Morning Radio

Going Further with Home Automations in Node-Red

In my last post about using Node-Red to make automations with Home Assistant, I showed some very simple flows for turning lights on and off. While it is important to get used to the Node-Red way of doing things and it’s interface, none of the examples in my post are very compelling. All of that can easily be accomplished in Home Assistant already, so what makes Node-Red so awesome?

Let’s examine some of Node-Red’s features a little closer to get a better idea of what’s going on, how we can use that to create dynamic automations with Home Assistant, and an example of an alarm clock radio flow that uses some advanced logic nodes.

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Useful Sensor: Cardinal Wind Direction for Home Assistant

At a glance – gustier than usual this morning.

As someone who cycles to work most days, I keep a pretty close eye on the weather. One thing I like to know is which way the wind is blowing – a strong headwind means I should maybe opt for the road bike, not the cruiser. Home Assistant has a ton of weather platforms – and the Dark Sky one that I prefer tracks wind direction. The only problem is it returns the direction in degrees, which is meaningless to me.

See below for a template sensor that will convert degrees to a human-readable cardinal direction.

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Home Assistant: Making My Plants Talk with IoT Sensors and a Python Script

Living in an urban city without a garden, I have been exercising my green thumb by accumulating more and more houseplants. I have them tucked away in every light-filled corner, hanging from every rafter in my tall ceilings. Which is a problem, because I have to get a ladder out to water most of them!

Using some cheap plant soil sensors and a simple Python script, I will have Home Assistant check all of my plants and make a list of which need my attention. Then when more than a few need to be watered, I can be notified or have the voice assistant give me an update.

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Useful Sensor: Motion Last Seen & Meta Motion Sensor

You know what’s great about motion sensors? They are very, very cheap to build yourself. All it takes is an esp8266 module like the Wemos D1 Mini, some PIR sensors, and the ESP Easy firmware and you can have a bunch up and running in a few minutes. I haven’t DIYed a battery powered one yet, but there are plenty of great Z-Wave ones available.

Once you have a couple of motion sensors in your smart home, you can have Home Assistant track the last place it saw motion. This is a useful bit of info – useful as a condition for your automations, or as an input for a bayesian binary sensor. See below for YAML to create a meta-motion sensor with a history.

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Basic Node-Red Flows for Automating Lighting with Home Assistant

Smart light bulbs are probably the first thing everyone getting into home automation buys. It is easy to see the applications for them – have the lights come on at night, turn off when you’re home, etc. It’s very satisfying to have the lights react to the day and your activities, and my goal with automating lighting has always been to not have to think about it, for it to work in the background.

In my initial post about Home Assistant and Node-Red, I explained the initial hoops you have to jump through to get both pieces of software up and running and talking to each other. Now we will start using them together in some very simple flows to control lighting, to get a better understanding of how Node-Red works, and to start to delve into this powerful tool.

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Favorite ESP8266 Internet of Things Projects

So many good uses for these chips, here are a few I’ve made and some I still intend to.

  1. ESP Easy – by far the easiest way to connect a bunch of cheap sensors to an esp8266. I have about 6 of these doing various things.
  2. Bed Occupancy Sensor – FSR sensor for pressure and a simple automation to determine bed occupancy
  3. WiFi Candle Using multiple WS2812 addressable LEDs to create a simple lamp that flickers like a candle.
  4. Notification Flag – Raise a flag based on a simple condition. Would be nice to combine in tandem with…
  5. Mailbox Sensor – Notify when mailbox is opened.
  6. DIY Milight Hub – I’ve been using this and it works great. Control as many cheap Chinese RGB bulbs as you want.
  7. Simple Water Alarm – If water shorts the wires, it wakes a sleeping esp8266 and sounds the alarm
  8. Door/Window Monitor – Along the same lines, a simple magnetic switch monitors the status of a window or door.
  9. Smart Power Strip – Retrofitting a power strip with 2 banks of controllable outlets, using 3D printed parts.
  10. Weather Station Display – Another super cool 3D printed project that plugs in and displays info on a small screen.

My favorite form factor of the esp8266 is the Wemos D1 Mini. Tiny, all the inputs you need, and there are many premade ‘shields’ for it so you can stack components.


Big List of Useful Home Automation Nodes for Node-Red

An ongoing list of nodes I have found useful for constructing home automation flows. I have not included device platform nodes, as all state tracking and actions are performed in Home Assistant.

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The Open Source Smart Home: Getting Started with Home Assistant & Node-Red

Home Assistant is one of the most interesting open source projects I’ve ever come across. It interfaces with any device, platform, or service you can think of. It can connect all of your devices to make a truly smart home. With a little creativity almost anything is possible with Home Assistant, and best of all it’s private and totally under your control.

After using Hass to control my smart home for the last year, I started to hit the limitations of its YAML-based configuration. Any automation that was even moderately complicated required a lot of pieces spread out through the configuration files (see the sprawling “Creating an Alarm Clock” thread on the HA forums for an example). Doing simple things like if-then or a  loop required awkward workarounds. As my automations (and ambitions) increased in complexity, so did the time I spent trying to figure out what was going on.

That’s when I discovered Node-Red, a visual programming tool developed by IBM. Node-Red is the perfect complement to Home Assistant, allowing for very complicated logic to be constructed visually through a simple “flow” interface. It integrates seamlessly with Home Assistant. Let’s set it up.

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Presence Detection Part 1: Home Assistant & Bayesian Probability

One of the most useful things to track for home automation is whether anyone is home or not. If you want the lights to turn off when no one is home, the vacuum robot to run when you’re at work, or the heat to come on before you arrive home on a cold night you need to reliably be able to tell if the house is occupied.

How can we track the state of something that is not directly observable? We can’t plug ourselves directly into the internet (…yet). After trying several approaches to monitoring presence, I’ve come up with a method that is very near 100% reliable.

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My Smart Home: Hardware List

An ongoing list of all the hardware I’ve gradually acquired. Links are to Amazon, but if you are patient most things can be imported from China for much cheaper.

Want to get started in home automation for cheap? Check out my $200 DIY Smart Home Shopping List to get started with a great foundation of hardware for use with Home Assistant. Control devices over WiFi, Bluetooth, infrared, Z-Wave, Zigbee, RF, and build some basic sensors – all for less than most kits from one proprietary vendor!

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