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New home construction - newbie, need advice!


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#1 phandel

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Posted 25 December 2011 - 03:47 PM

First off, I've never done any home automation before. I do like writing iOS apps.

From thinking about my wishes:
* everything controlled by iPad app (that I'll write) - don't want to have to constantly switch apps
* would like as much going over cat6 ip as possible, instead of separate wires for everything
* outlets (with power meters) and dimmable lights, thinking insteon (with the SmartLinc at the bottom)
----- do they make dimmable paddle light switches, that have a physical dimmer control which can also be controlled programmatically?
* temp control - leaning towards two Nests (upstairs and downstairs), is the API hackable?
* don't care about tv video - we'll just have a few appletv's, and rarely watch tv
* would like black-out window shade controls
* might write a very basic ip camera surveillance app, with two features: 1) high res immediate streaming to iPad controllers, 2) store low-res video stream on our media Mac for archive
* will run Cat6 everywhere, and also empty loom/conduit for future cables.
* would like car / front door unlock based on iPhone proximity, as well as "lights on when I get home"

I'd like to avoid getting a big expensive system, and just have smart switches and outlets, controlled by this:
* Insteon <-> IP
     - SmartLinc: smarthome.com/2412N/SmartLinc-INSTEON-Central-Controller/p.aspx

Thoughts? Thanks!!



#2 phandel

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Posted 25 December 2011 - 03:53 PM

Oh and audio, I'm thinking of just send it over AirPlay to an airport express, appletv, or AirPlay-receiver. Will probably need speaker wire for in-ceiling and outdoor speakers ...

#3 DELInstallations

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Posted 25 December 2011 - 08:51 PM

Without me getting into the whole details, from a security standpoint, I would re-evaluate your unlock of the car/disarm house based on your phone proximity.

#4 MrBOFH

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Posted 26 December 2011 - 12:55 PM

I second the previous posters sentiments about the proximity unlock. Although just starting with HA, I've been IT most my life and having had ethical hacking training. If you insist on the proximity function, at least have it require a pass code. Still not very safe but better than plain proximity.

#5 phandel

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Posted 26 December 2011 - 05:56 PM

Ok, I'll skip the lock automation for now. Any other thoughts?

#6 Work2Play

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Posted 27 December 2011 - 01:57 AM

Thoughts? Thanks!!

Honestly, the first thought that comes to mind is a fairly typical IT/Developer blue-sky approach. Anyone who can write software says they want to write their own and tie everything together on their own. The reality though, is how much time do you *really* have to devote to this? Hell, if I were you, I'd freelance 20 hours at a good rate and buy an off-the-shelf system without a second thought; that's where strategy comes in.

Reason? These apps are growing every day - adding new features, and teams of developers are keeping up with changes, adding support for new devices, and expanding features. There's something beautiful about coming off a hellish deployment cycle, having a little downtime to look at your system, and going "oh, cool - they added xxxxxxx" - rather than "crap - I gotta fix that light code that's been bugging me for 9 months". Unless you *really* think you can invent a better wheel, focus on earning the money to buy one someone else already did the work on. Elve starter costs $99... how can you go wrong? Maybe the Kindle Fire is the next big thing - wouldn't it be nice if one day you woke up to an email saying "Kindle Fire now supported; free download!" from your HA software vendor?

Which protocol you go with is up to you; There are some die-hards who love their insteon - but most of them have the $400+ ISY; not sure if that falls outside your "expensive system" criteria; but it does things you'd never want to try to recreate yourself. There's UPB and Z-Wave as well; they all have interfaces compatible with a serial connection.

For temperature, there are plenty of z-wave or multi-zone systems made for communication. If you have a non-communicating one, it's not going to work - but you can replace that easily in most cases with one that has either serial, rs485, z-wave or wifi;

There are IP interfaces for most of these systems, but the reality is, the reason that most of them still rely on serial ports is that networking requires networking knowledge and adds a major layer of complexity. It's so much easier to pick COM1/COM2/COM3 from a list, vs understanding how to get a valid IP, keep it from changing often, and keeping reliable network communication. You may know how to do it, but the average homeowner/alarm installer/electrician doesn't. It may feel primitive, but it does work very well!

I hate to sound negative - it's more something I've grown into... most people are overly optimistic about what they can pull off in their free time, and the older you get (as you add wife, kids, etc); the less time you have. The old K.I.S.S. approach really is the best for most people. I personally went with an Elk as my main controller; hooked it into my lights, HVAC, irrigation, garage doors... it can very easily handle shades as well. There are a bunch of software apps off-the-shelf that'll support it (and in turn, anything connected to it); that also support bringing in outside video, and some IR/AV control devices... these will knock months off your development time for hardly any cost.

I also wholeheartedly disagree with any automated disarming... in fact, I have some strong opinions on the matter; absolutely no wireless keyfobs - disarming requires knowledge that only exists in your head... keypads to be located where there's no way a person/camera hiding near a window could see the current status or watch the code you enter; and I don't even really like biometrics. When I come home and walk through the door, the lights come on and light a path for me - and I pass by a keypad on the way in where I enter my code. Yeah - there are times where I make the first trip in to set down my water cup and disarm, then go back for the kids... but it's the safest way.

I encourage you to keep reading and keep asking questions - and if you really want to take on reinventing the wheel, have a blast... but take a good hard look at your options and available time...

#7 Lou Apo

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Posted 27 December 2011 - 01:59 PM

I agree with a lot of what work2play said.

Perhaps you are a really good ios programmer with lots of time to do it. Perhaps you might end up selling your app on the itunes store. That would make sense. Not having ever written an ios app I don't really know for sure. However, it would appear that the apps that are already out there had an extensive amount of effort put into them and still they lack in certain respects.

As far as Insteon, all the paddle switches that are dimmable are dimmable at the switch. You just push and hold to dim it. Tap it and it does whatever you programmed it to do with a tap.

And if you were to go with Insteon, you need to get an ISY. This assumes you are getting more than a handful of switches. Once you hit 10 switches (or other devices), manually programming becomes untenable.

On the ISY forum there have been a number of discussions about proximity sensors for smartphones. If you develop something nice, we would certainly love it if you would share it. I suggest not having it unlock/unarm your house, but you could certainly adjust lighting scenes and other behavior of the home.

#8 phandel

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Posted 27 December 2011 - 06:50 PM

Thanks for the responses. Some follow-up questions:
1) My wife really likes the Lutron paddle dimmer switches, with the tiny knob on the side that you slide to dim. She installed a few, and they worked really well. Is there a HA-compatible version of this type of switch?
2) Does anyone make an integrated outlet + power meter combo? It would really be cool to be able to see the power consumption on each outlet in our house.
3) If I went with the SmartLinc 2412n, is there software that would sidestep massive manual programming? The port 9761 stuff looks really cool ...

But I guess the main question is: What should I do before the walls get closed up? Is my dream of just running everything over TCP/IP possible or foolish?

#9 Work2Play

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Posted 27 December 2011 - 07:27 PM

1. Not that I've found - we used the style you describe before automating my house... they were nice, but the concept of automation is such that you'd have to esentially mechanically move that slider? or it would be out of sync with the lights' actual status. The tap & hold method works; and at least with UPB, I know you can adjust how fast that fade happens, and what the default is (mine all default to 80% on a tap).
2. Again - not that I've seen - you can get kill-a-watt in a wireless system that'll monitor up to 8 separate receptacles; but if you want whole-home control, you need to go with a brultech... and then you'll pretty much get breaker-level visibility. But it'll show you your big ticket items clearly; the small loads in the rest of the house are pretty insignificant. I still use my kill-a-watt to identify individual things, like the extra fridge, etc - just to know.
3. No idea

It really depends on what you mean by "everything". I mean, lighting systems don't have an IP interface - but add an ISY for Insteon or a Vera for Z-Wave or a RUC for UPB, and now you have a controller that does IP. Or - put an elk in front of anything and now you have IP access to your security, hvac, lighting, sprinklers, and anything else on the Elk.

If your hope is to have every outlet, appliance, switch, and thermostat have their own IP, then - well, no - that's not going to happen. IP is one of the layers used for communication, but not heavily. Something in the house should be the controller that ties much of the houe together, then you talk to that. There are some thermostats that are hackable and communicate purely over wifi - the guy working on the siri proxy to the iphone shows how he's controlling a $40 wifi thermostat from home depot because he figured out the communication protocol...

Can you imagine an average homeowner trying to manage an IP enabled house? That's why all the smart appliances and products that do come out are only successful beyond IT geeks if they have a simple web-page they report back to, and you get some simple "myfridge.com" web page you go to - so even still the homeowners have to do nothing beyond plugging the item in and it gets a DHCP address. It just adds a whole new layer of complexity that the world isn't ready for yet.

I'll reiterate it again - you need a controller of some sort... something that'll tie together most of the systems. A Vera is a great low-cost option that open the doors to all the Z-wave products and can integrate some cameras I believe as well as several security systems; or an Omni or Elk as a hardware controller - or a Home Automation computer with serial connections to all your devices - that's really the way to go.

If you're hell bend on doing it anyways, you'd be looking at a lighting technology with the right controller (UPB=RUC, Insteon=ISY; Z-Wave I guess would be Vera - not sure what else exists). For drapery control you'd be looking at globalcache probably - but that'll add up... Temp you can get via IP over wireless or through a Vera, or a serial-to-IP converter to any standard RS232/RS485 thermostat (HAI, AprilAire, RCS - RCS is the best multi-zone). The camera features you want are already built-in to many cameras.

Also - rarely do you change an outlet to a controlled outlet; it's easier/cheaper/more flexible to use an appliance module or dimmer module instead.

In the end, I think your approach is crazy - the amount of money it'll cost to IP enable everything will definitely cost way more than a controller like an Elk and will take a really long time to build. There's already an established market for this stuff - and there's a reason they've done things the way they have...

#10 Mr Spock

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 01:22 AM

My $0.02

Everyone has their favorites in the lighting control dept. As a long time user (>10 years) of Smarthome brand light switches I would recommend you do more research before spending your money. I've been burned by some of their stuff (the famous microswitch problem). IMO the long term quality is just not there and it really sucks when you have a house full of these switches and they all start dying on you shortly after the warranty has expired.

If you do go with Insteon you WILL need the ISY. Don't go into this thinking you can get away without it unless you are only going to use a couple of their switches and know you wont expand.

One other negative on Insteon is that it's a sole source product. No-one else makes Insteon switches that I'm aware of. Compare that to UPB where you have many quality manufacturers to pick from.

Good luck.

Edited by Mr Spock, 28 December 2011 - 01:28 AM.


#11 Dean Roddey

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 04:23 PM

Honestly, the first thought that comes to mind is a fairly typical IT/Developer blue-sky approach. Anyone who can write software says they want to write their own and tie everything together on their own. The reality though, is how much time do you *really* have to devote to this? Hell, if I were you, I'd freelance 20 hours at a good rate and buy an off-the-shelf system without a second thought; that's where strategy comes in.


I can vouch for this as an automation product vendor. Automation is one of those classic software problems that really lends itself to going up to a white board, drawing some nice labelled boxes and connecting them lines and thinking, yeh, that's pretty straightforward, no problem. But every one of those boxes is really a Pandora's Box, because automation deals with the real world and that's messy. It has to be highly multi-threaded, multi-user, optimally network distributed, anally paranoid about dealing with the thousand wierdnesses that those things (on top of dealing with a flakey external world) can create, plus it's heavy on the user interface side as well in most cases, and has to deal with media management these days almost as much as traditional automation tasks.

I've got probably 30 man years in CQC at this point, and of course people still wish it would do more. It's never ending.

#12 Lou Apo

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 06:08 PM

It really depends on what you mean by "everything". I mean, lighting systems don't have an IP interface - but add an ISY for Insteon or a Vera for Z-Wave or a RUC for UPB, and now you have a controller that does IP. Or - put an elk in front of anything and now you have IP access to your security, hvac, lighting, sprinklers, and anything else on the Elk.


I can't speak to all the systems, but I have an ISY. ISY has a REST interface so you can write your own applications and provided they can send REST commands into your LAN, you thus have control of your devices using IP. While I haven't tried this, I believe you can also use REST commands through an ISY to control an Elk security system.

EDIT: Actually they disabled the REST interface for arm/disarm the Elk for security reasons. Duhh. I should have known that.

http://www.universal...:REST_Interface

Edited by Lou Apo, 28 December 2011 - 06:12 PM.


#13 Work2Play

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:50 PM

eh, I'd bet there's un-secure ways around that - like set a counter value to 25 then execute task "Special Disarm" which check the counter as a safety, then executes a rule to disarm; probably not the best idea, but I'd bet you could get around that very quickly!

I do think that's the way to go though - start with something that already does most of what you want, then bridge the gap... Hell - Elve will give you a free copy if you contribute some sort of useful development - maybe go that route!

#14 phandel

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:50 PM

Ah I sort of misspoke - by "everything" over IP, I was thinking: lighting, power control, AirPlay (via AppleTV and AirPlay-compatible receivers), cameras, and a thermostat (although it doesn't seem like the Nest is as hackable as I hoped). I just don't want to keep having to switch between apps - one for lighting/power control, one for cameras, one for Nest thermostat, etc.

So, the big questions that remain at this point:
1) What should I run in the walls? Our electrician has a fat cable bundle with CAT6, coax, and telephone that he usually uses. I'll probably ask for an empty conduit/loom with a string, so that I can run stuff later.
2) It seems like everyone is mentioning the ISY for Insteon, which is about 4x as much - is it really a lot better than the SmartLinc (with port 9761 open - direct PLM access)? I'm not actually married to Insteon, but it seems like a v2.0 of something as old as X10 would be good?

Thanks for everyone's feedback! I'm taking a look at the Elk system now - it looks kinda interesting.

#15 phandel

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:54 PM

Oh, and I'd really like iPad & iPhone to be the primary interface, with maybe web as a backup.

BTW - Elve looks awesome! Is there a Mac/UNIX equivalent?

Edited by phandel, 29 December 2011 - 12:27 AM.





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