Someone mentioned in another forum that I might try this newsgroup for some help / advise with home Automation.
I'm about to move into a new home, and I think there's an opportunity to install some home automation products / services.
I have a lot of experience with electrical wiring and computers in general as well as wired and wireless networking. I don't, however, have any experience with home automation.
I'm looking for someone that wouldn't mind taking a little time to correspond with me, either here for the benefit of the group, or via email, so as to spare the group from my newbiness.
Breifly, what I have in my home now is that the builder ran coax, phone and cat5e from most every room in the house to the basement, where they are all currently bundled and un-terminated. The alarm panel is also conveniently located in the same place.
Anyway, if you have ideas / experience and are willing to spend a little time helping me figure out what I need, I'd sure appreciate it!
Thanks! Chris Hackett firstname.lastname@example.org
You came to the right place. There are a lot of regulars here who enjoy sharing what we know about home automation. Some of us are DIYers, some work for professional HA installers and some of us (me included) sell home automation equipment and services to DIYers.
Why not start by telling us what you'd like your HA system to do for you?
I'll preface my ideas with the fact that I'm a true novice with this stuff, so I may be in over my head. Who knows.
Also, I think I'm going to have to implement this stuff in bits and pieces so as not to break the bank. But I want to make sure that I don't go with the smallest or cheapest stuff available. Particularly since I have all these grand ideas. So when it comes to the "brains" of the operation (if there is such a thing), I'd rather err on the side of too much than too little.
I think I would eventually like to have most of the "subsystems" controlled or programmable. HVAC, alarm / fire, lighting, data, cable (a/v) and telephone.
Since the home is already built and walls are finished, there's probably not a high likelihood that I'll be interested in fishing new wires to each room. Although, I would guess that since there is a run to each room already, it would be relatively easy to pull one of them back with a "chase" or something, so I can attach a new run, and then pull them both back to the room.
Here are some of my ideas and thoughts on each system:
----- It's cool that each room has a cat5e run to it, but I've been happily using my wireless network for some time now, and wouldn't be disappointed if I continued using my wireless. Although I don't know if my wireless Ethernet will help or interfere with any wireless HA products or services. I definitely would like to have access to my HomeAutomation system via my data network (so I can access it from my laptop or from the internet .. maybe with some nat rules on my firewall).
------- My phone requirements are pretty small. Don't use home phone for much of anything. Wife uses it occasionally, but for the most part we're cellular people, and would probably give up home phone service if not for DSL. One person suggested installing big fancy phones in lieu of a speaker or intercom system. I don't know if that's necessary or not .. probably not.
-------- I don't know what all the options are with this, but I would suspect that anything above and beyond the standard programmable thermostat would suffice for me. It might be cool to have a few temperature sensors in various places in the home and control the system from those sensors as opposed to the single sensor that's in the thermostat. In our current home, we moved the thermostat into the master bedroom instead of out in the hall. Definitely care more about the temp in the bedroom than in the hall way, and there's a significant difference.
--------- Again, I would expect that whatever is above and beyond the standard system is cool with me. My system now has standard burglar and fire monitoring with all the usual bells and whistles (zones, motion, perimeter, etc..).
------ This is probably one of the bigger issues for us. We have, and LOVE, our dual tuner DirectTivo. Only problem is that we only have one of them in the family room. We can't route the signal anywhere else. Well, I suppose we could, but currently we don't. I'm thinking there must be some sort of solution to put the TIVO, and all the other AV equipment in the theater, and use IR "stuff" to control it from other rooms, and program which signal goes where. My guess is this stuff aint cheap, so it may be cost prohibitive. Oh .. and whole house audio is always cool.
-------- I don't think there's anything too unique about what I think is cool here. Pre-Set "scenes" like "evening" or "party" or "sleep time" or whatever. I had a fellow out that was telling me that I would need to start replacing all the switches with some kind of $100 switch. That would be WAY expensive for me .. I would bet the gang of switches in the entry way would cost me close to $1,000 to replace, and that's only taking 3 steps into the house!
Whew .. that's a lot. I guess what I'm thinking most about now is the main panel and how much it will cost to make sure that down the road I don't have to replace it because I didn't give it enough thought.
From what you've written so far, it's clear that you've given the hardware part some careful thought.
So let me jump in and suggest that this would be a propitious time to consider what software and(or) firmware you will use to control it all. For simplicity's sake, let me assert that the following categories are useful:
1) High end proprietary systems, eg
These appear to be out of your price range because typically the entry point is in the several $K.
2) The "I'm a wiz at C++ (or VB.net, or Forth or whatever), so I'll code it up myself next weekend" approach. You are a professional, so 'nuff said.
3) PC-centric (aka "federated") systems that depend on a PC in operation 24x7. (Given your web site, this may hold no terror for you.) Two Wintel contenders in this arena are
. There are others that have come and gone
now apparently available free) and others that don't quite make it in my opinion ( eg HAL from
) and others that are Linux based (visit
. I have experience with the first four listed. If your interests revolve around AV, take a good look at Charmed Quark. Homeseer supports more hardware and has a larger installed base but is still working out stability and driver issues from the last version upgrade.
4) Panel-centric in which a central controller like an Elk MG1
or Omni Pro
runs 24 x7 on firmware but not necessarily a PC. These have evolved so that they can become part and parcel of a PC-centric system via (eg) Homeseer or Charmed Quark).
One reason for examining the software early is that unless you intend to enter that black hole of writing your own drivers, the hardware (security systems, thermostats, I/O controllers, IR, lighting, AV video, intercom, etc) what specific hardware your chosen software already supports may be more important than the sometimes minor difference between hardware systems/brands. You can avoid some religious wars over hardware preferences in this way.
(Both Robert and I have one of the hardware controllers, and I also use PC-centric software with external commercial and homebrew hardware controllers.)
That may or may not be doable, depending on how the cables have been run. Most of the time staples and holes too small make repulling difficult to impossible. However, if there''s a basement with exposed floor joists above or if the home is a ranch style it's not hard to run new cables. More on that later.
As a general rule, wireless HA and wireless Internet can coexist peacefully.
Telephone intercoms tend to cost more than they're worth, especially if you don't really need the phone service. I usually prefer a separate intercom system or even one with music though the music/intercoms don't sound as good as multi-room stereo systems. There are several intercoms and even CCTV systems available that can ride on your CAT5 infrastructure.
Several of the popular HA controllers support remote temp and/or humidity sensors and can control simple to multi-zone HVAC systems. The ELK-M1 Gold system which I sell does that nicely and can work with a number of different brands of "communicating" thermostats. A competing brand called HAI has similar capabilities and is worth investigating.
Almost all of the serious HA controllers also do security, fire, panic. ELK's system comes with 16 input zones (sensing loops), expandable to over
Russound and Xantech both make excellent multi-room A/V controllers that can interface with your existing hardware, control it and "broadcast" the signal over ordinary cables to speakers and TV's throughout the house.
There are various solutions from X10, Zwave, etc., which run from $15 to $45 per switch. X10 is the lowest grade and price. Zwave is good and is reasoinably proced. Insteon is another mid-priced offering from a competitor called SmartHome. Some folks like it though there are a few problems that have been reported here. I don't sell any of these although I do carry a Zwave intereface for the ELK system and X10 interfaces for several others. I'm still up in the air about which I will use in my new (to me) home. At this point it looks like I'll go with Zwave.
You can get a starter kit consisting of master control panel, keypad and various accessories for ~$500-600, depending on what you choose and where you get it. MOst of these systems are readily available online.
Regards, Robert L Bass
Bass Home Electronics
PS -- I'm using my laptop at the moment so the username is different, but it's still me. :^)
Don't buy anything that would interfere with your wi-fi. Would you go back to looking for the Ethernet socket in every room you take your laptop into? I bet they didn't wire the bathroom, which I take my laptop into everyday. Guess what I'm doing now?
Everybody goes cordless, even though most homes have a telephone socket in every room.
There are many things wi-fi, wi-fi cameras, media adapter, and even residential main phone replacement. Then the rest are most likely have a USB for plugging into a PC. Get the free VNC, which make the commercial PC Anywhere like a joke, and you can control you home desktop or a dedicated computer over the internet as if you are at home.
You should go for internet phone - Sunrocket or Vonage. Not only they will save money for light (and heavy) users, they have full features. You can see your phone logs and read your voicemails over the internet. You can bring your phone with you anywhere in the world and people still reach you as if you are at home, and the call is local charge wise. You have E911 instead of just 911. But if there's a power outage, your modem fails or your wireless router fails ... They never failed on me for years, 24/7. But you have cell phones for back up.
The adapter is free if you want to keep your old telephones. But if you pick the wi-fi phone, you can use it on any hotspots I think.
But for DSL, you can't port your old number to the new service without giving up your DSL service. Go cable, 5 M is rather pleasant.
If you need an intercom, you need video intercom. Otherwise a camera is safer than voice intercom. If you get a wi-fi cam around $100, you can use it as a security cam when you leave home. You can see it over the internet without your PC.
I used wireless programmable thermostat Totaline. I carry it where I need the temperature to be regulated. Evening time, center of the living room. Night time, the coolest or hottest bedroom. More thermostat is a waste, you only get bad compromises. Optimum location of thermostat depends on season and time. If all your rooms are of equal temperature no matte what, you just need the plain old thermostat.
Think wi-fi cam. The range should be better than any of the x10 craps and the 1.2 GHz tiny craps. By definition you get as many cams as your wireless router can support NAT. Not just 1 channel for the 1.2GHz craps and 4 channels for the 2.4G X-10 craps or similar craps on eBay. You can see your home when you are on vacation.
The newer Tivo's are all network aware. You can have a Ethernet adapter or a wi-fi adapter. Multi room transfers are the aim, but I think you need 1 Tivo for each TV. Well if you have plasma in each room, I guess the price of tivo doesn't bother you. I suppose you can control all your Tivo's via your laptop wirelessly. I think you can grab the video with your desktop and beam it via wi-fi and receive it with a wi-fi media adapter, if that's cheaper than a tivo box.
There are always those dump IR range extenders, which turn IR signal into RF and back. No line of sight is needed.
Even if you throw money indiscriminately into X-10, a main filter, lots of blockers for noisy appliances, it's much cheaper. Then it's fully programmable via PC, and executed at the click of a button. For brownouts, you need some sort of interruptible power supply for the lights, which I guess is not practical. The alternative is battery operated wireless switches, which by default should remember the on-off state before brownout. For the new standard, you have to wait till next year. Now there are propriety systems.
I'll look into these. I'm hoping that my total cost to get the foundation laid won't be more than a couple thousand dollars, you you may be right that these are out of my price range.
This doesn't describe me :)
Someone else contacted me and encouraged me to look at the Homeseer stuff. They had good success with it, and suggested that there are lots of modules and stuff for integrating and controlling lots of different systems and devices.
I would like to have an in-wall panel at some point. If I can get the right system at the right price, I'll go ahead an purchase one now.
I am positive that I don't want to, or have the ability to, write my own drivers. One key aspect of the system will have to be either "self-contained" or "simplicity." This is for re-sale purposes. I don't want a new owner to be intimidated and scared of a complicated home automation system. I don't want people to feel like instead of their computer crashing, their house will crash, and they'll always be having to "reboot" their house in order to turn on the heat :)
Thanks so much for your information. I really appreciate it.
Excellent point. I didn't think of staples, and I've been "had" by staples on more than one occassion!!
Sounds like this would confirm my thoughts that telephone isn't worth the hassle.
I think I'll research, and probably use the ELK-M1 Gold. It's been recommended several times, and seems popular and supportable.
Gosh, I sure have a lot of reading and educating to get done in the next couple weeks! Thanks for these recommendations.
Yeah, so far the recommendations have been either Zwave or Insteon. I have no idea which way I'll go. I'm probablhy leaning toward Insteon, but I don't really know why. One thing I'm not excited about is bulky adapters and stuff. I don't know what they're called, but I think I saw them on some sort of "starter kit" from Insteon. I really want the sytem to be transparent or invisible...
This is less expensive than I expected. I wonder if you could make a recommendation of hardware and software based on a DIY'ers budjet of around $2,000 give or take..Maybe a recommendation from some folks would help me get focused and start actually making some progress! :)
Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions. I really appreciare it!
I have Sunrocket now. Service has been medicore so far. Maybe if we switch to cable, and give up the DSL we'll have a different experience with them.
This issue gets so complicated for us. We've looked into giving up the DSL and moving to cable, mostly cause we don't want to fool with Bellsouth anymore. I could never give up my Dual Tuner Tivo, and as far as I know that's only available on DirectTV. I don't know how much un-bundled data service from our cable company costs, or if it's even available. I'm guessing that the cost of unbundled data service from the cable company is more than the savings of giving up bellsouth and DSL. Of course it's all moot if I have to give up the dual tuner tivo. That's just not gonna happen :)
This is cool stuff. I would like to do something like this if it's 1) Not unsightly and can integrate with the environment reasoably well .. and 2) It's low-to-no maintainence.
That's an interesting concept. I'm not sure if it's for me or not, but definitely makes sense. I'm not sure if I'll remember or want to carry a thermostat with me from place to place. I wonder if there's a solution where I can install temperature sensors in various places, and then program the thermostat to regulate the temperature based on different, stationary, sensors .. maybe based on time of day as well.
I don't understand a lot of what you're saying, and I would like to install some camers, as long as they're low maintainence and relatively well integrated into my environment. I don't want them to be an eyesore. And while the cameras are cool, the motion and perimeter sensors and central monitoring are important to me. More important than cameras. If someone is intruding into my home or my "space" I'm much less interested in seeing them, than in getting rid of them.
Yeah .. it's been a while since I looked intothe Tivo's..I guess they're on series 3 now?
I don't know what the practical reality is of what you described above. If my wife is in the kitchen preparing dinner, I don't want it to be a 3 step move that requires punching keys on a wireless laptop if she wants to turn on the tv and watch something from the tivo in the kitchen. I realize that if I only have 1 tivo, then it can only send one signal at a time .. so that anyone in the house that's watching the tivo will all be watching the same thing. I think we can live with that.
So what's the implication of this? Do you have a recommendation or suggestion for lighting?
Thanks your all your information .. I appreciate it!
So based on the conversations I've had here so far, do you think something like this is a good start for me?
That's an Insteon enabled Elk M1 Gold with flush mount keypad. Will this simply replace my current Adamco (or is it ademco) security panel? And then I should get some insteon enabled thermostats and then some switches to do lighting? That seems like a good start to me?
I would investigate ZWave intensively before spending any money on it. IMO it has fundamental flaws which cannot be overcome. Those touting it are unqualified to judge (and usually have a financial stake in it). It may suffice for a very small residence but does not scale up well for larger residences. It needs a rather dense concentration of modules as it has to repeat signals sequentially from module to module to traverse the network. Unless something has changed recently, there is a rather small max_hops limit which curtails the size of any network. The time required for several hops to and fro, makes two-way communications too slow to be very useful. Multiple controllers don't make nice with each other. Removing dead modules from the routing table(s) involves starting with a clean slate.
The underlying Insteon technolgy is well designed but the company has a history of not quite getting things right as well as a history of poor quality control. You've seen some of the complaints on the Insteon forum. Still, at this time, it would be my choice for a new PLC based installation.
Since it's too late to hardwire, your only choices are PLC (Insteon, X-10, UPB), wireless (ZWave, several ZigBee based systems are in the works, several very simple RF systems exist) or HomePlugCC (still mostly vapor). Anything beyond a basic alarm panel is unlikely to add to resale value.
There are also higher-end wireless systems like LutronRA but I think they are mostly outside your stated price range.
Since AV is important to you, you should look at CharmedQuark which is heavily oriented that way. Dean Roddey, who wrote it, posts here and also has hands on ZWave experience in his (small) apartment. I don't know how it fits in with a panel like the ELK you're looking at but there are several knowledgeable end-users of the ELK panel lurking about who might chime in.
Ignore all advice from Borat, who seems to be masquerading as "accidental_plumber". Do they even have electricity (or houses) in Kazakhstan?
Sure you can. We have an 8-zone Carrier/Bryant system. Each zone has been programmed to follow our daily movements. There is no sense wasting energy on rooms that aren't used. The basic system has a master controller, and thermistor sensors in each zone. Upgrading to digital "smart sensors" for each zone makes it easy to override the programmed cycle when necessary. This system can also be programmed and monitored by the computer through a RS232 interface.
Was your system originally installed or designed as a multi-zone system?
Our system was not designed as a multi-zone (in the old house or in the new house). We have two systems one up and one down. In the old house, I had an HVAC guy come out and give an estimate for converting the downstairs system into a multi zone system, because the previous owner tapped into the downstairs unit to heat and cool the finished basement. I wanted to zone the basement, and I about fell out when he gave the estimate. I would be better off just getting a new system for the basement.
I'm a pretty handy fellow and don't think I would have too much trouble installing dampers into the existing system. Is that what you did? How did it go?
Are there any on-line retailers that you know of for the CharmedQuark products and services?
The CharmedQuark website seems to have two products, one is a software solution and the other looks like component / chassis type hardware device. Reminiscent of a linux appliance or something. Is this the solution you are encouraging me to look at further?
The HVAC contractor wanted to put in 3 separate units totaling 13 tons - one for each end of the main level, and another for the lower level. I designed a twin system driving a common set of ductwork. It has two 4-ton compressors configured for two-stage operation, and started with 3 zones for the main level. I further partitioned that, and did most of the ductwork for the lower level myself.
Installing round ductwork and dampers is easy. Even the larger rectangular stuff is not too tough. I did have the HVAC contractor install the main trunks since it needed some custom-made ductwork.
One unit carries the load most of the year, but the second one kicks in when temperatures are in the mid 90's. The system was designed for 115, and both units are pretty much flat out as temperature peaks near 120.
That's a good start although I'm not sure there are any Insteon enabled thermostats as yet. I think the interface mentioned is for non-Insteon thermostats. You will likely need at least two of the SignaLinc RF modules to link the two wiring phases.
If you have any CFL lights you may need filters to block the noise some of them put out. It can interfere with both X-10 and Insteon. And you may need filters for some of your appliances which can act as signal sinks.
It can replace the Ademco panel. It has no AV features but I th>Hi All,
You should take a look at the details regarding the thermostats. Click on "Details & Specifications", follow the Aprilaire & Omnistat links and read the installation manuals for each. There's sure to be some wiring involved between the panel and thermostats and/or between the thermostats and HVAC equipment. You want to be certain you can implement it without tearing out any walls.