Linus Sebastian, he of Linus Tech Tips fame, recently featured the open-source home automation software Home Assistant in one of LTT’s YouTube videos. In the video, he talks about his many previous attempts at setting up a smart garage opener and finally finding the solution in Home Assistant.
In a situation that will be all too familiar to the Home Assistant community, Linus was looking for the perfect way of remotely opening his garage door using the Google Assistant. All while not having to pay for subscriptions and with the fewest points of failure. This situation came to be after two whole years of tinkering with various setups and a steadily decreasing WAF. If only he had discovered Home Assistant earlier.
The video has already gained over 1.25 million views after only a single day and I reckon Home Assistant will be seeing an influx of new users over the next couple of weeks. If you are indeed new to the community, I promise, you are in for a hell of a ride. You are now part of one of the most active and friendliest communities on the web.
Before diving in head first, I recommend you take a look at my beginner’s guide to get acquainted with Home Assistant and how everything works. You will, for example, find a guide explaining the many names Home Assistant has (or had) which will help you better understand any guides you might want to follow. To stay on top of things you can subscribe to my new newsletter (I promise I won’t spam you):
Why Linus Tech Tips finally featured Home Assistant
While Linus’ previous solution of using a cheap, Wi-Fi connected relay board to emulate the push of a button by closing a circuit worked out to start off with (this setup is also documented in a Linus Tech Tips video), everything came crashing down when he had the absolute audacity to replace his wireless access point.
As it turned out, the board just would not connect to the new access point. To make things even worse, there was no way of resetting the board to the factory settings and the only viable option was to bin it and buy a new one.
This series of events eventually led Linus to Home Assistant and, as is the norm with everything techy he does, the whole procedure was documented for the Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel. Just in case you haven’t heard of it yet, Linus Tech Tips is rather popular and currently has over 13.2 million subscribers. That’s only a few more than my personal channel.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
Instead of buying a new cheap relay board, Linus and his team at Linus Tech Tips installed a more professional Sonoff 4CH Wi-Fi Smart Switch. As you might already know, Sonoff is a very popular brand in the DIY smart home community and Linus definitely made the right decision in this purchase. What he could have done differently is not to rely on the eWeLink app and IFTTT for his remote control.
As the same DIY smart home community will also tell you, he made the mistake of relying on IFTTT. Why was that a mistake? Because IFTTT changed their monetization strategy and suddenly vendors had to pay to let their customers use it. As the plan was to avoid any subscriptions, this setup was dead in the water.
Just as a new idea was starting to take shape, the nearly 40-year-old garage opener died. With that, it was back to square one. The new opener, which was professionally installed (something that doesn’t always happen on Linus Tech Tips), was made by LiftMaster, who is owned by Chamberlain. There weren’t many alternatives because, as Linus puts it, “the garage door opener industry is basically a monopoly […]”.
Sonoff and LiftMaster don’t play nice together
With the LiftMaster garage door opener installed, the idea was to use the same Sonoff 4CH Wi-Fi Smart Switch to trigger it remotely. Unfortunately, that was no longer possible as the newer garage door openers no longer work as a closed circuit and the LiftMaster remotes on the wall transmit their signal wirelessly to the opener itself. After further attempts at getting the Sonoff to work, one of which included soldering new parts to the LiftMaster remote, Linus gave up, bit the bullet, and started using Chamberlain’s own myQ software.
That at least, was the idea. As Linus soon found out, the myQ app is pretty terrible. He made the discovery, that the myQ app has a terrible habit of logging users out when the network changes. For example, when driving home and entering your Wi-Fi zone. The workaround would have been to use an IFTTT recipe except that myQ only allows you to close a door using it, and not to open it.
The many issues with commercial smart home systems
In the video, Linus identifies two major issues that can occur when using commercial smart home systems. Both points will resonate with many Home Assistant users. I’d go as far as to say that one or the other is the main reason for using this excellent open-source smart home solution:
- Unexpected service interruptions or policy changes can break already perfectly functioning setups.
- Often times there is a poor or incomplete interoperability between different brands and platforms.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Incidentally, Linus claims that you can’t really do much about the first issue. Linus, I think the more experienced Home Assistant users would like to have a word with you. Three words in fact: Only use local.
Unfortunately, myQ only allows for cloud polling and not local control, so that ship has sailed. Nevertheless, I would love to see someone at Linus Tech Tips build their own garage door opener using ESPHome or installing one that does allow for local control while explaining the benefits.
Home Assistant has entered the chat
As Linus already has a server running Unraid in his home, setting up a Home Assistant container or virtual machine didn’t present any hurdles. Not just that, but as it turns out, Linus Tech Tips writer Jake Tivy is a Home Assistant enthusiast. Integrating myQ with Home Assistant went smoothly as it has a direct integration with Home Assistant.
The rest of the video details how Linus set up his own domain for Home Assistant and connected it to the Google Assistant. Linus didn’t opt to pay for Home Assistant Cloud as his goal was to set everything up without paying for any subscription. Strangely he doesn’t count the cost of the domain in that category.
From my point of view, they went over Home Assistant Cloud too swiftly. Home Assistant Cloud doesn’t just give you remote access but also security. If you do not know what you are doing I highly suggest paying the price instead of risking anyone gaining access to your dashboard.
Incidentally, the same subscription also supports the development of Home Assistant. And if you enjoy using Home Assistant you will want the project survive.