Making Home Assistant’s Presence Detection not so Binary

In Home Assistant and many other home automation controllers, your home status is either Home or Away. There’s no in-between. 


The Problem

So, you’ve got your home automation started, and it’s time to add some cool automations, like turning off everything when you leave, or playing some music when you get home. These can be pretty easy to do with presence detection, but sometimes you need more.

In my Home Assistant setup I’m using Bluetooth presence detection. Every ten seconds my Synology NAS running Home Assistant checks to see what Bluetooth devices it can ‘see’. If it detects my phone, then it knows I’m home.

When I get home, and it’s between a certain time, my house will start playing my Chillout playlist on Spotify through my Sonos speakers. It will only do that, if I arrive home alone, or my fiancée isn’t home. When everyone leaves, Home Assistant will shut everything down – including music, Philips Hue Lights, the TV, heating/cooling etc.

I’m in a two bedroom apartment, and the Bluetooth presence detection works across the entire apartment. There seems to be a blackspot when I’m at my desk with my phone. I’ll be working away, writing my next awesome automation or piece of code, only for Home Assistant to cut the power to my computer monitor and pause my music. A massive first world problem that needs to be solved.

I could increase the timeout which would reduce this from happening (which I’ve done) or even use multiple presence detection options like WiFi and Bluetooth. However this doesn’t solve the problem of my house doing things too quickly.

I’ll wake my phone, place it on the desk and wait for Home Assistant to detect it again. But here comes the problem. After waiting what seems like a lifetime for my phone to be detected again, everything starts as if I have been away for hours. My music is changed to my Chillout playlist again (or starts from the beginning), lights that I don’t need might come back on, I get messages that the dishwasher is done etc. At the moment, Home Assistant doesn’t know that I was home one minute ago, but maybe there’s a way we don’t need to start from scratch each time.

There’s also some times when we might be away from home. Maybe a weekend in the country, or away for work. The house should be able to tell that we’re more than just away for the day, so maybe it shouldn’t send us alerts that a battery needs to be replaced. Or, if I’m away for a long time, but my fiancée is home, maybe send those alerts to her instead.


Adding New States To Home Assistant

In my home, I want to track the following states that a person could be.

Just Arrived when someone has just arrived home after being away
HOME The classic Home state
Just Left When someone has just left the house
AWAY The classic Away or not_home state
Extended Away If someone is away for more than 24 hours

I’m using the Home Assistant input select component to track the states of my dishwasher and washing machine. I can re-use the same logic for that here.


Making Them Look Nice

Just like I did for my washing machine and dishwasher, I’m going to use a template sensor that will read the value of the drop-down. I can then make it look like a normal device tracker by adding our photos to the sensor.


Automating Transitions Between States

In Home Assistant we can see when someone is home or away only. But we now have some more complex states. Like I did for my washing machines, I’m going to use a for: condition. So as soon as someone is marked as away from their device tracker, they’ll be set to “Just Left”. If they are then in the “Just Left” status for five minutes, they’ll be marked as “Away”. The opposite is true when getting home.

However one problem I mentioned was music jumping back to my Chillout playlist. Let’s make sure that if someone is marked as “Just Left” and then their device tracker ‘sees’ them again, instead of marking them as Just Arrived, mark them as Home. This will stop any automations for when you get home for the first time firing off again.

Here’s some code which will do that.


We also want to add the special case “Extended Away”. This is useful if someone is away for the house for more than a whole day, like a vacation.



Using Templates for Multiple People

With the code blocks above, there’s five automations just to go through those states. What if you have two people in your house? That becomes ten automations you need to maintain.

Let’s use Home Assistant templates to make the automations more dynamic. We can use the trigger variable to see which device caused the state to change, and then update the drop-down for the right person. Using templates, our whole automation for today becomes the following.

Note: I’m using bluetooth and WiFi presence detection for my fiancée’s iPhone, which I have in a Home Assistant group. When her iPhone is detected on Bluetooth or WiFi the group Helen will be marked as home.


Some Automations We Can Now Do

Now that we’ve got our new states setup, here’s some examples of automations we can do:

  • Play music when someone is marked as Just Arrived
  • Send dishwasher/washing machine alerts to someone when they are marked as Just Arrived, so the notification doesn’t get sent every time their device is marked as home
  • If everyone is marked as Extended Away, activate vacation mode to automatically turn off/on lights to make it look like someone is home
  • Don’t send alerts/messages to anyone marked as Extended Away for day-to-day operations of the house, like the washing being done or a battery needing to be replaced.
  • If you are marked as Home after being marked as Extended Away, send an email to you with the status of your smart home. What sensors need their battery replaced etc.
  • When someone is marked as Just Arrived and there are people marked as Home, announce who just got home over Text-to-Speech. Great for an announcement to let kids know when a parent is home from work for the day.


Additional States

At the moment, these five states work well for me, but i may want to change them in the future. Remember, they may not be the best fit for you but you can tailor them to suit your own home.

I don’t use this feature, but Home Assistant can be used with GPS to identify ‘zones’, such as work or school. These zones are used by Home Assistant instead of “home” or “not home”.

You could also do something similar with the drop-downs. One example would be to add a work option to the drop-down. If you have Home Assistant exposed to the world, you could use Tasker on Android to change the state of the drop-down to work when you connect to your work’s WiFi. If you have something like an Eight Sleep tracker, you could also mark someone as “asleep” when their laying in bed.


Wrapping Up

By adding additional states for presence, your home gets more information about what is happening. This means your smart home can tell the difference between when you’ve arrived home from a vacation and when you’ve just picked up milk from the shops.

Hopefully this inspires you to think outside the binary constraints of your controller software, to help you build some really smart automations.

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  • pattyland

    Hi, just a quick question: Why are you using Bluetooth detection instead of WiFi? I thought WiFi would me much more wide range than Bluetooth, speaking of repeaters or multiple access points…

    • WiFi would absolutely cover more range. I’ve found that in our house, we tend to turn our WiFi on our phones off quite a bit. Generally 4G is faster than our WiFi here, so if we need to download something quickly we turn WiFi off. My work WiFi sucks, so I generally have to turn WiFi off, and then forget to turn it back on before I’m home.

      WiFi can also be a bit slower. Because phones go to sleep, you have to increase the timeout or “consider home” time to allow for this. So, Home Assistant may not see that we’ve left the house until 10 minutes after we’ve actually left.

      Bluetooth we keep on, as it drains little battery in the background, and doesn’t have the sleep issues that WiFi does.

  • Stephen Arbon

    I believe you should be able to shorten this up significantly if you were to bundle some of the actions together. For instance Mark Person as home could be
    – alias: Mark person as home
    – platform: state
    entity_id: input_select.phil_status_dropdown,input_select.helen_status_dropdown
    to: ‘Just Arrived’
    minutes: 10
    – platform: state
    entity_id: input_select.phil_status_dropdown,input_select.helen_status_dropdown
    from: ‘Just Left’
    to: ‘Just Arrived’
    – service: input_select.select_option
    entity_id: >
    {% if trigger.entity_id == ‘input_select.phil_status_dropdown’ %}
    {% else %}
    {% endif %}
    option: Home

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