EasyDIY or ProDIY – Introducing the VueVille Smart Home DIY Framework

Setting up a smart home or even just a security camera system is not easy. A few years ago we needed a security camera for our home, but we didn’t know where to start.

We found a bewildering array of brands, products, and technical terms that we struggled to grasp as absolute beginners to home security.

We had a vague idea that not all smart home devices are compatible with each other. We were also not ready for a full-blown smart home as we were renting at the time.

The fear of buying something that we wouldn’t be able to connect to other smart home stuff nearly made us give up. We simply couldn’t make an informed choice.

VueVille is born

What we needed was a simple and easy to understand guide with honest advice. We searched high and low but couldn’t find anything on the Internet. That’s why we decided to document our journey and experiences on this blog.

Both my wife and I enjoy learning new skills and I’ve always had a great love for technology. So we soon discovered the world of home automation.

Ever since then, we have been on the path to building a smart home that seamlessly integrates home security, security cameras and home automation – all working perfectly with each other at a reasonable cost with no monthly fees.

This is why we created VueVille – one simple resource which brings together all the information you need to know about creating a DIY smart home. However, if you are looking for a quick guide on getting an all-in-one security camera kit and have no interest in a smart home, that’s absolutely fine. That’s where we started. Here’s what you need to get while retaining the possibility of making it part of a smart home some day.

Still, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning: think about what you really want from your security equipment in the long run. Identifying your needs not just now, but thinking about what they may look like a few years into the future will save you a lot of money and hassle. So give the rest of this post a shot!

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What is a Smart Home?

Everybody’s heard of smart homes, its become a buzz-word that every major consumer electronics company now uses in all their marketing material.

But what does it mean to you and me? Instead of looking up a dictionary for a technical definition, here’s my take on what a smart home is to us: Our family gets to spend our time doing what we love, while having peace of mind that the house is taking care of everything that can be automated such as heating, lighting, security, entertainment and energy conservation. Let me give you some examples of these fully automatic scenarios:

  • Smart Multi-zone Heating
    • Depending on the time of the day and the weather outside, my house automatically decides what the target temperature should be and then controls the boiler to achieve it
  • Smart Boiler Control
    • Depending on the current weather outside and water temperature of the hot water tank, the house controls the boiler to give my family a constant supply of hot water
  • Climate Control
    • Automatically maintain a humidity of 50% during the day and 60% at night
  • Smart Lighting
    • Depending on when the sun rises and sets and the outside weather conditions, the house decides when to turn outdoor and indoor lights on or off
    • At midnight, it turns off all indoor lights that have are till on
  • Smart Home Security
    • If nobody’s home and a door or window sensor is tripped or if motion is detected, my house will sound the indoor siren, turn on exterior floodlights, start recording all security cameras, flash certain indoor lights, send me an email notification, and call a designated phone number.
    • If nobody’s home and motion is detected at the front door, my house will take a snapshot from the front door camera and email it to me. It will also ask my QNAP NAS to make a video recording of that camera.
  • Smart Security Cameras
    • If nobody’s home and motion is detected on any of the security cameras, the house asks my QNAP NAS to start recording the camera that sent the motion alert, sends me an email notification with a snapshot, and turns on a random light inside the house.
  • Smart Mailbox
    • Whenever I get new post, the house sends me an email notification with snapshots, and asks the QNAP NAS to record a clip from the front door camera.
  • Convenience
    • I can control the house through my voice like saying “in an hour, turn off the living room lights”, or get information by asking “what’s the weather like tomorrow”

and there’s so much more going on behind the scenes!

None of the above requires running a powerful server or any programming knowledge. It is all point and click using some amazing software (HomeSeer HS3) and having a clear idea of what you expect from your smart home.

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The VueVille DIY Framework

When you are at the beginning of your home security journey, its vital you know what your options are before you start spending your hard-earned cash! I believe that there are two paths you can take:

  • Easy-DIY
  • Pro-DIY

Whichever path you choose, our advice will help you pick equipment that can grow with your family’s needs. That’s because this framework is based on our own journey of starting small and creating our smart home over time.

Which of these you choose depends on:

  • How much you want to be in control of the selection process
  • What level of performance you need
  • Your level of interest and willingness to DIY
  • Your budget
Intrigued? Let’s dig deeper.

Smart Home DIY Framework - VueVille

What is a Smart Home made of?

Before we can talk about Easy-DIY or Pro-DIY, let’s define what the various parts or sub-systems of a smart home are:

  • Burglar Alarm system
  • Security Camera system
  • Home Automation system
    • Smart Home Hub or controller – this is what makes your home smart
    • Heating system
    • Lighting system
    • Climate control system
    • AV and media control
    • Irrigiation/sprinkler control

Easy-DIY – You buy a pre-packaged kit

Basically, you buy a pre-configured kit such as a security camera and NVR kit. This is recommended for novices or even experts if you don’t have the time or inclination to do the research. Just pick a brand you are comfortable with, look for the options you want and push the button.

The main advantage is that you don’t have to pick individual components such as security cameras or NVRs or PoE switches. Everything you need comes in one easy-to-set-up package.

But if you are not careful about what you buy, you may not be able to add a smart home hub later on which can talk to your equipment. You may end then up with disconnected systems and a dumb home, not a smart home! And lest we forget, the now-ubiquitous monthly subscription fees will remind you of your folly regularly!

How can this happen? A lot of security cameras and tech sold today under the ‘smart home’ moniker simply cannot interface with any other device. Some manufacturers even try to lock you into a their own ecosystem so that you are forced to keep buying their products and what’s worse, even pay a monthly subscription for using what you have already paid for!

A prime example of this sort of product which is not EasyDIY, is the Nest range of security cameras which require you to pay a monthly subscription fee for ‘Nest Aware’ cloud service for 24/7 cloud recording. Of course you have no other option because the Nest camera doesn’t have local storage.

What’s the solution then? Simply follow our ‘smart home compatibility’ rating for each product featured, and get something that will be able to talk to other devices from other brands, so that you will be able to grow from EasyDIY to ProDIY if and when you want. See how we review to learn about the sliding scale of ‘smart home compatibility’ (coming soon!).

Pro-DIY – A fully custom solution where you pick every device in your smart home yourself

Okay so what if you don’t want just a security camera kit? You want to build a smart home now – you are tech-savvy and want to get your hands dirty. Ah you’re like us! This is exactly what we have done – we built our DIY NAS-based Security Camera and NVR system as well as our DIY Home Automation system. The benefits are maximum flexibility, powerful features and lower costs. The downside is having to read up on the essentials and ensuring compatibility between all the different bits (but that’s why we am writing this blog, to help you make sense of it all).

Here’s a quick summary:
What is it Buy packaged security camera and NVR kit Pick and choose your own devices that can talk to each other
Internet reliance None, usually fully local None, usually fully local
Choice of products Low High
Inter-operability Low (Can use hardware alarm in/out ports though) High (Local APIs)
Convenience Low (multiple apps to manage) High (unified single app for smart home)
Total Cost of Ownership Lower (zero monthly fees) Lower (zero monthly fees)
Example NVR and camera kit HomeSeer HS3 controller
Z-Wave devices for heating, lighting
Dedicated DSC burglar alarm panel
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The VueVille Strategy

Having built a smart home from scratch, I would strongly recommend going Pro-DIY if you can. Yes it takes more effort and time initially to research your choices, but with the advice on our blog and tutorials that show you how to set up everything you are in safe hands.

But if you really have no time or interest in making your home truly smart right now but would like the option in the future, by all means choose Easy-DIY.

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Next Steps

Hopefully at this point, you have made an informed decision and chosen either Easy-DIY or Pro-DIY.

Here are some suggested next steps:

StepNext StepsPro-DIYEasy-DIY
1a Home Automation Controller Understand and choose yourHome Automation Technology
(I recommend Z-Wave)
1b Home Automation Controller Select a Home Automation Controller
(I recommend HomeSeer HS3 or the Vera Plus)
2 Home Automation Sub-Systems Select Z-Wave devices:
Door-Window Sensors
Boiler Controls
3 Security Camera System Select your NAS NVR & set it up Pick a security camera kit
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  1. Brilliant work!
    In your smart home example, when motion at your front door initiates an email and starts recording, is there a way to talk to the person or initiate a facetime like session? I can imagine if its an intruder, I would like to tell them they are on camera. If its UPS, I want to tell them what to do with the package. If it is a friend, I wish to make apologies and future arrangements. If its a neighbor come to borrow something, I want to try to help. All of these require an interactive session. Can it be done easily and reasonably?

  2. I have recently run across you site. I am a engineer and have I enjoyed your reviews and the directions you have selected. I have used Qnap, as a network backup, for years.
    I started with Smartthings and have deceided to move on the HS3Pro. I was going to buy the HS controller (which is made by Shuttle) but after looking at your choice of a laptop, I like that better. One of my biggest concern is a controller dying. How do I get my house back up quickly. Ordering a new HS controller means being dependent on HS’s scheduling. Using a laptop means running down to BestBuy.

    • Hey there! Glad you like my blog. I think running a low power laptop is better than relying on HS hardware. However if you go with Windows as the OS, make sure you get the Pro version which will allow you to decide when updates are installed. The non-Pro versions of Windows 10 force updates on you and force restarts which will stop HS3 from working properly.

  3. Hi Daniel and thanks for the wealth of information.

    I’m building a house so get a nice clean sheet to start HA with. I’ve read most of the info on your site and i’m not clear about how classic home security (alarm) system fits alongside HA. It seems like most classic alarm features can be implemented using a decent HA hub with sensors and cameras. However it seems like you reference home security (Like DSC) as a component of the overall system. If that’s the case are you able to enlighten me on your views about what home security systems belong best in an overall DIY HA system and how they integrate. For example can you arm, disarm etc a classic alarm system using the HA system.

    Sorry if the question is confused, i’m just trying to figure out whether i should research home alarm systems and then wrap that into an HA system.

    Thanks for any pointers you can offer

    • Yes you can replicate some of the functionality of a dedicated home alarm panel (like DSC) using HA gear (Z-Wave sensors and a Z-Wave hub). But then you are really going to end up with a jack of all trades, master of none situation when it comes to security. For anything to do with your security or safety, its best to use purpose-built hardware. There are two reasons I suggest this approach: 1) A dedicated alarm panel is built to a high degree of performance and reliability that means its more likely to do its job than your Z-Wave sensors, 2) If your HA hub fails, your entire security system fails whereas with a dedicated alarm panel, it will keep doing its job even if your HA hub fails.

      You asked ‘for example can you arm, disarm etc a classic alarm system using the HA system.’: Yes most definitely, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it. There are HomeSeer3 plugins that interface your HS3 based hub with DSC or other-brand dedicated security panels.

      • I had this exactly same question, MarkG, thank you! Just to follow-on, is this to say for window sensors, for example – would you use the sensors from the security panel manufacturer and tie into them with your HA system? Or would you need multiple sensors?

        • If you already have an existing home security system, then you get an interface to connect your alarm panel to your HA system. You do not need to buy any more window sensors (unless you want to).

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