My HomeKit Setup – The 2022 Edition

This is an article that I’ve been wanting to do for a while and some of you have been asking for. Which is how I use HomeKit in my condo. Let’s start with what HomeKit is. This is Apple’s home automation platform which is part of iOS/iPadOS and to a limited extent macOS and watchOS that lets users configure, communicate with, and control smart-home appliances using Apple devices. It provides users with a way to automatically discover such devices and configure them. It’s got its flaws, which I will speak to in a bit, but it generally works fine.

First, let me describe my use case for HomeKit. I live in a 1000 square foot condo that has one door to enter and exit. The condo has two bedrooms. We use the master bedroom to sleep in, but we converted the second bedroom to a den for my wife and I to work in. Then we also have a living room and kitchen. The walls are concrete which makes Bluetooth and WiFi penetration a challenge. We decided that the master bedroom would have no smart home devices other than a HomePod Mini to stream audio or play a radio station. Everywhere else was fair game. We also wanted to build security into our HomeKit setup as long time readers will recall that my wife and I had a break in which cost us a MacBook Pro and a lot of jewelry among other items. While we had an IP enabled camera that alerted us to the break in, the police were not able to get there in time to capture the scumbags who broke into our place. So being able to detect when doors open and unauthorized parties are in the condo are a must. We don’t have to worry about windows as we are in a high rise.

With our use case out of the way, let’s get to the tech that powers our HomeKit setup. To fully leverage HomeKit, you will need a home hub which will allow you to control and automate your HomeKit devices from anywhere. It also acts as a connection point for Bluetooth based HomeKit devices as without it, those devices need your iPhone or iPad in range of it so that you can control them. WiFi based HomeKit devices don’t need a hub, but you may not be able to control them outside your home.

A HomeKit Hub can be any of the following:

  • An iPad that never leaves home. (I personally wouldn’t go this route because if the iPad loses power, dies or is stolen, you’re out of luck).
  • An Apple TV 4 or higher
  • A HomePod or HomePod Mini

In my case, I went the HomePod Mini route:

I have three HomePod Mini devices in my home as that was the path of least resistance for me. One in the living room, one in the den, and one in the bedroom. That’s due to the fact that I have three Bluetooth enabled devices that need something to connect to as Bluetooth signals don’t travel far in my condo due to the concrete walls that my condo has. Thus they act as repeaters for Bluetooth signals to cover use cases like mine which has the added bonus of speeding up the amount of time that it takes for a Bluetooth device to respond to commands that you give them. Thus if I could give you a piece of advice, you need to plan your HomeKit rollout to cover the use case of Bluetooth devices and purchase your home hubs based on that.

Another thing to point out about home hubs is that if you have more than one, they are used in an “Active/Standby” configuration. As in if you have two home hubs, one is actively controlling everything. But if something happens to it, the second one will take over. My use case looks like this:

You can’t choose which HomePod Mini is the one that is the “connected” one. Which seems at first glance to be a #Fail. But what I believe that Apple is doing behind the scenes is picking the home hub with the best reception and performance to the router. I’ve observed that it tends to gravitate towards making the living room Home Pod Mini the connected one. I suspect that’s due to the fact that it is connected to an ASUS mesh WiFi node that is in close proximity (as in two feet away) to the Home Pod Mini in question which has direct access to the Internet. That would make that one the logical choice to be the one that runs the show. The HomePod Mini in the den is physically closer in proximity to the ASUS mesh WiFi node that’s in the den versus the one in the living room. But because the node in the den has to connect to the node in the living room to get out to the Internet, it’s not as good of a choice to be the connected Home Pod Mini as it has to make a extra hop to the Internet that the HomePod in the living room doesn’t have to make. And the one in the bedroom is the worst choice of the three as it is a room away from the ASUS mesh WiFi node in the den which is where it connects to the Internet from. All of that means that its reception isn’t as great as the first two HomePod Mini units on top of the fact that it has to make an extra hop to get to the Internet.

Another thing that I should point out is that two of the three HomePod Mini units that I have are plugged into Uninterruptible Power Supplies so that they will stay on even when the power goes out. Which means that assuming that my Rogers Internet connection is still live, I will be able to still see into my condo if I am away from home.

So with the home hubs out of the way, let’s move onto the devices that I have. I’ll start with my door:

This is the Onvis CS1 Security Alarm Contact Sensor. This is on the door to not only let my wife and I know when the door is opened or closed (as it will give us a notification on our iPhones and Apple Watches when a door is opened or closed, not to mention chime when the door is opened), but it also acts as our alarm system when we’re away from home or asleep as we have automations to arm and disarm the alarm. More on our automations later. This is the first Bluetooth only device that I have, and it required us to get a HomePod Mini for the living room so that it could connect to it.

Next up are a pair of HomeKit cameras that we have installed.

We have two Eve Security Cameras which are both powered from an Uninterruptible Power Supply and connect to WiFi so that they stay live even if power goes out. In terms of the WiFi part, I have them bonded ASUS mesh WiFi node that has direct access to the Internet so that they can stream effectively should I need to have a live look inside my condo while I am away from home. One thing that I should note is that these cameras use the 5 GHz WiFi band which means that they are less likely to have interference issues which would be the case if they were on the 2.4 Ghz WiFi band and are fast when it comes to streaming video as well. These are HomeKit only cameras and while they are not cheap (not that you want anything cheap for home security purposes), they work very well even in the dark. They have built in motion sensors to detect movement and will send notifications to our iPhones and Apple Watches should it detect a person. When we’re away from home, I have them set to record anything it detects to iCloud using HomeKit Secure Video which is part of iCloud+. But when we are at home, there’s no recording taking place.

Now over to lighting. I only have a couple of places where I use HomeKit lighting as I feel that I don’t need to have HomeKit enabled lights everywhere. The first place that I use HomeKit light is the living room:

I have a lamp attached to this iHome iSP6X Smart Plug. It works on 2.4 Ghz WiFi and allows me to turn the lights on and off. This bonded ASUS mesh WiFi node that has direct access to the Internet so that it doesn’t roam from node to node which seems to confuse it in such a way that it requires a reboot to get it working again. For the most part, the light gets turned on via an automation in the morning, and gets turned off in the evening via another automation. In short it lives a dull and boring life.

I have a pair of Sylvania Smart+ A19 Full Colour LED Bulbs which I have set up in the Home app to be seen as a single bulb:

The reason for doing this is that it makes it easier to turn the bulbs off and on as well as tweak the colour and brightness as you’re dealing with one set of controls and not two. These are Bluetooth bulbs which meant that I had to get a HomePod Mini for the den as they had problems staying connected to the either of the other two HomePod Minis that I have. I have had some other challenges in terms of them acting weird and stability, so these may not stick around in the long term. But I will give them an honest shot to see if my experience with them improves over the next few weeks. I currently have the brightness set to 80% as that gives the perfect amount of lighting for Zoom or Teams calls.

The final HomeKit device that I have is this:

This TCL 43″ Class 4-Series 4K UHD HDR ROKU Smart TV which is powered by RokuOS got HomeKit compatibility a couple of software updates ago. Though at times, HomeKit support has been problematic. In any case it allows me to turn on and off the TV as well as control inputs. But the extent that I use HomeKit functionality is to turn the TV on and off via some automations that I have as there is no value to doing anything else via HomeKit as the support that this TV has for HomeKit is very limited.

Speaking of automations, I use four of them which I set up in the Home app:

Leave: This is an automation that activates when everyone has left home as it uses location services on our iPhones to determine where everyone is so that it can run the automation. It’s also supposed to use Apple Watches as well to determine the location of everyone, but my wife and I have never seen that work. Thus we assume it’s a bug that Apple needs to fix as according to Apple’s own documentation, that use case is supposed to work. In any case, when everyone leaves home, the following happens:

  • A notification appears on our iPhones and Apple Watches with a request to arm the alarm system.
  • If the TV is on it is turned off.
  • All the cameras are set to “stream and record” so that anything that is detected by the cameras is recorded to iCloud.

It usually activates when we are roughly a block away from home. Or I can activate it using Siri or via the Home app. If I go the Siri route, it will turn on the alarm without the need to click anything.

Arrive: This is the opposite of “Leave” and operates as follows:

  • A notification appears with a request to disarm the alarm system. There’s no way that I can find to do this automatically.
  • All the cameras are set to “stream” so that there is no recording taking place while we are home.

An interesting quirk about these two automations are that I can use Siri to run the Leave automation, but I cannot use Siri to run the Arrive automation unless I unlock my iPhone to do it. Which means I can’t use Siri while I am driving for example to run the automation. This is due to the fact that unlocking a HomeKit compatible doorknob or disarming a HomeKit compatible alarm system requires you to use what Apple calls a “personal device” to do it, such as an iPhone or Apple Watch. Likely because you have to unlock your phone to run the automation, which serves as a form of authentication. In the case of the Apple Watch, the watch locks automatically when you take it off your wrist. Thus to use it you have to put in a passcode after you put it one which is a form of authentication as well. I suppose that I can see why this use case exists as this stops someone using Siri from disarming an alarm system and opening doors via a “Hey Siri” command and breaking into your home.

Good Night: This is an automation that allows us do the following just before going to bed:

  • If the den and living room lights are on, they are turned off.
  • If the TV is on, it is turned off.
  • The alarm system is armed. We do this as we would be alerted if someone tries to break in while we are asleep.

I can activate this via a “Hey Siri” command or via the Home app.

Good Morning: This is what is run when we wake up in the morning. And it only works from a iPhone or Apple Watch for the same reasons that I described above.

  • The den and living room lights are turned on.
  • The alarm system is disarmed.

Now I will admit that my use case is pretty simple. But how simple or complex your use case happens to be will be driven by things like the number of devices and what you’re trying to do. For example if we had multiple windows that we had to monitor or multiple doors to monitor, it would make the setup a lot more complex because there would be more devices in play. My advice is to spend a lot of time experimenting until you find what works for you. I also recommend carefully picking your HomeKit devices as some are really good, and some are not as good.

So that’s my HomeKit setup. If you have any questions or suggestions as to how I can improve it, leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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