Advice for new home construction


New Member
I've done a considerable amount of reading, searching, googling, etc. and tend to get directed to this forum again and again, so here goes;

I have just begun construction on a new house, so I have the opportunity to start with a blank slate with regards to HA and security. My initial impression is that I want to shy away from power-line protocols, and use a structured-wired system (assuming that is the alternative to PL).

I can understand how structured-wire is employed to distribute audio, video, and data, but I am not sure how it applies to HA tasks such as lighting, appliances, etc. Are these tasks contollable only through power-line protocols? Or do different companies manufacture different processors using different cabling?

I know you can't explain home automation to someone in one message board forum, but if you would be kind enough to point me towards your favorite resources, I would greatly appreciate it.

Also, I would really welcome any thoughts along the lines of "If I was building my house right now, I would have definatley done this...".

Thanks for your time and responses.
Based on my experiences with UPB, I'd suggest that you might want to reconsider your "stay away from powerline solutions" statement. If I were wiring a new house, I'd do UPB throughout. The only consideration I'd make would be to bring a seperate 15A circuit to the location where my PIM would be placed. I'm assuming you're considering a controller based solution here btw....
I second the UPB comments. Very reliable, very fast, good WAF. Switches are smart without a controller - and if you add a controller - they are even better. Communicates to my HomeVision Pro controller so it always knows (and controls) the state of every switch or module. UPB is definitely worth considering.

One book that is worth a quick read if you are just getting started is here:

He used Caddx (Security) with Stargate but it gives you some basic insights into some automation projects and how to implement them. I definitely didn't do everything the way he did (obviously, since I used HVPro instead of Stargate) but it was a good introduction.

One suggestion (besides run wire to everything you can think of now) is to put conduit in as many places as possible. This is a real time savor when you running retrofit wire later. I wish my house's former owners ran more (only one conduit spot per room) so I've had to do lots of drilling work to get all the rest of it everywhere I want...

Good luck and have fun with it.
I can think of three alternatives for home automation: hardwire, powerline control, and wireless (RF, ultrasonic, or IR).

A fully wired system offers the best reliability, but it is outrageously expensive and inflexible, and you can't anticipate all the places you will eventually want to control or control from. Do you want to need to call in an electrician because you want to rearrange the furniture?

I'm putting my money on Insteon as the next HA winner. Its two-way, powerline plus RF mesh network, built-in repeaters in each device, and plug-in RF receivers and phase couplers seem to offer enough redundancy to address all the failures of older PLCs. It's one heck of a lot less expensive than hard wiring, and it allows for easy plug-in addition of new devices.

I would go with UPB.

I also like the elk m1 for security and it can control upb.

Switches are still abit high but i'm sure prices will go down.

I'm not a big fan of SmartHome Insteon mainly because of who is putting it out.

Zwave could be a bigger player when Leviton starts rolling out modules.
If you do go UPB, purchasing in bulk can reduce your prices by around 25%. Also, one of the main advantages of UPB is its large number of unique network IDs which makes inter-home cross-talk a virtual impossibility. When first set up, the system listens for networks and will automatically choose a unique one from the 200+ choices. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the UPB spec. The transmission protocol is quite powerful and can take a bit of time to understand completely. You need to learn the link paradigm to fully grasp its capabilities. A good basic tutorial can be found here. Download appendix 14 from the link at the bottom of the page. PCS also has a good writeup on their site.
Anyway, I'll get off my UPB soapbox and back on the general topic. Here's one: Be sure to tell your electrician to install the deepest outlet and switch boxes available. Those fancy dimming switches take up a lot of room! Metal is good too as it will help dissipate heat. Also, you'll want to tell him to avoid "end run" lightswitch wiring as these won't have a neutral wire. All switch boxes will need a neutral wire if you choose a PLC system.
Thanks for the replys. So far everyone is pro-UPB. I suppose the reason I tended to disregard PLC is because every conversation seems to be peppered with issues and warnings, i.e. "make sure the neutral wire is used throughout, cross-talk, line noise", etc.

Are these issues not as detrimental to a reliable system as they sound?

Thanks again for everyones input.
Not sure what happens without the neutral wire (with UPB) since so far I have been able to use it everywhere. I'm thinking the status LED won't work, but the switch still does (I could be wrong).

Otherwise, I have found no negatives with UPB - it has worked consistantly everytime - regardless of the electrical phase in the house. The UPB software has testing capability - and my house has received excellent results every time I've run it... no noise issues, etc. With the networking/naming system they've implemented - you'd never have to worry about neighbors causing noise problems, etc.

The only negative to UPB I have is cost. Most switches are ~$75, and most of mine require slaves (for 3 and 4way - $25 each) so to automate a light is $100 - $125. Compared to X10 - it is much more expensive. Compared to other reportedly reliable technologies (Zwave, etc) - it's comparable.
Keep in mind that that $75 gets you a Simply Automated 1000 watt, 2-way, scene capable dimmer though. That's actually cheaper than the X-10 equivalents out there. According to the documentation, these switches will also control non-dimmable compact flourescent lighting if you program them for "Snap!" on. I have not tried this myself however, since I use all dimmable CF. Most X10 non-CF dimmers will cause a noticable flicker when CF lights are installed in the circuits they control.

As far as neutral wiring goes, most electricians don't do much end-run (also called "switch loop") switch wiring these days anyway. Plus, if you install a wired system, you'll put alot more than a neutral wire into all your switch boxes. At any rate, you're golden because you can specify this to your electrician.
Since you are building new, why be concerned about neutral wires existing? Make sure they are. I am sure it's electrical code in majority of areas anyway. An electrician that isn't putting a neutral wouldn't be wiring my house.
Another little hint. Make sure they use the deeper junction boxes also! Big help when replacing your switches with automated ones! ;) My new home had these installed and man, what a difference in hassle factor compared with my older home's (much) smaller boxes!!
of course the deep boxes on an outside wall on 2x4 construction in cold climate is an issue (not for the Las Vegas types)
I will just confirm that UPB switches do indeed control non dimmable florescent lights when programmed to snap mode.