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

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

You kinda mixing things up here.

Crestron and Control4 are "complete" Home Automation systems and they tend to have their own hardware solution for just about everything.

Lutron (unless they have done something new) focuses on lighting control.

UPB and Z-Wave are mostly protocols that define how devices communicate - devices using these protocols may well be used in a Home Automation system but they are not the "core" of a Home Automation system.

There are Home Automation systems (the core part) that are good for the DIYer and are well documented - so these may fit your definition of "open". There are both hardware based (ELK, HAI, HomeSeer, etc) and software based (CQC, MainLobby, Elve, HomeSeer, etc) systems. The ELK or the HAI might be a good fit energy wise. They are top notch security systems with home automation capabilities but they are somewhat limited compared to a Elan, Creston, AMX, Control4 system.

Then they are Home Automation systems that are hardware based that are not aimed at the DIYer. Some do NOT offer a "one-stop" solution for all hardware needs but rather rely on 3rd party hardware - my system of choice is Elan g! - the best mid priced system I know of. Then you have the "one-stop" solutions like Crestron, AMX, Control, etc

With something like an ELK, HAI or Elan system you can use UPB devices and Z-Wave devices. The support of Z-Wave devices beyond lighting may be limited though.
Our solar installer is great, but is relatively new to the area, so don't think he'll know many.

Re: keypads, I agree we won't have many, because I believe they consume some energy, and are more expensive than switches. And I envision that our smart phones will be mobile keypads...

We did hear the cost of Lutron shades at some point I believe, which is part of the reason I have an inclination to avoid Lutron altogether!

The house is actually designed so that the angle of the sun during the winter allows light and heat in, but with overhangs that provide shade for the angle of the sun during the summer. And we can always operate shades ourselves. But, yes, if we can find cost effective and attractive shades, that would be great. It seems that Somfy makes the motors and controls for the shades? Who makes the shades? And would their motors be controllable from a system like HomeSeer?

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?

I have retrofitted Leviton Vizia RF+ switches in my home. I had the same concerns with 3 and 4 way switches that you have whereby what if the z-wave network is not working for any reason. My wife would be upset (to put it mild). So in critical locations like top and bottom of stairs I used a z-wave switch and a hardwired remote for the 3 way. The hardwired remote needs hot, neutral and a travel wire back to the other switch. Also, the Vizia + remote is relatively cheap. This way I have control for automation but the lights will work no matter what as long as there is electricity.
Thanks. When you say "remote", do you mean something that looks like a regular switch, but is hard-wired to the other switch as opposed to connected via RF? And does this work for 4-way switches?

Do the Leviton switches use standard Z-Wave and are controllable from something like Vera or Homeseer? And about how much is the cost of a 'relatively cheap' switch?
Thanks. When you say "remote", do you mean something that looks like a regular switch, but is hard-wired to the other switch as opposed to connected via RF? Yes, It looks just like the Leviton z-wave switches but no RF. And does this work for 4-way switches? Yes, 3,4,5 way.

Do the Leviton switches use standard Z-Wave and are controllable from something like Vera or Homeseer? Yes, the Leviton switches use standard z-wave but they also have added a unique (proprietery) feature. The Leviton Vizia RF+ provides feedback to the Leviton controllers. The feedback functionality may not work with other controllers. The only problem I have found with the feedback is there are distance limitations. The feedback packets are not routed like the command packets are routed. I have an HAI OmniPro II and it does appear to always have the status of the switches correct.

And about how much is the cost of a 'relatively cheap' switch? The Leviton Vizia RF+ switches are not cheap. You'd have to search for pricing. The remote switches vary from $10-$30 depending on whether they provide remote diming and have an LED indicator.

FYI, I'm not an expert. I have only installed my automation equipment over the pas 3 months.
If you are aiming for a zero net home you need to look at every watt carefully.

1) I would not run anything that requires a PC to be on all the time
2) I would look very carefully at the "vampire draw" of every little gizmo.

I do not know the vampire draw of UPB and z-wave. I do know that IndyMike did Insteon vampire draw testing and the version 5's (not dual band) draw well under 1 watt each. As far as I know, no one has tested the dual bands, but I doubt the vampire draw is any different. I also know that ISY makes an excellent controller for Insteon that also conumes only a few watts. For security the Elk uses very little electricity as well and has built in HA, though it is far less sophisticated than the ISY. HAI probably has a similar electricity draw as Elk.

People bitch about Insteon quality, but for the last couple years the quality is not a problem and the switches look and feel very nice.

I have no idea what a Creston or other similar systems use, but you can't DIY that and it will cost you a boat load.
Do the Leviton switches use standard Z-Wave and are controllable from something like Vera or Homeseer?

Yes. They also work with Premise which is a free option to Homeseer with the same features. Premise has a well thought out programming interface and UI. If you are trying to save money, you should at least look at Premise as the Homeseer option would cost $1000 more to do the same thing.

And about how much is the cost of a 'relatively cheap' switch?

$50-$90 for each Vizia RF+ device depending on it's function; $15-$20 for coordinated switches (aka remote switches). They are nice switches though; I use them a lot.
In my signature is an article about UPB lighting as well... I am using it extensively in my ~4K sq ft home. Also of interest in this thread - at the end of the article I provide information regarding the vampire power draw of the switches and cost estimates.
I found IndyMike's power consumption evaluation on the Insteon switches in the ISY forum. He reported .25 watts per switch for the ver 5's.
Thanks for all this great info.

Does anyone know whether and how these various switches and dimmers control LED and florescent lighting? I've heard that some folks have had significant problems doing so, and want to make sure I get the right advice and equipment...
Dimmable LED's and dimmable florescents are fine with all of them. The non-dimmables should be used with relay type switches (though I have a number of florescents that I am using the dimmable switches on for years with no probs.)

Rarely some florescents create noise that Insteon may have trouble with. The dual band switches should get around that. None of my florescent bulbs cause me any trouble but I hear about other people sometimes having issues. The only noise issue I have is with a dimmable low voltage light transformer which I put an x10 filter on.
It's very hard to plan and prewire without experience.

Most people retrofit, and learn as they go.

You have the opportunity to have everything prewired correctly. I think AV cabling has the most questions and issues.

Most DIYers who do well with new construction have done it before - they're experienced. Steep learning curve.

If you want to DIY your lighting, after construction, make certain there is a 'neutral in every box', and you can take your time learning.

Lutron is the leader of lighting control, offering the most devices and info for controlling LEDs and dimmable fluorescents.

As long as the controller can control both, you could use RA2 for lighting and Somfy for shades.

Most DIY controllers cannot currently control RA2, it's still pretty new.

I saw in a press release that the new HomeSeer MiniTroller will be able to control RA2 - but it's not available yet, and until I've heard that others use it and it works, it shouldn't be considered an option.

HAI might be a consideration, for security and automation. HAI Also has integrated lighting and thermostat control options. HAI Lighting control is called ALC, a UPB variant. HAI can control RA2, and other shades. I don't know anything about energy consumption and HAI, though; this link to HAI's website may help.
I hesitate to suggest HAI ALC because of the appearance of their 'keypads', what they call Scene Switches.

This is a Lutron RA2 keypad, for comparison.

Button engraving is included in the cost of the keypad.

RA2 uses a 'Designer Style' of wallplates, with rounded corners and rounded edges. Screwless wallplates. Decora. Many colors, in gloss (7) and satin (20) finishes.

RA2 Also has a thermostat that's new, don't know much about it. Doesn't look very flexible, compared to other LCD thermostats, but a remote temperature sensor is an option.

RA2 iPad app. Wireless vacanacy/occupancy sensors. Wireless keypad that can be mounted in a Decora wallplate, or sit on a table.

Lutron has 24/7/365 tech support, from Coopersburg, PA. Their devices are made in the USA. Lutron is a private company, and the founder (1961), an engineer, is still in charge.

Lutron in the Smithsonian
Lutron has set up an LED testing program, for companies to submit their LEDs to Lutron for compatibility. This helps with choosing the correct LEDs for a given lighting control system.

Link to the Lutron LED testing website.

Local Lutron reps can also help with the LED (and other lighting) selections. My local rep is extraordinarily friendly, and helpful. And patient. :)
What are you going to be doing to generate electricity to be net-zero? Solar? Wind? How many kwh/year do you expect to generate. How much AC/Heat do you need? If you live in San Diego you might get away with this, but I don't know how you would cool a house in Texas or heat a house in New York off of home generated electricity.