Set Up Accessories
You understand the basic gestalt of HomeKit, and you’ve chosen some accessories to start with. Now it’s time to install them and set them up.
The instructions that come with many devices tell you to download that company’s app for setup, but you may not need to—you can set up many HomeKit devices right in the Home app. In cases where the company’s own app provides more features, you can still use it later—devices you set up using Home are automatically configured in the other app.
Configure Your Router with HomeKit
Some network routers support HomeKit and add extra security measures to your devices, effectively walling them off from the internet and the rest of your local network. As of October 2020, only eero routers support HomeKit, though a firmware update that will add HomeKit support to the Linksys Velop routers is forthcoming.
If you want to take advantage of these security features, you should set up your router for HomeKit before you add any other accessory, because to get the maximum benefit from a HomeKit router, you have to set up your other accessories after the router is set up, and if you already have accessories set up, you need to remove them and set them up again.
Here are resources to learn more about using routers with HomeKit:
Identify the HomeKit Code
The first step in setting up a HomeKit accessory is identifying the HomeKit code on the accessory itself. The HomeKit code is used to authenticate the accessory with HomeKit. There are two formats for the HomeKit code label: the older format with just an 8-digit code, and the new format, which is much smaller and features the QR code alongside the 8-digit code (Figure 4).
Treat the HomeKit code like a password—a password you can’t change or reset! Don’t share the HomeKit code, and be sure to copy it down in a secure location. I’ve created a secure note in 1Password to store my HomeKit codes. When you write down the code, be sure to clearly label which accessory is associated with that code. If you have multiple units of the same device, you may even want to write down the serial number associated with each HomeKit code. Your accessory may also come with a card featuring the HomeKit code—if so, store those in a secure place.
When you set up an accessory, you can either scan the numeric code with your iPhone or iPad’s camera, scan the QR code with the camera, enter the code manually, or on some newer devices, use near-field communication (NFC) to wirelessly authenticate the device—look for the NFC icon on the accessory if you have an iPhone 7 or later.
Now that you’re caught up on the code, it’s time to set up your first HomeKit accessory. For this part, you’ll need:
The accessory itself
The HomeKit code for the accessory
Your primary iOS device: iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
A power source for the accessory
The precise setup steps depend on your device—for instance, you have to first set up the Philips Hue system with its own app before setting it up with HomeKit—so check your manufacturer’s documentation (see Set Up Hue Lights). But many HomeKit accessories can be configured directly from Home (some notable exceptions include ecobee thermostats, Eufy cameras, and Wemo devices). Here’s how (using an Eve Energy as an example):
Launch the Home app on the iOS device. If you’ve never launched it before, you’ll be prompted to tap Add Accessory. Otherwise, tap Add on the Home or Rooms screen and select Add Accessory.
You’re prompted to scan the HomeKit code with the device’s camera (Figure 5), or, if your device supports it, hold it near the accessory if it has an NFC label. If either doesn’t work for some reason, tap “I Don’t Have a Code or Cannot Scan” and then “Enter code…“ to enter the code manually.
Make sure the accessory is connected to power, or, if it uses batteries, that the batteries are installed.
You’re prompted to select an accessory to add to Home. It may take a moment before it appears, so you want to keep your iOS device near the accessory. When the accessory appears on the screen, tap it.
You’re asked to assign a Room to the accessory. It’s important to set this correctly, but you can change it at any time. Select Create New Room if you don’t have the correct room set up yet. (See Establish and Configure Rooms.)
You’re prompted to rename the accessory if you want. You can also tap Identify to activate your accessory so you can spot it in the real world, often with some sort of blink or flash. This is handy if you’re not quite sure which device in your house you’re working with. That might seem ridiculous, but just wait until you’re setting up multiple smart bulbs with names like SMARTBULBFN2187.
There may be other options. For my Eve Energy, I was prompted whether to display it as a fan, light, or outlet. For an explanation of that, read ahead to Tweak Accessories.
You may be prompted to turn on some preconfigured automations. I advise against turning these on now, because you may suffer from haunted house syndrome later. See Plan Automations Carefully.
If all goes well, a confirmation message appears and you’re directed to a settings screen for the accessory.
Set Up Hue Lights
Philips Hue lights are super popular, and a great way to get started with home automation, but require a bit more setup than most HomeKit accessories. Hue has its own developer framework that competes with, but also cooperates with, HomeKit. The upside of this is that there are many cool apps that can do stuff with your Hue bulbs that HomeKit can’t, like Light DJ. The downside is that you have to perform initial setup of Hue bulbs in their own app and then sync that configuration over to HomeKit:
Start things off by choosing where to place your Hue bulbs and screwing them in—it’s literally as easy as screwing in a light bulb.
Here are some tips on how to place them:
Use them in lights that you get tired of standing up to adjust or dim. Your living room is a terrific place to start.
Consider white vs. color bulbs. White Hue bulbs are cheaper and work well in less-fun rooms like offices and bathrooms. But color bulbs can be useful (and fun!) in living rooms and bedrooms.
- For best results, don’t mix white and color bulbs in the same room. Pick one or the other.
Hook up the Hue hub. It requires a wall outlet and an Ethernet connection to your home network—for the latter, most people will just plug it in an Ethernet port on their Wi-Fi router. You don’t need to fool with the hub often, but it should be in a position where you can reach the top button easily—you’ll need to press it to pair it to apps.
After connecting the hub, wait for the three blue lights on top of the hub to light up. If all three are not lit, the Hue app will not be able to connect to it (Figure 6). If there’s a problem, I’ve found that it’s usually related to the internet connection—make sure the Ethernet cable is plugged in firmly to both the hub and your router’s Ethernet port, and that your router is giving the hub a proper IP address.
Download and launch the Philips Hue app for iOS.
Follow the on-screen prompts.
During setup, you should be prompted to integrate Hue with HomeKit, if not, check the settings in the Hue app. Remember, you can’t add Hue devices directly to HomeKit—you have to set them up through Hue and then Hue will take care of the HomeKit integration.
Add a Hue Light Later
If and when you purchase more Hue lights, you need to also set those up in the Hue app before you try to use them in Home. Here’s how:
In the Hue app, go to the Settings screen.
Tap Light Setup.
Tap Add Light.
Tap Search (Figure 8).
If everything works correctly, the new light appears on the Light Setup screen.
To finish setting up the Hue bulb for HomeKit, go to the Rooms screen of the Home app, tap Homes and Rooms , and select Default Room. Your new bulb should be listed there; touch and hold its tile and then tap the gear icon to view its configuration screen and assign it to the correct room.
Once you’ve successfully set up an accessory, you’ll be prompted to alter its settings. You can access most of these at any time by touching and holding an accessory’s tile in Home and tapping the gear icon on the resulting control screen in iOS and iPadOS. In macOS, you can Control-click an accessory and choose Settings:
Accessory Name: By default, this is the factory name of the device, like “Eve Energy 810D.” I recommend changing it to something more descriptive, like Lamp if you just have one, or Corner Lamp if you need to distinguish them in a room (as I explain in Establish and Configure Rooms, the room name is visible alongside the accessory name in the Home app, so you don’t need to include the room name here). Simply tap on the name to edit it. Since you’ll also use this name to control the accessory with spoken Siri commands, make sure the name is something you can remember and pronounce. And since the name needs to fit into a small onscreen tile, keep it on the short side!
Battery level: On battery-powered devices, this field displays the device’s battery level and if the battery is charging.
Room: From here, you should choose the room in which your accessory will live. The default is—get this—Default Room, which is sort of a waiting room for your accessories. If you haven’t yet set up a room, you can do so by tapping Create Room—just give it a name and select a picture (the default is fine). More on this in Establish and Configure Rooms.
Accessories: As discussed in Learn the HomeKit Hierarchy, some accessories provide multiple services. In previous versions of the Home app, they would be displayed as individual tiles. But now they’re usually presented only as a single tile, with data from various sensors displayed in Home status. However, if you tap on Accessories in accessory settings you can view the individual service tiles (though Home calls them accessories).
Display As: This field describes the type of accessory (it won’t show up for every type of accessory). It’s important to set this for switches and outlets so Siri understands what’s connected to the accessory. But sometimes you’ll find that a different setting works better. For example, if I have an overhead light in my office connected to an Eve Light Switch that’s set to the Switch type, Siri acts confused when I ask it to turn the office lights off. But if I set the switch type to Light, Siri understands that the switch controls a light, so “Siri, turn off the office light” works as expected.
Include in Favorites: Enabling this switch makes the accessory appear on the Home screen of the Home app, as well as in Control Center. Unless you have a lot of HomeKit accessories (one TidBITS reader told me he has 75!), I recommend leaving this switch on.
Automations: If the accessory is associated with any automations, they are listed here along with switches to let you turn those automations on and off. That’s handy for troubleshooting unexpected things happening in your home. If the accessory has no associated automations, you can tap Add Automation to create one. Skip this until you’ve read Set Your Home on Autopilot.
Scenes: Tap this to see any scenes the accessory is associated with, along with scenes that HomeKit thinks the accessory should be added to. Tap one of the scenes to see its settings after you’ve read Set Scenes.
Status (and Notifications): For most accessories, there is just a switch here to Include in Status. I recommend keeping that on, since it will warn you (on the Home screen in the Home app) about problems with your accessories and provide sensor information.
But some accessories can send your devices a notification if they detect something, like the Eve Motion (Figure 9). Eve tells me that whether a given device or class of devices can support notifications is up to Apple and under the control of the device manufacturer.
If your accessory supports notifications, a simple on or off switch enables notifications for your current device. By default, when this is turned on, you’re notified every time the sensor is triggered. That’s likely not just annoying, but counterproductive, so thankfully Apple offers a couple of options to dial in exactly when you’re notified. The following two options don’t appear unless it’s turned on:
- Time: This tells HomeKit to notify you only if the sensor is triggered during certain times of day: Any time, during the day, at night, or between times you specify (Figure 10).
- People: This setting makes it so you’re notified only when the sensor is triggered if somebody is home, when you are home, when nobody is home, or when you are not home.
The People setting needs a little explaining. HomeKit can detect when you’re at home or away from home (a feature commonly called geofencing). This is mostly used to trigger automations, as I’ll explain later in Set Your Home on Autopilot. But HomeKit can base actions around not just your location, but on the locations of everyone you have shared HomeKit access with, which I explain how to do in Set Up Homes. So this way, if you’re not home but your spouse whom you share HomeKit access with is, you’re not getting pinged every five seconds because they set off the motion detector, and they don’t have to sit in a dark room because your “smart” home turns off the lights when you—specifically you—leave. (You can still set those location triggers to be specific to you, if you prefer, thus the When I Am Home and When I Am Not Home options.)
For example, my wife and I are both set up to use HomeKit on our iPhones, so I have my Eve Motion set to notify me only if it detects motion when nobody is home, because there shouldn’t be anyone or anything moving around the house.
If I had a HomeKit-enabled smoke detector, I’d probably have much more liberal settings that would allow notifications at any time, because that’s something that isn’t accidentally triggered nearly as often as a motion sensor, and when it’s triggered, there’s usually a good reason for it! (Hey, if someone just burnt some toast while I’m not home, I want to know about it!)
Group with Other Accessories: You can group multiple accessories together so they act as one. I usually use this for smart bulbs, like when two or three are in a single light fixture. Here’s how to group accessories:
Tap Group with Other Accessories.
Enter a name for the group. Just like with accessory names, keep it brief and pronounceable.
Check the accessories you want to group. The one you started with is pre-checked (Figure 11).
The grouped accessories now appear as a single accessory with the group name you gave it. You can later tap Ungroup Accessories in the settings screen to split the group up.
To access an individual accessory in a group, from the settings screen tap Accessories to see them listed individually. From there, you can manipulate them as I describe in Use Accessories.
Manufacturer, etc.: This section provides manufacturer data like serial numbers and links to the manufacturer app in the App Store, if there is one.
Adjust Camera Settings
Accessing settings for HomeKit cameras is a little different than most other accessories. Cameras aren’t presented as just static tiles, but rather windows with a live feed from the camera. Tap that window and then Settings to view settings for that camera.
Here are the settings unique to cameras:
Recording Options: You can set a camera to record automatically to iCloud. The catch is that you have to have at least a 200 GB iCloud storage plan (for one camera). With a 2 TB plan, you can record from up to five cameras. iCloud stores up to 10 days of footage and the recorded video does not count against your storage quota.
If you can’t or choose not to record from a camera, you can still view its live stream at any time.
There are two settings here: When Home and When Away. These trigger based on your iPhone location (see How HomeKit Determines Your Location). Depending on your location, you can set the camera to:
Off: No one can stream or record.
Detect Activity: This turns your camera into a motion detector. You can get notifications when activity is recorded, but there is no streaming or recording.
Stream: You can view the camera feed but there is no recording.
Stream & Allow Recording: You can view the camera feed and recordings are made and saved in iCloud.
More Options exposes additional options to fine-tune recordings:
Record When: Either when any motion is detected, which is going to record pretty often, or when people, animals, and/or vehicles are detected.
People/Animals/Vehicles Are Detected: These are three separate switches. When Specific Motion is Detected is selected above, these switches control what triggers a recording. As a side bonus, it marks the recording timeline with icons for each of these things. See View and Control Cameras.
Face Recognition: HomeKit can recognize unique faces and display their names in notifications (including HomePod audio notifications) and in the recording timeline.
Of course, facial recognition doesn’t work unless it recognizes faces, which means you have to train it. Perhaps you already have in the Photos app, which you can tap into. Let’s look at the two ways to train HomeKit’s facial recognition:
Manually: Over time, the camera marks faces and lists them on this screen, under recent. Tap an entry and then Add Name to enter the name associated with that photo. Also on this screen, you can turn on Hide Notifications so you won’t get notified every time someone you live with walks in front of a camera.
It might recognize the same face repeatedly, but think it’s of a different person. The more of those faces you identify, the better-trained the algorithm will be. Identified faces are added to a library in the Face Recognition settings called Known to Household. Tap that to see all faces identified in the Home app.
From Photos Library: If you’ve trained the facial recognition in the Photos app to build up your People album, you can import that information into HomeKit. Under Libraries, tap Your Name Library to see those settings.
You can choose whether to share that data from Photos only with yourself or with every user of that Home. The only real difference is in notifications. For example, if you only share Photos data with yourself and HomeKit recognizes your Uncle Fitzroy from your Photo data, only you will receive a notification for that. But if you share with everyone, everyone will get a notification. Even after allowing access to your Photo data, you may still have to train HomeKit to each recognized face by hand, but at least when you tap a face in Face Recognition, followed by Add Name, you can choose the person from a list of those already identified in Photos.
Select Activity Zones: You can draw what is called an Activity Zone to tell HomeKit to pay attention only to things in that area and nothing outside of it. For instance, if you have a front door camera, you might draw an Activity Zone to focus on what’s in front of your door and ignore cars going down the street.
When you tap Select Activity Zones, you’re presented with your camera’s live feed. Tap the picture to place a dot that marks one of the zone’s corners. Tap three more dots and then finally tap the first dot to form a box the camera observes. After you’ve tapped the first dot to close the box, the corner dots vanish, but you can tap the box to reveal and adjust them (Figure 12).
Another thing you can do is box in an area you want to ignore and then tap Invert Zone to tell HomeKit to watch only what’s outside the box. The observed area will be brightly lit while the ignored area will be tinted.
Camera Status Light: Turn this off if you want the camera to be a bit more stealthy.
Night Vision Light: Many cameras have infrared lights that enable the camera to see in the dark (in black and white). Home lets you turn this off, though I don’t know why you would.
Troubleshooting Accessory Additions
In theory, you breezed through those steps and are now ready to tweak and use your accessory. But the reality is that things sometimes go wrong. Here are some troubleshooting steps to resolve common problems:
Accessory doesn’t appear: In my experience, this is the most common problem. Here are some things to do when it just won’t show up:
Tap Close and restart the process.
If the accessory is Bluetooth, make sure your iOS device is within a few feet of it.
Turn the accessory off and back on again. Unplug it or remove the batteries if you must.
Reset the accessory. Check your accessory’s documentation for complete instructions, but you usually reset an accessory by pressing and holding a physical button on it. Sometimes, the button may be recessed, in which case you’ll need a paperclip to reach it.
Accessory appears, but doesn’t work: Try removing the accessory from your Home, which you can find at the bottom of the accessory’s settings screen, resetting the accessory (as in step 4 above) and adding it again.
“This accessory isn’t compatible with your Wi-Fi router”: Usually you’ll see this when you’re trying to connect a Wi-Fi enabled accessory to a 5 GHz Wi-Fi network when the accessory supports only the 2.4 GHz range.
The solution is usually pretty easy: go to Settings > Wi-Fi on your iOS device, connect to a 2.4 GHz network, and then try setting up the accessory again. You might even see your HomeKit device listed under Set Up New Device in Settings > Wi-Fi, and you can at least connect it to Wi-Fi from there, but you’ll still have to finish setup in Home.
Accessory not supported: It’s possible that you can successfully add an accessory only for the accessory tile to say Not Supported. In that case, you likely need a firmware update, which I explain how to do in Update Accessory Firmware.