Few general questions for struggling newbie


Trying to wrap my head around the big picture and big items as we are about to start construction on a new home. Interested in automating lighting and probably a whole lot more, may start small and grow over time, may jump in big from day one. That is still undecided. Few big picture items and some questions I've piccked up along the way... this forum seemed as appropriate as any other without creating lots of more specific threads...

- lighting almost certainly radiora2. Meaning if I don't do radiora2, I probably won't do controlled lighting at all on day 1. Hard to imagine that at this point.

- landscape lighting. Seems confusing. Lutron has dedicated ELV dimmers. Seems like a bank of these could control landscape lights directly and then be controlled by RR2 and/or automation controller. But I see discussions about controlling outlets that transformers are plugged into. And I also see suggestions for dedicated luxor or whatever landscape controllers. Is that necessary, or what are the advantages?

- cqc. Been reading up and asking questions about various home automation controllers and software. Leaning towards cqc. Open to suggestions for or against. Would like to be a day 1 thing.

- cameras. Seems like bluiris is the defacto. Haven't put a lot of time reading about this. My needs I don't think would be very complex... a few outdoor cameras, maybe one at front gate and another at front door? I don't think I want cameras all throughout the house.

- security panel. If I did have RR2 lighting and cqc automation, is there still a big draw for the Elk M1G I see recommended and discussed a lot? Is there another piece of gear it would prevent me from needing, like a relay module or plc maybe? Trying to figure out if such a full featured security panel is needed, or even particularly helpful? Can cqc control panels replace the standard security keypads?

- WHA. Right now just a few echos scattered around. Like the voice control. Wouldn't mind a wired keypad type system like HTD or similar. Is cqc media control robust enough to serve that function entirely? Does it allow streaming sources? Can it tie into Alexa devices as an input?

- video. Not sure if I want to deal with distributed video. Use Kodi for movies and could stick to that or plex for theater. Or is cqc robust and slick enough to handle that?

And one specific bonus question I haven't been able to find with mad Googling. Is there a cheap water flow sensor that can report to cqc or similar that flow is present (in modest quantity, like a gal/min or whatever)? Not a full fledged water monitoring device. Just a simple "yep, faucet is on" sensor? I ask because one appeal of controlled lighting and automation is having lights just take care of themselves. Would liven for spotlight or chandelier over wife's tub just come on when needed and go off some time later. Occupancy sensor is going to pick up too much motion in bathroom. Sensing modest flow from the faucet was one thought.
Welcome to the Cocoontech forum rhosch!!
Happy New Year to you.
Relating to a water sensor...and other stuff...here in the early 2000's went to using added water meters to two water lines and used a dual 1-wire counter for flow measurements.  That and added an electronic solenoid managed by the OmniPro 2 panel...

Mostly here analog wired sensors plugged in to the OmniPro 2 panel and today primarily using UPB powerline switches. The panel though is configured for X10 (Christmas lighting), ZWave and Zigbee today. Sure bet stuff that never fails with no dependencies on software (even though I use it) and works 100% of the time and carries no baggage. From the time of implementation have used software addendums (HomeSeer) for adding features not present on the panel.
There are now digital sensors which are collars that you can install on your water lines.  Getting ready to tinker with one which would be a modified WiFi with firmware device using MQTT (and a Mosquitto Broker).
Relating to one new home build contractor subcontracted a local alarm company to prewire for the alarm panel.  He gave me 2-3 days (I was lucky) to low voltage wire audio, network, et al.  I was picky about electric such that I penciled in much stuff to the electrical drawings of the home pre building time...at another home for CCTV prewired and used chases from the house out to the corners of the property using PVC chases installed by the irrigation installers.  For landscaping lighting original analog wires were zoned 12 guage wires all home runned outside to inside of the utility room where I used multiple toroidal transformers.  Over time went to using LED lighting (zoned) and configured up a DIN rack with MeanWell power supplies for each zone (overkill for LED)....and automated them using UPB relays...now considering automating each 12 VDC line with WiFi controllers / MQTT. 
Right now really you should entertain only infrastructure for automation and wire your home electricity for automation.  There is a guide here for infrastructure stuff for new contruction to have a look see.
One other thing...learn to read your prints (architecture), maybe take a construction class in a local college and watch your construction.
On a new home here went every day after or before hours to review work that was done.  IE: some of the workers would dump their lunch bags and soda cans and cigarettes in walls as they were going up.  In a commercial construction job did same and met with the contractor or contractor manager once a week.  One building was getting a new parking lot over an old parking lot.  First rain after the building was just about finished the rear section of parking lot flooded.  I told the subcontractor to redo it right or not get paid (after it was already striped).  One roofer person fell off the roof on a new house build and broke his leg.  This delaying installation of the roof some 2 weeks.  Another put wireless cameras everywhere to watch when I wasn't there. 
I'll reiterate, do the light controls at the start.  What doesn't get done at the outset... never gets done.  The chore of pulling apart wall boxes and the resulting complications like cracked paint, crumbled drywall, wiring problems really aren't worth the hassle.  Put 'em in, roll the expense into the construction loan and be done with it.  

It's not typical to use a dimmer for low voltage landscape lighting.  They're either on or off.  

Distributed video in the age of streaming content is looking pretty pointless.  That and HDMI standards keep changing often enough to make it a potential point of obsolescence QUITE quickly.  Using tablets or player boxes connected with the network is considerably less likely to be a problem over time.  I'd skip whole house video distribution entirely at this point.
I'm still on the fence regarding whole house audio.  Small devices like Amazon Echo units do cover quite a lot.  They're good but don't have as much emphasis/integration toward WHA implementations.  The software behind them is slowly but surely adding more WHA-like functionality but will still require a cloud-based connection.  Meanwhile nobody else has implemented as robust an on-site voice recog solution. 

It really does depend on how you make use of audio now.  If you're not using a lot of music solutions now, I'm thinking that a built-in WHA is not going to suddenly be the magical thing you couldn't live without, especially compared to using Alexa-type devices. 

Shame nobody makes an in-wall double-gang amplifier version of an Echo Show.  That'd be a killer WHA solution.  I recall one company making an in-wall socket with an amp for an Echo Dot, but have never seen it in person.  It was round, not designed as a retrofit for WHA wall controls (control 4, russound, etc).  
You may want to reign in your enthusiasm about how 'automagically' things can be automated.  Especially when it comes to automating anything for the wife.  Think about the scenario of the bathroom being cleaned.  Not quite necessary to bring up mood lighting when the mop is in hand.  But how would you know?  Time of day?  What about a day where a tub soak was actually happening?  Likewise timers for turning things off.  How would you really know what's "done" and not risk leaving someone in the dark?  An 'all off' button that tidies up the lighting is probably going to be more successful.  Or even a simple "Alexa, turn off the master bath".  We've got both and there's a mix of which ones get used.  Or often neither gets used and my M-F 9am "turn off everything the wife and child left lit" timeclock event takes care of it!
Sometimes when it comes to automation you set yourself up for failure trying to be "too clever" and end up annoying the wife.  
That said, a side factor to consider regarding automation and plumbing is what impact it might have on your inspections.  Take care not to interfere or otherwise jeopardize your inspections.  Contractors do not like delays that interrupt their schedules.  I'd be cautious about plumbing automation during construction.  Likewise consider the implications and safety risks associated with electricity and plumbing.  It's one thing to have valves and such in a utility room sort of space.  But to coordinate the same sort of thing for a bath tub would present some challenges.
My advice, spend the money on the foundational aspect FIRST... the lighting.  
Woohoo... 24 hours passed, I can make another post!

Thanks again for the responses. I'm 90% sold on radiora2. The rest is what I need to figure out.

Such as... just a full featured security panel like Elk, or more like dsc paired with cqc or similar, or are there compelling reasons to go with both elk and full automation controller?

Even if landscape is just switched not dimmed, can I do that directly via a rr2 switch/dimmer, or would I still need dedicated transformers and maybe a dedicated landscape controller?

Thanks for the thoughts on distributed video. I agree. Despite wanting to make this as full featured and automated as I can eventually, just don't see the need there.

Still not sure what to do for WHA. May play with cqc or myserver trials to see how that works.

As for the automagic, thanks for the tips, will try to keep in mind. One reason I really like tthe radiora2 topology is that it keeps traditional wiring largely intact. I know fully panelized systems can remove the "wall warts" and a achieve a cleaner look, but I think having a switch for a lighting group that still works like a switch is important. Can always fall back to that mode if automation falls short. May gang some into keypads and cut down on the number of three way switches to reduce clutter,knowing I can always add pico remote switches later if needed.

My goal would be to slowly work towards not needing to use the switches much. Bathroom for example... walk in,.occupancy turns on overheads to preset level. Switch in from of each vanity/sink for dedicated task lighting. Walk into toilet/water closet light comes on. Dedicated switch for fan. Turn on tub faucet, task lighting comes on. After no motion in bathroom for say 30 minutes or whatever, all lights off. Except if its 2am, the motion turns on overhead and toilet lights to 10%. Etc.

With LED lighting cost of leaving lights on isn't such a big deal but I don't think I'll ever remove that conditioning. Kids leaving closet or bathroom or stair lighting on all day just bugs me. Can't have a switch on closet door... they won't shut the door either!
I've had good success using a Ra2 8ANS wall switch to control a socket that has a transformer for outdoor lighting.  Works nicely.

I've also got one controlling several outdoor outlets... well, half of several outdoor outlets.  I put outlets in strategic locations to make stringing holiday lighting easier.  Under the porch ceiling in a corner, at the sides of the porch, at the roof eaves.  This way I can use Ra2 automation to turn the holiday decorations on and off.  

Agreed on closet door switches.  I've got a couple of Ra2 motion sensors in areas like the master bath, utility rooms, rec room, master closet and the home office.  They're great at detecting occupancy/vacancy and handling lighting automation.  Especially since they can turn on one set of lights, but can be configured to turn off those and more.  Handy to light up one kind of light, but 'clean up' if others also got turned on.  Ra2 also supports timer-based zones where you can configure a scene to turn things off based on an amount of time since a given Ra2 switch was turned on.  Which is not perfect but it's useful for intermittent use areas like a closet.

To do conditionals based on time requires a 3rd party setup.  I've had decent luck with Homeseer 3 but quite a few other systems support Ra2 as well.  I use an event in HS3 to enable/disable the motion detection in the master closet if it's between 11pm and 6am, to avoid the spill-over lighting from waking anyone.  I also use a similar setup to control home office lighting, based both on time of day and outdoor cloud cover.  As in, don't bother turning on lights if it's bright outside.

The nice part of Ra2 motion sensors is LONG battery life.  Mine have been up over 5 years now with no replacement.  That and they're lightweight, allowing for positioning using 3M Command Strips.  This to find the perfect location to provide effective coverage before screwing them to the wall.  Avoiding pickup from adjacent spaces helps make the system behave intelligently.  There's a power room that still picks up passing foot traffic sometimes but it's infrequent enough to not be annoying (to me or the wife; the WAF being all-important).
I largely dislike panelized setups.  I know some folks have fantasies about hiding everything.  I prefer to avoid tormenting guests by attempting to make the system invisible.  We've had 100+ years of 'normal ways' to control electric lighting.  I'm good with keeping expectations predictable and having normal wall controls where they'd be expected. 

The only time I'd consider a panel or hidden dimmer setup would be to get fine control over a large set of lights, like maybe a lot of 'task specific' ceiling cans in a rec room or something.  Or maybe a largish home theater where you wanted to have specific kinds of scenes setup for limited tasks.  That's a situation where the typical "long row of dimmers" is ugly looking, and something like a multi-channel GrafikEye controller (or hidden dimmers/powpaks) would be preferable.  I designed our lighting not to need that sort of setup, so it was a non-issue. 

That and trying to fit "every" lighting scenario into a limited number of on-wall keypad buttons is difficult.  Voice control makes it less-so, because you can have dozens of scenes instead of dozens of keypad buttons.  But then you have to remember the scene names to call for them. 

So my decision was to put a few keypads in strategic locations to provide "big action" scene controls and use voice for fancier stuff that doesn't really get called that often.  It's a nice balance between normal lighting controls, a single 'fancy' keypad in the area and voice control 'magic' for the rest.  The key design factor here is put the "main lighting" on a normal dimmer paddle and put the ancillary on the hybrid keypad's dimmer.  Like the dining room hanging fixture is on a paddle, and the ceiling cans are on the hybrid keypad.  Likewise, the entry doors... the most obvious and needed light for the entry area is right there on the first paddle.  So anyone fumbling in the dark is going to get useful light from the first big, normal-looking paddle they use.  Instead of having to fumble trying to read tiny lettering on keypads, or triggering an epileptic seizure of lighting scenes from hitting too many of them at once.

As for video... put several runs of CAT5E or CAT6 in places where you might want video or networking.  My one regret is not having left at least one CAT5 in some ceilings as WiFi coverage would be nicer if I could put a few access points in some ceiling spots.  But for "main" TV locations it's been very helpful to have multiple CAT6 pulls.  This way high bandwidth traffic like streaming video (from on-site network servers) can be separated from stuff like regular web browsing or remote access to work desktops. 

That and leave a service loop of extra wire in places that may or may not benefit from having a TV placed up on wall or down on furniture.  I've got a kids room location that has that. It was nice to have been able to just cap off the lower low voltage box location and cut a new one higher up where the TV gets mounted and then just lift the wire to the new location.  We weren't sure during construction where a TV might go... having some slack in the wire made it easy to move later.
Though in theory the automation system's touch screens can completely replace the security system's pane, I think it would be prudent to have at least one, somewhere near the front door I'd guess, just in case? In terms of daily usage stuff, yeh, they should easily provide that functionality, which is likely just arm and disarm stuff most of the time, right?
For a lot of people they wouldn't even ever directly do any arming stuff via the automation system touch screens, that would be encapsulated within the process of setting 'modes' for the home or something like that. Set night mode, set away mode, in which the arming of the security system would just be one of the things done. Disarming might be the only thing directly done via the automation system, since you'd want the user to have to enter a code to do it. And disarming is something that's still best not done via voice since you'd have to speak the disarming phrase out loud.

Without very reliable voice recognition capabilities, you'd have to have some sort of spoken password. If we had the very reliable voice recognition, then the phrase wouldn't matter, just that it was you who spoke it. But that's not something really available right now.
Here are some things I would ensure I’d include on my next house.

* I have outdoor motion floodlights (RAB STL360HBW) on the corners with LED floodlights and they are bright and would make a thief think twice about messing with my house. I’d wire for these on each corner as well as middle front and middle back to ensure the entire perimeter of the house was covered with bright lighting. With LEDs, it could be hooked up to a single light switch.
* Continuing the outdoor theme, I’d run CAT6 for cameras to also cover the perimeter of the house. These would plug into a POE switch to power cameras and keep this data off of WiFi. Don’t forget to cover the front and back (side?) doors with cameras as well as wiring for potentially installing doorbell cameras.
* I have Tivo and Tivo Minis and I had to run network cable where I wanted to hook up he TVs. Network cable is the new coax so I’d put multiple drops on each wall of a bedroom so you can plugin TV or other devices to give them better reliability and remove the streaming from he WiFi network. You will have enough devices streaming on the WiFi network if you have kids and multiple devices so the more you can get off of WiFi, the better off you are. No reason to use anything other than CAT6 for your networking cable.
* I agree with Bill, if you can get a quick WiFi design done with say UniFi Pro APs, I’d recommend identifying where you might want to put APs for full WiFi coverage throughout the house, including the back yard/deck. You might be able to power the APs with POE so another reason to have a powerful POE switch (I use UniFi POE switches).
* Not automation related but I will be using home-run pex plumbing if I build a house with 1/2” going to showers/tubs, which should reduce the time it takes for hot water to get to a fixture.
* I’d potentially still put up speakers throughout a house as even if you use Sonos or Alexa or similar, you can always keep the devices centrally located while controlling from the different locations or even a phone/tablet. I like my NHT IC4 speakers with backer boxes I built.
* For video, I’ve seen numerous people on AVS recommend the nVidia Shield with Plex to stream movies and this will likely change over time as new solutions and new formats come out so you might not want to automate that part too much. You can always use a remote to help get ready to watch a movie with a single button press or even saying “Alexa, let’s watch a movie”.
* For HVAC, you might want to consider looking at mini splits to give each room control over temperature along with being able to not heat/cool unused rooms. Mini splits commonly hang on wall but they also have units that can be hidden in a ceiling now.
* Oh yeah, I’d recommend floor trusses instead of floor joists to make it easier to run wiring and other items without necessarily needing to drill into joists.
* And you might also want to think about putting sound insulstion between rooms and bathrooms, especially the master so that noise doesn’t get in or out easily. Could be done with staggered stud walls, insulstion, double-drywall, etc but I will also be doing that in any house I build. I’d also use solid core doors for bedrooms and bathrooms.

Hope that helps/
Also solid core interior doors; wood or composite.
Central point of wiring (closet) is nice have.
Used unfinished basements in homes with basements and a centrally located room in a single story ranch for central points of cabling.
Thanks for all the thoughts guys. Good to help me cover the foundation well.

Dean, any compelling reason to still choose a flexible security panel like Elk instead of more basic like dsc if cqc or similar is alongside handling a lot of stuff?
Interesting read on some of the video ideas.
Regarding a "hub". I was on CQC for a number of years and even wrote a few drivers for it. For me switching to Home Assistant was the best thing I ever did with my system. Once I got converted over I was fine losing the features I only had in CQC because I gained a bunch of other things and found it to be more reliable. Also because of the integrations that Home Assistant has, I can do a _lot_ more intelligent things with it.
I've been seeing and reading about people making custom lighting controls that are all low voltage that are very impressive. If I was doing new construction or a large remodel I would look into if there are serious viable commercial solutions around this now that LEDs are so dominate and 120 volt isn't what it was. I don't have RA2 but from what I understand it's a very good system so I don't think you can go wrong with it.
As for the Panel, I like a full-featured software "hub" so DSC is my recommendation. If you want to have automatons in the Panel, then DSC wouldn't be your choice.
I use Sonos and am happy with it. I have a buddy with a multi-zone system and he is happy with his as well. They both have trade-offs. The major drawback to me with Sonos (feature I want the most) is that you can't mix multiple audios sources for announcements. You have to stop/start. I've seen some really trick announcement setups that use mixers. Also, depending on how picky you are about audio quality, then Sonos might not be a good choice either -- you're limited to spending $500 / speaker, not $50,000 per speaker like traditional systems :).
As for motion activated lighting. I gave up on that. There was too much of a delay for me and I didn't want to upgrade to something fancier than PIR for motion. LED power is cheap.
I've seen some stuff regarding ways to take your sensors and covert it to predictive behaviors which could solve the motion activated light issue for me.  It's all very new though to me and also the home automation scene but could be pretty awesome if it can be dumbed down enough.
Anyways, tons of this is personal preference. Good lucK!
bbrendon said:
I use Sonos and am happy with it. I have a buddy with a multi-zone system and he is happy with his as well. They both have trade-offs. The major drawback to me with Sonos (feature I want the most) is that you can't mix multiple audios sources for announcements. You have to stop/start. I've seen some really trick announcement setups that use mixers. Also, depending on how picky you are about audio quality, then Sonos might not be a good choice either -- you're limited to spending $500 / speaker, not $50,000 per speaker like traditional systems :).
Only correction is you can use Sonos with distributed (or nice) audio speakers and amps using a number of Sonos Connects, one per zone/room. The Sonos Connects could be centrally located or distributed around the house such as at your main audio system. And then youd have the flebility to add a Sonos Speaker as well if you decide you want one in a room you hadnt planned on for instance, like the laundry room (?).
I've got a couple of the previous generation Sonos devices (a ZP100 amp for patio speakers) and a Play:3.  I can use Alexa to play music to them.  It works but you run into some trouble trying to shout over the music volume to regain control.  I've heard trying to use the Sonos devices (the newer ones) as an Alexa replacement (using the Sonos as mic) is not very good.  So you'd be using two devices, an Alexa and a Sonos.  I'm expecting the same sort of disappointment would be likely with other new gear like Bose units with it.  I may actually get their 500 soundbar for use on the boat, but that should be on a different thread.

I'm debating the merit of adding a Sonos Connect for in-ceiling speakers.  I pulled wire for most room (and have floor x/y measurement locations to find them) but haven't found the need to go cut holes for them.  Music out of the Amazon Echo units has turned out to be reasonably sufficient for most situations.

Because, truth be told, I really don't find it as appealing or useful to have whole house audio as I once thought.  Especially now that I've gotten used to having voice control for automation.
We would use WHA for background music fairly often. Daily maybe. Currently do with echo dots anyway. Doesn't have to be particularly high quality. I'm a diehard musician and audiophile but don't care if background music is pristine, just reasonable. Even echo dot 3rd Gen is mostly adequate. I save the quality gear for a room that can put it to use, and can appreciate good music through most anything.

For me, function is more important. The voice control with Alexa is really convenient. But, currently Amazon speaker groupings are limited... an echo device can only be part of one group. Also, would be nice to have a little more direct control over music, browsing a library of local media for one. Sending spotify or whatever to echo works OK, but honestly would prefer that the phone not be the only input device. And running an android tablet just as an input to Alexa seems a waste.

If something like cqc media management could start and send a song to Alexa, which could then be stopped by voice control, or volume turned down by local zone wall mounted keypad/control... that would be ideal. In other words, a combination of something like cqc, echo, maybe htd that all work together seamlessley and intelligently.

Am I asking for too much? Yeah, I think so.
I don't think there's any way for anything local to send anything to the Echo. Though it may be able to act as an audio output if it's connected to a PC via bluetooth? If it shows up as an audio output, then we can play audio to it (music or text to speech.)
You're not wrong about sophisticated media control.  Nothing really does it well, even less does it with any genuinely intelligent convenience.

It's tough, though, because implementing a mix of local, centralized, streamed, individual/grouped speakers, etc is not a trivial set of variables.  Centralized is nice because it cuts down on a added expensive and hard to configure pieces.  But then it's often hard to control remotely.  I've used a Russound setup with multiple inputs and it's never seamless enough to operate to avoid being annoying all the time. 

On-wall volume and media control is handier than I think a lot of geeks truly appreciate. 

In the days before voice recog and phones it was a lot easier to understand, but it was/is expensive to install.  And you still had the supreme hassle of trying to manage/interact with media using crappy 2-line (at best) LCD displays.  But, ooooh, you could choose either green or amber backlighting!  Right about that time touchscreens were coming out, but so where phones/tablets/phablets.  An on-wall touchscreen for this would have been great, but fails right out of the gate for not being able to "do everything" because of being a one-system-pony.  Sonos touchscreen remotes were great.... at being only Sonos controllers.  Fantastic for that, but the train had already left the station and people had seen what a phone could do (for about the same money).
I've often wondered about the potential of some in-wall amps that have bluetooth receiver functionality.  But then you're taking crappy digitized source media, transcoding it again and burping it out over bluetooth, likely through a wretchedly cheap in-wall amp.  If you're going to mangle the content that badly you might as well just start and end the process using only a cheap Echo Dot.

What kills me about the Echo Dots is their inability to use BOTH outputs at the same time, independently.  Let me pump the music out to a Bluetooth connection, but keep the on-board speaker active for alerts and messages!  Instead the only way to "do that" is basically to take another Dot and dedicate it to audio output and use a clunkier bit of syntax to control it.  "Alexa, tell House Echo to play <song name>".    Where "House Echo" is the name of the device you want to play the song.  This does work but it's nowhere near as seamless as it "should be".  The framework for the Alexa skills does have the ability to associate other smart home devices with a given Echo.  So, in theory, you could configure a given Echo to always default to certain devices for actions.  Right now though it's limited to targeting where video gets watched, not music.
Lots of stuff has 'come close'.  But nobody has yet made the perfect combination.

Truth be told I just let a streaming service figure it out most of the time.  There's a lot to be said for the DJ picking the music aspect sometimes.