Out of the box, Vera is a capable Home Controller which uses less than 2W of power when running.
However, once you've created a few basic scenes and got some email notifications you'll begin to wonder what else you can do and how you do some of the cool things you see on this site.
The real power of Vera (and my favourite aspect) is the huge range of Plugins and community generated content available. You can browse the Apps here - but there are many more that aren't published available in the forums.
Here are my top 5 personal favourites.
Program Logic Event Generator (PLEG)
Without this Plugin, my Vera would be about as useful as a chocolate teapot. PLEG lets you do logic, scheduling, comparisons, calculations and sequences all without writing any Lua code. Almost every question that begins with "How do I...?" contains "Install PLEG..." in the answer.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but very quickly you'll be orchestrating your home like an automation virtuoso. Support from the community and the author, Richard T. Schaefer is excellent and there are a huge number of examples available. You can also contact us here at LiveHouse for help to get your PLEG setup and working.
PLEG is available on the Vera App Store and more information is available in the forums.
Written by the author of PLEG, VeraAlerts is the solution to notifications and alerts you've been looking for. Vera's native Email/SMS alert function is very basic and not very flexible - enter VeraAlerts (and its companion app for Android).
VeraAlerts lets you customise, include calculations and other data in alerts and then route them to sepcific profiles (eg E-mail, PushBullet or another Plugin such as HomeWave Push). VeraAlerts can take over existing Vera notifications or generate new ones from PLEG or Lua.
VeraAlerts is available on the Vera App Store and also has an active forum.
Obviously this only applies if you have Sonos speakers. If you do then you can have a lot of fun with this Plugin.
Of course you'll be able to play music, adjust volume, start a playlist etc from Vera. This can be handy for playing some music as part of your morning routine, or having "Eye of the Tiger" blasting out when you come in the front door. But where this plugin really shines is the Text to Speech functionality and coupling it to VeraAlerts. Depending on what TTS service you use, you have a choice of male or female voices and accents. I use a voice that sounds a bit like a posh English butler.
Using the Weather Underground/Say the Weather plugins I have the weather forecast read out each morning when the alarm goes off. Sonos also reminds us when it's time to feed the dogs, and announces the arrival of family members as they get close to home based on their phone GPS. When the doorbell is pressed, Sonos mutes the music, plays a short sound file and resumes the music.
Basically this plugin lets you add audio feedback to your Vera and gives your home a Voice instead of only email or text notifications.
More information on the Sonos Plugin can be found in the forums.
Geofencing and presence are one of the most useful inputs to have into your Automation logic, but they can also be very tricky to get right. Generally Geofencing requires an app to be running on your phone such as the Vera native app or VeraProximity.
The iPhone locator lets Vera talk directly to iCloud and use the features of Apple's Find My iPhone Service. So you don't have to worry about making sure you have an app running or configured, or the extra battery usage that comes with. Also, the iPhone Locator has a lot of configuration options for how often to poll based on distance from home, and can even use Google Maps to figure out how long before you arrive home based on current traffic conditions.
Once you have reliable presence and geolocation, you open up a lot of possibilities for automation. Some of mine include:
- Garage Door automatically opening before you arrive so you drive straight in - and only doing that when you're moving fast enough to be in a car.
- Automatic Home/Away Modes - Turn off all the lights and airconditioning when no one is home. Activate alarm and Camera alerts.
- Announce the impending arrival of a family member by name over Sonos.
- Unlock front door and turn on outdoor lighting if it's dark when arriving home.
The iPhone Locator is available on the Vera App store and more details can be found in the forum.
This is probably the least sexy of all the Plugins listed here, but it is one of the most important in my setup.
VirtualSwitch is just that. A Virtual On/Off Switch. You can turn it off or on, from Vera's web interface, or your mobile. And it doesn't do anything. Awesome huh? Go install it now. Seriously.
Obviously by itself, it's not very useful. But couple it with PLEG and it becomes very handy.
So what sort of things do you use it for? Well, you can check whether its on or off before running some logic. For example, my Front Door locks and Garage door automatically closes after 10 minutes. When I'm working in the Garage, that gets annoying. So I have a virtual switch to disable it, PLEG won't trigger the doors to close if that switch is off.
So you can use Virtual Switches to enable or disable functionality you've put into your Automation System. You can also use them to test logic that you're working on. Say for example you're testing something that will turn off lights automatically. You can point this at a virtual switch to avoid compromising the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) while you iron out the bugs.
Nothing generates the "Why can't we have normal lights like everyone else?" comment faster than the Missus standing in a dark room that shouldn't be.
The VirtualSwitch Plugin is available on the Vera App Store.
A Plethora of Plugins
If you're considering starting on a Home automation journey, take a look at the available plugins on http://apps.mios.com - you'll see a lot of possible ways to take control of your world.
Some of these plugins will require some time and research to get working. If you're an existing Vera owner and you want to fast track your setup, LiveHouse has a service where we can do configuration of Plugins and Logic. Once you've got some working examples, you'll find it fairly easy to continue to add smarts to your system.
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how to implement your ideas.
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