Automating a Large House

tmbrown97

Senior Member
Hi All,
 
The last time I automated my house was back in 2011, and it was a carryover from one I did in 2008.  Back then, there were a lot less options, and this whole consumer automation craze hadn't started.  Then, I used what I felt were the best options - an Elk M1G, UPB, and RCS Communicating Zone Thermostats, along with some Elk accessories for more inputs/outputs, like doorbells and sprinklers and things like that.  The house was about 4,000sq ft and had roughly 75 lighting zones.  I loved the simplicity; the single Elk app controlled everything; nothing was cloud based, and there were no ongoing subscription fees.
 
Where I felt it was lacking:
  1. No way to tie in any cloud control like IFTTT or Alexa/Google Home/Apple HomeKit integration. 
  2. No way to tie in HUE
  3. Limited ability to tie in Z-Wave deadbolts.  I never bothered because I didn't want to add the infrastructure just for 1-2 locks to the Elk, even though I had the locks.
  4. Really no good touchscreen options unless I wanted to mount an iPad to the wall; even then, nothing custom unless I added in 3rd party software.
I do have a HomeSeer 3 Pro license but I couldn't bring myself to like it. 
 
I also later added cameras and they had their own app, and no real integration with the other systems. 
 
Now I'm starting over.  The new house is 3 stories, and about 7,000 sq. ft.  I'm trying to figure out the best way to go.  It's important that anything I do fits the million dollar home aesthetics and adds resale rather than detracting, so I'm hoping for as much of a PRO solution that I can hand off to a local HA installer should I sell the house. 
 
I really liked the flexibility of the Simply-Automated UPB line, and would not be opposed to going that route again, as long as I get a reliable signal.  There's a hot tub and a sub panel, and tons of fluorescent lights... I hope I wouldn't be wiring in filters and chokes everywhere... but I could do it.  I've never used Zigbee or ZWave, so I don't know how they'll do with a house of that size.  I also have access to RadioRA2 enhanced, but that's at quite the additional cost.
 
One thing I really want is a couple of touchscreens and a good controller, like a Control4, Crestron or RTI.  Of those three, I have dealer access to RTI; not the others.  I love the built in intercom functionality, and the fact that I could give the kids a controller for their Hue bulb, their lights, music, etc if I were to put a small touchscreen in each room.
 
All the kids have Echos in their room - I haven't checked for a driver yet, but that'd be cool if they could show what's playing on the Echo on an RTI screen.  The house also has about 8 audio zones - could use more, as that's primarily the main floor, along with the deck and master bedroom.  In-wall is just volume controls inline; all the speakers run to the main floor entertainment cabinet.
 
I think this time I need to tie in Z-Wave regardless, because I want those little motion/light/temp sensors around quite a bit of the house ultimately controlling the UPB lights, and I'll need 5 or so deadbolts.  I assume I'll need to have a handful of the plug in socket/repeaters to make this work.  I know light switches could also accomplish this - I just don't know that they're as flexible, or that they won't add too much chattiness if I go with 20 motion sensors, deadbolts, outlets, and about 100 light loads.
 
This time I plan to add a DoorBird to the front door, and a driveway sensor, along with probably 8 or so exterior cameras around the perimeter, along with some outdoor motions to catch anyone lurking around the deck or windows at night.
 
I know the Elk can handle the security needs but it's wiring needs are pretty specific, especially if I want more speakers at the keypads.  Existing wired security is a 21yr old DSC.  Any reason to consider a Vista or DSC?  I do want to be able to link things like, whenever X-zone opens, turn on X-light, or whenever exit timer expires, turn off all lights, etc.  Do the other panels report every event as reliably?  Any benefit to the Vista or DSC other than them being cheaper?
 
I know many of you are dealing with similar or bigger projects, and have experimented WAY more with the more recent offerings.  I'm just curious what your thoughts are if you were starting off today and had similar goals.  Any pitfalls to stay away from?  Any experience with RTI and using it as the main controller?  Can I bridge RTI with IFTTT or SmartThings or anything like that?  Will Z-Wave work reliably in a house that size?
 
I'd love to hear any thoughts/suggestions.  I'm due to start this all in a couple weeks as long as there are no surprises.  I'm looking forward to starting this again and integrating the new offerings!  Sorry this is a long ramble... there's so much to cover starting from scratch again.
 

picta

Active Member
Hi Work2Play, good to see you coming back! Is this a new construction or a retrofit? For a house that size I would stay away from any wireless lighting tech, except RA2.
 
I am using HAI as main controller in a 5000 sf house, and I would go with it again if I had to start over. You may want to take a look, as it can tie in many different lighting technologies unlike Elk. It has touchscreens with intercom, thermostats, temp/hum sensors, native camera integration and a music server. Currently I have zigbee, x10, hard-wired lighting and somfy shades all integrated with the panel. Most everything is controlled by sensors, and the reaction time is fast.
 
However, no "new tech" in the HAI panel. For that you'd need some kind of a software controller. I am currently using old HomeseerPro, and evaluating an open source automation software called OpenHab. Others use HS3 or CQS with HAI panel to add the modern gadgets, including Alexa.
 

jon102034050

Active Member
Hey!  I have made some decisions with my home, some related to cost and some related to functionality.  My home is ~5200 sqft and I use zwave for lighting (~75 homeseer switches), Elk for security, HomeSeer for an HA controller, and an ISY for random Insteon things. 
 
Overall, if I were to do it again, I don't think I'd go with zwave for my lighting technology and I would hardwire every door and window in the house, and add 2 wired motions per room.  Zwave works well ~90% of the time.  The other 10% of the time, its reaction time can vary from 5 to 45 seconds.  This is really annoying, and I have never been able to figure out what is causing the delays (zwave controller, HS, a bad zwave node, or just zwave being zwave and routing through some stupid number of hops to get to a node). 
 
I do like HS as a controller, but it does definitely have its downfalls.  The UI is a POS, the rules engine seems like it was made in the 90's, HSTouch (although flexible) is really time consuming and crappy to program.  I'd highly recommend you use RA2 for lighting, its highly regarded and extremely reliable.  
 

JonW

Senior Member
I've been running UPB since its introduction and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  I have over 60 loads controlled by UPB and the only thing that has ever caused signal issues for my UPB devices is a Panasonic microwave (only when running) and an older Panasonic Plasma TV.  Plug in filters fixed both of those.  I run Dell Poweredge servers and many other computers, TV's, UPS's, pool equipment, tube flourescents, recessed flourescent, LED, etc. HAM radios/amps and nothing else bothers the UPB.
 
I added OpenHAB several months ago to my HAI OPII system and am quite happy with it.  Nice easy web screens and mobile device apps to customize.  I added BlueIris for cameras and then found out how easy it was to have BI trigger OH for any activity (just add URL's in BI).  That works very well.  Alexa integration is also simple on OH - and quick.  I use Zigbee only for locks.  I don't have any real ZWave devices, but define many "virtual" ZWave devices in my system.  e.g. I define my pool equipment as ZW on/off devices and pool/spa/solar temperatures as ZW thermostats.  I then use the serial interface of the OPII to run these virtual devices through a serial gateway to my pool system.  That gives me built in temperature and on/off control of all my pool equipment.
 
If I had to do it all over again today, I'd probably end up right back at the same place.  I limit the number of technologies I have and everything runs great.
 

ano

Senior Member
JonW said:
I have over 60 loads controlled by UPB and the only thing that has ever caused signal issues for my UPB devices is a Panasonic microwave (only when running) and an older Panasonic Plasma TV.
Yeah, its the way Panasonic does their variable power (Inverter) in the microwave. Not only is it a giant generator of UPB noise, its a big generator of every type of electrical noise known to man. How that thing was ever approved to be plugged in an outlet, I do not know.
 

vc1234

Active Member
Not much has changed since 2008.
 
The leading wireless HA protocols remain as abysmal as before, both zwave and zigbee, although for different reasons. RadioRA2 while pretty good in handling lights cannot control locks and hopefully will never be able to.
 
If it were a new construction, I'd seriously considered wired lighting LV control, but since it appears to be a retrofit, RadoRA2 despite its drawbacks seems like a reasonable option. Subjectively, Lutron dimmers look nicer on the wall than UPB ones (which I considered at some point).  Not sure about UPB reliability.
 
I am not too happy about any of the controllers on the market. Elk and HAI while terribly long in their respective teeth are still the "state of the art" regarding a security/automation combo. I tried Homeseer, OpenHAB, ISY, perhaps something else.  None impressed me too much.
 
A friend of mine installed either C4 or Crestron, I do not remember which one. Since he is an EE, he is pretty unhappy about the need to call service each time he needs to make a trivial change, and it's not so much cost as sheer aggravation of that exercise.  Not sure why he did it in the first place knowing about the implications in the first place.
 
I use a combo of Elk, RadioRA2 for lighting and zwave for locks and some lights and a 20A  socket (which Lutron for some mysterious reason does not make). For toy automation tasks I use Home Assistant because it's much easier to cobble together a custom python script than to deal with a limited rule engine in OpenHAB (which I tried).  But the latter may be a matter of taste.
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
Good input guys - I appreciate it!  I'll also mention, my HA Hiatus was due to 1) my house worked great as is; 2) I had a whole bunch of kids (hence nearly doubling the house size) and 3) changing jobs a few times. 
 
The new house is a 2 story plus basement built in the late 90's.  The basement is half-unfinished now (although the finished part is where I'd want to drop all the wires in) and we'll be finishing the rest shortly after we get in.  I have no idea what sort of access I'll have from 2nd floor where all the bedrooms are to the basement where the controls will be - I'll cut walls if I have to in order to go down, as long as I can get everything up and to one place. 
 
Years ago, I was strongly considering HAI over Elk if I had to do it again - but I was a bit scared off when Leviton took them over.  I'd have to see/hear how they've held together. 
 
I worry sometimes - these older technologies like Elk, UPB, etc - they're just not developing anything new or cutting edge.  Is it because their products work so well that there's not much to improve upon?  Will they be around in a few years, or will the flashy consumer grade crap basically run them into the ground?
 
vc1234 - sounds like Control4 - I absolutely love how nicely the control4 solutions tie together, but they've done a GREAT job of keeping all but substantial dealers out of their market.  I'm a hobbyist dealer and I have access to a lot of dealer items, but there's no way for me to get into that.  I simply won't get into a technology where I have to pay a tech for what I can do just fine myself.
 
So far with Z-Wave, I only have a deadbolt or two; I could scrap those and go zigbee if that's better since I want to minimize the number of appliance modules that are needed.  The one thing that has me intrigued though is the energy metering of the newer z-wave and zigbee switches.  I'd sure love to be able to teach my daughter a lesson... allot her x kwh per month, and when she leaves her closet light on for days on end, she runs out and isn't allowed to use her lights - or something eye opening.  These are just rambling thoughts at this point...
 

dgage

Active Member
Not much into automation anymore but have a couple comments.

* I really love my Lutron RadioRa2 lighting as it has absolutely been 100% rock solid for 5+ years. Would use it again in a heartbeat if I moved to a new house. I would look at alternatives if building from the ground up but RR2 if a retrofit.
* I put up a 17” touchscreen in the kitchen/living room to use with CQC but with the addition of Amazon Alexa, I’m likely going to remove it. We simply don’t use touchscreens any more with Alexa.
* If you want voice control capability without using the cloud, CQC has local voice control.
 

vc1234

Active Member
Work2Play said:
So far with Z-Wave, I only have a deadbolt or two; I could scrap those and go zigbee if that's better since I want to minimize the number of appliance modules that are needed.  ]\
 
I've briefly considered zigbee for locks. 
 
While the zigbee RF protocol design is much much better than Zwave's, with the specs publicly available, and cheap sniffers to debug it, the most serious obstacle in my house was much worse signal penetration in comparison to zwave.  E.g. I have zwave lock 30' away from the controller (VRC0P) that can flawlessly (so far) communicate directly without need to use intermediary nodes as retransmitters.  The same lock (Yale) with a zigbee module could due to the signal being too weak wchich is not surprising considering their respective frequencies and the fact that the radios use approximately the same power (1mW/0dbm). With zigbee, I'd need to have an additional node to just retransmit the signal. Also, the 2.4G band is pretty congested nowadays due to WiFi and may and did (in my case) interfere with the zigbee signal. This issue was not as serious as lack of range, however.
 
Another issue, I have with zigbee is that the protocol is terribly fragmented at the app level with its multiple profiles.  However ugly zwave might be in its design, at least you deal with one application stack. With zigbee, a SoC, at least in the TI implementation can support only one  profile at a time(e.g. ZLL vs ZHA). In fact you deal with as many sub-zigbees as there are profiles.
 
Just remembered about what I did with Elk and multiple speakers.  My wiring for elk is Cat5, so I used one of the two free pairs to connect an additional speaker located inside the keypad enclosure, the same arrangements as with the first one. This may be problematic if you want to connect more than two, though.
 

JonW

Senior Member
Work2Play said:
I'd sure love to be able to teach my daughter a lesson... allot her x kwh per month, and when she leaves her closet light on for days on end, she runs out and isn't allowed to use her lights - or something eye opening. 
Let us know how this works out.  LOL 
 

pete_c

Guru
Personally and related to resale value (maybe?) only a commercially installed system like a control 4 could affect resale ....that said I would personally just automate for yourself and your family and do not count on the automation for any sort of resale adds to base price.
 
Really if you going to live in the house for long time frame then what does it matter anyhow.
 
Anything you do today based on your historical s is way above what the average homebuyer or consumer would even notice.
 
Most average homeowners or purchasers of new homes or GC's have no clues about automation today; even million dollar plus homes.
 

BraveSirRobbin

Moderator
It is a shame that IP based light switches have not taken off (like Plum).  Plum's concept was pretty cool with the 'touch' pad in lieu of any paddle/rocker and relying on wi-fi, but nobody offered any type of software interface or drivers (its control is pretty limited to Plum's own phone app).  I bought two of those when it was first on Kickstarter (waited two years for it).  By the way, if anyone wants two switches let me know! :)
 
I am also in a new house and my automation is extremely limited compared to one I moved from.  I have about 15 Z-Wave switches from vendors such as HomeSeer, Inovelli, and Zooz.  I also bought a HomeTroller Zee S2 which is basically a RaspberryPi with the Z-Wave hardware interface and a HomeSeer license (installed).  It's limited, but I didn't want to pay big bucks for software and have a dedicated PC for my limited needs (the entier thing was under $170 during Black Friday I believe).
 
As far as Z-Wave, I haven't had any major issues yet.  My home is 2700 sq ft and all the switches are on the bottom floor and garage (so far).  I do have an advantage that this home has the deeper plastic switch boxes with the neutral wire installed.
 
So far, I really like the HomeSeer and Inovelli switches.  I will pass on Zooz next time around.  They are a competitor to Inovellli and don't require a 'slave' switch to be purchased for three way applications (like Inovelli).  The problem was, during wiring this switch, I have never had more problems getting a wire into a hole and tightened than this switch.  Not to rant, but basically, the metal tab on the end of the screw would never release outward properly in order to place the wire inside the hole (yes, I pressed on the screw like the instructions said).
 
The HomeSeer swithes are nice, but you pay for this.  I'm also playing around with one of their newer "LED" multicolor display switches.  This is a nice concept, but maybe people using them are a lot smarter than me, but I could never remember or discern (from a distance) what the seven lights related to.  Maybe a top, middle, and bottom, but this is just me.  It would have some cool applicatoions though such as security indicator where the seven lights could represent 'zones' and you could easily see if they were all secured.  Right now, I have the lights blink if the garage door is opened.  I may have other applications (like which car/truck is home) later.
 
Getting back to HomeSeer/Zee one cool thing I'm using is the ability to link multiple (plain) Raspberry Pi's via my network.  This is great because I can have multiple inputs/outputs (using inexpensive Raspberry Pi's) anywhere there is a network connection (all showing up as HomeSeer devices).
 
I'm looking into a good wireless security system (house isn't pre-wired and I'm not going through the hassle of running wires).  I really don't want a full blown system such as the Elk.  The 2Gig panels/system seem like a good solution, but they are dealer based.  I would also like to go with IP monitoring.  Right now (please don't laugh to hard) I'm using DS10a's I had laying around the house (from my older system, had 15 plus of these) and I'll just use keyfobs to 'arm' and local notifications until I get something else/more robust.  If anyone has experience with a good wireless security system, please let me know!
 
I am even using my old W800 receiver and (thanks to Pete) have that working with the HomeSeer Zee (via a USB to serial).
 
I would like to incorporate Z-Wave locks, but after reading posts about them here, I'm going to pass as that needs to be 110% working due to WAF.
 
The reason I picked HomeSeer was mostly because of my familiarity with it (used version 1.x in older home with a lot of peripherals attached).  The one thing I like with HomeSeer is you can attach just about any peripheral out there to it and someone wrote a plugin for it.  The community based forum is also extremely helpful and I've used that several times recently as I had two skill factors with my new system: 1. I know nothing about Linux, 2. This new version of HomeSeer doesn't use the VB engine like the older one (and again, my experience with the newer .net is limited).  I also want to thane Pete as he has helped me a lot!
 
Phone interface with HomeSeer is where the clunky-ness really shows.  The HSTouch is 'funcational' but trying to customize it via there HSTouch development interface is extremely messy.  One thing that is pretty cool though is the voice engine works so you can press 'open garage door' button on your phone and hear 'Garage Door Opened' based on a contact closure (for verification that the command was sent).  Yes you can see the status via a 'button' color, but this voice interface is pretty cool!
 
Speaking of voice, the one thing that got me back into (limited) automation was Alexa.  We finallly have a reliable voice interface that we have all been craving for our automation systems!
 
I really like this and use this interface almost exclusively now.  I've setup 'scenes' and groups and its really nice to just say "kitchen on' and have all those lights go on!  All the rooms in the house have an Echo as well (and it's nice to use that as an intercom between the rooms in the house)
 
Anyway, sorry for the rant, just relating my experiences with a new home so far.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
If you want something that has the robustness of a proprietary system but you can DIY it, then CQC layered over RA2 is a pretty common choice. And, since the software and hardware are separate, you can still get pro help on the hardware installation without giving up any control on the automation side. Those two provide the core system, then let CQC bring in various more peripheral bits.
 
The issues with Zigbee are more the market's fault than Zigbee's really. Even with Z-wave people buy the cheapest stuff possible most of the time. Zigbee, in the form of separate modules built and sold to work with a standard HA profile, are going to have a hard time competing. So there's been a big chicken and egg issue. There's not much non-proprietary hardware, so there's not a lot of benefit for folks like us to to the large amount of work required to support it. Which means that there's not a lot of market for the stuff if someone made it.
 
OTOH, it's perfect for proprietary systems, because it's far better technically than Z-Wave and because it DOES allow for proprietary systems. That's allowed Zigbee to vastly outsell Z-Wave, just not in our particular neck of the woods. But, Zigbee 3.0 is about here, and it provides a single profile that covers the bases required for it to fit into the same territory as Z-Wave in the home automation world. I hope that that changes things. At that point, it might be time for us to look at supporting it directly.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
But having hundreds of small devices on the local network really just isn't optimal. It's not the way things should go, IMO. But so often it does because it's the only already ubiquitously available communications backbone available in the home. We need a dedicated automation backbone. That doesn't mean every device in the world has to directly support it. It's just a backbone. It can carry other protocols just like IP can. 
 
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