Review: Mi Casa Verde Vera, Z-Wave Automation System

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The Mi Casa Verde system comes with the Z-Wave-enabled Vera gateway/router, a Z-Wave USB stick, and the software to program and operate your system.

Low-cost Vera system lets you automate Z-Wave wireless lighting controls, door locks and more, and control it all through a Web gateway that does not require an always-on PC.


Apr. 27, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Here comes Mi Casa Verde, yet another startup manufacturer who aims to bring home automation to the masses – with an Internet gateway, PC software and the ability to operate hundreds of wireless Z-Wave devices currently on the market.

I figured it was destined to join its predecessors on the long road of broken promises and failed attempts. I could not have been more wrong. Mi Casa Verde represents a major leap in user friendly home automation.

Mi Casa Verde sent me one Vera hub, which acts as the central “server” to the system, a wireless IP camera, and a Schlage Z-Wave door lock.

Add this to my existing Leviton Vizia RF+ Z-wave network and you have a very complete home automation system.

Z-Wave is a wireless control protocol that has been implemented in hundreds of products including dimmers, switches, thermostats, door locks, motorized shades, garage door openers, keypads, sensors, remote controls and more.

The Z-Wave-compatible Vera is a compact unit about the size of a wireless access point; it comes with a Z-Wave USB dongle and built-in software.

It acts like a wireless router, a wired (4-port) router or switch and a Web server for all of the automation functions.

Installing the Vera Gateway
Setup was excruciatingly simple: I plugged the Vera into my existing IP network and plugged it into the wall. The Vera did the rest.

It automatically configured itself to my existing network, found that it was plugged into a router, so it shut off its own router functions, and enabled its Wi-Fi to allow both wired and wireless access to the Ethernet network. (I kept thinking there were more steps, but there weren’t.)

From there I accessed the built-in Web page from any computer in the house with a single address—no configuring IP addresses, no configuring the router, and no firewall settings to change.

I just typed - http://findvera.com - in my browser and the setup page appeared. Then I got another surprise, because in the corner of the page a YouTube video popped up and started walking me through the process.

The pleasant guide helped me with all of my settings, from establishing my Z-Wave network to adding scenes and automation tasks. You could not ask for an easier or more straight-forward way of doing what could have been a very complicated process.

After following all of the video instructions, copying the information from my existing Z-wave network and adding all of the rooms and devices (I have over 40 Leviton devices), I realized that I had spent less than 2 hours and I had finished all of the “heavy lifting”.

The only thing left to do was get the Schlage lock connected and the IP camera running.

Z-Wave Door Lock and Special Considerations
Schlage introduced a Z-Wave-enabled door lock ($199) last year – a welcome addition to the Z-Wave family!


The company has claimed, however, that its lock works only with Schlage’s own hardware and software, apparently for security reasons.

Not true.

After extensive testing, Mi Casa Verde has ensured that the Schlage lock works with Vera.

In fact, according to Vera, the Schlage lock connects to almost any Z-wave network with very little trouble, so users need not pay Schlage’s monthly fee for the privilege.

There are some special requirements, however.

The Z-wave network has to support “secure” devices and it has to be able to do so while maintaining the integrity of the other Z-wave devices.

The instructions to set up the lock and Vera at first seemed a little complicated, but if you follow them to the letter, you will find the process very manageable and easy to accomplish. Once done, you have complete control of the Schlage lock from the Z-wave and Vera networks.

What Can You Do with a Vera?
Vera arrives fully configured to send emails or SMS alerts for any action or alert that happens in the home; which is as simple as typing in your address and checking off a box to receive a message for that event.

I programmed 12 scenes into my Vera—everything from simple light commands to a few very complicated scenes. 

The most complicated scene is this:

  • Daughter arrives home from school in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, and unlocks the door.
  • An SMS message is sent to me so I know that she’s home.
  • Certain Z-Wave lights are turned on, the thermostat is lowered, and five minutes later certain lights are turned off automatically (you know kids …).

I used Vera’s scene builder to create this and other scenarios. The scenes could also be triggered by the Leviton scene controllers; however, without Vera (or other Z-Wave automation system), the Leviton keypads could not trigger devices outside of its own network of Z-Wave products.


A video instructor walks you through the Vera set-up

My Wayne Dalton Z-Wave thermostat was added into the network with the same ease as the other devices, providing all of the benefits of a Web-controllable thermostat. Setbacks can now be based on events (AWAY mode, for example) and not just by time of day/day of the week..

This provides greater control over the energy usage in the home.

Because the Vera is a network attached device, it can be accessed from any browser, not just in the home, but remotely as well. It does not require any PC in the home to be powered on all the time. It is a standalone system.

Some Vera Caveats
Like any other control system, Vera comes with its caveats.


First, Vera attempts to be the primary controller for the Z-wave network. This can be troublesome if you have another controller that wants to be the primary, like the Leviton Vizia RF+ or the ControlThink USB stick.

You really can’t blame Vera for this challenge. It has to do with Z-wave and the way devices are to communicate with each other.

The problem is not difficult to overcome, but it does take a little machination. The good news is that the Mi Casa Verde wiki is very well documented to handle situation.

The other issue is the way scenes are configured on the Vera.

Many Z-Wave solutions, especially lighting control systems like Leviton’s, can only operate one class of products – in this case lighting.

Being able to control other Z-Wave devices can become a little complicated for less-experienced do-it-yourselfer.

Mi Casa Verde’s first-generation product does a good job of creating an intuitive Web interface, but at times it can be difficult to navigate.

As it evolves, though, I expect the engineers at Mi Casa Verde will fix some of the trouble spots. In any case, the Vera gateway is Linux based, and a decent hacker can make it do a lot of cool things.

Overall I give the Vera by Mi Casa Verde very high marks; it represents a major step in the evolution of home automation and bringing new home technologies to the masses.


Product: Mi Casa Verde Vera Automation System

Price: $299 for Vera hub and automation software

Performance: 4 out of 5

Value: 4 out of 5

Pros:

  • Easy to add Z-Wave devices to the system
  • Excellent video tutorial
  • No need to keep PC on; the software resides in the gateway
  • Ability to create complex scenes and event alerts
  • Great value, no monthly fees (there may be fees in the future for SMS messages)

Cons:

  • Some tweaking is required to integrate “secure” devices like Schlage lock with non-secure Z-Wave devices
  • More tweaking required to make Vera the “primary” controller if you already have a controller for your Z-Wave gear.
  • User interface for scene development can be tricky to navigate at times.
  • Mi Casa Verde is still a startup, and follows a large number of similar companies that have failed at retail.


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