Desire to start automating lighting


New Member
Hello everyone,
I have read on this website about 3-4 times a week for the past 10 weeks for approximately 1-2 hours each time and I must say I am not any closer to determining what technology I want to use. So I have decided to post and ask for help.

I know that I want to do "something", especially since I am now finishing my basement and would like to start there with the new switches (approx. 8 switches).

Next step will be to replace about 3-4 switches on my main level.

I have eliminated X10, UPB, Insteon, so it really comes down to zigbee or z-wave. I know I starting with lighting, but I know it won't be long until I branch out into HVAC control, intergrating it with existing security system (Ademco Lynx) and IP cameras.

Can someone help me with determining Zigbee or Zwave?

Too new to even be called a newbie :blink:.

Jen (possibly the only female on the site?)
Hi Jen, welcome to CocoonTech!

As far as I know, the only ZigBee 'based' systems (they aren't ZigBee compliant as far as I know) are Creston & Control4, which are very expensive.

Z-wave does look promising, but has gone through many growing pains, and there are still some issues which have to be worked out. So if you had to choose right now between those 2, I would definitely go with Z-wave.

May I ask why you eliminated the other PLC based protocols?
Welcome Jen-

I can understand you eliminating X-10 but why Insteon and UPB? What is it you liked about RF solutions that makes you more comfortable going that route?
So for the zigbee stuff, I was looking at Control4 because looking at it from a consumer (non-technical) perspective, it seems very comprehensive and easy to start little and grow.

I don't see a lot of manufactuers that have the line of assortment that Control4 does. And I realize the actual box is expensive ($1,200?, $600 for additional, smaller ones), but I can start with the platform of zigbee and then add on.

I don't think of Insteon or UPB because they seem limited in what they can do in the future. This is where I could be completely wrong.

In the short-term, I would like to have swithches, remote control and PC control.

6 months from now, I see adding on to control through TV and linking in security.

If you have a suggestion or something I should look at, let me know. There are pages on here that aren't quite clear to me so I could be missing something.

I would definitely look at UPB & Insteon, it sounds like there are some misunderstandings. Also, for the ZigBee stuff, since the Control4 hardware isn't ZigBee certified, chances are it won't be compatible with ZigBee hardware from other manufactures (this could change of course).

If you want to integrate any home automation with your security system, I would recommend upgrading to the Elk M1 (my personal favorite), HAI or the GE CaddX.

Don't hesitate to ask any questions you might have.
I agree with all the remarks above.

If you want the most solid lightning solution now I'd recommend UPB (which is expensive but less than Control4). But looking that your expectations for future use of the same technology (beyond lightning) I'd say that you best bets are Z-Wave (which doesn't have a single device with live status update yet) or Insteon (which have very few devices yet). So no matter what way you choose, you will have to cross your fingers and see what happens.

Instead of looking for a do-it-all technology I'd recommend you to select a solid performer and use it for what it does best today. Per instance, use IR or serial (if available) for the TV and proprietary supervised wireless for security. Reevaluate the technology in a few years and do the replacement when financially appropriate.
Based on where you want to go in the future, I'd 2nd the recommendation to use a lighting control protocol that can be integrated with an automation panel. That way you can also eventually link in to your HA/HT system.

The advantage of this vs a mfr-centric system like Control4 is that you can eventually have a fully integrated & custom-made experience like the one below [not mine, another CQC user] where you can use any PC or cheap touchscreen or PDA or... to interact with your system. You're not restricted to a given manufacturer's equipment or look&feel. The problem with mfr's screens is that you're limited to what they can sell to the mass public, which means no one is happy.

Granted, these shots discuss security not lighting, but the basic premise is the same. You can display lighting status instead of security pretty dang easily. The UI is completely customizable, so you can make it look however you want it to look. [even break up into different screens if you want - truly total control]




BTW, here's an alternate way of displaying stuff, much "softer" and inefficient. This is my setup, and works well for the anti-techies in my extended family.

Have you checked out the i-LiNE system by EDT? It is very easy to program and use as well as being 100% reliable.
Thanks everyone for the responses.

I agree that I should pick the product/technology for what it does today, but I think I will have trouble selling this concept to my husband without some future benefits, so that's probably why I think of the project bigger than I should. BTW I notice that the term HAF isn't one used much. :angry:

Anyway, I looked more at the Elk and HAI as recommended, but I don't quite understand how these products would work with a retrofit, since it looks like it is more wire intensive. The wires is probably why I tend to lean towards the RF solutions over others. And the sites don't do a great job of explaining it.

What is the controller in the canister for? Does this system need to replace my security system?

I think those systems are beyond my capabilities. If there is a site that explains these for really new people, that would be helpful.

UPB & Insteon uses your existing power wiring to communicate, so you don't need to run any wiring. This is assuming you have a neutral wire in each light and outlet box. If you would upgrade your alarm system, you should be able to use your existing wired sensors, you would only have to replace the 'brains'. Both UPB and Insteon do a good job today, and are here to stay. Either way, whatever you choose, it will be future proof.

Lightning systems like the ones mentioned above can be implemented for the simple convenience of remote control (touch panel, keyfob, voice recognition), or if you want to go further for scheduling lightning (using a dump controller), or if you want to go all the way up, for real automation (using a smart controller). What I mean is that the house react's to what is happening and turns the lights on for you.

A smart controller like the Elk has interfaces to several input/output technologies. The ones highlighted in Elk's main page are hardwired sensors (for which no interface is required), but you can have wireless sensors (GE/Caddx, X10Pro, etc.) and several other technologies for lightning (as mentioned above), serial communications, and with the proper interface - even Infrared Remote control.

You can have your smart controller react intelligently using rules (you program it), like turning the lights 25% all the way from you bedroom to wherever you go in the house during the night. Or even controlling your HVAC based on you presence, temperature and time of day combination. Or installing one Sure Action Pulsor sensor under each of you kids bed and be confident that your toddler and 8 year old children are in the bed while you sleep instead of being in the laundry drinking Drano or playing with matches, respectively. The possibilities are endless.

So as long as you buy the proper interface you can control you UPB, Insteon or Z-Wave lights using the Elk. Or you can have the Elk responding to signals in your lightning (turn on/off other lights), or even do like some people do here - turn on the alarm if a burglar turn the lights on while you are out (assuming you dont have other burglar sensors).

So lightning (as sensors) is just a dump peripheral of the smart controller. You want a smart controller in your automation roadmap. Some people (specially the ones that use wireless sensors) never use the hardwired input/outputs in the Elk M1. The nice stuff about the Elk M1 (and I confess I dont know the HAI) is that it supports almost every existing interface. However it is weak in Infrared remote control. They recommend using an Ocelot controller with the Elk M1 for this purpose.

Even if you select to use a PC as your smart controller, you can use the ElkM1 or similar hardware controller as you gateway to several other systems. You can even program it to reboot you PC if (actually, when) windows freezes. There are several papers in the internet about the advantages of this hybrid home automation model (PC+controller). I still surviving only with the controller.

Finally, I want to welcome you to the forum. I'm not used to have to take the HAF in consideration here. I'll make sure to take it more in consideration in the future. :angry:
I, personally, have decided to go with ZigBee, even though there is nothing available yet.

I have decided against the powerline protocols because of the issues of noise. From posts on this board alone, we can find circumstances where both UPB and Insteon have trouble with noise, and I believe the problem will get worse as more appliances add switching power supplies, power-factor correction, soft-start and energy-saving technologies. I contend that the powerline will get worse, while the airwaves improve.

I have selected ZigBee over ZWave for technical reasons. Although ZigBee is an order of magnitude more complex than ZWave, it's also equally more functional. I don't think the added complexity will add to the cost, in the long run. In fact, the competition for silicon will drive the ZigBee price below what ZenSys will be able to produce chips for, unless someone like Intel gets into the ZWave chip market.

As for Control4, I have written them off. They have failed to realize both of their major marketing claims: Standards based automation, and automation that everyone can afford.

They still claim to be standards based, but their standards don't inter-operate with anyone else's. Control4 devices only talk to other Control4 devices (including their "ZigBee-like" implementation).

They still claim to be affordable, but at $99 for a light switch . . .
jenhazelton said:
...I am not any closer to determining what technology I want to use. So I have decided to post and ask for help.
...Next step will be to replace about 3-4 switches on my main level.

I have eliminated X10, UPB, Insteon, so it really comes down to zigbee or z-wave. ....

Amazingly frustrating to get a handle on the choices isn't it? This was my first post here, asking questions about Insteon. At that point, I had pretty much resolved to take my first steps with Insteon after a way long YEAR during which I alternately considered and began investing in (either time, money, or both): X10, Lutron hard-wired, ALC, A10, Lutron "Radio Ra", Crestron, Zigbee, Zwave, UPB, and finally Insteon (and I'm probably missing a few).

I think I can speak from some considerable recent experience with frustration when I say it's a madhouse out there right now (although it could be that just in the last few months it's begun to sort itself out at least a little ... or maybe I've finally paid my dues). It doesn't help that vendors want to sell you what they have, imo, and if they need to keep quiet about some "dirty little secrets" (e.g., zwave calls for 2 way communication in the spec but doesn't support it in any currently available implementations ... and vendors vested in zwave won't tell you this) in order to make a sale, too many are willing to do so. Maybe I am too hard on the vendors; it is, after all, like a food-fight right now and maybe they don't know the facts, either.

By "2 way" I mean that the switch broadcasts the the information any time its state has changed (someone flipped it by hand or a controller requested a state change; without this, no other device - including your house computer that is trying to orchestrate everything - can be sure whether the light is on or off ... I regard this a drop dead issue - even though I had a preposterous number of vendors tell me (once I called them on it) that it wasn't important (because, imo, their system couldn't do it; they can't do it so it can't be important...once they can do it, I expect these same people will tell you it is vital. This really happened to me, repeatedly in fact, and I am still ticked...and out of money).

Anyway, having recenty run the gauntlet of choosing, here is my take:

Zigbee is too far out from general availability - I suggest you not even consider it if you are looking for a solution anytime in the next few years. This standard is owned by Committee and you know the joke about how a camel is a horse designed by committee. This thing is way overpowered for normal household automation issues .. and this shows up in chip complexity, probably bugs, and cost. Do you want and need a jet to take you to the corner store?

Zwave may be okay, but hard to be sure, as real product (vs. vaporware and partial implementations) is only *just* now coming on the scene. In another year the truth here will hopefully be apparent (and the fact that Leviton went with this standard is very encouraging, imo, as I doubt they want to be associated with less than a sterling choice).

UPB>> is the safest bet in terms of complete, time-tested, "open" standards. I've not tested it in person but I almost went this way and will quite possibly pick up some of these, as well as some zwave, to play around.

Only reported downsides I've heard of: -fairly expensive (though cheap vs. Lutron ... and possibly also cheap if your time is really valuable); -a tad noisy (it buzzes every time it signals and some people find this to be irritating). -switches are large and not too glamorous and may be difficult to fit in a tight switchbox. -some reported problems of switches getting confused and gridlocked. -very small lag time between command and change in state (not generally considered a problem, unlike X10, but not quite instant). -lack of built in support for wireless control (will probably be worked around eventually, but the work around cannot be "native" as UPB is intrinsically fully power-line controlled)

Major pros: -professional HA people love it and vouch for its exceedingly high reliability -obviously it does support 2 way -has advanced software to aid in the process of mapping out and keeping control of your many switches.

UPB should be a top contender, I have no doubt, and many pros will tell you it is the ruling contender right now and likely for some time.

INSTEON>> I was late to this choice and may eventually have some major frustrations...though I am hopeful not too much as:

Pros: (1) Least expensive option - Switchlinc's are $39.95 and "ICON" brand is an unheard of $19.95 each. This, to me, makes it irresistable to at least buy a few and try them out. Trying them out, you will almost surely love them. UPB, by comparison may be - 3 or 4 times this cost (last time I checked?) (2) Really elegant look and feel to switches (3) taking the world by storm right now, with lots and lots of control system vendors testing beta software (4) Smarthome is the manufacturer and Smarthome is a 600 lb gorilla in this market. Smarthome is acting like they have "bet the company" on this technology and they are quickly addressing any bugs/problems reported and moving on. (5) Very fast and functional "2 way" with mutiple retry until a sent request is acknowledged as received (6) very easy to install and make use of without any need of a HA computer. (7) dual communication standard. The switches are powerline only, but any Insteon system requires at least 2 "switchlinc relays" which improve reliability and speed by communicating with each other using radio frenquency and putting any received transmissions on the power line (redundancy and signal amplification by each node is part of the standard). (8) the RF standard support means that future wireless remote control devices should be able to work with today's switches. I think this is going to be BIG (and a problem for UPB) but that is perhaps just my fantasy.

Cons: (1) no track record and poor software support, especially with regard to advanced functions of mapping and maintaining your network nodes (reportedly you can have a real problem if a node goes out) (2) high failure rate - possibly as high as 20-30% at present. Smarthome is reportedly good about replacements, but there is still a hassle (i had a failure which I've not yet reported to the vendor). (3) Bugs doubtless remain in hardware and software. Some have reported that Smarthome really didnt' design Insteon with central home automation computers in mind ... but is having to go back and address that now.

Lutron>> Pros: excellent, reliable system which looks like a million dollars. Supported by many HA controllers. Cons: (1) You probably spent almost a million dollars ;-) and, in terms of real functionality, are probably no better off than with UPB. I'm joking, obviously, about the million dollar purchase price, but it is at least 10x the cost of an insteon system with snobby salespeople.

Crestron>> Forget about it, unless you want to look down your nose at people who can "only" afford Lutron and, in turn, LIKE being treated like a mushroom (and a source of cash to be sucked) by salespeople.

X10 is way past obsolete so don't waste your time or money (you appear to already know this, but none of the recently published "how to" books even acknowledge it as obsolescent).

Zwave has recently had a slew of new products and may be better okay now Leviton or someone may have worked around the lack of 2 way communication The misinformation, disinformation, and confusion (deliberate and otherwise) really sucks.

I suggest you pick up a few Insteon and UPB and play with them. For maybe $500 you will have enough functional switches to figure out for yourself which you want to deploy more fully.

One parting thought (hopefully I won't have any others:): You CAN use more than one type of switch in your system as long as you are planning on a central HA controller to tie things together. So this isn't really an "all or nothing" choice as long as you select open standards and go slowly.

Hopefully all this helps. I know the folks here at Cocoontech have been invaluable .. worth more to me than the dozen or more other forums I visited before landing on this oasis of wisdom. Welcome!
tanstaaf1, that looks like a fairly accurate picture of the current state of affairs in the HA world. If I would be entering HA right now, I would also be kind of confused as to which way to go. Every control protocol seems to have some strengths and weaknesses, with no clear winner. I think that the main problem with them (aside from X10) is that they are simply still too new and their various bugs/shortcomings are still being worked out. As much as X10 is said to be obsolete (and I've seen this said countless times) most of us are still using it because it gets the job done with the least cost and the most vendor support, despite its slow speed and unreliability (relative to the other technologies). Personally, I would not consider it to be obsolete as such, but simply at the low end of the scale. For many of us, its "good enough" operation does what we need to do. If and when a protocol like Insteon has its bugs worked out, the $20 price per switch option will surely win many of us over to it for the same reason we still use X10. The other reason that attracts many of us to Insteon is its...X10 compatibility mode, once again highlighting our need for multi vendor support.