Homelab Installation

5 tips for achieving an optimal Home Assistant experience

I’ve been running my Home Assistant instance in some format for the past 5 years. Having initially started out with as custom solution (written initially in Ruby) before Home Assistant dominated the residential automation market, I quickly moved on to running HA, and below are some of the learnings I’ve found from running this for nearly half a decade.

Tip 1 : Don’t rely on a Raspberry Pi

Most of the installation instructions surrounding Home Assistant focus on getting started using a Raspberry Pi. This is the most accessible, and cheapest way to get started, but it can also be the most fraught with problems if you don’t plan ahead. With my first HA instance I installed it on a Pi 3 – with the an SD Card I had lying around.

For about 6 months things were great – but shortly after then I had to keep rebooting the Pi every few days until it failed completely. Due to the large number of read/writes that HA requires, the cheapo SD card I had used had failed If you are looking at getting started with HA and a Pi, be sure to head the advice on the type of SD Card (and follow step 4 below), otherwise you could find yourself stranded without your automations!

Even better – consider running your HA instance of a Hypervisor, such as Proxmox, or Unraid. I’ve been running mine this way now for over 2 years – and its been nothing but completely solid.

Tip 2 : Plan your integrations

If you’re like me, you’ve probably acquired a lot of pieces of your home automation setup over the last few years. You probably have some Hue bulbs (or similar alternatives), perhaps some smart plugs and one or two devices around the house that can be monitored remotely. Be sure you check what setup each one of your integrations requires.

Home Assistant has come a long way in how many, and how simple it can be to setup integrations, but many (for instance – my Samsung TV) are still unsupported or require manual setups (such as my Smart Meter). There’s nothing more disappointing than spending the a day setting up your instance to find that half your devices won’t talk, and you need another dongle or hub to make it all work – so plan ahead and make sure everything can work together.

Tip 3: Create a naming scheme

Picture this – you’ve now got everything setup, all your devices are showing up in Home Assistant – and it all looks to be working smoothly. It’s 10pm – and you’re finally ready to start adding automations.

This is actually a great time to stop and plan out what you want to achieve. It can be very tempting to just jump in and start experimenting (which I’m not say NOT to do), but it will make your life significantly easier in the future if you plan ahead now – and come up with a naming scheme for your automations. When you get to the stage of having 10’s, or even 100’s of automations it’ll make it easer to search and find your automations.

Tip 4 : Make sure you backup

This is one area that has come a long way in recent years – being built in to the Home Assistant operating system now – making it much easier to backup and restore your configuration and database. However – many of those backups are (by default) stored on the same file system as the rest of the Home Assistant OS, so if your SD card fails (as mine did in step 1), your backups may be lost too.

Instead – its good to use the 3-2-1 rule for your backups, that you should have 3 copies of your data, on 2 different mediums, with 1 stored off site. I will admit – I’m not quite there with how I store my backups (I’m probably closer to 2-2-0 here), but using this rule will help to ensure you at least have some recourse to restore your automations should the worst occur.

Tip 5 : Review updates

Home assistant has a healthy upgrade cycle – launching new features and functionality most months now. With each upgrade there are often new integrations, many countless bug fixes, and unfortunately, a few breaking changing.

Luckily – the HA developers have made this easier recently, by including configuration check plugins and feedback directly in the interface should any of your integrations (inevitably) require an update. It will happen – so don’t think you can press the update button and ignore the process – ensure you spend time to check and review your updates – or you may find many of your automations are broken.

So thats it – thats my 5 key learnings I wish I’d know when I first setup Home Assistant. If this is your first HA install or one of many, I hope these provide some guidance to make your home automation journey a little smoother.

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