How I saved money on HomeKit smartbulbs with Philips Wiz and a Raspberry Pi

Enlarge / A Philips Wiz bulb and a Raspberry Pi working Homebridge.

Andrew Cunningham

The home the place my household at the moment lives is lit primarily by a bunch of ceiling-mounted recessed bulbs. From prime to backside, counting lavatory fixtures, we’ve one thing like 40 lightbulbs in the complete home. And after we moved in, each single a kind of lightbulbs was a sizzling, power-sucking incandescent bulb. Changing these bulbs with cooler, more-efficient LEDs was one of many low-hanging dwelling enchancment tasks I took on after we moved in.

As a part of that mission, I lit a few rooms with Philips Hue smartbulbs, which did a ton to popularize and simplify customizable LED lighting when they first came out back in 2012. These bulbs plus an Ecobee thermostat shaped the inspiration of a HomeKit setup, chosen as a result of my spouse and I are each iPhone customers and we did not personal an Echo or any Google or Nest merchandise on the time. Since then, our good dwelling has grown in matches and begins, accruing totally different devices right here and there and aiming for HomeKit compatibility after we can get it. (I assume a lot of good dwelling setups are like this—stumbled into over time, made up of a patchwork of merchandise that both got here with the home or had been all purchased individually to fill some particular want, all strapped collectively after the actual fact by Google, Amazon, or Apple, relying on which of the tech giants has you captured most firmly in its tendrils on the time.)

Quick-forward 5 years, and I used to be prepared so as to add good lighting to extra rooms in the home. Nevertheless, I did not need to pay Hue costs, particularly for the multicolor bulbs—a 60W equal white Hue bulb normally runs about $15, and a full-color bulb costs between $30 and $50 a pop. An organization referred to as meross makes an interesting HomeKit-compatible multicolor bulb for around $15, however middling buyer evaluations (and a dearth {of professional} evaluations) made me hesitate.

I ended up selecting one other Philips bulb model, the fully totally different and incompatible Wiz lineup (Signify, a Philips spin-off that produces the Hue bulbs, purchased a company called WiZ Connected in 2019, which is the quick rationalization for why the identical firm sells two fully separate strains of good bulbs). Wiz bulbs are well-reviewed and cost $12 or $13 per multicolored bulb—the one factor they did not do was combine with HomeKit. However for the intrepid DIY-er, there is a resolution for this: Homebridge, light-weight server software program that mediates connections between HomeKit and a variety of not-officially-HomeKit-compatible good equipment.

Establishing Homebridge

Wiz bulbs may be built-in into Google or Amazon Alexa-powered houses with no points, however outdoors of the Wiz app itself, the bulbs depend on Siri Shortcuts for assist on Apple units. In a house that solely used Wiz bulbs, these shortcuts are in all probability adequate—you may construct particular person shortcuts to manage totally different teams of lights just about nevertheless you need. However I needed them to mesh with the Hue bulbs and different equipment I have already got arrange in HomeKit so I can management a mixture of bulbs utilizing the identical instructions, share entry to these instructions with different folks I reside with, and use the identical interface to manage all the pieces slightly than a patchwork of various apps.

Homebridge is a nodeJS server that may run on absolutely anything, together with the PC or Mac you already use, or on a Synology or QNAP NAS as a Docker container. By scanning a QR code, you may add your Homebridge machine to your HomeKit setup as a hub, rather a lot just like the hub that controls Hue lights. From there, HomeKit communicates along with your bridge, and HomeBridge sends these instructions to your non-HomeKit equipment in a language they will perceive. Homebridge depends on community-developed plugins for assist, and yow will discover Homebridge plugins for Wiz bulbs, for Nest thermostats and smoke detectors, and even for giving instructions to your HomeKit units via Amazon Alexa.

As a result of I needed one thing low-cost and low-power that would simply sit tucked in a nook turned on on a regular basis, I elected to make use of an previous Raspberry Pi 3 I already had. It used to be for game-console emulation, however since I changed it with a Pi 4, it has been languishing in a closet. There’s a ready-made Homebridge image for the Pi that features the software program and a web-based UI, and that may simply match on any 4GB-or-larger microSD card.

After flashing the Homebridge picture and turning on the Pi, Homebridge will broadcast a Wi-Fi community that you just hook up with with a telephone or laptop. This opens a easy web page you employ to attach HomeBridge to your property Wi-Fi community (it is best to have all of your units on the identical VLAN, which shall be how most dwelling networks are configured except you’ve got particularly set it up in any other case; if you happen to put good dwelling units on a separate VLAN for safety functions, you can nonetheless use HomeKit and Homebridge with them, however that is a bit past our scope right here).

I then used the Wiz app to get the entire Wiz bulbs joined to my community, which is just about all you want it for if you happen to intend to make use of the bulbs with Homebridge. There’s nothing stopping you from utilizing HomeKit and the Wiz app individually, and the Wiz app has some neat coloration presets you may’t actually replicate with the Dwelling app, however I primarily management the bulbs utilizing Siri voice instructions and HomeKit automations.

The captions to the photographs within the gallery above provides you with a step-by-step walkthrough of putting in the Wiz plugin for Homebridge and ensuring that your whole equipment have been added. Slightly than utilizing the QR code on Homebridge’s fundamental web page so as to add equipment, I additionally choose to create “little one” bridges for every plugin to make Homebridge extra dependable and to make it simpler to isolate issues after they happen. When Homebridge has found your Wiz bulbs on the community and also you add the bridge to HomeKit utilizing the QR code, the entire bulbs ought to present up within the Dwelling app as they usually would. Homebridge and the Wiz plugin even assist the brand new “adaptive lighting” function launched in iOS 14, which dynamically modifications your bulbs’ coloration temperature all through the day.

I have not put a ton of effort into securing my Homebridge field, for the reason that Wiz bulbs are the one factor at the moment related to it and all communication occurs over the native community. There must be no logins or publicity to the open Web (I’ve experimented with including our Nest Defend thermostats to it however have not finished a lot past dabbling). You may add 2FA to Homebridge’s login display screen if you happen to like, and I additionally advocate performing some basic Raspberry Pi security due diligence, like ensuring the default “pi” admin account has its password modified and ensuring the OS requires a password for sudo instructions. You too can enable HTTPS for the Homebridge web interface comparatively simply if you happen to have a certificate. Additional safety issues will range primarily based in your community configuration and the equipment you are utilizing.

This mission hasn’t been fully clean crusing; the Dwelling app and the bulbs typically want a minute to see one another if you happen to flip the bulbs on and off with a light-weight change, and one unlucky energy outage completely disrupted communication between the bulbs and my Raspberry Pi. I may need been capable of troubleshoot it with sufficient time, however my setup is straightforward sufficient that I simply reset all the pieces and did it yet again. However that is a threat you run with any good dwelling DIY mission, and my home wants sufficient bulbs in every room that it is value coping with some complications in trade for a a lot decrease price per bulb.

The Wiz-plus-Homebridge strategy is not going to be for everybody—whether or not you purchase the HomeKit-compatible meross bulbs you determined to skip or simply use Google or Alexa slightly than HomeKit to tie your whole equipment collectively, there are definitely less complicated and extra user-friendly choices on the market. However this was a fast, straightforward, and enjoyable DIY mission that helped me combine my low-cost new bulbs with my costly previous ones and made an previous Raspberry Pi helpful once more. Homebridge proved to be a useful little piece of smart-home software program that is an excellent match for many totally different sorts of tasks.

Observe: Ars Technica could earn compensation for gross sales from hyperlinks on this publish by means of affiliate programs.

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