All About All Purpose Hubs

We’ve discussed wifi-based systems and talked about a few proprietary hubs. Now it’s time to look at the hubs that make up the backbone of most full-featured home automation setups: the all-purpose hubs. These hubs typically contain multiple radios so they can communicate with many different types of devices using different protocols. Most will be able to control Z-wave, Zigbee and wifi devices at a minimum, with some actually throwing in some extras like Lutron Clear Connect.

Most importantly, these hubs provide the “brains” for the rules that govern your home
automation. Take the simple scenario in which you want your hallway lights to go on when there is motion in that hallway. The Zigbee motion sensor detects the motion and notifies the hub. In the hub’s programming, you’ve created a rule (more on that later) that states “When there is motion from the Hallway motion detector, turn on Hallway light”. The hub then sends the “turn on” command to the Hallway light. One of the cool things about the hub’s job here is that the Hallway light does not have to be a Zigbee light. It can be Z-wave, wifi, Clear Connect or anything else that the hub can communicate with. Even though, the trigger for the rule on the hub was one protocol, the action taken by the hub can be any protocol. This is one of the major advantages the all-purpose has over the proprietary hubs.

Additionally, the all-purpose hub typically works with any device that conforms to the standards set for each protocol. If you’ve purchased a bunch GE Z-wave light switches and then see a great deal on Zooz, your hub won’t care! As long as your new switches are compatible with Z-wave or other supported protocols, it should work with your system. This open-ness, along with the ability to handle incoming events on one protocol and outgoing actions on another, make the all-purpose hub perfect for coordinating most of the events, triggers, and actions in your smart house.

Taking this even one step further, many of the all-purpose hubs can talk to the proprietary hubs to control the proprietary devices connected to it. So if you have Lutron Caseta lights controlled by a Lutron hub, you can then connect that hub to your all-purpose hub so that it can send commands to your Lutron switches, even though your all-purpose hub does not have the Lutron-specific Clear Connect radios.

Finally, the all-purpose hubs are extensible and often have large communities behind them. This means that when a new device comes out, even if it is not compatible with your hub out of the box, chances are that someone somewhere (with arguably too much time on their hands!) is working on code that will make the device work with your system. Sometimes, finding these community built integrations can be tedious and fraught with trial and error but, fear not, that’s what we’re here for! I’ll point out many of the interesting ones and take suggestions for other from the comments.

One thing that you’ll notice is that I haven’t talked about any specific all-purpose hubs in any detail. This is deliberate, we’ll have an entire post dedicated to the various hubs and which one is best for you. For now, we’ve established that a full-fledged home automation system can be made up of many different types of components that are coordinated by an all-purpose hub. This hub provides you the user with a common interface to communicate with nearly all the devices in your home.

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