Recover from a Smart Home Hub Failure

Dec 5, 2017 by

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You can find so many different ways to connect home automation devices and control them either via voice assistant, your smartphone, or various types of switches, sensors and remotes. You might connect smart devices directly to your WiFi router, such as with Belkin WeMo and iDevices products, or you might use Bluetooth to control the device directly from your smartphone. For the majority of connect home devices though, it’s the hub or bridge that serves as the central “brain” of a smart home.

A smart home hub, or bridge, is typically a small box measuring between two to four inches square and about one inch tall. We’re not sure why this size format is so common, but a lot of hubs and bridges share these similar dimensions. It is through this central hub or bridge that devices are controlled by a translation between IP protocol, the underlying communication language of the Internet, and a number of different protocols such as Insteon, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and even Bluetooth. Hubs and bridges also serve as CPUs that run schedules independent of the Internet, turning lights on and off based on time of day and running pre-defined actions based on sensor input, time of day, or interaction with cloud services like Stringify, IFTTT, and Yonomi.

But…

What do you do when your smart home brain fails? This is a scenario that multiple The Digital Media Zone contributors have faced recently, and it has caused us to take a brief pause to re-evaluate its effect on our households, our families, and the way we now interact with lighting and other connected devices in our homes.

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Insteon around here, and the hub that some of us have had issues with earlier this year is the early production run of the Insteon Hub 2. This hasn’t weakened our high regard for Insteon (the fact that a few of our folks also work on Homeboy Control, a third-party Insteon control app, should be an obvious indicator of how much we like and trust the Insteon brand). Having said this, the limited third-party hub support for Insteon’s proprietary protocol pretty well leaves owners of a failed hub only two choices: another Insteon Hub or Universal Devices’ ISY 994i hub.

As part of this shared dilemma, we also learned that there’s no way to directly move an existing Insteon user account from one hub to another. This piqued our curiosity around how the various smart home hub manufacturers handle similar transitions.

Dis-integration

When you have managed to integrate a particular connected device manufacturer so deeply, it really hits home how reliant all the light switches, plug-in modules, and sensors are on that little box. This doesn’t even account for the time you’ve invested setting it all up or the inevitable stink-eye from your partner when you explain why things suddenly aren’t controllable from their voice assistant or smartphone. Adding insult to injury, if you’re using a cloud connection service like Stringify, IFTTT, and Yonomi, you may need to also redo that setup.

Recovery

If a smart home hub fails, is it really necessary to connect or pair every device with the replacement hub? As it turns out, yes it is. No matter how well tested they are or which prediction models were followed, devices can still fail prematurely. In general, we don’t expect our smart home hubs or bridges to fail. And we’re not judging—stuff happens! It’s the support and ease of recovery that will matter most in your time of need. What we have learned is that you can fail to prepare, and that’s immensely more disruptive.

Losing control of your smart home can be stressful, and reconfiguring devices and scenes just the way you like or setting up flows or applets in cloud connectors like Stringify and IFTTT can be very time consuming, so we are offering some general suggestions that we hope will help to ease the sting. Your best chance of a full hub recovery requires some advance planning.

  • Map out your smart home with the locations and custom names of your smart devices. This will make it easier and faster to move from one device to the next as you reset and reconnect them to the new hub or bridge.
  • Proactively collect and retain factory reset and configuration procedures for your devices, since you’ll need them in the event you have to reconnect everything.
  • Take screen shots from your third-party cloud connector apps like Stringify, IFTTT, and Yonomi, just in case it’s necessary to set up your replacement hub or bridge with different user credentials. If that happens, you’ll likely need to recreate your respective flows, applets and routines on their services.

We contacted five of the most popular smart home hub manufacturers to better understand what to expect and to share with you the information you’ll need if your smart home loses its mind. We’ve added suggestions of our own, relevant to each hub, bridge, and situation, to help you prepare in the event of a failure.

Insteon

If your Insteon Hub dies, the support team at Insteon may be able to provide you with a list of your devices by name and Device ID. You can use this to re-pair all of your devices manually. Unfortunately, you can’t just migrate an existing account to a replacement hub. Since Insteon switches and dimmers do not require the hub to function, you can still operate your lights and some scenes at the physical devices if your hub becomes inoperable—you just won’t have the automation of timed events or the ability to control scenes and devices from an app. Note that the Insteon Hub 2 is covered by a 2-year warranty from the date of purchase, so if you’re in that warranty period, Insteon may offer to repair your hub, avoiding any need to reprogram. This was the case for one of our team members, and on plugging the hub back into the home network, everything just started working again—no manual recovery required. You can find further details at http://www.insteon.com/legal#warranty.

Insteon backup plan

  • Record the Insteon ID number of each device connected to your hub. This can be done at install time by taking a photo of the number printed on the back of the device or under “Edit Device” in the Insteon app.
  • Take screen shots of your devices pages and scene settings.
  • If you’re using the HomeKit-compatible Hub Pro (2243-222), you may also want to take screen shots of your HomeKit Home app setup, so you can get it back to the way you like it with as little effort as possible.

Wink

While there is an official tool that transfers the user profile and device configuration from a working first generation Wink Hub to a Wink Hub 2, there currently isn’t a means of backing up an existing hub as a safety net, so you’ll have to start over and set everything up again on a replacement hub. Wink hubs are covered by a 1-year warranty from the date of purchase. You can find further details at https://www.wink.com/legal/.

Wink backup plan

  • Take screen shots of your device page, shortcuts and robots.
  • Document any custom settings for generic devices you may have added.
  • Due to the diverse range of devices supported by Wink, we recommend finding and saving factory reset procedures for each device. Keep them in a folder on your computer or print them out and store them near your hub.

Philips Hue

Yes, we know that Philips Hue technically uses a bridge and doesn’t officially offer support for any non-Hue branded lights, but since it’s such a popular choice for people just getting into smart home, we wanted to include it. Like Wink, Philips Hue does have a tool for migration between first generation and second generation bridges, but there isn’t currently a way to back up a hub in the event of a failure, so your hub must be working to perform that migration. You can also transfer settings from a working Hue Bridge to another, regardless of whether it’s first or second generation, but in the event of a failure, you’ll have to set everything up from the beginning. Philips covers the Hue Bridge with a 2-year warranty from the date of purchase. You can find further details at http://www2.meethue.com/en-gb/support/warranty/.

Philips Hue backup plan

  • Record scene settings and custom routines by taking screen shots in the Hue app.
  • Document the serial number from each bulb before you install it. It’s a lot easier to have a list of the bulbs, locations, and corresponding serial numbers handy in case automatic discovery does not succeed. If you capture this information in advance, you won’t have to completely remove the bulbs to read the tiny serial numbers on them when you’re already under stress.
  • If you’re a HomeKit user, take screen shots of your HomeKit Home app setup. This should serve as reference to get back to the way you like things with as little effort as possible.

Lutron Caséta

Caséta Wireless is another popular bridge among home builders, professional integrators, and home automation enthusiasts. Like most of these other hubs, replacing an inoperable Caséta Wireless smart bridge requires installing and re-programming a new bridge. In Lutron’s words, “given the simplicity of [the] Caséta Wireless system, this process is quick and simple and should take less than 30 minutes to complete.” Your mileage may vary if you have a large home with many connected devices. While your Caséta bridge is out of commission, your physical dimmers, switches, and Pico remotes will all still work.

Lutron offers a 1-year warranty from the date of purchase and owners may extend the warranty to 2 years by completing a Caséta Wireless Customer Feedback Survey. You can find warranty details in this document, and the Caséta Wireless Customer Feedback Survey is also available on their web site.

Lutron Caséta backup plan

  • Take screen shots of your device page and scene settings in the Lutron App for Caséta Wireless. This will help serve as a reference when setting up your devices in the replacement bridge.
  • If you’re a HomeKit user, take screen shots of your HomeKit Home app setup. This should serve as reference to get back to the way you like things with as little effort as possible.

Samsung SmartThings

One of the most popular hubs in recent years among early adopters and enthusiast, SmartThings had originally planned to offer a migration tool from first to second generation hubs, but the project was abandoned. In the event of a SmartThings Hub failure, all devices connected need to be manually reset and reconnected to the new hub, just as would be required when switching between first to second generation hubs. However, any account information such as custom code will be saved in Samsung’s cloud. Samsung covers the SmartThings Hub with a 1-year warranty from the date of purchase. You can find further details on Samsung’s support site.

SmartThings backup plan

  • Take screen shots of your Things, Rooms, Routines and SmartApps in the SmartThings app.
  • Due to the diverse range of devices supported by SmartThings, we recommend finding and saving factory reset procedures for each device. Keep them in a folder on your computer or print them out and store them near your hub.

Future Updates

It’s worth noting that many self-hosted systems that run on an always-on computer—like HomeSeer and Indigo—do offer more formal backup and recovery options. The same is true for some higher-end professionally-installed systems.

While none of the manufacturers we contacted had a way to back up your device configurations in the event of a hub failure, several of them did acknowledge the importance of such a feature, so the good news is that at least they’re acknowledging the need and exploring its feasibility. It may be technically impossible at this point in time, but it’s a subject that needs to be addressed as connected home devices become ever more interweaved in our daily lives. We’ve been able to back up our computers, tablets, and smartphones for a long time now, so we need the ability to do the same for our connected device hubs.

In the meantime, what we have learned is you can fail to prepare, and that’s immensely disruptive. Your best defense against smart home frustration and despair is to properly prepare for the possibility of hub failure. Take advantage of any support or replacement your hub manufacturer’s warranty offers, and use the device and scene information you’ve collected along the way to aid in recovering.

Do you have any suggestions or questions around what to do in the event of a hub or bridge failure? Let us hear from you in the comments.

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