There are so many incredible things you can do with your iPhone or iPad including being able to use it for home automation. While home automation has been around for years, adoption has been hampered by poor user experience and the expense associated with controllers and devices. The iPhone doesn’t solve all the woes, but it can now play an integral part in controlling devices including lights, door locks and more. Systems and devices can vary, making it a personal decision on what direction you use for your set-up. As with any major technology purchase, I did a fair amount of research, deciding to opt for Z-Wave technology. What follows is our authoritative guide on to how to setup and use iPhone and iPad for home automation.
What is Z-Wave?
The term Z-Wave refers to a proprietary wireless communications protocol that is specific to home automation. It was created for the sole purpose of controlling an assortment of devices within your home or business. These include, but are not limited to lights, door locks, cameras, thermostats, garage doors, security and can even include your home entertainment center.
Budget & What You’ll Need To Get Started
The first you’ll want to plan out is the design of your home automation system. The good news about how I’ve set my system is that it allows for expansion as I have additional funds and needs. My initial goal for the project was to spend under $500. This would provide me with everything I need to control some of my lighting and my front door lock. If I hadn’t been so enamored with the Nest Thermostat (see my review), I would have included it in my system. For now, here are what I call the basics needed to get started.
This device is the brains behind the whole operation. For my project, I opted for the Vera Lite. Out of the box, it supports Z-Wave, but using the SmartLabs 2413U PowerLinc Modem can add support for Insteon. Note: When making your selection, remember that we’ll be looking to control devices using our iPhone and iPad. If you shop for a different controller, then before purchasing you’ll want to see what compatible apps are available in the App Store.
Z-Wave Light Switches & Modules, Deadbolts
These devices vary in cost, with the range of devices starting at $50 and heading upwards of $175. I selected a mix of dimming wall switches, lamp modules and more recently a front door lock which I’m installing this week. My current set-up includes the following:
- Cooper RF9534-N Z-Wave 3-Way, 3-Wire 600 watt Dimmer
- Evolve LRM-AS Z-Wave Dimming Wall Switch
- Evolve LDM-15 Z-Wave Lamp Module
- Yale YRD220-ZW-605 Real Living Electronic Touch Screen Deadbolt, Fully Motorized with Z-Wave Technology
I’ve slipped past the $500 mark, but it’s not imperative that you create your set-up on day one. I started with the Vera Lite, an Evolve Dimmer and the Evolve Lamp Module. For me, it was what I like to call “proof of concept”. Get a system, get it running flawlessly and then build upon it.
Setting Up Your Vera Lite As A Z-Wave Controller
When you unbox the Vera Lite console, you’ll find an include the small green and white box. Included is a Cat5e cable, a power adapter and (4) AA batteries.
Your Vera Lite will live next to your router. Don’t worry about distance to your devices. In my case, the Vera Lite resides in my unfinished basement.
- Insert batteries since we’ll need to disconnect it from the power source.
- Connect your Vera Lite to an open port on your router.
- Plug-in and wait for the device to power-up.
- You should see three solid lights, indicating it has successfully connected to the Internet.
The next step is to connect to your device from the Internet. Fire up your browser of choice on the same network as your Vera Lite and visit micasaverde.com. Go through the process of setting up a new account.
Firmware Updates: You can update your firmware at http://cp.mios.com/firmware. In my case, a firmware update was needed, so I’d recommend getting all possible updates before adding devices.
When you are finished, you should see the ‘Dashboard’ or what the company calls their UI5 interface. This dashboard allows is used to name and control your devices, create ‘scenes’ and more. You can access your dashboard from any web browser, including those on the iPhone and iPad, although we’ll be using one of the many apps available in the App Store.
Adding Your Z-Wave Devices
If you’ve paired a Bluetooth headset with your iPhone, then you’ll have a good idea of what’s involved in adding Z-Wave devices to your Vera Lite. With the setup complete, let’s add some devices. Head on over to your router and disconnect both the ethernet cable and power cable from your Vera. Now press and hold the battery button for 2-3 seconds. You should see the power button illuminate the amber button blinking. You are now in pairing mode.
Plug-in your lamp module. Most lamp modules from Evolve, GE have a button on them along with specific instructions. Tapping once or twice on the lamp module should direct your Z-Wave device to pair with the Vera Lite. During this process, keep an eye on the amber light. When it pairs, you’ll see it start to flash rapidly. At this point, you can continue to add devices or complete the process.
Note: When I installed the Cooper Dimmer Switches, they immediately recognized and paired with my console.
When I first started, I opted to complete the process of pairing my first device, rather than add all at once. This way I could isolate a problem if one existed.
When the amber light returns to a slow flash, press the (+) sign. Now return to your router and plugin the ethernet and power cables. Make sure your console connects to the Internet.
Open up your browser and visit your Micasaverde control panel. Select Devices > Lights. You should see your newly installed light. Click on the wrench icon to bring up the settings. If you place your cursor in the blue header, you can provide your light with an appropriate title, ie. Dining Room Lamp. You can then proceed to associate lights with their room grouping. Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room and so forth. To add a room, click on the ‘Setup’ tab, type the name of the room and select ‘Add’.
The next step is to test functionality. Using the UI5 control panel, try turning your device on or off, then try dimming your lights. If this all goes as planned, you’ve successfully set up your Vera Lite along with a Z-Wave lighting device. Now comes the fun part!
Home Automation Apps for iPhone and iPad
There are a fair number of home automation apps in the App Store. They range in price from free to $30. Thankfully, the more costly apps also offer a Lite version. Upon setting up my network, I tried the following applications:
- iVera Lite (limited to 2 devices, then requires iVera paid app for $29.99)
- Vera Mobile App
- SQRemote LE (SQ Remote HD $9.99)
They all work with my devices, but the Vera Mobile App was completely free and offered support for unlimited devices and control of scenes.
When you first login with the Vera Mobile App, you’ll be prompted to enter your login information for your Micasaverde account. You’ll then see your connected console, showing that you are now in control. Tap in the ‘Lights’ tab and you should see a list of rooms and lighting fixtures associated with your system. You turn lights on or off, along with using the slider to dim your lamp or fixture.
How to use and control scenes from your iPad or iPhone
Think as your devices as actors in a play where you are the director. When you create a scene, you are telling each device to execute a role. Here’s how I setup and use scenes on my iPhone. When I’m not blogging (which isn’t often), I like to entertain. The proper lighting for a dinner party is to have my lantern and lamp on, with the dimmer switches set at 40 and 30 respectively.
- Within the UI5 web portal, select the ‘Automation’ tab.
- Select ‘New Scene’
- Select the room, which in my case was ‘Dining Room’.
- Now, select the ‘On’ button and the ‘+’ sign until it reaches 40.
- Click on ‘Confirm Changes’ at the top right, then select the red ‘Save’ button.
- You should now see your new scene with the option to ‘Run’. Select it and confirm that your devices are operating as per direction.
Another useful scene I have set up is called “Shut’ em Down”. Besides a poor Gordon Ramsay reference, this scene allows me to shut off all of my lights, with one press of the button.
These are just a few scenes, but you can see the ways in which you can create custom scenes that work with the way you live. Once you configure your scenes, they are immediately accessible from your iPhone or iPad.
Bonus Tip: Vera Mobile App also allows you to create a new scene on the iPhone. It will start recording your actions, which then in turn can be saved as a new scene.
A home automation system can be as basic or complex as you’d like it based upon your design. I use my iPhone to control my DIY alarm system, monitor video using the Logitech Alert system and to control my Nest thermostat. All of these could theoretically be done with a home automation console such as the Vera Lite, but instead designed my system by selecting what I deemed ‘best in class’ peripherals for each need. Setting up any of these requires time, patience and they can all get rather costly. While this guide covers setting up lamp modules, I will caution you that you’ll need to do research or hire a professional electrician if you opt for dimmer switches. Utilizing YouTube, I retrieved the tools I need from Ace Hardware and I can install a dimmer switch in 30 minutes or so. Even better, I can do so with electrocuting myself. Seriously folks, be careful as this can turn from a very fun project to something far worse. Do not do this without consulting an electrician or taking the proper precautionary steps. Most notably turning off the power at your junction box before touching any wires.
There is something magical about using my iPhone to turn on an array of lights based upon a scene I’ve created or even something as mundane as unlocking my front door. I entered this project looking for the future. Not only did I find it, but I’m controlling it with my iPhone.
Need help setting up or learning how to use your iPhone for home automation? I welcome you to join our community and ask any questions you might have about home controllers, Z-Wave devices, alarm systems, thermostats and more.
VeraLite from $179 at Amazon