, gaming, etc. experience.

But WiFi is not low power, so battery-operated devices make better use of protocols like Thread, Zigbee, and Z-wave, so “only WiFi” is often not practical.

Regarding smart plug reliability, I’ve found many brands to be suspect — typically due to shoddy power circuitry, having nothing to do with the “smart” chip or protocols used. I’ve had several last 5+ years (Teckin) and several die within a year (Switchbot).

ETA: smart devices have little impact on your WiFi bandwidth or quality because they send hardly any traffic. Even 8 sensors in a single device leaves ample space for other processing / traffic. And WiFi 6 is exceptionally good at handling busy airwaves. Cameras are another story; they can choke your 2.4Ghz channels if enough stream concurrently.

I know I will have to get more familiar with esphome at some point. So far my go to is Tasmota, and so far pretty much anything I’ve wanted to do I’ve done with tasmota, except getting my BLE eps32s to work as proxies. Haven’t install any yet, but i have some, did some testing and got them to work with esphome. Tested a couple of weeks, and already forgot how to set it up, but I do remember instructions were easy to find and easy to follow

I don’t know the terminology very well, but seems you are thinking up to 9 sensors connecting with the same IP, and that is not the case. The ESP8266 ets 1 IP, the sensors communicate with the esp, and the esp communicates to HA via wifi.

Also I am using the term “sensors” loosely. It can be an LED light, a relay, a reed switch, etc. If you plan it right you can get up to 9 or 10 usable pins out of one d1 mini. You can actually control many more sensors using one of the protocols, or you can even add expander boards.

I have 4 wifi access points, and they all are set to “auto”. I can’t say I ever noticed any issues, hence never looked into setting up the channels manually. I do have 5 IP camaras connected via wifi, plus the usual 3 TVs, cell phones, tablets, etc.

I am looking for advice, but I know at times I speak like I am trying to convince people to think like I do, sorry about that. But the way I see it, if I do end up having issues with wifi/network connectivity it probably be better to up grade network hardware instead of solving the issue by bringing in zwave or similar to move some devices away from my wifi.

Onther reason why I started to go the DIY route. I pretty much control everything locally, without having to depend on 3rd party servers.

Right now my only cloud service is Alexa. I still have many mmWave sensors, bluetooth proxies, etc to install, Once I am done with that I will start looking at local voice control to get ride of Alexa

That is what I am mostly using, tasmota devices (Hadn’t heard about Matter until now, guess I have something new to google).

I understand the concept of vlan’s and subnet, just haven’t gotten around to doing it.

As far as using the ISP router. On my small home server I am running HA, Frigate and OPNsense as my router. I put much thought into it. I actually figured out (without ISPs help) how to set it up ISP router as a bridge, so that I could use its wifi with my routers IP, but decided to restore it. Right now ISP router connects to my server, then my server/router connects to my main access point. If my server crashes for what ever reason, I can easily bypass it by connecting the ISP cable directly to my main access point, that way ISP would be doing the routing while I figure out why server crashed.