Home Assistant

Top 5 Mistakes Home Assistant Beginners Make (And How To Avoid Them)

New to Home Assistant and looking for some great advice? Not so long ago I was also new to the platform and those initial pitfalls are still fresh in my mind!

Now I am comfortably past the initial learning curve I can safely say that once you master Home Assistant, it is truly a marvelous platform to use for your home automation and well worth the time to master!

Home Assistant has a steep initial learning curve, particularly if you are not technically adept. It is impossible to configure without writing at least the most basic YAML and there are some quirks to it that can baffle new users. So I am taking the time to write about the top 5 mistakes Home Assistant newcomers make, so you can avoid them!

1. YAML Formatting & Spacing

The number 1 cause of Home Assistant headaches comes down to YAML formatting. YAML is a markup language that is sensitive to spacing, this means that you must ensure the formatting is correct to avoid syntax error.

Follow these top YAML tips to ensure that your configuration files are correct.

  • YAML should be structured using spacing. Elements should be indented with two spaces. The use of tab is prohibited.
  • Comments can be added using the hash (#) symbol. They can be placed anywhere in the line and the comment applies until the end of the line.
  • Lists are denoted by a hyphen (-) character.
  • Text strings do not have to be quoted, but can be quoted with either single or double quotes. In double quotes special characters can be represented using a backslash (\) to escape them.
  • Variables are represented with an exclamation mark at the beginning such as !variable.

If you are new to Home Assistant, make sure you check out my beginners guide to using YAML in the Home Assistant configuration. You can also check out the official Home Assistant YAML guide.

2. Following old advice

At the time of writing Home Assistant is a complex and sophisticated system that is in its infancy. The speed in which the development occurs is incredible with constant updates and improvements.

There have been some major changes along the way, such as the introduction of Hassio. The end goal is to make Home Assistant as user friendly as possible, but such major changes have led to many out-dated tutorials and resources.

I am not saying that you should ignore a tutorial from 2018 as you may still find value in older information. However be aware that there is plenty of out-dated information that just will not work with more modern versions of Home Assistant.

Make sure you check out some of my awesome 2020 Home Assistant tutorials for some inspiration. Automation and scripting is the best place to start if you are new to Home Assistant.

If you have any questions or are struggling to get something to work, be sure to visit the official Home Assistant community forum.

3. Running before walking

When you first get started with Home Assistant it is very tempting to “run before you can walk.” There are so many integrations available and many of them no autodetect on initial install.

It is likely you will be presented with a large array of information just from your mobile phone when you first install Home Assistant. Therefore it is tempting to try to make complex automation right away.

My advice here would be to start out with the most basic configuration. Learn how to add a simple light or switch integration to the configuration file first. First create a simple group, script or automation that links a lamp to a switch. Don’t try and run before you can walk!

4. Not using Tasmota

This will not be relevant to everyone but if you are starting out and looking to buy some smart home devices, you will have surely seen the cheaper chinese products on Amazon. Perhaps you already own some of the Tuya or MagicHome devices.

One of the strongest benefits of Home Assistant is that it is designed to be a secure platform that runs locally. Many smart home automation enthusiasts believe that the cloud is unnecessary.

This is not to say that the cloud should not be used at all. It offers some huge benefits when linking external services such as Twitter and Telegram to your Home Assistant system.

However if you are using products based on the Tuya smart life platform, your smart devices will be reporting information back to Tuya HQ. In my opinion there is absolutely no reason that a smart home product needs access to the internet. Control can be kept completely local, improving security and performance.

The solution if you have Tuya or MagicHome devices is to flash the Tasmota firmware on to them, giving complete local control to these devices.

5. Not backing up the config

Hard drives fail, electronics break, humans screw up computers. It is essential that you backup your Home Assistant configuration. First and foremost you should take regular snapshots of your system so that you can restore your configuration if necessary. This is useful if you make changes that break Home Assistant.

Make sure you install Samba so that you can access your files on a remote computer. You can then make a backup of the snapshot files to your chosen location.

I also make backups of individual files that I plan on editing. Simply copy them to your desktop using Samba and if you screw up your config you can just use Samba to restore the file.

You can also create an additional backup to Github, which can also be useful if you need to share your configuration either for helping others or to get help with something. Just make sure you use the secrets.yaml file!

What next?

So now you are a little bit wiser to some of the pitfalls a new Home Assistant user may encounter. I would recommend installing Home Assistant and diving right in, it is the best way to learn!

If you are new to Home Assistant than start with the YAML beginners guide. Then progress to basic automation and scripting.

For further reading you can check out some of my other awesome Home Assistant tutorials! The initial learning curve can be challenging for a new user, but stick with it because Home Assistant is awesome and it’s totally worth it!

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