Home Assistant basics
What is Home Assistant?
Updated on March 29, 2020.
Home Assistant is an open source home automation platform. It runs on a Raspberry Pi and comes in easy to install packages. With Home Assistant you can control all you smart devices from you laptop, computer, phone or tablet, because it’s UI is browser based. You can create automations and scenes to create those mood lights you’ve always wanted. The best thing about Home Assistant is that you can control devices normally supported by, for example, only HomeKit or Philips Hue or only Zigbee or Z-wave devices. In Home Assistant you can combine all of them into one smart home environment which meets all your smart home demands.
For the beginner level users it’s best to begin with a package called hass.io. It’s a light version of Home Assistant and runs on a dedicated Raspberry Pi.
You will need a few things to get started with the installation of hass.io. For the best performance it’s suggested to use a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, although you should be able to run it on any Raspberry Pi 3 or even a Pi 2.
Here is a lot of the required hardware, links are to Amazon in the US. Small disclaimer: I do get a small commission when you use the links to buy the products from Amazon, of course at no extra costs for you. If you have any questions, let me know.
- Raspberry Pi 4 Model B and a power supply of at least 2.5A
- Micro SD card. Get a Class 10 card for best speed and reliability. Get at least 32GB in order to avoid running out of space although on one of my earlier hass.io installations a 16GB was more than sufficient.
- SD card reader to connect the micro SD card (with adapter) to your computer or laptop to load the required software.
- Ethernet cable for wired connection. Wifi is an option although best stability is gained with a wired connection.
First download the hass.io image for your device. Download a program called balenaEtcher in order to write the image to your SD card. Last but not least, get a text editor like my favorite Visual Studio Code, it’s free and works like a charm.
Follow these steps to install hass.io onto your device:
- Put the SD card in your card reader
- Start balenaEtcher and follow the onscreen steps to flash the hass.io image to your SD card
- If you prefer a wifi connection for your setup: Format a USB stick and name it CONFIG and create a folder named network and within that folder a file called my-network. On this site you can find some examples of the my-network file to setup a wifi connection. You can find some examples to create a static IP-address for your Pi as well.
- Insert the flashed SD card into your Raspberry Pi and connect the ethernet cable and power supply. It will automatically turn on.
- Now we wait. The Raspberry Pi will boot up and the installation of hass.io will start. It looks for the latest updates online and installs Home Assistant. This proces will take around 20 minutes, so time for a nice cup of coffee.
- After a short while you can visit http://hassio.local:8123 to monitor the installation. Optionally, if you can’t reach this URL, use http://<IP-RASPBERRY-PI>:8123. You can find the IP of your Pi via the admin interface of your router. This is also a good moment to set up a static IP for the Pi via your router interface. When Home Assistant is not ready yet, you will see a simple status page. As soon as Home Assistant is installed you will see the first setup page.
When finished, always secure your installation. I do prefer to run my instance locally only. I won’t do any port forwarding in my router to reach the Raspberry from the cruel outside world. I do prefer to set up a VPN in my home network so I can reach everything from there.
Congratulations! You’ve set your first steps in the beautiful world of home automation!
Next thing up is the initial setup of hass.io.
When you see this page fill in your name, username and a password to create your main account door hass.io.
Next page will ask you for this username and password to login to Home Assistant.
The main advantage of installing Home Assistant with hass.io is that it’s the easiest way to do it.
You should now see something like this. It’s the main screen of your Home Assistant installation with on the left side the menu and on the right side your devices.
When you click on “Hass.io” you’ll see options to install add-ons via the “Add-on Store”. The “Hass.io” menu is only available in hass.io installations, you won’t find it when you install Home Assistant in any other way.
You can easily install certain add-ons like my 3 favourites to start with:
- Configurator: to get a web based file editor for all your important configuration files where you can create your automations and set all the components you need. We will cover this in a later post.
- Samba share: With Samba you can access your configuration files via your network so you can edit them with your favorite editor on your computer.
- SSH server: In order to get SSH access you need to install the SSH server. Keep in mind that the Home Assistant installation via hass.io is made to use via your browser so the functionality of SSH is very limited.
In order to install an add-on click on it, press install and fill in some basic items like username and password in the small config file that is shown. Press “Save” and the start the add-on.
In the configuration tab you find some very useful tools to use. One of which you can find under “General” where you can check your configuration files, which you should do prior every restart.
The reason you have to do that is because an error in your configurations files can cause Home Assistant to fail to start and by checking you’ll get a notice if and what is wrong. If checked OK you can restart your Home Assistant server to activate changes you made in your configuration.
Another useful menu item in the “Configuration” menu is “Integrations”. If you have a Philips Hue set running already then you can set it up to work with Home Assistant with just a couple of clicks. A great feature of Home Assistant is that a lot of common “beginner” smart home devices like Philips Hue, but also IKEA Trådfri, IFTTT (If-This-Then-ThaT), Sonos, Google Chromecast, Bose Soundtouch and Apple TV are supported out of the box. Also some tracking systems and weather reports are available. This works with auto-detection. Home Assistant will scan your network for any of the available devices and if one of your devices is supported out of the box, it will be added.
If you have a device not supported you can add one of the more than 1000 components to you configuration. Have a look at the home assistant site to find components which suit your needs.
In a later post I will explain you more about other useful features in Home Assistant.
For now feel free to experiment with your setup a bit, have a look at the Configurator and if you have a question leave a comment below this post and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.