Getting started with Home Assistant

So, you’ve installed Home Assistant… now what?

Regardless of how you install Home Assistant, the first thing you’ll see is the login screen for onboarding. Once you’ve entered your new username and password, you can set your home location. This will be used for presence based automations and also sets the timezone for your installation. You can also choose the units you prefer to use for metrics.

You can then choose whether you want to share analytic data with Home Assistant and finally whether you want to set up any of the devices that Home Assistant has discovered on your network. We’ll leave that step for now and come back to configuring individual devices later.

Once you’ve completed onboarding, you’ll get a barebones dashboard. A Home Assistant dashboard consists of cards that can display your entities in a number of different ways – for example, there are dedicated cards for lights and several ways to show sensors, as well as generic cards for lists of entities. There are also special cards that can be used to group other cards in a grid, a horizontal stack, or a vertical stack.

By default everything you add to Home Assistant will show up on your dashboard, and it can get pretty cluttered. You’ll almost certainly want to take manual control, so click on the three dots at the top right of the header bar, select “Edit Dashboard” and then “Take Control”

You can then move, add and remove cards from your dashboard:

You can also add additional views to further group your cards.

You can now configure your integrations. Go to “Configuration” in the sidebar menu and then “Integrations”. You’ll see the discovered integrations and can also click on the “Add Integration” button to find other integrations that aren’t discovered automatically.

In Home Assistant terminology an integration is a connection to an external device or service – for example, Philips Hue. The integration itself may then consist of a number of devices or services – such as individual Hue lights. These are then represented by entities to control or view those devices. In the case of Philips Hue, there’s a one to one mapping – each physical light is a device represented by a single entity.  Other devices may consist of several entities. For example, a multipurpose sensor will be a single device with entities for each of its sensors such as motion and temperature.

Not all integrations have devices or services. For example, the UK met office weather integration consists of a number of entities – one for each metric, such as temperature and windspeed.

There are multiple types of entity, and the entity type determines what you can do with it. A switch entity, for example, can be turned on and off, while a light entity will also allow you to set the brightness and colour if your light supports those features. A single device might have several different types of entity – for example,  a smart plug that has metering capabilities will have both a switch entity to control the plug and a sensor entity to read the current power use.

To set up a discovered integration, select “Configuration” from the side menu and then “Integrations.” Find the integration you want to set up, click “Configure” and follow the instructions. For example, for Philips Hue you will need to press the button on your Hue hub:

Once that’s done, you can add your lights to the dashboard. You can just have a plain list of your light entities using the entities card:

Or you can use the dedicated light card, shown here grouped within a grid card:

In both cases, a tap or click on the light will toggle it on or off and a long press will bring up full control, where you can select the colour or colour temperature, and brightness. The dedicated light card also allows you to drag the brightness selector directly on the card.

The next thing to do is to  familiarise yourself with the menus. The side menu on the left is where you can find additional screens to show you the logbook, history, and configuration:

It will also show links to add-ons that you’ve chosen to add to the menu. You can manage what appears in the side menu by long clicking on the title or by going to your profile and clicking on the edit link labelled “Change the order and hide items from the sidebar.”

From the menu on the left, select “Supervisor” to see a dashboard of installed add-ons. You will also see notifications here if there are any updates available.

From this screen go to the “System” tab, which has three sections: Core, Supervisor and Host. You don’t really need to understand how these fit together to use Home Assistant, but it’s worth knowing, as you’ll see the terms used in documentation and on the forums.

The underlying host operating system is Linux, running a set of Docker containers that are managed by the Supervisor. The purpose of the Supervisor is to control the containers, including restarting them if they fail. One of those containers is “Core”, which runs the actual Home Assistant code. Add-ons that can be installed via the add-on store will run as additional docker containers.

This screen is also where you’ll find the options to shut down, restart and update your instance, as well as to change the hostname and network configuration. For example, if you want to set a static IP address for your instance, click on the “Change” link next to the IP address and select “Static” under the IPv4 settings. You’ll lose connection and will need to refresh your browser if you’re using the http://homeassistant.local:8123 address, or reconnect on the new IP address if you’re accessing directly via the IP address.

The supervisor panel is also where you can find the add-on store. Store is something of a misnomer – all of the add-ons are free – but it’s where you can add additional features to your Home Assistant instance.

One of the most useful is the file editor add-on. Many integrations can now be set up entirely through the web front end, but some still require you to add entries to the Home Assistant configuration file. The file editor lets you do this entirely through the Home Assistant web front end.

Select the integration, install it so that it’s set to start on boot and, if you want easy access to it, add it to the sidebar. If you don’t add it to the sidebar, you can access it by going back to the supervisor dashboard, selecting the add-on and clicking “Open Web UI” – the sidebar entry is just a shortcut.

When you open the file editor for the first time, it should have the main configuration file – configuration.yaml – open by default. You can also click on the folder icon to browse the other files in your setup.

An alternative option for file editing is to use the “Samba share” add-on, which allows you to map a drive from your PC to your Home Assistant configuration directory. It also allows you to map a number of other locations, such as the media directory if you need to upload static media files, and the backup directory which can be useful for taking copies of your backups.

That’s a bit of a whirlwind tour around the Home Assistant user interface, but it’s fairly self explanatory and worth spending a bit of time clicking around to see the options. I’ve tried to give a feel for the main features but this would be a very long post if I tried to cover even the basics in one go.

Next time I’ll go through the process of setting up a simple automation.

in Home Automation

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