Good Home Automation Guide for New Constructions?

I've been trying to find a good guide on the internet for putting home automation into a new construction. Specifically, I'm trying to figure out:

- Whether I should wire for home automation (specifically surveillance and security), or use wireless products

- What wired/wireless products are "good". I'm not looking to spend a fortune, but I'd like to be able to expand and replace as time goes on.

-Is there one "good" brand for thermostat, lighting, security, surveillance, etc. Every website I've found is trying to sell x10 or insteon, but it's hard to tell if they are any good, or if a wired solution would be better.

I'm really not trying to get the people in this group to do my legwork for me. I'd just like some general nudging to a good site that isn't trying to push me toward their products.



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Hello Mildog. I have been doing amateur home automation for about ten years now. There are many in this forum with much more experience than me but I will give you my two cents worth. My house has a lot of "home- grown" automation and I've done some home automation work for a few friends. The equipment in my house controls the HVAC, sprinkler system, garage door, some of the lights. I have web pages where I can check the temperature in any room, all incoming and outgoing phone calls, HVAC status, garage door, etc. I am currently working on occupancy sensors, security, etc.

In my opinion, when building a new house, you should definitely add some wiring. Most of my work on friend's houses was done after the house was built and I can tell you from experience it's A LOT more difficult after the walls are finished. Also, it's a lot more expensive if you have someone else do the work. At a minimum, I would run two RG6 coax and two CAT-5e (or CAT-6) cables to each room in the house. These are not necessarily considered "home automation" but the lines are kind of blurred. That is, although these are technically computer network, telephone and video entertainment, they can also be used for video security and other communications.

While the price of wiring a whole house can seem expensive, look at it compared to the cost of the house and also to what it will cost if you wait. Once the wires are in the walls, the hard part is done. If you decide you want to add home automation, it will be fairly simple. If not, at least it will be available in the future. And when you sell it can be an asset. That brings me to my last point as far as whether or not to automate. When I decide how much automation to add to a house, first I consider how long I plan to live there. If I don't think I'll stay for more than a few years then I don't add much. The reason is that at present, home automation is not all that common and most buyers won't be familiar with it. In my current home, I did put in quite a bit of wiring but I haven't added a lot of expensive equipment and I am only using PLC for lighting. The reason for this is that it's a modest home and most people in the market for this kind of home would not be interested in home automation. In fact, it would probably be a negative for most buyers as they would not understand it and would just look at it as something complex and expensive to break down. When I sell, I will probably pull out all the equipment and leave only the wiring. People buying a $250k house don't want to worry about replacing relay controllers for lights, etc.

I don't know what your situation is as far has house size, etc. If you are building a mansion then I would probably lean more towards putting a lot of automation, or at least a lot of wiring. Otherwise, maybe just put in wiring for entertainment and maybe a few extras.

One other consideration is how much do you want to be involved? Are you a DIYer or are you looking to have someone else come in and install and set everything up?

This is a difficult question. There are many options out there and many opinions. One website to check out is http://www.home- I also sometimes look at

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They have a good variety but their prices tend to be on the high side, in my opinion.

As I mentioned, my experience is limited so I'll just tell you about what I've worked with. I've had very good luck with Worthington Distribution

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They sell quite a few different brands. I chose HAI and have been very happy with the equipment. All of my lighting control is currently X10. The reason for this is again the type of market my house is in. My _opinion_ of X10 is that it's OK but I would never connect anything that I needed to rely on. If a light doesn't go on or off when it's supposed to, it's no big deal but I would not trust my sump pump, furnace or garage door to X10 control. Again, that's just my opinion.

I hope this is helpful. Take a look at these websites and browse the older posts in this group.


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Absolutely wire during construction for anything you forsee using. It's cheaper, easier and often more reliable than RF.

"Bug" all perimeter doors and moveable windows. Don't forget to wire the overhead garage doors as well as the garage interior door to the house. Wire for motion detectors in hallways, near the stairwells and in places with high value items, such as the master bedroom, den/office, hoome theater area, etc.

Wire for moisture sensors near major appliances, under sinks and in kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Wire for temperature sensors in each room or at least in each major area of the home. Some newer temp sensors are flush mount so there's practically nothing to see.

Run CAT5 cable for HA system keypads near the primary exit door as well as in the master bedroom.

No. There are several good brands of each but no one company has a corner on it. This is going to be a learning journey discovering what is best suited to your application. Here are a few questions you'll need to answer for yourself at the outset.

  1. Do you want to include "structured" wiring in the project. Simply stated, structured wiring involves running cables for PCs, entertainment, video surveillance, security and fire alarm from each room or area back to a central location -- the "wiring closet."

Structured wiring is one of the most popular HA-related features and it should be given serious consideration on any new home. WIthin a few years iy's likely to be as common as telephone wiring is today and the next buyer of the home will expect it.

  1. Do you want the HA system to act as an alarm system as well. Since the wiring and most of the sensors used in HA are also used for alarms, most popular HA control panels also provide some security features. The type and extent of security desired will affect the selection of the HA system.
  2. Fire alarm. Builders routinely install 110VAV smoke detectors in new homes. Your HA system can monitor low voltage smokes. You can wire for these instead of the standard 110VAC smokes or, if they're already in, add a few "system" type smoke detectors in strategic locations so you can be notified if a fire is developing while you're out.
  3. Lighting. Most HA systems include some level of lighting control. You can use X10 (the cheapest and sometimes the greatest PITA). You can also use any of a wide number of wired, wireless of PLC (power line carrier) lighting controls.
  4. HVAC. You can use your HA system to control your heat and air conditioning systems by selecting communicating thermostats instead of the conventional ones the builder specifies.
  5. Other stuff. Your HA system can control incidental things like your swimming pool, hot tub, lawn sprinklers, etc. Most of these things can also be operated by stand-alone timers. I want my system to control the sprinklers because water is scarce here at times and I'd like to use it more efficiently. I want to set the pool lights, jaccuzzi pumps and temperature as part of an HA "scene" for parties (we throw lots of big ones:)) but other times the pool automation system can run on its own.

Insteon is better than plain old X10 in that it has a second, *usually* more reliable control signal. There are still problems with it though. I sell some competing products -- UPB and (soon) Z-Wave -- so I'm a little biased. Then again, so is everyone else. :^)

With the walls open if the electrician has not yet done his wiring you might want to consider hard-wired options like CentraLite. Another possibility is ALC which uses conventional wiring but send signals to switches via CAT5 cable. Spend a little time looking at UPB and Z-Wave too, even though the house is not dry walled yet. Both are reasonably priced and capable options.

No problem. The purpose of this newsgroup is to share information about HA. When it's functioning properly we all learn something.

I try to answer questions without "pushing" my wares. When the subject covers things I sell I make certain that I mention that I have an axe to grind. Fair enough?

As to HA controllers, have a look at HAI's Omni series and ELK Products' M1G (Gold) systems. Both are competent and well-supported online and through brick and mortar dealers (in case you ever want someone else to work on your system). I sell mostly ELK and can answer specific questions about it if you like. Others can give you more help with HAI and it is worth considering.

ELK and HAI are dedicated controller type HA systems. Some folks prefer PC-centric systems such as Charmed Quark (a product developed by one of the regulars who posts here) and HomeSeer. Both of those are competent, powerful HA software packages. CQC gets better press here partly because the maker has managed so far to avoid certain growing pains issues and partly because the developer, Dean Roddey, is here to respond to questions and concerns. He's a good guy and his product deserves consideration.

A third possibility is to implement a controller-based system such as the ELK or HAI products I mentioned and tie that into a PC running HS, CQC or one of the other software apps. People often do that in order to obtain the stability of a dedicated controller and the additional power / flexibility of a PC-centric system.

There's a lot to consider. I hope some of the above helps. It isn't intended to be a comprehensive treatise -- just enough to get you thinking.

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Robert L Bass

Thanks, Bill and Robert! I'm still trying to work through both of your posts, and you've given me a lot to think about. Some quick things off the top of my head:

  • I am definitely going to put in structured wiring, though I'm not sure what I'm going to use the additional pairs for.
  • My house isn't going to be anything monstrous (around 3400 sf. when all is said and done), but we're going to be there for at least 10 years, so I'm doing the HA mostly for myself instead of for resale.
*I'll definitely look into CQC. That sounds what I'm looking for for overall control.

One question. the "bugs" for windows and doors - would you recommend a wired or wireless solution?

Thanks a ton....I'm sure I'll be a regular here while I try to get my head around it.



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You're most welcome.

The 4-pair and coaxial wiring that make up the bulk of a structutred cabling system are designed to carry phone, data, surveillance and entertainment signals. Each system has different uses for the various conductors but they're all needed for *something*.

That's long enough to enjoy payback from many of the things you can to make the home operate more economically while

While you're at it, consider combining CQC with a stand-alone controller such as HAI Omni or ELK-M1G. Those offer security, fire alarm, CO detection, etc., none of which are usually part of a PC-centric solution.

If it's under construction, definitely go with wired sensors. The same is true of motion, glass break and most other types of sensors. You'll save a lot of $$ and the system will require less service.

Even once you're up and running, do stick around. There will be others who will enjoy reading about what you've learned along the way. Just be aware that while most of us are here either because we enjoy this stuff, we sell this stuff or both (like me:)), a few hang around only to harass. You'll quickly realize who the contributors are and who the umm, others are.

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Robert L Bass

will enjoy reading about what you've learned along the

this stuff, we sell this stuff or both (like me:)), a few

and who the umm, others are. then there are others who want to help the unsuspecting newby's avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous slimy salesmen

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Once you get started you'll find there's never enough pairs running to where they're actually needed. Needs and locations tend to change from the design phase to actual living patterns. You really do want to make sure you're thinking HARD ahead of time about how this stuff will actually be useful during daily activities.

Good, that's sensible. Just make sure that whatever you install can be removed or ignored without an excess of effort.

Wired works. Wireless "usually" works. If you've got walls open then run wire. Wire that works is a lot cheaper, in the long run, that wireless voodoo that drives you crazy. Some wireless stuff is rock-solid, but a lot isn't. I've got Lutron RadioRA switches and they've been absolutely reliable. But you needn't lock yourself into one system over another, most can be mixed when you've got a PC as a controller in the mix.

You'd again want to plan around actual use not just cool ideas. Trust me, the latter doesn't cut it with the spouse...

-Bill Kearney

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Bill Kearney

And fortunately there are just as many people that want to remind the others that anonymous psychotic stalkers are MORE trouble. Fortunately the people that actually contribute helpful posts about the actual subject matter outweigh the nitwits like you that have nothing better to do than stalk Bass.

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Bill Kearney

Thanks for the advice! I looked at the Radio RA switches, and they are exactly what I want! However, I'm trying to stay away from RF, and I'd like to have a hardwired solution for lighting (either wired back to a controller, or controlled over the powerlines. Do you know of any good solutions for this that have a dimmer like the RadioRA dimmers (ie a paddle for on/off, and a separate paddle to dim up/ down)? I'm stumped.

Thanks again!


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RadioRA has proved to be rock-solid reliable. I've never, ever had an RF command through RadioRA fail. Not once. Not all RF is created equal. Given the limits of what RadioRA offers and it's use of repeaters it's not much of a problem. It supports up to 32 main switches, or more if you've got something to bridge between them. Accessory switches (3-way, 4-way, etc) do not 'count' as part of the total count. Depending on the size of the home and how thoroughly you want (or can afford) to automate that might not be a problem. It wasn't for us in a 3BR house.

There's something 'wrong' with any system. Some just suck less than others.

-Bill Kearney

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