Control ceiling fans with HomeKit
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Ceiling fans remain a popular way to keep cool, largely because they are so cheap to operate, but they also assist in both heating and cooling efficiency by circulating the air in the room. For fans of Apple’s HomeKit platform, it’s natural to want to be able to control as many appliances as possible through Siri and automation rules, and ceiling fans are a natural fit.
Unfortunately, the options on the market for fan controllers, or indeed fans themselves, that support HomeKit natively are a bit limited. All is not lost, though. There are a few ways of approaching this problem, each with pros and cons depending on your level of technical comfort and budget.
Benefits of smart fan control
The convenience benefits of smart fans are straightforward; being able to turn them on and off via your phone or a voice command makes it easy to do from wherever you are at the time, and helps to avoid needing to store (and find) all those extra remote controls.
But connecting to a smart home platform takes it to the next level. Being able to tie them into automation rules is particularly relevant given they can be associated with heating and cooling systems, smart shades, and sensors for windows, temperature and humidity. After all, when your home is able to take logical actions on it’s own, then we start to see the true potential of smart homes.
What Options are there for HomeKit Fan control?
Getting control of your ceiling fans in HomeKit can be achieved in three key ways.
Replace the fans with ones that support HomeKit
Use a smart switch to toggle the power
Use a third party WiFi remote
Obviously if you don’t have ceiling fans yet, then Options 1 is probably the way to go, although you may find it cheaper and not much more complicated to buy simple AC powered fans and go with Option 2.
Now, it’s important to note with options 2 and 3 that it depends on how your fans are powered. There are two types, AC and DC control.
AC fans are your old-school types, with either a regular speed control knob on the wall, or a pull cord to turn them on and off. These ones use a rotating knob control to vary the power to the motor, thus changing the speed. Option 2 will work with these, Option 3 will work if your AC fans have remotes.
NOTE: AC Fan controllers use different methods to vary the power to the motor, and motors draw a lot more power than lights at least initially. For this reason, it’s a bad (and potentially dangerous) idea to use a smart dimmer switch to control a ceiling fan.
DC fans are those with remote controls. They have a receiver which converts the AC input to DC voltage to control the motor speed, which is handled exclusively by the control receiver. In many cases turning the power off to the fan simply reset the controlled to ‘off’, so even using a manual switch won’t help with these ones. Only option 3 will work with these.
Let’s take a look at each of these options in detail.
Option 1: Replace with HomeKit fans
At the moment, only one ceiling fan manufacturer is producing products with native HomeKit support; Hunter, including their premium brand Casablanca.
Even though you only have a single manufacturer to choose from, If buying new fans is on the cards you still have a huge selection of sizes and styles in their range. Here are a few variations as an example, click the images for more info:
Hunter is a pretty big ceiling fan brand with a 135 years of experience behind them. All these fans come with built in LED lights and low noise, reversible motors and the control receivers are preinstalled to make installation easier. Not only do they support HomeKit, but Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as well, so if you’re hedging your bets that’s a bonus. Oh, and they come with a regular remote control. As a backup, of course, since we’re trying to avoid those here.
Option 2: Use a smart switch
When we say ‘smart switch’ in this case it could be either a replacement for an existing in-wall control, or it could be a built-in switch module that is wired into the fan itself. Both achieve the same thing: regulating the AC output to the fan motor.
Use a Wall Switch
If you’re replacing the the existing wall control for your AC fan (only AC fans can be controlled this way) you can opt for a regular smart switch. There are several HomeKit compatible switches to choose from, such as the Eve Light Switch, so you can select one that works for you. Keep in mind that a switch will only give you on/off functionality (0% or 100% speed), unless you use a speed controller.
There is only ONE HomeKit compatible speed controlled on the market, and that’s the Lutron Fan Speed controller. This device acts as a direct smart replacement for your regular fan wall control.
The Lutron device gives you a choice of 4 fan speeds, and you can pair it with their Pico remotes if you really want a remote control. To be fair if you’re using AC fans you probably don’t have one already, so there’s that.
Like their smart switches, the Lutron Fan Control uses their proprietary Clear Connect technology to communicate, so you’ll need a Casetta Wireless Bridge to connect it to HomeKit...or just about any other smart platform you can think of. It does give you excellent reliably and response time, though, and the option to add other smart switches or smart blinds later using the same technology.
Use an in-fan controller
The other option is to install a WiFi switch/controller in the fan. The go-to for this approach is the Sonoff IFAN03. This device offers 3 fan speeds and control for an integrated light as well. Keep in mind that you fan needs to support the output current provided by the IFAN03, per Sonoff:
1-gear (2.5μF) output current is 113mA (120V/60Hz) or 173mA(220V/50Hz); the 2-gear (2.5μF + 3μF) output current is 249mA(120V/60Hz ) or 456mA(220V/50Hz). The 3-gear act as the same performance as original.
The IFAN03 does not support HomeKit natively, so you’ll either need to use Homebridge to act as an interface, or for the tech savvy, replace the firmware on the device with a HomeKit compatible one. This is done by flashing the device with HAA (HomeKit Accessory Architect).
Setting up Homebridge is actually the easier option for most people. While it is a bit of extra work it opens up so many possibilities that I really recommend it to anyone interested in getting the most out of HomeKit. You can do it fairly easily these days by following my guide on installing Homebridge using HOOBS.
Sonoff uses the ewelink service for their app, so once you’ve wired up the IFAN03, you can use the ewelink Homebridge plugin to get HomeKit support up and running.
Option 3: Use a third party remote
If you fans with remote controls you can look at a third party controller that can talk to both the fan and HomeKit. DC powered fans will need to go this route as you can’t bypass their motor controller.
A nice option here is the Bond universal controller. This supports both RF and IR control and can be programmed from your existing remote, so it should support pretty much any fan that has a remote control.
Again, the Bond doesn’t support HomeKit natively. They’ve tried but Apple currently doesn’t support one-way radio controllers like this, so you’ll need to use Homebridge to connect it.
As with the IFAN03 option above setting up Homebridge is a bit of extra work, but it’s so useful you’ll inevitably find yourself using it for other things. You can do it fairly easily these days by following my guide on installing Homebridge using HOOBS.
I’d recommend using the homebridge-bond plugin of the several options available. This one has solid support and is easy to setup.
Once you’ve done that (or if you have Homebridge already) this is actually a pretty easy solution. As it simply learns the remote control signals from your existing remote you can use it with any fan, AC or DC, that has one.
One Bond should be enough to cover the whole home, so long as your fans are RF controlled (IR requires the bond to be in the same room). As a bonus, it also supports gas and electric fireplaces with remotes, and Somfy smart shades as well.
The Wrap Up
Whether you have old AC powered pull-cord fans, or putting in new fans for the first time, there are options that will get those fan controls into HomeKit. Even with limited products that have native support, third party switches and remotes can be configured to work with your setup using tools like Homebridge no matter what sort of fans you have.
It’s worth doing, not only for convenience, but because getting them into your automations can offer a range of smart home benefits, AC and heating to work better, and allowing your home to adjust things to your comfort automatically.