Internet of Things : My disappointment(s) with the Fibaro HomeCenter 2

Recently I started investigating and investing in Home Automation. I feel the market is readying itself for mainstream and some interesting products are now available. It started with me buying a set of Philips Hue light-bulbs, a motion sensor and a Raspberry Pi. Connecting these devices with the help of existing apps and some tinkering with open source ‘Home Assistant’ and ‘Home Bridge’ allowed me to create simple automation scenes and use Siri to set the lights in the living room and hallway.

This first success led me to think I could take the possibilities inside my house to the next level; I researched extensively possibilities of various Home Automation platforms. In Europe there are various systems available. In the end I decided for the Fibaro Home Center 2 system. Based on Z-Wave technology, which allows 2-way communications between central hub and device, with a mesh network to combat low connectivity situations it seemed the right choice. Fibaro also has a ‘Light’ version of this hub, but I wanted to have some serious strength running my IoT platform so opted for the strongest system. It also promised interconnection with my Hue, SONOS and (upcoming) Alexa systems, so I was really excited to get started.

Fibaro's compatibility claims

It turned out to be a terrible disappointment.

Before I describe my activities that led me to the final conclusion, there are a few things to note:

  1. There are 4 ways to access devices and sensors in the Fibaro system:
  • A simple panel that shows an on/off or volume/brightness slider.
  • Through a magic scene creator that works with simple colored boxes that allow you to do an IF…THEN scenario
  • A more complex colored boxes interface that allows more variables
  • The LUA programming language

Fibaro Colored Block 'programming'

  1. I researched everything, I have seen more YouTube videos than I care to remember and have seen more programming examples that I wished for. I took a quick course on LUA programming.
  2. I am not stupid with DIY projects in house; electric cabling, switches, dimmers and wiring. Most of this stuff I have done in the past on my own. I understand the color coding of wires, the difference between Ground and Neutral and have had my fair share of accidentally touching a Live wire (at least once in a person’s live…).

Let me first give you an overview of my purchases from the local Domotica Shop in the Netherlands:

  • 1 Fibaro Controller Home Center 2
  • 3 x Fibaro Module Dimmer 2
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Single
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Double

btw: these things are not cheap so I really researched (at least so I thought)

Secondly I will go into the various activities I undertook to get this box running the things I wanted.

Connectivity with Philips Hue lights and sensors

As far as I have researched it, there is no out of the box support in Fibaro for Philips Hue. There is the possibility to download a virtual device component that will connect to the individual Hue lights. Unfortunately this means I was unable to address the Hue lights in the visual programming interface of the Fibaro (a colored block system) and can only address the lights through the programming language LUA. This was a major set-back as I was let to believe integration between Hue and Fibaro would work out-of-the-box.

The Hue sensors such as the motion sensors and dimmers are not accessible through the Fibaro; maybe they could be accessible through the LUA programming interface, but I found no evidence for that.

Instead of being able to address the Hue lights in the ‘Magic Scenes’ or the ‘colored boxes’ interface, I had to install virtual devices using the Philips CLIP API Debugger. This would give me the API Access code that could then be used to activate the virtual devices. After that the virtual devices would become accessible in other code, that I had to write for the scenes. Are you still there?

Due to the lack of access to the Hue sensors, I would have to rely on the Fibaro sensors, which I hoped not to (to be honest I knew upfront that the ‘rely-on-Hue-sensors-part was going to be tricky as they do not support the Z Wave protocol in use by Fibaro).

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming

Connectivity with SONOS

I have 4 SONOS loudspeakers. 2 are connected in a stereo pair. One other is in the kitchen and one is upstairs in my study.

Fibaro shown as connected to SONOS

There was no out-of-the-box connectivity with the SONOS system. It required the download of a virtual device (remember those?). As a result I managed to connect to 1 SONOS loudspeaker. It became clear that I had to download a virtual device for every loudspeaker separately. After doing this I was able to start/stop the music and volume of 1 speaker. The others were not responsive. And the stereo-pair was nowhere to be found in the system. Moreover, if the one that worked had no active playlist, it would not do anything.

By now you will have guessed that no devices were easily accessible; all the work had to be done through the LUA programming language.

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming.

Installation of Fibaro modules

So, as it turns out Fibaro on/off switches need power; makes sense right? As a result installing switches behind a light switch can only be done of the box behind the switch carries not only a live wire (brown), but also a neutral wire (blue). It turns out that that is not the case in my house. Maybe more modern houses have this or maybe in other countries, but my house is 28 years old and only has a brown (Live) and black (Switch) cable.

Luckily, Fibaro has a module called Dimmer 2, which can be installed if the neutral (blue) wire is absent. So all is well, no unfortunately not. The switch-boxes in the wall of my house are not deep enough for the combo of a light-switch and a Fibaro module. So I hunted the local DIY market for light switches with a very small footprint and with some clever wire maneuvering was able to fit everything, very snugly, into the switch-box. Following that I connected the module to the Fibaro controller and, voila, I could remotely operate the lights. Alas, the physical switch was not working anymore, which would really not make my wife very happy. I checked the wiring, looked at another 4 YouTube videos (warning, look at installation for “Dimmer 2”, otherwise you will get really confused).

Conclusion: Could work if your house is built to fit Fibaro or you do not mind some reconstruction of wall-mounted switch-boxes (including drilling new holes and putting in new wiring).

Conclusion and words of warning

I have no doubt that the Fibaro system will work, once you get the switches, dimmers and specific other Fibaro modules installed; but this fairyland only exists on the various Fibaro websites. No real life scenario worked for me. Existing wall-switches, existing Hue system and existing SONOS speakers could only be installed with great cost, either in time or with additional investments and serious physical changes in my house. I do not believe that house automation should go hand in hand with yielding a jackhammer to replace switch-boxes.

in conclusion, device-by-device:

  • SONOS – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Lights – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Sensors – no support
  • Fibaro Modules – not working in my electrical system

And a word of warning: the Fibaro website mentions interoperability with Apple HomeKit. This is only true for a very limited set of Fibaro modules/devices; a smart power-plug, a motion detector, a flood sensor and a door/window sensor.

So at the end of a week with not so much sleep and a lot of learning of new things, I concluded that this (rather expensive) set up was not for me and as a consequence I have requested the seller to take it all back; I hope they agree that this was a bust.

PS. I still have my Raspberry Pi running with Home Assistant and Home Bridge. I am very proud to show the Siri integration with the Philips HUE lights, the SONOS Speakers, the Honeywell EVO home heating system and the NEST smoke & CO2 detectors. At least some systems do work in my house, and at a fraction of the cost.