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Ask Slashdot: Options For Cheap Home Automation? 189

New submitter goose-incarnated writes I'm looking at cheap and simple home automation. Unfortunately I'm not too clued up on what my options are. There are such a wide array of choices, none of which seem (to me) to be either cheap or simple. I'd like to: Turn switches on/off (lights, wall sockets, general relays, etc); Read the status of on/off switches; Read analog samples (for example, temperature sensors); 'Program' switches based on analog samples/existing switches (for example, program a relay to come on at 30C and go off at 25C, thereby controlling the temperature); Similarly, program switches to go on/off at certain times; Record the samples of analog or digital inputs for a given time . I'd like to do the above using smartphone+bluetooth (for when I'm in the vicinity of the room), or smartdevice+WiFi (for when I'm in the house, somewhere), or even in a pinch, using HTTP to access a server at home from 600km away (which is what I'm willing to do). I'm definitely not willing to stream all my requests/data/responses through a third-party so third party cloud subscription solutions, even if free, are out of the question. Finally (because I know the Slashdot crowd likes a challenge :-)), I'd like something that is easily reprogrammable without having to compile code, then reflash a device, etc. What languages for embedded devices exist for home automation programming, if any. A quick google search reveals nothing specially made for end-users to reprogram their devices, but, like I said above, I'm clueless about options.
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Ask Slashdot: Options For Cheap Home Automation?

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  • Insteon (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:14PM (#48775885)

    I'd recommend looking at Insteon. It is the closest to what you are looking for off the top of my head.

    If you want to avoid going through some service they own/control, you might need to roll your own management system, but as far as cheap devices you can control programatically I think they're probably what you want.

    I'd like something that is easily reprogrammable without having to compile code, then reflash a device, etc.

    Architecturally you probably want the devices to be dumb. They can report information or accept commands. Leave any logic to some kind of centralized controller.

    Bonus note: avoid x10 (if it's still even around). It's dirt cheap but pretty much the shittiest system out there. I lost much sanity to it back in the day.

    Personally I did the x10 thing back in the day using at first an ocelot controller and then eventually my own hacked together system using the ocelot as a modem. The shittiness of x10 aside, I grew bored with it fairly quickly. It's all fun and has a neat "house of the future" feel, but I didn't find a great deal of utility in it, and what utility there was is already covered by purpose specific devices (smart thermostats, etc).

    • Sure: Trade the insecure Insteon IoT for the impenetrable X10. I'm still using X10 around my house, but with no central controller that can be hijacked to send malicious signals to controlled devices.

      Until IoT has robust security, you may's well hang your unfirewalled computer directly on the Internet. IoT has the capability of burning your house down if you have the wrong devices installed.
      • Re:Insteon vs x10 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:17PM (#48776577)

        I wouldn't trust either to control any device with actual destructive capability.

        X10 doesn't need a path to the internet. With such a primitive protocol all it takes is a dying fridge or UPS to make devices randomly turn on and off (this is actual experience talking).

      • Re:Insteon vs x10 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:28PM (#48776707)

        Central control means nothing. X10 is completely insecure. Your power line is a shared bus. I had to coordinate with my neighbor to use different X10 channels, because we kept turning each other's stuff on and off. Anyone can just plug in a controller, and every X10 house downstream of the step down transformer will see the signals and respond. At one point I had a sniffer/sweeper running to debug the damn problem and that's when I got my neighbor's attention cause his house went bonkers when I swept the A channel. He moved to B and all was well after that. But still very insecure.

        • The worst part about Insteon devices is that they have x10 support which can't be disabled. It results in devices switching on and off randomly.

          • by Nonesuch ( 90847 )

            The worst part about Insteon devices is that they have x10 support which can't be disabled. It results in devices switching on and off randomly.

            This may have been true when Insteon was first introduced in 2005, but has not been the case for at least the past 5 years. No new Insteon devices come with X10 addresses programmed in by default, and Insteon is almost entirely immune to accidentally responding to noise on the power line by switching on and off randomly.

            Insteon support site [] now states "Please note that most new Insteon devices no longer support X10 communication.".

            In general, Insteon is not a particularly secure protocol, and is vulnerab

      • Re:Insteon vs x10 (Score:4, Informative)

        by DriveDog ( 822962 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:32PM (#48776767)
        X10 is lacking in many ways, and I still use some of it, but the biggest problem I've had was with durability. Many of the components were horribly made and just broke. Stanley, GE, Radio Shack, didn't matter. Old Sears parts lasted longer but still just died. I can't comment on how vulnerable the others are, but X10 is very vulnerableâ"from outside sockets and other units on the same transformer. North Koreans aren't going to hack your house from Pyongyang, but sneaky neighborhood kids can. I think you can filter the signals from the incoming power lines, but that's not commonly done. Also, you need to bridge the two incoming 110V legs so that X10 signals get across, otherwise parts of your house might not talk to other parts. Still, to play around a bit, there's no cheaper way than X10.
      • You can do a lot of basic testing with cheap X10 stuff, then if you decide it's not a waste of time, go find something better. I played with X10 stuff a decade or so ago, and while it was pretty easy, I found that my home didn't have much that benefited from automation. (A previous place I lived had a hot tub that took an hour to heat up, and it would have been useful to be able to fire that up remotely. But that was gas-powered, and the landlord owned it, plus that was back in the days that it would hav

      • by jjhall ( 555562 )

        If you're on the same transformer as your neighbor's house, your X10 system is wide open to them too. Years ago when I was playing with X10, we had all of the lights in our house start randomly flashing at 2:00 in the morning. This happened a couple of times over a couple of weeks. Come to find out, our neighbors just had a new alarm panel installed and had a few false alarms as they worked the kinks out/got used to how it operated. One of it's features was to flash all X10 light modules when the alarm

    • I second the Insteon vote. I used a selection of Insteon devices plus the ISY994i ( []) to do much of what the OP asked about. In addition to all the typical benefits of home automation like one-touch lighting scenes and the like (most of which is doable with bare Insteon), the ISY-994i is both programmable itself (through a simple event-based GUI language) and offers a REST (and SOAP) API for remote control through your language of choice. If the In
    • Re:Insteon (Score:5, Informative)

      by jonsmirl ( 114798 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:03PM (#48776431) Homepage

      Insteon is the most cost effective solution. []
      Second place is Zwave. Check out Open Zwave []

      The rest are twice the price of these two. Control4 even quoted me $270,000 to automate my house. That ridiculous quote went right into the trash can. I have a large Insteon system that costs less than 1/10th of that Control4 quote.

      Insteon is not 100% reliable, it is about 98% reliable. So sometimes when you turn things off/on you have to do it twice. I have also had many units fail over the years but the newer ones seem to be lasting longer.

      • My lighting system is all Insteon based. Even if it is proprietary (ugh), it does actually work as advertised. Everything except the Keypadlincs has been bulletproof, but some of the earlier KPLs have been less than reliable. Due to recent power spikes, I've lost the last of them, and the new 7.x models seem to be lasting without issue. Do not try to manage any Insteon network of decent size without an ISY994, however. You'll go mad. Plus, the ISY provides an easy way to script behaviours.

        The rest of

        • Re:Insteon (Score:4, Insightful)

          by jonsmirl ( 114798 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @04:45PM (#48777807) Homepage

          I have about 20 dead Keypadlincs. Every one from my initial install has died. I tried arguing with them about replacements but they wouldn't do anything. That's $1,600 of dead units so it was not insignificant. The replacement ones I bought seem to be working. All of the old ones died in exactly the same way - buzzing from the power supply. Something was obviously wrong in their design. I would have been happy even if they had traded me two for one on new units but they offered nothing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        so that's "less than $27,000" to automate your house. that's just more than a little stupid if it's anything actually close to that amount. i hope you meant to say less than 1/1000th the price, and not 1/10th the price.

      • I use Insteon at home as well. Budget $75 per control point, and $500 for the controller. I use the ISY controller, and it is a piece of junk, but it does the job. There isn't the variety of sensors, switches, devices, and accessories I wish there was, some older devices are a pain with low-power loads, and the plug-in devices are generally a pain in the ass. Programming is clunky, but not that hard.

        I still haven't put it into our vacation home, holding out for something better. Two years later, still

        • The ISY has an HTTP interface. That is how you extend it.

          • The ISY (upgrade to the 994i if you haven't already) has a very nice and fully documented REST interface, included in the base license. There is an optional module enabling it to make calls out to remote network resources and also host web pages internally on the microSD storage card.

            You don't need to use their proprietary programming interface. The same PLC or "PLM" (PowerLinc Modem) that the ISY uses can be accessed directly as a serial device [] if you want to work with Insteon devices at a low level f

    • Re:Insteon (Score:4, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:03PM (#48776433) Homepage

      At this point, Insteon's cost isn't much lower than Z-Wave which is much more flexible/modern.

      I personally have a Vera Lite - it's a great device with built-in Z-Wave, but for the "hacker enthusiast" types, a group of people has created an alternative ecosystem of devices that use nRF24L01 radios for communications to do whatever you want.

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        I also have a Vera (the older Vera 2) and highly recommend it. No cloud server needed, although you can optionally set your Vera up to communicate with their servers for free, if you want. (If you don't want, you can set up a VPN to access it from outside the home.)

        It's built on OpenWRT, and has a robust community building support for all kinds of devices. It's primarily a Z-wave controller, but it can talk to Insteon systems if you buy the appropriate hardware.

        I'd recommend getting whatever the big vers

        • I'm wanting to build my automation system over time. I've been wondering what is the best hub to take advantage of discounts in hardware. Does anybody's hub do everything, and if it does is it a piece of crap because it is trying to do too much? Am I just better off waiting and rewiring everything (from manual control) in a unified standard when I've saved a pot of money for automation?
          • Re:Insteon (Score:4, Informative)

            by plover ( 150551 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @05:07PM (#48777961) Homepage Journal

            The choice of protocol is going to be your first decision. I picked Z-wave because there are many different manufacturers and a wide variety of devices. Every so often, someone will have devices on clearance or closeout. And you can find them in lots of places: Home Depot, Staples, and a wide variety of online merchants carry them. If you go with a more proprietary system like Insteon, you'll pay more per device and be more locked in.

            The hub cost should be less important to you than the per-device cost. You need to buy only one hub, but you'll end up buying a lot of devices. Be prepared to pay about $40/device (list), or $10-20/device (clearance).

            Unlike the protocol, the controller isn't something you have to be stuck with forever. You can upgrade them. Z-wave controllers are available in a USB stick form factor, which means you can build a home controller out of any computer you want. I chose to buy a Vera because I wanted an open system that didn't have a monthly fee, and I wanted the whole controller as a turnkey system. The Vera has a really good UI and a lot of mobile phone clients that connect to it, but there are several other Z-wave controller options, including HomeGenie (completely open source, designed around a small platform like the RasPi or the Beagle Board), and OpenHAB (platform agnostic Java, completely open source, but very weak UI.)

            People have recently started rooting the Wink, which is a really cheap controller with a lot of connectivity options (including Z-wave), but it's not an open source device. And the Staples Connect Hub (made for them by D-Link) has lots of connectivity options for only $49. My Vera2 is currently at the limits of capacity for all my devices, so I'm considering options besides migrating to their Vera 3, including building my own HomeGenie system. The Vera 3 is about $299, but I think I could build a very capable HomeGenie box for under $100.

            • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

              Same reason I went with Z-Wave.

              In theory, ZigBee is a more "open" standard, but... It's too open. ZigBee HA has pretty much no interoperability guarantees.

              For example, ZigBee Lighting Link (ZLL) is standardized - but there are lots of examples of ZLL devices that won't talk to each other. Hue hubs won't talk to Greenwave bulbs, Greenwave hubs won't talk to Hue bulbs, despite all devices being ZLL certified devices.

              Note that Vera has a fairly robust plugin mechanism, so it's possible to add support for st

      • Using a mix of zwave, nrf based mysesnors, and some x10. Vera is pretty user friendly to start up and you can use it as a modem later as it's logic is pretty weak without addons.

        Zwave is great for things going into wall boxes, the logistics of getting a DIY box make it prohibitive. When you can get a dimmer for 35 ready made it's hard to put something together at that price point.

        nRF bits great for sensors and more complex bits, putting together a custom device is easy and cheap.

        x10 it lacks 2 way communi

      • I have a veralite. the community at is why I chose the veralite. The manufacturer doesn't communicate very well but the community more than makes up for it. the device native talks z-wave but with plugins can talk to many wifi and ethernet devices including most ip cameras and with hardware addons can talk insteon, x10, infrared, and some other rf protocols.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    check out the home/industrial automation program ECS at It will do almost all of what you're describing, and "talk" to a huge list of devices. You can even download a full working version that will work for 30 days.

  • Bah ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:22PM (#48775945) Homepage

    Bah, do what people have been doing for centuries ... have kids and make them get up and do it.

    • Re:Bah ... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:25PM (#48775987)
      Total cost of ownership is way too high nowadays. And they've even taken away the "ownership" part. If you read the TOS it's scary as hell. You just can't whip them anymore.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or have kids so they can buy a raspberry pi and script that to do it. Please tell them to be careful with exposed 240v wiring though, but the soldering iron will probably be OK. Try not to let them get obsessed by writing *everything* in python. :-)

    • Re:Bah ... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:31PM (#48776065)

      Bah, do what people have been doing for centuries ... have kids and make them get up and do it.

      When my kids stayed with their grandparents for a month, my electric bill dropped by more than half. You are delusional if you think kids will make your home more efficient.

      • Re:Bah ... (Score:5, Funny)

        by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:37PM (#48776131) Homepage

        He said he wanted cheap home automation.

        Sounds like he's already willing to spend far more than it will save him, so clearly efficiency is not a constraint. :-P

      • Bah, do what people have been doing for centuries ... have kids and make them get up and do it.

        When my kids stayed with their grandparents for a month, my electric bill dropped by more than half. You are delusional if you think kids will make your home more efficient.

        Really? Because nothing you said supports that notion - because it's inevitable that having fewer people in a house will lead to lower energy consumption regardless of total efficiency. (Fewer loads of laundry, less hot water consumption, roo

        • having fewer people in a house will lead to lower energy consumption

          More than half of most household use is "base load" that does vary with the number of occupants. Lighting of common area, A/C, etc. The power consumed by a refrigerator will go up as more people open and close it, but most of it is just keeping the contents cool through the day. A hot water heater will use more energy as more people take showers and do laundry, but much of it is just maintaining the temperature in the tank. If the number of occupants drops from 4 to 2, the energy consumption should drop

      • Re:Bah ... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @03:54PM (#48777423)

        It cost $4.00 per year to keep a LED bulb (60 watts equivalent) on 100% of the time at 15 cents per KW/h. It would take over 10 years to pay for a switch to cover the cost. Add to this the cost of running the system as a whole and you are heavily into negative savings.

        Most of the cost of having kids live with you comes from:
        - laundry
        - electronics
        - curling irons and hair driers
        - long showers
        - cooking for more people

        You can't reduce the laundry cost unless you get better equipment or manage laundry loads better
        You can already optimize electronics power consumption by using the built in energy saving methods
        You can try to educate the kids to control the length of their showers
        Cooking has to continue so that cost will remain the same.

        More people in a house hold equals more electricity and water usage. You can't avoid that.

        In my opinion automation systems are really good for the following:
        - T-Stat control (such as the Nexus) can reduce your heating/cooling bill significantly
        - Oven outlet (in case you forget it on). This is both a cost saving and possibly a life saving since a large percentage of household fires are caused by ovens left on

        Anything else I can think is more of a luxury such as auto ambience control, blinds...

        My 2 cents.

      • Must not live in Ontario, Canada, where 90% of the electricity bill is distribution fees, taxes, debt retirement and other fees which are pretty static. Only 10% is actual usage cost.

        • Must not live in Ontario, Canada, where 90% of the electricity bill is distribution fees, taxes, debt retirement and other fees which are pretty static. Only 10% is actual usage cost.

          Well. You do live somewhere that has to cover the $0.80/kWh paid to homeowners with Solar operations feeding back to the grid. Here in another part of Canada, monthly fixed costs are $10.83/mth, and usage is $0.15/kWh. Total is taxed at GST only. Without paying for heat or hot water , my usage is $30/mth.

    • Bah, do what people have been doing for centuries ... have kids and make them get up and do it.

      So.. Where do you find the OWNER'S MANUAL for kids? I've searched and beyond the "What to Expect..." series of books written by someone who OBVIOUSLY hadn't seen my two kids, there isn't much out there that seems authoritative on the subject.

      • Re:Bah ... (Score:5, Funny)

        by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:40PM (#48776831) Homepage

        So.. Where do you find the OWNER'S MANUAL for kids?

        Well, think of it like open source. A few people have taken a stab at a manual, but they don't mention any of the problems you mention, and it's grossly out of date. You can look on the internet, but the support forums aren't very helpful and often contradictory. And there's always a guy telling you to switch to the stuff they use.

        In the end, you give up on the whole thing.

        My advise, release them into the wild, and let them go feral. ;-)

        Of course, I'm pretty sure I'm the last person you want to take parenting advise from.

    • Bah, do what people have been doing for centuries ... have kids and make them get up and do it.

      I did the "have kids" part, but it cant even crawl yet!
      Misses will be pissed when i have to hire her services again.

      Light-hearted joke. Dont go all "omgwtfbbq sexism" on me lol

  • you want easy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:24PM (#48775969)

    best part of DIY is spending three hours troubleshooting why the lights don't turn off when you could have just walked to turn them off

  • You need a PLC configured with the right I/O (relay in/out, analog in/out) with Ethernet and a common, open protocol like ModbusTCP... Automation Direct [] is a good supplier of these.
    Alternatively one could use "dumber" remote I/O devices like these []
    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      Doesn't fit the "cheap" criterion.

      • OK, turn your Raspberry Pi into a PLC []...After relay boards, etc., your a hundred or so $USD into it...
        • by xtal ( 49134 )

          It's cheaper to get a modbus PLC by the time you add a case. As a bonus, the PLC has CSA and UL certifications, so when your house burns down, your insurance is still valid.

          China solved this problem. A few minutes of research will get you a USB adapter, and you can easily program whatever you want with python or direct commands from a shell prompt and a cron job to schedule if you want to be all oldschool about it.

          • by itzly ( 3699663 )

            But if poster wants to wire the entire house. A single PLC isn't going to do the job, because you don't want to replace a light switch with a PLC that's 3 rooms away. You want something small that you can put in place of the old manual switch.

            As a bonus, the PLC has CSA and UL certifications, so when your house burns down, your insurance is still valid.

            Doesn't mean much if you wire it the wrong way.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:26PM (#48775991)

    in NYC my electric bill is around $90 every month. breaks down to $25 for the electricity at $.095 per kilowatt hour, $55 for the wiring charge and the rest taxes and fees.

    why spend $1000 to save $5 a month in electricity costs? because if i reduce my usage by 20%, that's $5 whole dollars a month in savings

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:41PM (#48776181)

      why spend $1000 to save $5 a month in electricity costs?

      Because he/she is a nerd. It is not about the money. It is about the technical challenge, and the ability to gain nerd cred by showing off an accomplishment to nerdy friends and co-workers. The advancement of civilization depends on people like this, who push the boundaries of technology, and drive down the costs for everyone else.

      • So the utility company can ask for a rate hike because "people aren't using enough electricity...."
        • And they will. But it's harder for them to justify burning more coal and building more plants. And nothing increases costs faster than building more plants.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

        Unrelated, you can just say "Because they're a nerd" and avoid that awkward he/she construct.

    • by brian.stinar ( 1104135 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:46PM (#48776247) Homepage

      Because it is cool. You're measuring ROI in United States Dollars, when you should be measuring it in United States Coolness Units.

      Seriously, this is the argument that people use on me with trying to convince me to buy a hybrid, or more fuel efficient vehicle. My car is horribly inefficient (seven seater SUV) but I either need something that big to haul around 4'x8' construction materials, I ride my bicycle, or I drive it like once a month out of town for a few hundred miles for work. It's entirely paid off, and the (relatively high for me) purchasing gasoline part of owning a car (unit cost per mile driven) is insignificant compared to the free/already paid for fixed costs of owning a car.

      An ex-girlfriend and I had this discussion, and eventually it came down to the don't you want a nicer car to drive around? argument. No, I don't want one, if I have to pay for it. Having a cool car isn't that important to me. I have a different girlfriend now...

      There is no financial, or logical, reason to automate a home to save electricity in your case, unless you want to be cool. If you want to show all your friends how "green" you're being (despite all the manufacturing, shipping, and other environmental costs used in producing the crap you're busy buying), write blog posts about your home automation project, take a bunch of pictures and post them to instagram, then it makes sense. OR If you plan on living in your apartment for more than 200 months (16 years) then you'd eventually break even on the project cost...

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        Sorry to deliver the bad news, but home automation systems will never contribute more than about 100 milliFonzies to your Coolness score. There is very little cred amongst most people about having an automated home; only the nerds seem to care, and the Nerd Equivalent Factor of .1 means that even if your home automation system rated a full Fonzie, the owner simply cannot be that cool.

        • by Zordak ( 123132 )

          Sorry to deliver the bad news, but home automation systems will never contribute more than about 100 milliFonzies to your Coolness score. There is very little cred amongst most people about having an automated home; only the nerds seem to care, and the Nerd Equivalent Factor of .1 means that even if your home automation system rated a full Fonzie, the owner simply cannot be that cool.

          Sure, if you're an SI purist. But everybody knows that in an insulated nerd environment, you can normalize to teraSpocks, which have a much greater Apparent Coolness in context.

          • by plover ( 150551 )

            And if you're using the Klingon Imperial System (and not the derivative Romulan Empire units,) he would be even 20% cooler.

            But once you try to convert back into SI, you're still never going to exceed the threshold by which you won't get beat up for your lunch money. Maybe not quite as much of a beating as the guy with the fez and the bow-tie, but still, the gymnasium locker room exchange rate is abysmal.

        • But it's nerd girls I'm trying to impress, you insensitive clod!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You could look at maybe getting a Raspberry Pi and/or an Arduino board. There a quite a few 'home automation' tutorials/youtube videos out there on the subject with specific examples for door locks, motion sensors, temperature/humidity monitoring, automatic lighting, etc... This would most likely give you the most custom and cheapest option but requires building everything yourself, including the code if you can't find a working example.

    • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:51PM (#48776295)
      i build my own stuff around my raspberry pi. i've got motion detection, temperature sensors, lights, garage doors, plant irrigators. it's all fun, but be prepared to spend a lot of time. If you are making this yourself, you are taking up electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, software engineering, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, running to home depot. Everytime i do a project i tell myself, next time i'm just buying something.

      then i come back and do another.

      just be realistic about what you want. do you want good home automation? or do you want to putz about with computers and components? (for me, it seems to be the later)
  • Arduinos and MCUs (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    All this is dirt cheap to do yourself if you're able and willing to spend some time to do it.

    You can source Arduino Uno clones from China/eBay for as low as ~$4 apiece. A reed switch for a window/door sensor is ~$1-2, a Wifi module (ESP8266) ~$3.

    You don't have to start from scratch putting everything together, there's plenty of schematics and code online to start you off (and complete projects).

    You can get yourself a VPS to coordinate everything online, starting from $3/YEAR for a IPv4 NAT IP. Check out htt

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:34PM (#48776109)

      It's important to consider house insurance when doing this kind of hackery.

      If your house catches fire and they dig a charred bundle of relays and a rasp pi rigged up to your mains you might have some explaining to do.

      Sensors are one thing, but as soon as you go to actually control mains voltage, I think you are truly better off going for something more "mainstream".

      • Ah.. UL Listing isn't all that....

        Very good point. Switching line voltage loads is the kind of thing that kills, catches fire and otherwise takes a "cheap" project and makes it into an expensive life changing event...

      • Some of the ideas seem like they could be solved by off the shelf hardware. Switching loads based on temperature? Buy a cheap programmable thermostat. If you want to monitor an AC load, you can use your preferred microcontroller along with an opto-coupler. I just did this, using an opto-coupler to monitor my programmable thermostat's relay and report a logic level to a Raspberry Pi, which then logs when the relay is closed (and thus the heat running) versus open (heat off). You can get opto-couplers that in

  • program a relay to come on at 30C and go off at 25C, thereby controlling the temperature

    With such a huge swing, I wouldn't say that was "controlling" the temperature very much. A good thermostat will keep your room to within a degree, and avoids over/undershoot by using a more sophisticated algorithm than just bang-bang control.

    • Also, you have to be careful with the algorithms you use for a thermostat. As an example, you don't want something that will allow switching off your A/C and then switching it back on in 10 seconds. You can ruin a compressor (relatively expensive hardware) like that.
      • by itzly ( 3699663 )

        Ideally, the A/C and the thermostat would work together to provide optimal temperature control within the cycling limitations of the A/C.

        • I don't know about where you live ... but I pretty much never need to cycle from heating to cooling in the same day.

          Freezing cold in the winter, hot in the summer.

          Seems kind of pointless to pay to warm up air and then pay to cool it back down again.

    • Yeah, looks like a PID controller [] would be more appropriate.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's all kinds of open source home power management and home automation tools popping up all over the place. [openmotics comes to mind] I'd just steer away from anything written in java.
    adafruit has almost everything you'd need to get going. The python serial communications libs are widely supported across nearly every OS in existence and they are easy to use and dynamic [no recompiling for user]

  • The home automation landscape has options differentiated by bandwidth, price point, device compatibility, and software capability. Low bandwidth devices are cheap but lack reliability, e.g X10. Expensive devices are often limited in device compatibility, Leviton. Basically, to make it all work you have to get the devices you need, then decide on a way to connect them all to a central server that can access them --- then start programming. You can see my home automation presentations at []

  • Is a woman. /misogyny

    • He said "cheap" you know.. Your idea is neither cheap nor is it easy to properly configure/train.

      Of course there *might* be some fringe benefits to your idea if you can find the right model...

      • Many models don't function properly when installed in Mom's basement.
        • Many models don't function properly when installed in Mom's basement.

          I've never tried that exact configuration with mine (Model Wife SN 0001). But I had some short term success when I was forced to install in in-law's basement when moving with Child (Model Girl, SN 0001). Both remained functional for the 3 months it took to secure a more private basement of my own, even if I didn't far that well.

  • Cheap, good, easy.

    You can't have all 3. If you want cheap, you are going to get crap.

    • Cheap, good, easy.

      You can't have all 3. If you want cheap, you are going to get crap.

      You said I could pick two.... I think that in reality, you only get one choice.

      • cheap, easy: Those motion-activated light controllers that go in the light fixture above the bulb.
        cheap, good: Warm up the soldering iron and do it all yourself. May involve pulling cable and lots of assembling interface circuits on stripboard.
        good, easy: There are several expensive commercial solutions, starting with the Nest thermostat and getting more elaborate from there. CES was flooded with them.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday January 09, 2015 @01:58PM (#48776365)

    Cheap, easy, reliable.

    Pick 2.

  • I use the Ubiquiti mFi mPower to control a lamp remotely. That's a very basic setup for this system, but it has been very reliable compared to other solutions I've used. There's an iPhone and Android app, and you run the server on a local machine, so there's no third party to go through. They also offer various sensors, such as a temperature sensor. I'm not sure if it's cheap enough, but otherwise I think it might meet your needs.

  • by sparkyradar ( 908639 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:01PM (#48776399)
    I've been happy, for several years now, with my Insteon setup. I think it will meet many of your needs:

    -For a central controller, I use the Universal Devices ISY-994i. This provides a web-interface for status, and quick toggle-controls, but it's also where I do my "programming"

    -if you buy and install an Insteon switch, it will "just work" as a regular switch - others in your home will have zero learning-curve.

    -they do have some universal I/O modules with dry contacts, etc. You may be able to work with these to perform your temperature monitoring and control, along with water-level detection, etc. See if it would work for you.

    And, here is a bit more "geek" for you to ponder:

    The Insteon signalling uses both a data-burst on the AC power-line, and also a radio-frequency data burst. Each device will repeat a burst (up to 3 hops only, or something like that) - in practise, I've found it really, really reliable. I started with just a controller and a couple of (AC-powerline-only) switches, but this required me to add a hardware phase-bridge, so data-bursts on one phase of my house-wiring could reach devices on the other phase. As I added more devices, especially more wireless devices, the mesh got better and better.

    The Insteon switches will require 3 wires in your switch-box:
    1) Hot wire. The Insteon switch will use a bit of power, as well this is what powers your light or other device(s). Typically it's a black wire.
    2) Load wire. This is what goes to your devices.
    3) Neutral wire. Typically this is white, and can sometimes be a problem. My older (1950's) home had all the hot-and-neutral wires run to the lights first, then a pair of wires ran down to the switches... this won't work :-( I renovated/re-wired my home such that all the wiring ran first to the switches, then up to the lights - you need this arrangement.

    Each Insteon switch is internally pretty cool: it's comprised of two parts:
    1) a switch part, that detects when you press the switch, and reports this data-event
    2) a responder part, which receives a data-event and closes the circuit (with relay, or whatever).

    So, you can actually have a single switch act to control several devices, if you want :-) In fact, Insteon contantly refers to "scenes" where you would do exactly that: press one single swtich to bring down your home-theater screen, close curtains, dim lights, etc. Personally, I don't use this feature

    The "programming" is not really very geeky: it's more just a set of conditions and actions, selected from drop-down dialogue boxes. That said, you can do some fun stuff, like:
    - change actions based on sunrise-sunset times (great for lighting)
    - use a motion-detector, which also contains an ambient-light sensor! I use one of these outside, to tailor my lighting to the Pacific Northwest's gray and dreary winter days.

  • All these gadgets are nice but many (i.e. high tech light switches) cause lot of RFI on my VHF and UHF radios. I cannot imagine what HF must endure, I don't have such at my place but I've heard a lot of gripes for HF users.
  • Use a Belkin Wemo switch: []

    I've written a simple utility to switch them on / off based on serial number:

    See: []

    Works for me.


    PS: For extra points, wear & monitor a Neurosky EEG monitor: []
    Write a listener to recognise when you want the switch on (easy to recognise certain meditation patterns) and then use this to toggle the wemo switch closest.
    (I've done this - just not on Github ... yet)

  • by trailerparkcassanova ( 469342 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:20PM (#48776613)
    The Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System. It's commonly used on particle accelerators and will interface to anything. And it's open source. Runs on Linux, Window, OSX operating systems and all hardware including Raspberry Pi, Beagleboard, etc. []
  • I've been using Mi Casa Verde (now Vera) for three years. Most of the stuff I use is Z Wave based but the Vera (appears / is) capable of integrating anything but bluetooth (at least on the models I've worked with). Very reliable. Very easy to set up. Easy to program and capable of significant complexity. []

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Don't forget the robust community that supports Vera. It's easy to create new devices, and people have. This is extremely helpful for devices that Vera can't reach via Z-wave or any other technology. For example, I installed a "device" that talks to the Craftsman AssureLink web service to find the status of my garage door (the AssureLink internet bridge talks only to their service, and I haven't yet found it to offer a locally accessible interface. Time to break out wireshark, I think.)

      There are also ma

  • I use the above for external lights to come on automatically at sunset and turn off at specified time. It requires your location as the sunset and sunrise change everyday, which makes it a great product. It works with CFL and LED bulbs. Internally, I have lights with switch to turn them off after 15, 30, 45, or 60 mins (bathroom fans, etc.) and others with motion detection. The above is a great intro to electrical wiring. I prefer anything that is not connected to TCP/IP, as WIFI and internet are both da
  • by anegg ( 1390659 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @04:36PM (#48777737)

    Some interesting things have been happening in home automation communications infrastructure standards. I'll preface this by saying that I'm not an expert, but have been trying to follow developments here for a few years for my own system. I can see four or five different media that you may want to consider. If you don't want to be stuck on an island, the problem to be solved is one of compatibility, especially looking towards the future.

    Power Line Communications - these are attractive because your house is already wired for them and the source of power for a device interface is rather obvious. Unfortunately, many solutions are low bit rates, unreliable, or proprietary. Universal Powerline Bus (UPB) seems to be the current raining champion here. Much more reliable than X10, but slow slow slow (240 bits per second). Works for on/off, but won't be useful for higher-end sensor applications. There are other low-speed PLC approaches, some of which are faster (4800 baud even!). What may be the way of the future in PLC is HomePlug AV and HomePlug Green PHY. The former is a high-speed PLC approach (up to 200+ Mbps) that costs a lot per device, the latter is a dumbed-down version of the former that has a much lower bit rate but supposedly costs 75% less in both $$ and power. Its bit rate is still supposedly much higher than UPB. Here the target is something like 250kbps which is touted as necessary for "Smart Grid" applications. IEEE 1901 is a standard that incorporates the HomePlug AV technology; I don't think it includes the HomePlug Green PHY yet, but HomePlug Green PHY is supposed to be compatible (on the same power line media) as HomePlug AV.

    Low-voltage bus - here you have to run wires. Ethernet is the reigning champion, running over UTP, coax, fiber (ok - not exactly low voltage but it fits the mood). Great bandwidth, great reliability, but sucks down power and costs $$ for interfaces. PoE makes this useful for remote sensors/controls that don't have a local source of power.

    High-speed wireless - you don't have to run communications wires, but the solutions here require more power than you want to supply if running off batteries in a remote location. 802.11 is the champion here.

    Low-power wireless - lower bit rates (250kbps) but much less power consumed so that even battery-powered remote devices can be used. ZigBee is one example, which I think is interesting, because...

    Ideally you want to be able to tie all of these together so that you don't need to plumb multiple media interfaces into your controller, and ideally you want to be able to use TCP/IP as a high-level protocol. Here is where IEEE 1905 comes into play. The IEEE 1905.1 standard provides an abstraction layer to established powerline, wireless, coaxial cable and Ethernet home networking technologies - IEEE 1901 / HomePlug AV, Wi-Fi, MoCA®, and Ethernet. I think there is some effort underway to get ZigBee into the fold as well.

    If vendors see an advantage in following the standard, and interoperability becomes a selling point, perhaps we'll get away from the multiple proprietary islands.

  • A whole lot of string and pull switches. My dad did the whole basement lighting system that way, back in '79. As for scheduling, rig something up with egg timers. Eye hooks, duct tape, and popsickle sticks are also recommended. Maybe a toaster and a pulley. YMMV.

  • You can't find cheap AND simple in the home automation you want cheap or do you want simple?

    What you really want to do is look at the base software that will talk to all devices. Preferably something that can talk to several different protocols like Insteon and Z-Wave. This way you can mix and match devices based on price and functionality.

    Two software packages come to mind (because I have used both)...MisterHouse and HomeSeer. MisterHouse is cheap (free and open source) and HomeSeer is simple

  • I went with zwave because of the variety of manufacturers. The GE Wink and Lowe's Iris systems are both zwave at heart and most of the devices use standard zwave device profiles so they work on any zwave controller.

    I went with a vera3 because it is turnkey, supports a wide variety of devices and inputs including many security systems, has software for insteon modems, is user hackable, and can be controlled locally or remotely without being dependent on an active internet connection. (I.e. Wink)

    The trick to

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.