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New Home Automation? 336

An anonymous reader writes "Ok, fellow geeks... I have the luxury of finally building my dream home from scratch. It's going to be good sized (~4000 sq ft over 3 levels), and rather than run around at night to make sure my lights are off, doors are locked, garage is closed, etc, I really want to put in a home automation system. Since the walls aren't up, this is the time for complete flexibility as to my options. The last time I did a whole house, it was years ago, X10. Since then, lots of other protocols, both 'proprietary' and more general (like WiFi) have come on the market for devices — all better than what I've worked with in the past. What do you all have experience with and recommend as reliable, secure, and fairly easy to use? Something with a good chance for long term availability of parts and features would be a bonus."
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New Home Automation?

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  • Z-Wave (Score:5, Informative)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @09:41PM (#45946565) Homepage

    Z-Wave is the only one that you want to have. Insteon is not very reliable, being dependent on power lines for signaling (at low baud rate, to make things worse) and nothing else can compare to these two.

    Z-Wave is entirely RF-based and requires no wiring. However make sure you have plenty of Ethernet everywhere because you will want to have Ethernet-connected sensors such as the power meter, the solar inverter, and a bunch more - plan for those ahead of time.

    Plan also for video cameras for security and Ethernet cables to them for IP (or coaxial cables if you pick analog cameras.) You will need entry/exit keypad controllers to operate things (don't know what kind of property you got.) Basically, plan everything before they are done with framing. Make sure all wires are in steel conduits, so that they are protected from Mickey Mouse. You will need live + neutral + protective ground everywhere.

  • by DanSSJ4 ( 1693476 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @09:42PM (#45946567)

    Make sure you run everything, Coax, Cat5/6, Lighting Electrical, Alarms, etc. to a single Telco Closet, or one on each floor.
    The biggest problem is usually having to run or rerun wires after construction do to poor planning.

    Also put at least one Ethernet jack in every room. Wireless is subject to interference from neighbors, other 2.4 & 5 ghz devices, etc. plus you get use them for video, audio, etc. in the future if necessary.

    That is where I would start, that way if you find later that you overlooked something, or decide to change some automation devices you will have the flexibility to do so.

    I like the Bayweb Thermostats, it is easy to manage multiple HVAC units, which you will certainly have with a house that size.

  • Don't. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ddt ( 14627 ) <> on Monday January 13, 2014 @09:46PM (#45946601) Homepage

    Ever lived in a house with a built-in intercom? Find yourself using it? Don't feel bad. No one else does, either.

    For long-term value, try to resist the urge to automate it today. Lasting value will come from routing high quality, shielded cables both for data and power to multiple outlets in every room as well as creating strong rooms and creating lots of easily accessible, strong mount points where you can install things you'd like to automate with whatever the latest and greatest tech is. They might be mounts for motors for pulleys for shades or mount points for light fixtures or for a robotic arm that changes your baby's diapers or a landing pad for flying bot that fetches you snacks from the kitchen. The thing is, tech is changing *so* ridiculously fast now, that no matter what you choose today, it's going to be not only obsolete in no time, but in all probability some kind of maintenance and even security liability later.

    If you design those mount points in to look attractive instead of like nubs of unfinished 2x4, that's going to be the real art of making a house that a hacker can thrive in but that can improve continuously over time and that can be of value to someone in the market for a house 10-20 years later. Goes without saying, but removable wall panels are also a great way to make a house far more maintainable into the future.

  • Z wave (Score:5, Informative)

    by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @09:47PM (#45946617) Journal

    It's what I'm starting to use and it's pretty good so far. Door locks, window/door sensors, thermostats, motion sensors, lights, outlets, dimmers, etc. Pretty handy so far. Scripting with LUUP (a LUA like language) is pretty simple, and you can get it to play pretty easily with other whole-house solutions (like SONOS).

    For example, when I get home, I can use my cell phone to open the garage door, turn on the garage light, the hallway light, the family room light, turn on the tea maker, and fire up SONOS to the Pandora station of my choice. At night, I can issue a single "time to sleep" command and the house locks itself up, sets lights/temperatures appropriately, and I'm set.

  • Re:Insteon (Score:5, Informative)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:06PM (#45946751) Homepage

    I have exactly 42 addressable Insteon devices, plus some access points and some motion sensors that are not addressable. The reliability of all of them hovers about 90%. Note that Insteon retransmits up to 4 times if ACK is not seen. Only one device has 60% reliability, and that is probably due to wiring that leads to it. I also have one Insteon thermostat; it is so bad (crashes) that I cannot have it in the network.

    The largest problem is when you walk into a room and press a button. Two events are generated at the same time, and they are competing for bandwidth. Oftentimes one of them is not delivered to the controller. Insteon is not that good at resolving collisions.

    I have some Z-wave devices, since I'm developing their firmware (we have the license and the SDK.) Z-Wave is faster, and this means that probability of collision is lower. There is also spatial separation of segments of a larger network - RF reaches only some nodes, but not all of them. In power line based systems all nodes hear all other nodes because the injected signal is pretty loud. (Exception is RF connections of Insteon, but even then if several access points hear your motion sensor they may both retransmit.)

    One obvious advantage of Insteon is cost - these are cheaper devices. But expect about 5% of them to fail on you. I have three devices that are dead now. Insteon also works in steel NEMA boxes; Z-Wave will require the antenna to be dragged out.

  • Where to begin ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by xplosiv ( 129880 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:10PM (#45946785)

    I highly recommend you check out [], especially the forums, as there are thousands of folks who have done this, and can bring you up to speed pretty quick. There is also a guide on the site (Wiring your home 101) which will tell you what wires you should run assuming budget isn't an issue (this lets you pick and chose what wire really matters to you).

    You have so many options, it really depends on the time you are willing to put in, budget, and features you want.

    I recommend you use an Elk M1 or HAI Omni Pro II security/automation panel as the 'core' of your system if security is really important to you, or if automation is your main vice, then look at the SmartThings, Vera, ISY-99, and HomeTroller (Zee) hardware controllers.

    Most of us top this installation off with a software component, so we can bridge/interface many protocols and technologies (this way you aren't stuck with just one solution). Most popular commercial software solutions are Homeseer and CQC, but there are many alternatives, free, open source, etc.

    Currently, Z-Wave, INSTEON, UPB, ZigBee, and WeMo are the popular protocols.

    If you have the budget, consider hardwiring your home automation light switches, as the wireless/powerline based solutions aren't perfect, plus you have to worry about latency/security. CentraLite, Crestron and Lutron RadioRA are popular commercial solutions. They usually require dealer/installer access, but if you really look around, you could get access to the hardware (I'd probably combine RadioRA with a HAI/ELK panel).

    There is so much more to tell, so if you have any other questions, ask away, and don't forget to check out the CocoonTech home automation forums []!

  • by bob_super ( 3391281 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:27PM (#45946913)

    Start using them by running two CAT-6, a pair of multimode, and if you can afford it (4000ft2?) a pair of singlemode fiber. Don't need to connect them yet, just have enough space for outlets.
    At least two of these conduits per room, opposite walls/corners. At least one conduit to each outside wall of the house (put power in these ones too, not everything is PoE). Maybe one more conduit to the top of each outside wall if you want to add cameras-over-IP out of reach, while keeping regular plugs low.

    Ideally you'd have all the conduits lead to two different rooms/closets/hidden_panels, in case you have to modify the house in the future, or if you expect people to come grabbing, whether they knock with a warrant or break the window.

  • Re: Don't. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:29PM (#45946935)

    A space for running pipes vertically is called a chase. Be careful, a chase is also a way for a fire to very easily get from the basement to the attic.

  • Re:Z wave (Score:4, Informative)

    by djrobxx ( 1095215 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @10:38PM (#45946993)

    It's what I'm starting to use and it's pretty good so far. Door locks, window/door sensors, thermostats, motion sensors, lights, outlets, dimmers, etc. Pretty handy so far. Scripting with LUUP (a LUA like language) is pretty simple, and you can get it to play pretty easily with other whole-house solutions (like SONOS).

    You're describing the Vera, which is primarily a Z-wave controller but supports lots of other protocols and ethernet/serial devices. I use this as well. The best part is that there aren't monthly fees to use it, and the community is writing new drivers for things in LUA all the time. Most other HA solutions I've seen are very nickel-and-dime.

  • by Charcharodon ( 611187 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:03AM (#45947869)
    You are correct, instead of running the wires, just run a length of string/cord through, that way later if you decide you want a run then just tie it off and pull it through. Don't forget to add another piece of cord along with the cable you are running!
  • by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:04AM (#45947873) Homepage Journal

    Update that to three CAT-6 + 1 coax, and you're doing well. Most signals can be piggybacked on CAT-6 these days (including HDMI and USB) so make those connections easily cross-connected and well labelled.

  • by auzy ( 680819 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:22AM (#45949365)

    I work for a company who installs automation here in Australia (Mox BI VIC). Firstly, the good thing is that you have the opportunity to decide how you want to wire things now if the house isn't built.

    1) Start by Wiring back the TPS for lights, downlights, and power points to a single rack. This means that you wont need to crack open the wall to change to a new tech in the future, even if you plan to use a retrofitable system. I cry a little when I see a new house being built, and a retrofitable technology tacked on. Structuring the wiring will make all the difference in the future.

    2) Wireless technologies such as Z-Wave are great, however, keep in mind that technologies running on 2.4GHZ need to accept interference. If the idiot neighbors run a baby monitor on those frequencies, and you get dropouts, you cannot sue them, or force them to change. For that reason, only use wireless technologies for retrofits if possible (for multicolored lights, they may need to realistically be wireless though). Do not design a system that will rely on it (except for iPad/iPhone AV control).

    3), Run more CAT5/CAT6 than you think you need. And keep in mind, CAT6A theoretically can run up to 10gbit/s up to 37m. There is higher quality unofficial standards such as CAT7A available, however, only install them if you have the money (because, they aren't official, and may not add any real benefit, but are nice to have).

    4) Have a 15A socket in the garage. UPS's work better with it, and, in an automated home, it might be nice to have control of some features.. Also, try to get a high-amperage TPS run to the garage (for electric cars potentially in the future).

    5) Single story house is TONS less painful for future changes than double. If you are doing double, be doubly sure that the wiring downstairs is right. You might not get a second chance without tearing serious holes in plaster (which we have had to do in a few systems to add/change extra functionality the client later wanted).

    6) Run at least 3 Ethernets to every TV. You might want a matrix switch later, and you may also want to control your TV's. If you run a single CAT5 to each TV, you might regret it..

    7) You might want electric blinds... Keep that in mind.. You may also want gate lock and front/back door to be openable via intercom.

    8) The last problem is wall switches. Unfortunately, many common protocols at this time use a Bus wired system (we use CANBUS, which is utilised in cars also). If you run 6-core security wire in a chain to each point, and RJ45 back to the central rack, you should be covered (albeit, in an expensive way).

    9) Pick a standard with an open protocol. To be honest, many protocols can be reverse engineered (it just takes time). If you have the protocol though, even if you pick a standard that dies, it may be possible to develop a software bridge that bridges between 2 protocols, and slowly phase parts of the system out.

    Obviously, I am biased, but I recommend MOX Canbus (as I know MOX is committed to the system for the long haul), but, ultimately, the system you choose will also depend on your country anyway (because, it needs to be electrically approved in that country anyway).

  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:44AM (#45949445)

    Place thin wall plastic conduit, as big a diameter as you can fit, within the walls between rooms in anticipation of whatever future technology you might have to route through there.

    I didn't really know what I needed until the house was completed. If I'd had it to do over again, I'd have paid more attention to what runs down the external walls.

    I have enough attic clearance to run whatever new cabling I need to interior walls, but the pitch of the roof is such that dropping anything new down an outside wall would probably require opening up the roof in that area. Not enough clearance inside the attic.

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