The new Vera Z-Wave Home Automation controller is the latest product in Z-Wave home automation market to make a buzz. We reviewed the Vera about a year ago and really liked what the home user can do with some of the newest Z-Wave technology. We were eager to update our Z-Wave home automation network to use a new controller, mainly due to the fact that our Vera 1 has been a test bed for all types of products and a reset of the network was badly needed. Secondly, we wanted to test out the latest Vera (known as Vera 2) since it has a few new features and also has increased memory and performance. There are a few drawbacks moving to Vera 1, primarily the loss of the extra LAN ports if you used Vera as a NAT gateway and the internal Z-Wave means no USB extension cables for those who want optimum antenna placement by hanging their Aeon Labs Z-Wave dongle in the attic.
Starting over with Z-Wave: Since we wanted to retire our Vera 1 and move all the Z-Wave devices to the new Vera controller, we had our work cut out for us. This requires excluding or unpairing each module and device from Vera 1. We decided to do this all first, and walked around with the Z-Wave dongle to each module in exclude mode. After each 10 or so devices, we plugged the dongle into Vera and saw all the devices get removed. Once all the devices were removed, we then planned the migration and layout of the devices in their new homes since some were relocated.
Beginning with Vera 2: Vera 2 is completely different from the original Vera since it comes with an external battery pack option and has no Z-Wave dongle sticking out, it’s now built in. It’s also much smaller and slimmer, and comes with a mounting stand or you can hang it on the wall which is what we chose to do. To pair or unpair Z-Wave devices you plug Vera into the battery pack and walk around to each device and include or exclude using the Z-Wave button in the rear of Vera. You can also use the Z-Wave add/remove devices for adding devices such as battery powered remotes and scene controllers such as the GE Z-Wave Wireless Keypad scene controller. This method worked well, even for adding in secure devices such as the Schlage Z-Wave Deadbolt and the newer Kwikset Z-Wave Deadbolt.
Wi-Fi Client Mode: Another nice thing about the Vera home automation gateway is that it can be used not only as a Wi-Fi router and Z-Wave Gateway, but it can also be used as a Wi-Fi client – meaning it connects to your wireless network and you simply add power. This allows you to put Vera almost anywhere, and with Z-Wave that’s typically up higher in the middle of the home or office that you are automating. Faster and smarter: We also noticed a difference in speed and once Vera 2 was up and running and all the devices were in and configured, Vera was much snappier than in the past. We are also happy with the update to the new UI4 which brings a more intuitive interface although some work is still needed there. Some neat things with Vera: Another reason we love Vera for setting scenes based on our temp sensors and Google Weather plugins. This cool little weather plugin is one of many available plugins for Vera from the MIOS plugin download area. The Weather plugin is a good example of a user-donated program that uses your Vera location and pulls down Internet weather data from Google and displays conditions such as sunny, rain, snowing, as well as current temp, high temp, low temp and humidity. Using this data, we can trigger email and SMS notifications for outside temp and even enable our roof heating tape to turn in automatically when it’s below 30F outside. Update: The google weather plugin now uses Weather Underground and their API.
Vera and home security: We also use Vera to enhance security around the house. With some help from the online forum community we created a virtual device to act as a home/awake and home/sleeping switch. By pairing this device with a scene, we can then trigger this scene by the touch of a remote control, signaling it’s time to arm the door and window sensors and trigger cell phone notifications. It also arms two motion sensors and triggers them to turn in lights immediately if any movement is sensed. It works perfectly and we really like the flexibility here, it’s a portable virtual alarm system all based on Z-Wave and provides extra peace of mind. For now we are happy with Vera, but we hope to see a tighter integration with devices from FortrezZ, Aeon Labs and others since we have devices from both that don’t quite integrate perfectly into Vera1 or Vera 2. If you are looking for a reliable Z-Wave Gateway to do some simple lighting and scene tasks and not be tied to a remote access fee, Vera just may be for you, but it’s not perfect with the lacking documentation and some definite frustration in your future. But, as long as you are not doing anything too big or too complex with Vera, in the end when it works, it’ll all be worth it. Some users will tell you differently, and there are many resellers waiting in the mist until these kinks with Vera shake out. We will continue to patiently wait for a “final” release since there is so much promise in this little device from this little company. As frustrating as it is, I stand by and wait for progress and little bug fixes to get some of these important stability and scene triggering delay issue resolved.
Some of the things we are doing with Vera2: Light control from Cell phone, Smart Phone, hand held Z-Wave Remotes, Door/Window and Motion Sensor lighting control and notification, Energy tracking on each light/module where Wattage is known, energy alerts, motion alerts, temperature alerts, plumbing leak detection and action (shutoff water main automatically), holiday lighting automation, home exterior lighting automation, automated door locks, unlock door from z-wave remote, door entry notification and much more.
The Vera Community: One last thing that’s great about Vera is the community around Vera – it’s simply fantastic. The group of Z-Wave nerds (yep, I’m one of them, or at least try to be) are extremely helpful and really know their stuff. They write and share Vera code and post snippets of code for users whenever possible. I’ve learned quite a bit from these folks on the Vera forums and once you dive in and start asking questions, I’m sure you will too.
GE/Jasco Wireless Z-Wave Keypad Controller – This little guy has taken over the reigns as our favorite new Z-Wave product to enter the labs here. This slim wall-plate sized Z-Wave device is battery powered by two CR2032 coin batteries and can be anchored to a wall with double sided tape or with 2 small screws included in the package. We had no problems adding this device as a secondary controller into our Z-Wave network and once we did so, we added each of our devices we wanted to control to certain group buttons and that was it! It took less than 5 minutes to include and program this little guy and even less time to mount it with double-sided tape. As usual, this is a high-quality device from GE/Jasco and you can feel it in the buttons. Each button has a LED to indicate button pushes and programming steps and no doubt completes our Z-Wave network by adding a simple and easy way to control lights, devices and scenes without messing with electricity, wires and screwdrivers. We love this product and hope to have a few more of them tucked in our stocking for the holidays! Get one from Amazon.com
Kwikset Smartcode Deadbolt with Home Connect (Z-Wave) – Kwikset is the second Z-Wave enabled lock to be installed in the labs here. We loved the first lock (Schlage) but it had it’s drawbacks with the manual level to retract the deadbolt. The new Kwikset Z-Wave enabled Smartcode Deadbolt has a fully automatic deadbolt that locks and retracts when you enter in the code. Installation was very simple and was easier to install than the Schlage deadbolt, primarily due to less parts. Pairing the lock was simply with the push of a button and once paired, the lock performs flawlessly and you can also enter and remove codes from within the Vera web interface or from your Smart phone. Another neat feature that the Kwikset lock has is dip switch features such as auto lock which will automatically re-lock the deadbolt within 30 seconds if not already locked. If the door is jammed, and the deadbolt cannot lock, it will take a break and keep trying. Emitting a loud beep each time when it has trouble locking. We were very impressed with the lock and the ease of installation. Z-Wave enabled Kwikset locks will no doubt be on the Holiday wish list for us this year. You can pick one of these up at ASIHome or your local Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Aeon Lab Smart Energy Module: There are many Smart Energy modules now being marketed in the Z-Wave home automation market, but sadly we couldn’t get anything to work in our tests with the latest Smart Energy module from Aeon Labs and the latest Vera2 with the latest firmware. We’ve installed all the energy plugins and have tried contacting both Vera tech support and our contacts at Aeon Labs but without resolution to our problem. We hope in the future that the folks that produce Vera will better work with Z-Wave product manufacturers to test and ensure reliability before selling these items to consumers. I’m sure we are not the only ones that have one of these devices and can’t get accurate or meaningful data from it. We’ll keep you posted on this one but would love to have a way to see in Vera our exact KWh usage in a live graph and over time usage for the whole house and usage per device. We still see lots of promise in the Z-Wave market and hope to continue to add to our home automation network. If you have a Z-Wave product you’d like to see reviewed, please drop us a line and let us know and we’ll try to get one in the labs for review.