Where to start as a beginner?

Hey everyone,

I am kind of stuck at the moment and would like to get some advice. I bought a raspberry pi and installed openHAB 3 because of all the cool things I saw or heard about - smart home panels at the entrance, presence detection, smart lighting, smart media centers, and so on, there’s a lot of great stuff out there.

However, I must say that I find this whole smart home topic completely overwhelming. I bought a conbee II stick, some zigbee smart plugs and a few buttons or switches that I can now use to control the lights. At that point, though, I am completely stuck. My current setup with just a few zigbee plugs is lightyears away from having a smart media center, a smart home panel and smart routines that make everyday life easier. I am hearing about KNX, 1-wire, DALI, z-wave, mqtt, zigbee2mqtt, and so on and I don’t even know where to start.

I can turn on my (samsung qled) tv using the openhab-app or Alexa, but after that I have to use the remote to do anything else (switch channels, open up netflix or prime video, play, pause, etc.). How did you build up your smart homes when you started from zero? What are topics that I should definitely check out and what are topics that can be neglected? And do you have any good advice or resources (in either English or German)?

I’d love to do more advanced stuff, but it feels like there are a million topics to be learned and I cannot see any clear direction or order in that I should proceed.

Thank you in advance, any advice is greatly appreciated :slight_smile:


Hi Pat,

take a deeeeeep breath and exhale slowly.
Good :slight_smile:

Now to your questions. I need to start with a question myself as you offered no info about your general situation: are you in a position where you can freely integrate home automation because you build a home or are renovating with a a chance to integrate new cabling? I assume this is not the case as you mentioned that you already achieved some basics with lighting based on zigbee devices. Most likely you will stay with wireless capabilities then. It is a bit easier then as you do not need to think ahead a lot and have more leeway in adding more functionality later on.

With OH you decided for a very flexible system as far as home automation is concerned. Which leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed. But you can easily tackle that: you need a plan. That’s all :grin:

Don’t look at all the possibilities OH offers with its multitude of bindings and what you might be able to do with ist. Do it the other way round: what do you want to achieve? Do some brainstorming and put everything down in a list. Controlling your TV obviously is one of the topics. Controlling your lights is another one (might already have a tick-in-the-box, but put it down in the list anyway, maybe you want to combine it with other topics). Heating maybe? Rollershutters? Motion detection? …?
You can add further topics later on, no problem. With each new item on your list, go through the next steps again. In some cases there are options for interaction with other topics. Combining motion detection and lighting is an example. In such cases you need to rework something.

The next step is to bring your topics in a sequence driven by priority. Is there a spouse, maybe even acting as “head of controlling” and needs to be convinced of the advantages of home automation? Things like that may influence priorities.

Now that you have a list, work on that list one topic at a time. Working on several things simultaneously increases the risk to mix up things as long as you are not really familiar with them.

Now for each topic try to find the best solution. There might be different approaches leading to the same result or having different (dis-)advantages. Compare and decide what suits your situation best. A dedicated binding might bring more possibilities, a more general approach might be the better way as it can be re-used for other topics.
The forum here is a good resource for finding appoaches or at least ideas. But other people, that are not here in the forum might have ideas as well. Ask the search engine you trust the most.

Summarized: do not try to tackle everything at once. Break it down into manageable pieces and work on them one after the other.

Start small and start slowly. Incrementally add new capabilities and features over time. But make sure that what you are adding actually solves a problem for you. Don’t just integrate stuff because you can.

openHAB shines when you use it for automation. So look for events that can be used to have the house do stuff on its own without manual control (e.g. turn on the lights when you first get home).

My first project was making it so I could control my garage door openers remotely. Next I added some lighting controls. And I kept adding more and more to it from there. But I always added stuff with an eye towards solving a real problem and automation over control. I’ve probably a dozen “smart” devices that I could integrate with OH but I’ve not done so because I don’t have a need to (thermostat, Plex, drier, Nest products, etc.). On-the-other-hand, I’ve several devices I’ve gone to great lengths to integrate despite the fact that there is no binding that supports them or the way I’m using OH makes integrating them challenging (AirThings, Wyze, etc.).

It depends on what technology stacks you want to focus on, what problems you want to solve, and what you want to achieve over all. Everyone’s home automation is bespoke. What is irrelevant to one person is vital to another one.

Let your requirements and problems be your guide for what you need to learn.

Having said all that, a simple “demo” project will encourage familiarity with openHAB workflow.

Like, “turn a socket on when it gets dark, and off again at midnight”
An introduction to events and event-driven rules (automation).
No light sensor? Fine, explore Astro binding.

Awesome, thank you so much for your replies so far :slightly_smiling_face: It’s true that I do need a plan, so far I have been hearing all kinds of smart home vocabulary, thinking “do I need to learn about that?”.

As for my situation: I live in a rented apartment and I am not in a situation where I consider re-wiring things or planning an infrastructure (I just replaced an in-wall light-switch apart from having a few zigbee plugs).

Did you guys learn everything by “just” gathering information from different sources, or have you read any books or taken any (online-) classes or anyhting? And would you suggest using the openHAB-web-interface to do all the automations and actions, or do you usually write the scripts yourself?

One of the things I would really like to do is controlling my TV. So, for instance, say “Alexa, start my TV and continue playing Series XY on amazon prime. Now pause; turn up the volume; etc.” However, I have no clue how to get started with that. I may need to put more effort into research, but a friend of mine (he uses Symcon, though) achieved that by writing an own Symcon-plugin using his TV’s API to control his TV, which seems like way too much effort (and skill) for me at this point and scares me off more than it motivates me to pursue that.

Anyway, I will definitely create a list of things I find cool and useful and start working on these topics from there, that’s really good advice.


There are no recent books (there is one in German but it’s for an older version of OH). And there won’t be an end-to-end tutorial to follow that tells you exactly what you need to know. But there will be lots of small tutorials that show how to do parts. You’ll need to learn how to string those little tutorials together to achieve your goal.

Pick a problem then start figuring out how to make that happen. Let that guide you to what you need to know.

Frankly, that’s probably not going to happen through OH alone. Your TV will have to have really good integration with Alexa and it will be Alexa that will need to manage the natural language parsing to even understand what that sentence means and what needs to be sent what commands to make it happen.

That can probably be handled.

Ultimately what you can and cannot do will depend on what APIs your devices expose. Take Roku for example. You can see that it’s in use. You can see the apps installed and even switch to the apps. But you can’t tell it “Play The Expanse on Amazon Prime” .The API simply has no way to achieve that. The closest you can get is “start Amazon Prime”.

Some devices don’t even have that much control.

Start be seeing what devices you have and whether there is an add-on that supports it. If not you are probably out of luck. If so, look at the readme for that add-on. It will list what Channels are available and what they do. From there you should be able to figure out what you can or cannot do with that device. If not, install the add-on, discover or create the Thing and crate some Items to experiment with.

Pay more attention to useful than cool. Most of the time “cool” does little more than cause people to roll their eyes, especially if that “cool” is less convenient than the non-automated way of doing things For example, if you have to pull out your phone to turn on the lights you’ve already failed at the automation. Ideally the light will just know when to turn on and off on their own. If not, controlling them should be at least as easy to do as the traditional way (e.g. walking to the wall and flipping the switch).