Home Automation: Looking At The Weather

Image: From supplied and iStock

I'm looking at various home automation and smart home solutions at the moment, experimenting with what works and doesn't work so well in my home. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been playing with some weather sensing gadgets; the Netatmo Weather Station and Elgato Eve indoor and outdoor sensors.

I have to be honest - I like the idea of these and can see how the data they produce can be useful. But I'm still some time away from being able use them for automating anything. However, let's look at what these devices can do and how I might be able to use them.

Getting Started With Home Automation

Over the coming weeks I'm going to be looking at a bunch of different home automation gear. I have several goals in this journey covering making things easier to use, energy saving and home security. But I can already see some challenges along with all those opportunities.

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Netatmo Weather Station

The Weather Station has two hardware components - an internal sensor that connects to the mains power, and an external unit that's powered by a pair of AAA batteries.

The external unit, which is shorter than the internal one, can be easily wall mounted. You just need to pop a single screw into a wall and it slides on via a slot on the back.

I followed the prompts provided through the Netatmo Weather app (there are iOS and Android versions) to set the two nodes up, connect them to my wireless network and update the firmware. That firmware update happened before the Wi-Fi connection, ensuring I was connecting the most secure version of the device software available.

While I did get through the set up process, I did find things a little confusing. There's not a lot of documentation and that meant I needed to discern what was going on during the set up. For example, when it came to naming the devices, the app applies one name to both components. That makes sense when you see them in the app, but I expected to be able to name the inner and outdoor parts separately. So, my entire setup is now called "Tall Netatmo" as I used that to distinguish the taller indoor component from the shorter external one.

Image: From supplied and Anthony Caruana

Netatmo's app is nicely laid out and makes it easy to see temperature, air pressure, humidity, dew point and particulate matter (pm10). There are optional components you can buy including a rain gauge and anemometer, so you can set up a pretty decent weather station. And you can share your data online, contributing to a global weather map with data collated with that of other Netatmo users.

The data is also fed back to Accuweather, where it's used to provide that service with greater accuracy in its forecasts.

Indoor measures were interesting. I particularly liked the sound level monitoring. My office area is a quiet 45db according to the Netatmo.

When it comes to automation, there are a stack of IFTTT recipes available. Most are reasonably straightforward notifications - like send a message when CO2 levels rise to certain level, or flash some connected lights when the temperature is over or under some threshold. There are some recipes that will open windows or turn on/off heaters and air-conditioners as well.

And, there's a great use case for connecting the Netatmo to watering systems to ensure your garden is well watered when the temperature rises.

The Netatmo Weather Station retails for $299 although you can shop around for a better price. If you're really keen and want the rain gauge, that's about $120 with the Wind Gauge a further $160.

Elgato Eve

Elgato's play is quite different to Netatmo. For example, while Netatmo has separate apps for each family of smart home devices (there are separate apps for their security and power management products), Elgato manages all their Eve devices from a single app. And while the Netamo works well on iOS devices, Elgato supports HomeKit which, if you're an iOS or Apple TV user, could be a big factor when choosing a device.

I've been testing three separate Elgato Eve environmental sensors - the Eve Weather ($85) for the outdoors, the Eve Degree ($129) which is a simple thermometer and hygrometer, and the Eve Room ($139) which adds air quality measurement to the temperature and humidity meters of the Degree.

The Eve Degree has a display which shows the current temperature while the other two devices are plain white boxes. All three devices can be easily wall-mounted with a single screen and all run on batteries.

Image: From supplied

I used an iPhone to test the Eve gear and the set up is easy. As they are HomeKit enabled, all you need to do is point the camera at the serial number on the back of each device and the setup is completed automatically. From there, all you need to do is tell the Elgato app which room each device is in.

Automation is handled via HomeKit's system of timers, rules and scenes. Timers are straightforward and rules are basically an if.. then.. type of programming, much like IFTTT. Scenes are more complex and pull together multiple devices into actions, like, dimming lights and turning on your entertainment system when the "Movie" scene is activated.

However, I was quite limited in what I could do. For example, I wanted to have a notification or alert sent to me when air quality in my lounge room, where the Eve Room was installed, falls below a certain level. And while I could set up all sorts of actions such as turning the Nanoleaf lights on, or unlocking a door (which has a smart lock installed that I'll be reviewing soon), a simple email seemed to too hard.

On the other hand, being able to ask Siri what the temperature or humidity is in a room where the Eve sensor is placed is kinda cool - but not that useful ultimately.

Recommendations

If you're committed to Apple's HomeKit then the decision is easy - Elgato's kit plays nicely. But, the limited automation options have me stumped. Why aren't there some simple notification options. Opening the Elgato platform to IFTTT would be handy but, I suspect, raise Apple's ire as it could be used to circumvent whatever security constraints Apple has within the HomeKit environment.

On the other hand, the Netatmo Weather Station seems a little more flexible. It works with Amazon's Alexa but not, at this time, with Google Home. And it supports IFTTT which opens you to a lot of possibilities. So, if you're looking for a home weather station solution that can be used to automate other equipment, this looks to be the better option of the two.


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