New to Openhab - looking for a starting point

@rfrechet, what are you looking to automate? While there are some things that don’t require hardware (media servers like Kodi/Plex, Pandora/Spotify, etc) if you are wanting automation for hardware in a home, we need to have a little more information on what you are attempting to achieve with automation.


I have a couple of areas I want to cover with home automation. First I would like to handle overall security through door and window sensors, motion detectors, lights, cameras (inside and outside), etc. I would like to be able to capture video footage and be notified when sensors are tripped and set vacation mode when away so that it appears that someone is home when I’m not there.

Secondly I would like to tackle some of the environmental things such as controlling/monitoring the HVAC system in my house, notify me of water leaks, fire, etc. so I can respond quickly when I am not home or on vacation.

Thirdly I would like to do some cool and futuristic stuff like control the entertainment system, lighting when entering/leaving rooms, mood lighting, facial recognition, etc.

So I have a target goal of what I want to do but realize I have to start slow, small, and easy to get going. It is finding that starting point to begin without having to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together before I can do anything.

Thanks for any help you can provide.


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Hey Rich, That’s a great list. So, Sarah will definititely be a good starting place for you. You will get the sensor capabilities, alarm system and vacation mode among the other features. From there, you can add the other new features like the cameras, and HVAC controls. We can work on the details once the other openHAB guys start discussing the specifics of the other features you’re looking for.

Z-Wave is a good system for many of those things but They have divided the world up into different regions. What country are you living in?

Wow those are some goals! :wink:

From my own experience with OH, I started with lights (owned a Nest at the time, but had control over that via the phone app; I had a desire to have lights turn off if nobody is around). With lights being the first step in your automation you only need to be concerned with a value of ON or OFF and this also provides motivation to work on a control point interface (BasicUI, Classic, Habpanel, etc); which makes testing of the automation/rules much nicer…unless you enjoy walking to the light switch if the testing doesn’t have the outcome you want. :smiley:

I then started adding a couple of door sensors (this was also a 1 - 2 yr process for me, as I would buy 1 thing on a payday week so as not to impact the household budgets); now I had to trigger automation based on the state of a door. While not overly difficult (after spending some frustrating nights learning rules), a door sensor on the door to my garage will turn on my garage lights…which is great unless its daytime and the garage door is open, in which case I don’t need to have the light turn on.

As you continue to expand the data being sent in to OH via sensors/device states the automation will grow, but it was at my own pace based on hardware I was adding and I’m the type of mind that likes to test ideas on how I like my home to behave (like all lights in the basement and first floor to turn off if my spouse and I have both plugged our phones in for the night [tasker sends a HTTP POST command to OH]).

I also opt’ed to go with Zwave devices, which not a financially easy decision my thoughts were the following:

  • I’m having to pull the light switches out of the wall to begin with
  • I’ve come to enjoy paddle switches vs the toggle switches so dumping what came installed with my house
  • I have screwless face plates due to the paddle switches none of the old plates would fit as they were for toggle, they are easy to pop off and clean
  • I just wanted a switch to turn on/off and report its status on its own

I also enjoy how I can customize things on how I like, when I first started I thought PaperUI was the GUI control point (at the time it was a transition of OH 1.8 to 2.0), so I tried BasicUI/ClassicUI and determined they just weren’t for me (not bashing on either of them, they are great UIs), used a dashboard based on dashly that someone fork’ed from some other automation suite, switched last year to Habpanel. So you have options to create things how you want/like/enjoy.

Hi! and welcome!

A good tutorial to start, for example:

Yes, I know, there’s not much of the “physical” world in this tutorial, but it helps to get to know the system.

Please feel free to ask your questions about any control in particular

Yes, definitely for this you have to use rules, at the beginning it costs interpretation but you will learn (in my case I had no idea since I am an engineer but of a different specialty (chemical) haha).

I’m not so experienced but don’t be afraid to ask.
Good luck From your switch description you must be in North America. Check out Zooz switches.

I also decided to do Z-Wave. I started with some switched wall outlets, a Z-Wave LED bulb and a motion sensor. I was unsure about diving into unknown electrical switches to start.
The PIR sensor detects motion through our outside basement door to control the outside light. I have rules set up to only turn the light on with motion after sunset. That starts or resets a 5 minute timer which then turns off the light,
I have added a Zooz wall switch & 2 more motion sensors. The Zooz switch replaces the one at the top of our basement stairs.The switch downstairs can still control the lights through the Zooz switch. No “slave switch” needed. The Motion sensors turn on the light and starts a timer that turns it back off.

You might look at how openHABian does it. openHABian starts with a basic Raspbian and then installs and configures everything on the first boot.

@rfrechet, my first recommendation is start small. Home automation is a really big topic and there is a whole lot to learn. And because you are just starting, you are not in the best position to make the best choices in technology and devices to purchase yet. If you start small and build gradually, if you find you made a bad choice you can more easily and cheaply pivot.

Camera integration with OH is a bit limited. You will probably want to investigate ZoneMinder, Shinobi, or BlueIris to manage the cameras and then integrate OH with that. Though if you get IP cameras, there is an IP camera binding, but I don’t think that binding manages stuff like recordings and stuff like that, though I could be wrong.

Controlling of entertainment systems is also somewhat limited. OH really isn’t designed for that so it takes more work to get that working than other approaches. This is another case where some other system integrated with OH might be a better choice. Note I’m not saying this is impossible, and stuff like “turn on the TV, turn off the lights, change the input on the TV” are very easy in OH. But “play bach” or “watch Star Wars” is much more challenging.

Lights are often where people start. Personally, I started with my garage door controllers. I recommend finding one problem you want to solve and make that your first automation. For me it was that I had a really old garage door opener and the remote no longer worked and replacement remotes were not available (too old). Automating the opener let me get by a little longer before I had to replace it.

Anyway, once you get one physical automation under your belt, start to play with some of the bindings that don’t require hardware. Play with the Network binding to see if you can determine when you are home or not. Play with one of the weather bindings to see if you can incorporate some of that into your automations.


Thanks @rlkoshak, I appreciate the recommendation. I will look into that. Are there docs?

The docs probably won’t talk about that. But the scripts that actually do the work are in the repo.

I installed Raspbian Lite & used the Linux install instructions

Thanks, guys.

Kudos @Bruce_Osborne, however I have replaced all of my light switches, went with a GE model, and while two of them have had their blue lights below the paddle fail everything else has been rock solid with them. For my outlets I went with a Leviton model as it provides a push button and an active light if the top outlet has power, also has been rock solid. :wink:

GE are good, but expensive, especially if you need to add slave switches to a circuit.

Hi, Sorry I have not been on since Friday. It’s been one of those weekends. I thank everyone for their response to my initial question. I did decide to give Sarah a try and following the instructions, I did download and install it on a Raspberry pi. Download took less than 10 minutes. I did not have any real investment in any setup at this point so I just formatted an SD card I had and used balenaEtcher to burn the image. I put it in the pi and powered it up. I clicked on the link in the instructions and the Sarah Command Center came up and I downloaded and installed the latest updates.

I have a starting point now and will start small as everyone has suggested. I have lots of reading to do based on the links and suggestions provided. I will let you all know how things go. Thanks again for all your understanding and help.

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I just hope whatever installation and configuration was done by Sarah does not hamper people here from helping when needed.

True, it was the second brand that provided me far better results then my attempt to use WeMo switches; as I don’t plan on moving for at least another decade I think I will get my return. Also discovered I had two classic switches that had cracked blocks on the live wires that broke apart when I replaced them…even when you buy a house new, you can still find cut corners.

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To put your mind at ease… no, it will not impact support. It is completely unaltered from a coding point of view. The only thing I do slightly differently is to run a short script to do the partition resize using raspi-config on first boot. Other than that, I have only configured it using standard methods like installing some bindings through PaperUI, etc. Even the mods I made to the Pi came from the openHAB site - these were mostly related to USB sound. But just to be certain, I will make sure I put clear instructions on my site to tell everyone to come to me first for help for anything Sarah related. Anything else will be business as usual for openHAB.

@rfrechet - Thanks, for trying it out. Just keep following the docs to include your Things and let me know if you have any problems.

Hi @rfrechet, How’s everything going? Did you get things up and running yet? Any problems? I’m always happy to help. Thanks

Hi @seeLive, Sorry, it took me so long to get back to you. I had some other home projects I’ve been focusing on. But, I did finally get it set up. Here are my thoughts:

I was able to get the image burned and my devices included within about an hour. And, like you noted on your site, I noticed that not everything was working right away. Some devices were not yet reporting any data like the battery and luminance levels. By the next day (I had done this later in the evening) everything was working and S.A.R.A.H. was turning lights on and off and talking. It was pretty neat. The internet radio was working well. There are some decent channels to listen to and it was all very configurable through the command center. Everything seemed to work as promised and I had to do very little to do to make it go. I was impressed with the simplicity.

I like the S.A.R.A.H. Command Center. It was very easy to change the various settings, setup email and weather and to change some of the text being spoken. I found your links to be very helpful. It’s also nice to be able to control the Raspberry Pi. For example, being able to restart the openHAB service, reboot, shutdown and pull updates. I can see how that would make it easy to manage.

The Home Wizard is cool. I liked the idea of using a template for the whole house. It made the set up very straight forward as far as associating the devices to each room and how it would function in that room. From what I understand it generates the rules and config files. Is that correct? Also, what does the ‘show channels’ button do? I saw it was populated with various text that seemed to relate to the USB Z-wave stick id, but wasn’t sure.

Overall, I liked the experience. I was up and running quickly and with not much effort. On the down side, I don’t really know what it all means yet. Since, I haven’t tried to setup openHAB by hand I don’t really know what the differences would be. From my limited experience so far, it seems like there are a lot of people on the forum trying to figure everything out and I’m guessing that’s what S.A.R.A.H. is trying to provide. But, I can say that I didn’t have to write any code or do much configuration and it all just works.

I look forward to adding more devices and seeing what else it can do.
Thanks, I would definitely recommend it to others.


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