An “off-the-grid” smart home

Note: Please, be aware that this post may contain affiliate links.

Hey, Everyone. I may as well publish this project as a work in progress.

In this project, I’ll take each part of the smart home ecosystem, and try to look

  • at what people are paying for
  • at any data-breaches or security hacks that have happened
  • what alternatives there are that puts the data back in our control

How realistic is “off-the-grid”?

With the latest of privacy scandals affecting users of Ring doorbells and cameras, A greater argument can now be made for ‘local only’, or ‘off-the-grid’ devices: that is, devices that work without connecting to the cloud/internet.

It seems to us common folk as if the big companies that make millions, or even billions from us, don’t want to take the steps to protect their customers. For instance, with the recent Ring debacle, it would be very easy for them to check when a person logs onto the system where a user is. If a user logs into their account from an IP address in Germany and they are already logged into their account from an IP address in the US, it doesn’t take much to simply confirm the identity or that user.

When things like this happen, it affects the whole internet, as trust is whittled down little by little. The ever-growing chorus of local-only users grows bigger each time and better solutions are created, mainly from the user communities themselves.

Just one example

This tweet highlights just one example of something that would make people think twice about cloud subscriptions.

Note: I have not looked into either the Ring or Swan security issues: I am simply using them as examples. They are both examples of how peoples perspective of these issues can persuade them to distrust cloud accounts.

As followers of my blog and my Youtube channel will be aware: I am a huge fan of Home Assistant and its local-only ethos. Naturally, that ethos can only be forced upon us when we first start to use the software, with its default settings. After that, it’s up to us to add the services that we want and need to integrate into the system.

Quite often these integrations force us to use the cloud and some 3rd party service, which we don’t control.

That, there, ladies and gentlemen is the topic of this – the first in a series of posts. Namely, how much can we get away from using the cloud accounts and services, while still keeping the functionality that we know, love, and have come to rely on?

So my task over this series of posts and videos is to see what services and products I can make use of, while not giving too much information away.

The Rules

There are a few rules that we should put in place for the services and products that we… well, I… will be using.

  1. Only the most essential of paid-for services should be used
  2. External storage should be under our complete control, for example
    • located within family members home
    • on physical media, at a place we control
  3. Ideally, there should be no need to register our personal details
  4. The products should be located
    • within their own subnet of or our network
    • preferably, on a separate network, without access to the internet
  5. Nothing should invade on other people’s privacy, eg
    • logging number plates from CCTV systems
    • logging facial recognition data
  6. Lastly, if you embark on this project with me, it goes without saying that we should all follow the laws and statutes for the locality in which we reside

Advertisements/affiliates

As is befitting this series, I shall not be employing things like targetted ads. I will instead place adverts from companies that will be generously willing to provide me with equipment and services.

Any links in the tables below will contain a mixture of non-affiliate and affiliate links. If this means nothing to you, it just means that with affiliate links I get a small percentage of the booty if you buy anything.

Rest assured, however, that I will in no way prioritise a link just because it is an affiliate link.

Must-have products/services

These are the must-haves; the things we definitely need to have in order for our smart system to be viable, and they should preferably be set up before the rest of the stuff.

Instead of…You could use…Remarks
Broadband providerBTZen (UK)
RouterBT Home Hub??? (with OpenWRT)
Smart home software???Home Assistant
Off-site data backupGoogle DriveNextcloud
Email ProviderGmailProtonMailRead the dedicated article

Almost must-have products/services

A step below the above, these are the things that I would not consider my home complete without.

Instead of…You could use…Remarks
CCTVSwan… using (Motionye)Read the dedicated article
LightsPhilips HueTP-Link Kasa BulbTP-Link has published information on what to do if you don’t want your devices managed in the cloud, and they actually give you the option to log in to the app as a guest 🙂
View their article
Smart PlugsTP-Link Tapo P100 Smart PlugAs above
Socket (the in-wall type) ???BG Smart Socket* Read my review
* Read how to control these with MQTT
Alarm systemAlarm.com???
Media CentrePlex???
Heating/thermostatNest???
Voice AssistantAmazon Echo???
MultimediaYoutube Red???
SSL CertificatesIonos (1&1)???
Remote AccessLog me in???
DoorbellRingByron Wifi Video Doorbell

Nice to haves

These are the 2nd to the lowest tier of products and services/ I could live without them, but it’s always nice to have access to them, and they may, of course, be something that we already have gotten used to

 Instead of…Why not use…
Weather dataNetatmo???
Vehicle dataAutomatic???
Sleep dataFitbit???
Mesh WiFiBT???
Personal metrics (eg weight)Google Fit???
CalendarGoogle Calendar???
ListsGoogle Keep???
Project managementBasecamp???
Floor cleaningDyson???
Energy meterEfergy???
Climate controlHive???
Fitness managementFitbit???
LocksAugust???
Remote control devicesLogitech Harmony???
Print serverHP???
File serverGoogle One???
Text to speechAmazon AWSHome Assistant
Speech to textAmazon AWSHome Assistant
Password ManagerLastpassHome Assistant

Anything else?

Is there anything else that I’ve missed? Perhaps you’re paying for a service and you think it could be better, or you have some issue with it. If so, leave a comment or get in touch via another method, and I’ll be sure to see if I can add it to the list.

Credits

Main picture credits:

Off the grid photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

Affiliate icon made by turkkub from www.flaticon.com

Grandadevans

I am a disabled veteran of 3 tours of Iraq and a tour of Afghanistan as part of the British Army. No longer able to work as I have to lay down on a sofa-bed in my living room 20-ish hours a day. I'm hoping to be able to make a living blogging about my Home Automation /Smart Home journey and maybe regain some dignity in life.

2 thoughts on “An “off-the-grid” smart home

  • January 3, 2020 at 20:10
    Permalink

    Great article, a few ideas

    Sockets, can you flash tasmota or easyesp on them?
    Remote access, use WireGuard inside HomeAssistant
    Nest, you won’t be able to get an API key any longer. I’d not go with that (unless you own it already). Maybe go with a ZigBee device?
    SSL certs, use LetsEncrypt. HA will also auto create and apply it

    Best of luck, will be following you!

    Reply
    • January 5, 2020 at 11:21
      Permalink

      Second reply after accidentally pressing escape 🙁
      OK, let’s see.
      First of all thanks for the comment and your thoughts, they really do mean a lot 🙂
      Now I will approach your list

      • Sockets: The sockets can be used with python-broadlink and broadlink-mqtt which will mean you don’t have to use them with a cloud. They can’t be flashed with Tasmota or ESPHome as they are broadlink boards and not ESPs.
      • Remote Access: I will look into WireGuard as I haven’t used it (or even seen it). I personally use the VPN provided by my router. After that, I’d choose the cloud functionality provided by HA/Nabu Casa, and as a backup choice I’d probably go with ProtonVPN, as I’ve just started using ProtonMail
      • Nest: The only time I mention nest is in the “Instead of…” column. Perhaps that’s a bit confusing as I have links in there, and maybe that points to me recommending them, I’ll remove the links shortly, to remove the ambiguity.
      • SSL: When I do the SSL Certs article (maybe I should do that one after the CCTV article as it is an essential one), Let’s Encrypt will probably be the winner so I’ll add the link later (thanks for the suggestion). I am aware that in some cases Let’s Encrypt can be a little confusing for some users, whereas other services that I’ve seen are a bit easier to understand (I can’t remember which so will have to see if I can find them when I do the article).

      I think that should about cover everything. Again, thanks for your comment and I look forward to seeing you around 🙂
      John
      (I wish there was a way to preview the reply as I have a lot of tags in here)

      Reply

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