Building net-zero-energy home: need automation advice!

We're building a new home that will be net-zero-energy and would like to have an automation system that will enable saving as much energy as possible, as well as the conveniences of automation.

I've read the new home threads here, and the pinned topics, but still have little idea what direction to go re: automation. I have a programming background, but now have a very demanding non-programming job that leaves little spare time. So I could spend a few hours programming and setting up the system initially, but couldn't spend a few days, and need a system where most of the bugs have been ironed out, is well supported, and just works! That said, my preference is an open system that I'd be able to add 3rd party devices to over time (as future proofed as possible), that I could program myself if I want to, and that is as inexpensive as reasonable.

I could be completely off base, but from the systems I've seen, Lutron seems too expensive and proprietary, I'm worried whether UPB would work given the complexity of our electric wiring (with solar inverters, electric heat pump, and hopefully at some point, electric cars), and I'm worried about the reliability of the wireless transmission for Z-Wave and Zigbee. I'm also worried about how best to control and dim flourescent, CFL and LED lighting (3-Way and 4-Way so multiple switches could control the same lights). I have tons of old X10 and some new Insteon devices that never completely worked, and have the original Vera, but never had a chance to really test it out in our current rental).

Ideally, everything we'd get should:
1) itself use very little energy
2) work as close to flawlessly as possible (i.e. not be buggy or work intermittently in certain circumstances)
3) look good in a high end home (for my wife to accept)
4) be viewable and controllable from a user friendly interface (that my wife could use)
5) be as inexpensive as possible!

In priority order, we need:

*A gateway device/system that supports as many devices and protocols as possible (e.g. z-wave, zigbee, wifi, etc.), and provides an extremely secure (since it may control door locks) and user friendly interface accessible via web, android, ipad, etc...

*Lighting controls that support dimmable LED, CFL, and wired fluorescent lighting, with wall switches that I imagine would be hard wired to a particular light, and remote controllable from other switches as well to create 3-way or 4-way switches).

*Thermostats that support heat pumps (multiple levels of heating and cooling)

*Locks: My wife likes the Schlage locks (Z-wave). Are there any alternatives that are significantly better?

*Security system! (doors, windows, etc...)

*Camera: for front door, etc.,

*Ability to add motion and light sensors as triggers

*Controllable shades

*Distributed audio: Sonos has been highly recommended, but open to suggestions...

*Home theatre: Not sure if this needs to tie in to the rest of the home automation system, but would appreciate hearing if there's a way to do so that makes sense.

I'd much appreciate any advice and recommendations!
Welcome to CocoonTech!

I would probably take a look at the HomeTroller or PRO-100. It's an energy efficient PC running Homeseer, which supports all the things you want to do. Here is a review I did of the HomeTroller version 2 (there is an updated version out now).

I am currently in process of reviewing the Vera 2 controller, and if you can stick with just Z-Wave, then this would be another viable option. It supports locks, and can be accessed remotely, without having to open up your firewall. That said, it currently does not support interfacing with the popular ELK/HAI alarm/automation panels, but it's something they are aware of, and hopefully working on. I personally have a Kwikset Z-Wave lock on order, and Yale is also offering a ZigBee/Z-Wave lock.

I would also take a look at the 2GIG Go! Control Panel, which is a wireless alarm system, supporting Z-Wave. It's not as powerful as the HAI/ELK panels, but maybe combined with the Vera 2, you can take care of most of your needs.

I also don't see any mention of INSTEON, which is a PLC/RF based technology. Combined with the ISY-99i controller, this might also be a combination to consider.

What exactly is the difference between HomeTroller/Homeseer and Vera other than the ELK alarm panel support??

I'm somewhat familiar with Vera, but not with Homeseer. But when I go to their website and look at lighting controls, they seem to be all Z-Wave, so in either case I'd need to use Z-wave lighting controls?

How reliable are the Z-wave lighting controls and what can go wrong??

I presume that Z-wave switches will work the same as regular switches even if all wireless transmission was somehow blocked? But if we depended on wireless transmission for 3-way or 4-way switch functionality then the non-hardwired switch might not work if the Z-wave network isn't working? How likely is that to happen?
Homeseer can support X-10, Insteon, UPB, Zwave etc and combinations of all of them. It can pull multiple technologies together so it is not just a Zwave controller. Homeseer pushes the Zwave aspect (maybe because they sell Zwave) but it is so much more than that.

Vera is much more plug and play then Homeseer and much cheaper as well.

It all depends on how much time and money you want to devote to the automation and how much flexibility you want/need.
Another option similar to Homeseer is Premise which is now free! Premise is very open (not open source though) and has dozens of user contributed open source modules (aka drivers). If you still think like a programmer, you'll love how Premise is set up... One of the nicest IDE's I've seen. The links to everything are in my signature.
From what I've seen so far, it seems that using UPB for lighting controls with a HomeTroller/HomeSeer gateway would be more expensive than using Z-Wave controls and Vera, but will likely be more reliable, robust and extensible (while still being far less expensive than something like a Lutron RA2 system).

Is that a fair assessment?

And assuming that UPB is possibly the best way to go, what is the best way to learn more about it? Are there any constraints on the wiring for the house that may interfere with how it works?? (e.g. we'll have a solar inverter, multiple circuit breakers, and hopefully electric car chargers hooked up at some point). Can they control and dim LED lighting? And do they have any problems with fluorescent lighting (either CFL or hardwired)? And do the controls use any energy themselves? (Lutron informed me that their keypads consume ~0.75W, which multiplied by a bunch of keypads could present a problem for us re: the amount of energy they consume).

And if there are any Z-Wave proponents here - same questions...

Idle curiosity here... but anyone know how "clean" the energy would be that'll be coming through the inverter? I'm curious how it would affect the powerlines for any powerline-based technologies. If you get serious about UPB, that's probably a question worth emailing the manufacturers about.
How many lighting KPs are you considering?

1 at the front door, 1 in the kitchen, 1 in the MBR/MBa, maybe 1 in the family room...4?

How many square feet is the house?

You should consider a pro installer. You're not considering Control4, Crestron, or Elan G, any of which could be combined with multiple lighting, shade, thermostat, and camera options.

C4 + RA2, IMO, would work great.

The pro (if chosen wisely) would also be versed in the different energy monitoring options - several that should be considered. It's my understanding that C4 has their own system as an option (though I know nothing about it).
Here is a relevant industry puff piece on energy savings and HA:
By "KP", do you mean control points? The number we get really depends on the cost. If it's not a significant cost increase over the dimmer switches we're already planning to get, I'd love to get them for the whole house. But, if they are really expensive (say $100+/switch upgrade), then we might get them for just a few key locations. The house is ~3900 sq ft, plus ~1000 sq ft basement.

How do you recommend we find an inexpensive but good pro installer in the Boston area?

The reasons I've been resisting using Lutron, Crestron or Control 4 are the following:

*I believe the proprietary aspects of these systems will significantly drive up their cost compared to an 'open' system with a standard protocol like UPB or Z-Wave

*Further, these systems seem to usually have repeaters, gateways, servers, etc., that themselves may use significant amounts of energy. A Vera 2 gateway consumes 5W, and a HomeTroller 10W -- I suspect that the proprietary systems may consume 10x that amount which we cannot afford from a net-zero-energy perspective. I've called Lutron tech support and emailed them multiple times, and they haven't been able to answer this question - which is worrying...

*Further, even the control pads and occupancy sensors energy consumption may not be worth it. We did an analysis early on in our project that given we're going to have LED lighting, that the amount of energy a full automation system might save from the times we forget to turn lights off would likely be less than the energy the control pads and occupancy sensors would consume! Not to mention the point about the servers/gateways above. With an 'open' system I hope to find simple good looking switches that consume minimal amounts of energy...

*Re: an installer, I'm hoping that if I can find switches that install similarly to regular switches, and that might even save time compared to installing traditionally hard-wired 3-way and 4-way switches, that our electrician can install as part of his scope with no upcharge, and if the system has any kind of reasonable interface, I could program it myself (and would enjoy doing so). But if we're forced to hire a pro-installer for a home automation system, that it will be a very expensive proposition for the labor on top of the additional hardware costs...

If a "pro" system is our only choice to get a system that works well without me having to spend a massive amount of time, and we can be convinced that it will save significantly more energy than it will consume, then we will go that route. But if we can save significant money and save significant energy, and get a system that works well using a standard protocol like UPB or Z-Wave, that seems to make more sense to me...

That said, I should at least get some pricing from some pros so I can make a fair comparison, hence my request for advice for finding some good ones to call in the area.
That's fair, but the house will be for a family of 4, plus frequent guests staying over, and includes two home offices (so will save on commuting and commercial real estate), and the basement will only be partially finished...
I agree with you, I like having a large home. If you are there for most of your day, why not have the extra space and not feel cramped?

It will be a feat if you can make a large home use net-zero energy and still make it financially feasible. I do small things to save energy, but would never attempt such large project... I wouldn't think it would be financially viable without some sort of subsidy from your utility or the government though.

If you are short on time, looking for a professional is a good idea. Premise is very powerful, but unless you are willing to set down, read the help files and customize it, it would only do so much to reduce your energy consumption. I don't use Homeseer, but it is very similar to Premise and is probably the same way.

If money isn't an object, I'd look into the commercial controls market. Johnson Controls is just one example that's a perfect fit for you're trying to do.
We do believe the home will be net-zero-energy and more than financially worth it. We're building the house so that it could last over a hundred years, and never have any energy bills (other than a grid connection fee), so some added initial expense will pay off. We also plan for this to be a demonstration to show folks that a 'nice' home can be built mostly with sustainable materials and practices and to be net-zero-energy on a reasonable budget. Money is very much an object, and everything we 'add' to the home needs to pay for itself by hopefully, decreasing energy usage, adding to the home's value, and being part of the demonstration for what other folks can do in their homes cost effectively...
Talk to your solar installer first, for Custom Integrator recommendations. He's prob worked with many before.

KP=keypad, you probably won't have many.

Seems like electronics can play a role in reducing energy consumption in a residence, but I think it's hard to see through the marketing hype. To do it well, it will cost too much up front. You would faint if you saw the cost of Lutron shades.

For shades, which I believe would be an integral part of an energy-conscious intall, you could consider Somfy's new TaHomA controller platform, which, by report, will offer control over other systems such as Z-wave lights, motion detectors, and thermostats. Somy says it will be a dealer-only product, but you may be able to find an installer who gives you control when he's done installing (similar to some other 'dealer only' devices).
TaHomA link