As a first step, I had installed remote controlled (Z-Wave) thermostats for my radiators. In addition, I installed Devolo’s Control Center and registered on its website for access to the control center. I had thought, from a prior email exchange with Devolo’s support, that it would not be necessary to use their web service. However, I was not able to identify (or find documentation) about a web server or some other management UI on the control center, so I decided to go through their website. I resent this, as I didn’t necessarily want them to have data on my home configuration, but it was the fastest way to a working set-up.
The first step was still a hardware installation step. I needed to plug-in the control center box and connect it to the Internet. My current solution below utilizes a Fritz! product, Ethernet over power-line. The Devolo Control Center comes with its own built-in Ethernet over power-line support and is supposed to be plug compatible with the Fritz solution, alas, this did not work out of the box. It is the one remaining problem to solve for me, later.
The Develo home automation web service works quite nicely. I’m usually skeptical of hardware companies developing software, but this one is OK. The software has a sleek modern look and has done its job so far.
The real nuisance of setting up a home automation network like this is the latency of connecting devices. It takes ages to have a device recognized, added to the system, and configured. Z-Wave, or the Devolo products, for better or worse, are rather prickly, as is my impression. In the end, the software “trained me” to not be too impatient but rather work in the pre-configured 5 minute increment intervals of taking steps.
In a bit more detail:
- Recognizing a device. You initiate the process on the web and then scurry around the apartment to push the right buttons on the devices. There is a timing issue, in that you have to push the device buttons fast enough after process initiation, not too long and not too short to trigger the right command, and finally be rather patient until the control center tells you it found the device. (Or maybe it is just their web service which is slow.)
The most common complication is that the device cannot be reached by Z-Wave. My apartment isn’t huge, but it does have Altbau walls (i.e. solid stone walls). I could not find a single location for the control center that would make it reliably reach all thermostats. However, Z-Wave can use any plugged-in and connected device as a repeater, and so I installed a switchable power outlet, which relayed the communication and finally allowed me to reach all devices.
- Adding and configuring a device. All of this is done on mydevolo.com, Devolo’s web service for home automation. It looks nice, but is a bit slow. It remains unclear to me whether their service is underpowered or it is the Z-Wave connection to the devices which is so slow. In any case, bring patience, and then it will work. At least it did so for me.
Several times, in order to speed up the process, I wanted to unscrew a thermostat from the radiator and take it right next to the control center. I’m assuming this would have sped up recognition and configuration. However, once hooked-up to the radiator, the thermostats are hard to remove. The fixation ring does not allow the user to grip it easily (no ribs, just a polished surface). It doesn’t help that during device recognition the web service told me that I should have first installed the control center and then the devices. (Then I knew, but the documentation hadn’t told me that beforehand so I had gone the wrong way and installed all thermostats first.)
Still, all in all, I’m happy now. I’ll still eye one thermostat, the one closest to the control center: It should be the fastest one to respond, but was the worst to get connected reliably.
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