HomeSeer has been a provider of home automation software and controllers since 1998, and in 2003 they became the first home automation software vendor to obtain a license for the Zensys software developer’s kit. HomeSeer software has featured Z-Wave support since the early days when there were only a few Z-Wave devices on the market. Today their online store features an almost overwhelming array of software packages, hardware controllers, and Z-Wave devices. Recent additions to their product line include the HomeTroller Zee, which is a pocket-sized Z-Wave gateway controller, and the WFTT07 WiFi Tabletop Touchscreen.
In 2013 Homeseer released the latest version of their home automation software, HS3.
I had been fairly satisfied with my Vera 3 system, but when I got a good look, during the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, at HS3’s logging capabilities and touchscreen support I started considering migrating my system. The only thing that held me back was the price and the thought of moving my 40-plus Z-Wave nodes and corresponding logic over to yet another system, but when HomeSeer offered a 50-percent off “Black Friday in May” discount on HS3 I couldn’t resist.
I purchased the HS3-Pro, software-only option. The Pro version of HS3 includes all of the Homeseer-developed plug-ins, and it includes the full HS-Touch touchscreen development environment. I went with the software-only option rather than getting one of their embedded Windows-XP controller boxes because Windows-XP had just reached its end-of-life, and I wasn’t sure if that would be a hindrance going forward. Besides, I had my eye on an Xi3 box, which I had seen first at the Consumer Electronics Show, and whose corporate headquarters are right here in my back yard, and who kept calling to pester me after I gave them my contact information at the Show.
I got the 32 GB SSD option, running Windows 7. The Xi3 is not a fan-less box, and it can get quite loud. Later builds feature a ball bearing fan, which is quieter, but a fan that small is certainly going to make noise. I was willing to put up with some fan noise, having once burned up a fan-less home automation controller.
My main concern in migrating from Vera to HS3 was the size and complexity of my system, and not knowing in advance whether I would be able to reproduce in HS3 all of the functionality that I had enjoyed with Vera. Now two months later I can report that I have a stable HS3 system with at least as much functionality as I had before. It was reassuring during the transition to have both Vera and HS3 coexisting, with Vera as a secondary controller and the HS3’s Aeon Labs Z-Stick as the primary controller. Of course, you only want one controller running at a time. Otherwise there are potential conflicts when it comes to putting sensors to sleep. It was also reassuring to know that primary inclusion control can be reverted back to Vera simply by doing a restore from the Vera backup file.
Installing HS3 on a Windows Computer
HS3 can be downloaded and installed on a 30-day trial basis from HomeSeer’s website. After that you can purchase a license online and register your installation. You’ll need either an Aeon Labs Z-Stick or a HomeSeer Z-Troller to serve as HS3’s Z-Wave interface. The Z-Stick requires the installation of a Windows driver.
With the HS3 software and the Z-Stick installed, you are ready to install the Z-Wave plug-in by using the HS3 Plug-in Manager on the web-interface screen:
You may have noticed that the cost of the plug-ins provided by “HomeSeer Tech” is included in the HS3-Pro package, but there are also plug-ins provided by other developers that cost extra.
With the Z-Wave plugin installed and enabled, you can click on the “Z-Wave” link to see some configuration details about your installed Z-Wave interface(s). Clicking on the “DEBUG logging” checkbox on this screen will give you more low-level logging than you had ever hoped to see. The debug log files that are generated may come in handy if you ever need to submit logs to customer support.
Note from the previous screen-shot that my Z-Stick had already been assigned a Node ID and Network. This is because, before loading HS3, I had first added my Z-Stick as a device on Vera’s network, using the inclusion button on the Z-Stick. Perhaps that was a sloppy way of transferring the information from an existing network onto the Z-Stick. Another way with HS3 is to leave the Z-Stick plugged into the HS3 system and to use HS3’s Z-Wave Controller Management utilities to “receive network from another controller:”
There are also utilities on the Controller Management screen for scanning and adding nodes, optimizing the network, and transferring primary control to another controller.
Adding/Including Z-Wave Nodes
Notice on the Controller Management screen that there is an option to “Add/Include a Node.” With HS3 there are actually two ways of including nodes. You could unplug the Z-Stick and go around your home, including devices using the Z-Stick’s inclusion button, and then plug the Z-Stick back into the HS3 computer and use the “Import Node Info from Controller and Scan Devices” menu option on the Controller Management screen to query the Z-Stick for any new devices that were added. This is the preferred method for adding hard-wired Z-Wave devices.
For adding battery-powered sensors, the recommended method for including the device is to leave the Z-Stick plugged into HS3, bring the sensor to the Z-Stick, and then use the “Add/Include a Node” menu option on the Controller Management screen. This seemed strange to me, since I thought the controller had to figure out the sensor’s return route while the sensor was mounted at its final location. I guess there is some active handshaking/configuration that HS3 does with sensors at the time of inclusion that can’t be accomplished as well as if you had taken the Z-Stick to the device. Anyway, bringing the sensors to the HS3 computer worked fine for me. Don’t worry about sensor routing at include-time; HS3 will optimize sensor routing during a later step.
The only device that I was unable to migrate from Vera to HS3 was an old HomeManageables HM-DW001 door/window sensor. HS3 did not recognize that device as being a Z-Wave device. Apparently HS3 has a master list of all Z-Wave certified devices and their manufacturers. The manufacturer that my device reported during the inclusion process wasn’t on the master list. It seems that HS3 should at least have installed it as a dummy Z-Wave device and let me figure out the details. I have contacted HomeSeer tech support, and I have posted a bug to their BugZilla site. HomeSeer has been very responsive, and they are looking into it.
Optimizing the Network
Once you have added some Z-Wave devices, you can click on the “Home” button on the web GUI and see a list of devices. Note that some devices are divided into sub-devices, with a “root” device listed first in the group of associated sub-devices:
Each device name in the list is a link, which if you click, brings up a configuration screen for that device:
There isn’t much you can do on this tab. Our primary interest is in the “Z-Wave” tab, which is where you can set your device parameters and associations, and where you can optimize that device’s network routing:
In the case of a hard-wired device such as the plug-in lamp module shown above, there is no need to wake the device up, and optimization is a simple matter of clicking the “Optimize” button. After a few seconds of handshaking a message will appear saying: “Optimization succeeded.” I guess during this operation HS3 is discovering all of the device’s neighbors.
With battery-powered sensors the optimization procedure is a bit more complicated, requiring that the sensor be mounted at its final location, and that the device be awake during optimization. Waking a device and keeping it awake long enough to complete the optimization is not always easy. Because getting to some of my sensors involves climbing a ladder, I have found that it is best to bring up the HS3 web GUI on a tablet computer and carry the tablet to the sensor. With the tablet in hand, I can launch the HS3 Optimize routine from the web GUI and then quickly perform the wakeup procedure on the sensor, which sometimes means tapping a tamper button continuously.
The Z-Wave tab on the web GUI displays an extra button for sensor devices called “Full Optimize:”
The “Full Optimize” button is the function that actually sets the return routes for the sensor’s device associations. The recommended method for optimizing a sensor is to first run “Optimize” three times back-to-back, all the while keeping the sensor awake, and then performing “Full Optimize” once. This process is quite painful compared to Vera’s approach of lazily waiting for the device to wake up on its own and then performing any scheduled updates and optimizations.
After optimizing a device, you can check its “Neighbor Rating” on the Z-Wave Node Information screen:
Setting Sensor Parameters and Associations
Setting parameters and associations on sensors is also tedious with HS3. Again the device must be awake at the time that you make the changes. It is not like Vera where you can configure all of the settings while the device is asleep and then let Vera take care of communicating the changes when the device wakes up on its own. Viewing a sensor’s current configuration is also a pain with HS3, since the device must be awakened in order to query and display the settings. Vera on the other hand, displays a device’s settings from memory rather than having to wake the device up.
System logging is one of HS3’s strong points, giving you all the information that you need to debug network issues and to fine-tune your programmed events:
As mentioned earlier, low-level logging of the Z-Wave interface is also available. Low-level logs are dumped to a file in the HS3 folder.
Migrating my Z-Wave system over to HS3 was fairly straightforward once I got used to HS3’s behavior during node inclusion sessions. Sensor configuration and optimization could have been simplified by allowing the user to make configuration and optimization choices while devices remain asleep, and then updating the devices behind the scenes. HS3’s powerful logging capabilities provide as much feedback as you will ever need. HomeSeer technical support is excellent: they have a BugZilla site for posting bugs; their support team actively participates in their forum pages; they have numerous tutorials on YouTube, and they have a lively community of plug-in developers. Two of the biggest pluses to converting over to HS3 are the powerful and easy-to-configure event engine, and the ability to create your own touch screens, but those features aren’t strictly Z-Wave features. So I’ll leave those for another discussion elsewhere. But here’s a sample of one of the touchscreens that I have been working on: