When I first decided to connect all my devices centrally, I looked around the internet for a solution. There are many options to choose from, almost too many. Some you pay for, others you don’t. Some come with a ‘hub’ that you connect to your router and the hub sends out radio and network commands to your devices. Others rely on external hardware that you purchase separately. There are some really good paid services out there, but I wanted to try it on the cheap. That’s when I found Domoticz.
Domoticz is a small-footprint program that you can install on pretty much any computer, but if you want to connect to your devices via radio waves, to send on/off/dim signals, and receive temperature or movement sensor data, you’ll need to buy a separate piece of hardware. I bought an rfxcom rfxtrx433. It’s a matchbox-sized box with a stubby aerial sticking out of the top. You connect it to your computer via USB.
At first we used a Windows PC that was left on all day every day as our ‘home server’ (one of the terms used to describe the ‘brain’ of the home control system). It worked reasonably well, and Domoticz almost never crashed. The thing was, we were probably using far more power than we needed to. So I looked at using the Raspberry Pi, a small and cheap computer.From the Domoticz website you can download an image to transfer to the Raspberry Pi via an SD card. This image contains all you need to start using Domoticz straight away, right from the second you plug in the Raspberry Pi. This makes life sooo much easier. You can even plug in the rfxtrx433 into one of the Pi’s USB ports and it will start working straight away. It’s that simple.
Then, the exciting part. When you type in the Pi’s network address (eg 192.168.1.34) and add on the port number (the default of the Pi when Domoticz is first installed is 8080), you’ll see an unpopulated screen with no devices. Adding devices is done in quite an innovative way: devices that send information routinely, like temperature sensors for example, appear in the ‘unused devices’ tab and with a few clicks they can be added to your dashboard. Adding other hardware that uses network commands, such as the Philips Hue Bridge, is done via the Hardware Setup page.
After some or all of your devices are added, you can create decisions that Domoticz can make on your behalf. You can make these as sophisticated or easy as you want: and there are two ways of programming these decisions. The easy way is using ‘blocky’. This is a drag-and-drop way to quickly build up a program. A great feature of blocky is that the blocks you drag around will only fit together if they can interact in the way you’re trying to get them to interact. The more advanced way to tell Domoticz what to do is to edit and create mini-programs that run either when a device changes state, or every minute.
This is a really quick summary of what Domoticz can do, I would advise that you visit the website and forum, grab a Raspberry Pi, install the Domoticz image onto an SD card and have a go yourself. You’ll be amazed at what a free piece of software can achieve to realise your home control dreams.
I’ll be posting a lot more about Domoticz. After all, pretty much everything in our flat is controlled by it one way or another.