Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

How do I get started?


  • Please log in to reply
22 replies to this topic

#1 ericmoyer

ericmoyer

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 11 May 2012 - 03:34 PM

Hi all. I recently purchased a home and would like to start automating it. I discovered this forum and have been combing through it but the amount of information is overwhelming so I'm looking for just a little guidance.

About me:
I'm pretty good with computers--great with Windows and I can survive with Linux if I have to. I can program a bit in various languages, but not great. Understand networking. I've built many PC's over the years. I'm also pretty good with home repairs/remodeling (painting, spackling, wiring, etc.). I've also fixed a few circuit boards over the last few years, but I'm no electrical engineer. I do understand the basics of electronics.

About the house:
Has a central sound system with speakers in every room with volume controls in each room. Most rooms in the house have cat5 wiring. Home has a pretty robust alarm system I'd like to tie in eventually. It has a 4-zone heating system. The house has 600amp electric service with about 8 panels and I'm concerned that the systems that communicate through the electric lines may not be able to talk to each other due to all the panels(though this may not be an issue at all).

Goals:
I'd like to be able to control the music and various lights(some on timers) and thermostats. Would also like to be about to arm and disarm the alarm system eventually though my alarm company tells me i'll have to replace the main board of the alarm system to do that. I'd like at least 1 touch-screen(probably more) in the house to control things. I'd prefer it to be a wifi or RF-based system. Voice recognition would be a huge plus. The ability to limit who accesses the system(ie. not my kids) would be good too. Eventually I'd like to tie in a small camera system.

My main concern is that as I'm learning to do all this, I don't want to spend a year on it and a bit of cash and then find out I have to throw out everything I've bought and start over so that I can expand the system.

Can anyone point me in the right direction so that I can choose the right system to start building? I tend to go over the top with things and expect that I could eventually grow this to control the entire house, so the ability to expand is essential. If there is something I can install to a PC that can then control everything via Wifi, that would be exactly what I would be looking for.

I don't have a budget, but I want to do it myself for a new hobby and I don't mind getting my hands dirty to save myself a little money.

Thanks in advance!

#2 Deane Johnson

Deane Johnson

    Dedicated Cocooner

  • Registered
  • PipPipPip
  • 222 posts
  • Location:Omaha, Nebraska
  • Experience:average
  • Software:Elve
  • Hardware:Ocelot
  • Tech:X10-RF, Z-Wave

Posted 11 May 2012 - 03:58 PM

You're right where many of us were when we started. You mention the expansion ability and that's one of my pet complaints about home automation where the big guys (manufacturers) are concerned. They provide proprietary systems that lock you into their system, frequently at higher cost than necessary. I object to that. I want to be free to pick and choose components and direction at will.

I'm slowly converting to Z-Wave as I preferred to use an RF system rather than through the wires for some of the same reasons you outline in your post. Z-Wave has some dimmers that don't require nuetrals in the box, something I needed to consider. Most others need nuetral in every switch box. There are ways around that, but I had no appetite for adding things to the electrical.

I settled on a software system that runs on my deskstop PC. Others who choose the software approach frequently also use an Elk device in addition that focuses heavily on security. I've never used one, so can't comment but I know it's highly thought of on this forum.

I'm 77 years old and not a programmer, so I wanted something simple, but yet pro-level so it could do anything i wanted in the future. After looking around, I settled on Elve from Codecore Technoligies. Low cost, very robust, extremely stable, and easy to learn. That was what I needed. There are otheres such as CQC (steeper learning curve) Homeseer (browser based which I didn't like), I would say that these are the main 3 right now. Some folks on this forum use Premise, which is free and has an interesting history.

I created a web page on my home theater site that diagrams mine and shows how it's set up. I don't do security or thermostat as I have no need for them, but any of the major software players support these things quite well.

http://www.deanejohn...trolsystem.html

Interestingly, wives frequently become the biggest supporters of home automation once it's installed and running. That's good for the budget. :mellow:

#3 Neurorad

Neurorad

    Cocoonut

  • Registered
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2235 posts
  • Experience:novice
  • Tech:RadioRA2
  • Audio:Nuvo

Posted 12 May 2012 - 10:05 PM

If you don't want to get screwed in a year, put several months into researching everything, before buying a single item. I've found research and reading to be very enjoyable; it's a hobby, to me, more than anything.

Many people start with the alarm system replacement, using an Elk M1 or HAI OPII, alarms which also offer automation like thermostat and lighting control.

Welcome!

#4 Work2Play

Work2Play

    Cocoonut

  • -=Gold Supporter=-
  • 4412 posts
  • Location:Northern California
  • Experience:guru
  • Software:Elve
  • Hardware:Elk M1, RUC-01
  • Tech:X10-RF, UPB
  • Audio:AirPlay
  • Video:XBMC
  • CCTV:ip, dvr
  • Phone:3CX, Asterisk, FreePBX, Grandstream, Ooma

Posted 13 May 2012 - 01:02 AM

A common practice around here is to buy starter kits of different varieties (z-wave, upb, etc) and see what you like better. I didn't do that - I went with research first, then grew into it - either way works.

There are certain "combos" that work well together - so research should help you narrow in on what you want. For instance, if you like Z-Wave, the MiCasaVerde is a good way to go - and it has some simpler DSC panels it talks to better than an Elk. Or you can decide you like Elk or HAI better as a hardware controller and want to build around that (as I did)... in that case, you pick your panel, then see what works best with it - for me, that was the Elk at the time - and it worked well with UPB and certain serial-based thermostats, certain audio systems, etc. I still use the Elk as my main controller, letting it do everything it does well; everything else is picked up by Elve.

Another is Insteon - people have mixed feelings about it based on cost, technology, past negative experiences, etc - some people avoid it like the plague, some people swear by it... if you're going that way, the ISY is the way to go as your master controller, so you base your system around that as much as possible.

Try to start building a dream system and see how far you can go without hitting roadblocks - and when you're comfortable with the general direction, execute!

#5 ericmoyer

ericmoyer

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 15 May 2012 - 08:12 AM

Thanks for the advice everyone. I'm really sold on the Z-wave at this point in my research.

So far I ordered some Intermatic Z-wave switches, outlets, and a thermostat through automatedoutletstore on Ebay. I also ordered a GE handheld remote ($6 on amazon.com) and a Levitron USB thinkstick to get started. I'm a little bit compulsive when it comes to hobbies, so researching this for 6 months before buying something is not an option for me.

I'm considering using Premise, but I haven't been successful in completing an install of the software yet. It hangs near the end on each computer I've tried, although I tried installing it on newer PCs and it might not be compatible with Windows 7. I'll have to revive one of my older PCs with Win2000 and try that. I'm definitely not sold on using Premise though. Just thought I'd start there since it was free.

I'm looking for a system that will have a really nice looking interface, that can run from an iPad or a droid tablet. I'd like to be able to mount a touch screen permanently on the wall near the center of the house. Call me superficial, but this part is critical for me. It has to look cool in addition to being functional and fun.

I'd also like to be able to program the system from a PC but then I would probably prefer to have it run on its own without the PC(for reliability purposes) so a hybrid system will probably be what I ultimately end up with. Are the hybrid systems more limited than the PC-based systems? I can keep a dedicated PC on 24/7 running it, so a hybrid system is not a requirement.

Any recommendations(with the sleek user-interface being a top priority)?

#6 123

123

    Cocoonut

  • Registered
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1978 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC
  • Experience:average
  • Software:Premise
  • Hardware:Elk M1

Posted 15 May 2012 - 12:41 PM

...
I'm considering using Premise, but I haven't been successful in completing an install of the software yet. It hangs near the end on each computer I've tried, although I tried installing it on newer PCs and it might not be compatible with Windows 7.
...


For the record, Premise works on Windows 7. Follow the instructions, notably posts 2-6 in the following thread: How to install Premise on Vista. Owing to changes in Win Vista and 7, Premise's installer is unable to run to completion (as you've discovered). In fact, the product gets fully installed but the installer encounters a roadblock that prevents it from reporting this fact. The thread shows how to easily get around the roadblock.

If you do install Premise, you must immediately patch it, using the information in this thread. Some clown has infected the old premisesystems.com site with a trojan and Premise's Builder software (graphical designer to program Premise's automation logic) just happens to visit this site every time you run it. The patch eliminates Builder's default visits to the old Premise site.

FWIW, Premise had an excellent zWave driver based on the Leviton VRC0P device.


Speaking as a long-time (5+ years) user and ardent supported of Premise, if I were you, I would look elsewhere. The kind of diabetes-inducing eye-candy you are seeking will not be realized by Premise. It has a serviceable, browser-based user-interface whose primary appeal is that it requires no configuration effort; you don't create it, Premise creates it automatically based on what you have in defined to be your "Home" (rooms/lights/thermostats/fans/blinds/etc). The downside, especially for you since you hold this in high regard, is its appearance is dated and cannot be easily modified (well it can but it is not for the faint of heart) and it only works on Windows PCs. There is a new user-interface in development, that will run on any late-model device's browser, but it's far from finished. This post shows what it will look like and it is clean and modern but probably still not as eye-pooping as you expect for your kitchen touchscreen.

I have a kitchen touchscreen and, I agree with you, it is an appealing addition to the home ... but mostly to visitors. Here is how I use in order of frequency:
  • Look at family photos displayed by Windows Screensaver (not even a Home Automation function).
  • Check the weather collected by Premise.
  • Turn on some oddball light that is not defined on one of the many cheap Palmpad remote-controls I normally use (most lights are automated and require little manual interaction).
  • Turn on a light to the sound of oohs and ahhs elicited by visitors (ooh! a smart house!).


#7 ericmoyer

ericmoyer

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 15 May 2012 - 02:18 PM

Thanks. Good info there. I actually ran across Incontrol today and am going to play around with that for a bit and see if that will get done what I need for the short term. I like that it has both iphone and droid apps.

I expect to use the touch screen fairly regularly as it will be in the center of my home and I tend to pass the proposed location going to most areas of the house. Several of the areas require multiple switches to light up or activate, so being able to hit a scene button and wake up an area of the house on the way by will be quite a bit nicer. Controllers will probably have a place but a fixed position controller won't get misplaced.

#8 123

123

    Cocoonut

  • Registered
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1978 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC
  • Experience:average
  • Software:Premise
  • Hardware:Elk M1

Posted 15 May 2012 - 03:00 PM

I'm going to rain on your parade. If you plan to "use your touchscreen fairly regularly" because it is centrally located and you pass it often, then you have a unique interpretation of an automated home.

I will be the first to admit that there is child-like delight in being able to click an icon and have a light, or pool pump, activate. What is more cool is when the light and pump operate without manual activation. Schedules and sensors (light level and motion detection) operate lighting in my home. If I'm in the family room and want to turn on the patio fountain, a cheap RF remote is nearby. If a laptop or tablet is handy then I can activate a device via a browser. However, I prefer the convenience of a remote, and push a dedicated button, than grab my tablet and navigate its UI. If you and your smartphone are joined at the hip then it becomes your remote. If I find myself frequently activating a device manually, I look for a way to automate it. For example, I don't need to look at the weather forecast on the touchscreen, the weather report is read to me as part of the wakeup scene every morning (awaken to bird song, lighting brightens very slowly, Weather and daily tasks and appointments are spoken).

Good luck and have fun!

Edited by 123, 15 May 2012 - 03:03 PM.


#9 Rupp

Rupp

    Cocoonut

  • Registered
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2844 posts
  • Location:Huntsville, Alabama
  • Experience:guru
  • Software:HomeSeer
  • Hardware:Ocelot
  • Tech:X10-PLC, X10-RF, UPB, INSTEON, Z-Wave, 1-Wire
  • Audio:Squeezebox
  • Video:Windows Media Center
  • CCTV:analog, ip

Posted 16 May 2012 - 06:43 PM

Thanks for the advice everyone. I'm really sold on the Z-wave at this point in my research.

So far I ordered some Intermatic Z-wave switches, outlets, and a thermostat through automatedoutletstore on Ebay. I also ordered a GE handheld remote ($6 on amazon.com) and a Levitron USB thinkstick to get started. I'm a little bit compulsive when it comes to hobbies, so researching this for 6 months before buying something is not an option for me.

I'm considering using Premise, but I haven't been successful in completing an install of the software yet. It hangs near the end on each computer I've tried, although I tried installing it on newer PCs and it might not be compatible with Windows 7. I'll have to revive one of my older PCs with Win2000 and try that. I'm definitely not sold on using Premise though. Just thought I'd start there since it was free.

I'm looking for a system that will have a really nice looking interface, that can run from an iPad or a droid tablet. I'd like to be able to mount a touch screen permanently on the wall near the center of the house. Call me superficial, but this part is critical for me. It has to look cool in addition to being functional and fun.

I'd also like to be able to program the system from a PC but then I would probably prefer to have it run on its own without the PC(for reliability purposes) so a hybrid system will probably be what I ultimately end up with. Are the hybrid systems more limited than the PC-based systems? I can keep a dedicated PC on 24/7 running it, so a hybrid system is not a requirement.

Any recommendations(with the sleek user-interface being a top priority)?

Have you tried HomeSeer? It has an add-on named HSTouch that builds nice interfaces for IPhone/iPad devices as well as Android devices. http://store.homesee...in-P769C98.aspx

#10 ericmoyer

ericmoyer

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 17 May 2012 - 11:10 AM

I'm going to rain on your parade. If you plan to "use your touchscreen fairly regularly" because it is centrally located and you pass it often, then you have a unique interpretation of an automated home.

I will be the first to admit that there is child-like delight in being able to click an icon and have a light, or pool pump, activate. What is more cool is when the light and pump operate without manual activation. Schedules and sensors (light level and motion detection) operate lighting in my home. If I'm in the family room and want to turn on the patio fountain, a cheap RF remote is nearby. If a laptop or tablet is handy then I can activate a device via a browser. However, I prefer the convenience of a remote, and push a dedicated button, than grab my tablet and navigate its UI. If you and your smartphone are joined at the hip then it becomes your remote. If I find myself frequently activating a device manually, I look for a way to automate it. For example, I don't need to look at the weather forecast on the touchscreen, the weather report is read to me as part of the wakeup scene every morning (awaken to bird song, lighting brightens very slowly, Weather and daily tasks and appointments are spoken).

Good luck and have fun!


I do plan on eventually making the house more sensor-driven, but I know that is a long way off for me. It's a pretty large home, so it would require a lot of sensors and I have a very limited amount of time, especially having just moved in, so first I'm going after the low-hanging fruit. First make it work. Then make it work better! And I know I have a lot to learn before I can really make it do everything I'd like to do.

The idea of being able to "fire up" sections of the house a minute or two before I actually go use them is most appealing to me right now. Our basement can be a little...scarey... for the rest of the family to venture into when you have to manually fire everything up and wait for the CFLs to warm up, etc. My kids tend to misplace controllers, so a fixed controller is essential at this point. Something a 6-year-old can operate would be a plus too.

So for the short-term, I'm primarily after grouping large clusters of switches together to simplify moving around the house.

#11 automatesocal

automatesocal

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 5 posts
  • Hardware:Mi Casa Verde Vera
  • Tech:Z-Wave
  • Audio:AirPlay
  • Video:AirPlay

Posted 22 May 2012 - 01:20 AM

I really like the interface for the iPad and iPhone app that is sold by Square Connect, it is call SQ Remote HD. It is very customizable. We are using it in combination with a Vera for a couple of projects and it works well. If you plan on doing A/V control, their IR blaster is nice, too.

#12 Work2Play

Work2Play

    Cocoonut

  • -=Gold Supporter=-
  • 4412 posts
  • Location:Northern California
  • Experience:guru
  • Software:Elve
  • Hardware:Elk M1, RUC-01
  • Tech:X10-RF, UPB
  • Audio:AirPlay
  • Video:XBMC
  • CCTV:ip, dvr
  • Phone:3CX, Asterisk, FreePBX, Grandstream, Ooma

Posted 22 May 2012 - 01:46 AM

Lighting automation is a great thing - especially with that scary basement. You don't even need to get into a touchscreen - a scene controller located elsewhere is a great thing. Also, honestly I'd ditch the CFL's and get with LED's - they don't have the warm up issue and they're dimmable. It's wonderful when every light switch in the house is also a compatible dimmer so you can really customize the light level for your mood, and create a nice effect ramping lights up and down instead of the hard on/off. It also does wonders for bulb longevity.

I use the touchscreens once in a while for the lights - but mostly it's the scene controllers to set a mood for an entire room, or to turn off the entire downstairs in one shot; or the whole house as I'm leaving... it's definitely my single favorite automation aspect.

I'll also respond to 123's comment above - I knew I'd won the automation battle the day I watched my wife walk over to the eeeTop on the corner table to adjust the thermostat rather than walking to the thermostat itself - being able to just reach over to kill the glaring light or fix the temperature is really handy - and though I agree you want to rely on it as little as possible, there is a good chance of it still getting used.

#13 123

123

    Cocoonut

  • Registered
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1978 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC
  • Experience:average
  • Software:Premise
  • Hardware:Elk M1

Posted 22 May 2012 - 10:50 AM

Your wife reached for whatever was nearby (tablet, remote, smartphone, etc) and conveniently located. Would she have walked to the center of the house to use a wall-mounted touchscreen? Would she have passed by the physical thermostat to use the centrally located wall-mounted touchscreen? Highly unlikely.

HA is a convenience so if it isn't convenient to use then it's implementation is less than ideal. If you could pick up a nearby smartphone, or cordless phone, and say "Siri, turn up the heat to 73 for the next two hours" (implicitly resume the scheduled program afterwards) you'd probably find that more convenient than navigating a UI or walking to a wall-mounted touchscreen.

The merits of wall-mounted touchscreens are overblown. The ability to issue commands from anywhere in your house, or performed automatically as a result of environmental or behavioral cues, is far more convenient than a single immovable touchscreen.

Anyway, the OP has stated his touchscreen will be en route to his destination so it offers a modicum of convenience.

Edited by 123, 22 May 2012 - 10:51 AM.


#14 leftpawdog

leftpawdog

    Newbie

  • Registered
  • Pip
  • 3 posts

Posted 23 May 2012 - 03:55 PM

Love this thread...

I was semi convinced that I was going to go the insteon route after reading I may have to consider the z-wave cabability. Although I understand that zigbee may be similar to z-wave in its products (read "not technology").

My situation is very similar to the OPs... but my house is a mere 2500sqft. No basement and not central panel. The cool factor for me would be to turn on the sprinklers from my phone! I say this because I am currently in the middle of a DIY sprinkler install in the hot texas sun. I was/am considering an ELK ultimately for security and LVL outside, as well as control a homebrew relay board irrigation controller -that I have recently learned is possible from reading this forum. Taking back the orbit 12 zone controller that is still in the box and I will work the solenoid valves manually until I get my system up and running!

I believe that I can control irrigation via and isy994 series controller if I use the Rain8 device, but if I install the ELK now (replacing the existing prewired security system keypads/main module) I can use it to control the relay board to switch the valves.

At anyrate... I will have to investigate premise. I run macs and pcs in the house but am thinking also about setting up a Linux Home Media server so this might run the overall program... the "mr. house" Linux add-on looks awesome! I just would like a hybrid set up, like was mentioned above, so that it would still be operable in the event I "took down" the main scene programmer.

Thanks for all the great info!

#15 Work2Play

Work2Play

    Cocoonut

  • -=Gold Supporter=-
  • 4412 posts
  • Location:Northern California
  • Experience:guru
  • Software:Elve
  • Hardware:Elk M1, RUC-01
  • Tech:X10-RF, UPB
  • Audio:AirPlay
  • Video:XBMC
  • CCTV:ip, dvr
  • Phone:3CX, Asterisk, FreePBX, Grandstream, Ooma

Posted 23 May 2012 - 05:55 PM

123 seems a bit defensive there! We each have our own flavor of automation and where we like it to go. My wife and I are a bit old-school and want to have control; I don't often refer to my house as a smart home; more of a connected home. Sure it manages some things for me, like lights and HVAC, but mostly I use the extended control so I can adjust the HVAC from anywhere; control the sprinklers from my phone (as the previous poster mentioned) while maintaining the system; arm/disarm security remotely and adjust temps; etc.

I don't really expect the house to do everything for me. Sure I could install a bunch of sensors and write rules to let the system figure out if I'm upstairs for the night yet or not; or, I can assume I will be and set the temperature back - but leave the lights alone... when I get upstairs I'm perfectly capable of hitting the "downstairs off" button.

I will say though, I really like the idea of that iPad dock that holds it magnetically and charges it, and lets you grab it and walk away. That way you can dock the ipad in a familiar place on your favorite HA screen - then when you want to have better control, or just use the iPad, you grab it off and walk away with it. I don't think wall-mount controllers are the best place for the reasons you suggested; I like the kitchen-computer, sitting right where everyone sits at the bar, showing schedules, temperatures, and has a touch-screen for music control, etc; similar to when I used to keep a touchscreen in the corner of the livingroom - where my wife and I could each reach it.

for leftpawdog - I wasn't exactly following how you wanted to control your sprinklers, but what I've done a few times now is put the 14" elk can (that comes with most packaged systems) out in the garage and extend the databus out there with a single Cat5. In this house, for instance, I have an M1XOVR (output expander) and M1RB (adds 8 more relays to the output expander) and an M1XIN (16 zone inputs) in that 14" box in the garage; that then connects to the garage door and gate inputs; and the outputs hook to the garage doors for control, plus the sprinklers; as well as a couple other auxiliary functions. Added bonus - I could add a keypad out there if I really wanted, or any other bus devices. That location is also right next to my electric panel, so I've considered moving my UPB PIM there for maximum reliability (not that it's been an issue for me).

I set up sprinklers long before we had iPhone apps - used to use my phone to RDP to a computer running ElkRM when I was doing sprinkler troubleshooting/overhaul at the last house - very handy! Was also invaluable the other day when troubleshooting zoning problems on my HVAC - was able to set all the zones as desired from up in the attic while watching the results.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users