• You've been granted Beta access to this site, allowing you to explore some of the new features while they're still under construction. More information can be found in the Beta forum.

Help choosing an automation platform

So as I mentioned in the home security forum, where I'm seeking advice on a security panel, I presently work in the alarms field, but prior to that, I spent about 4-5 years installing and configuring home automation systems.  Primarily Savant, AMX, RTI and URC.  I can't afford Savant.  AMX can often be purchased affordably through eBay, so it's a consideration.  RTI is a strong consideration, since I can get a good discount on their products.  I may go with an XP-6 based system.  Alternatively, I've been exploring the current DIY options such as Homeseer, Vera, and CQC, but it's been a while since I've really looked into this field, and I'm not quite sure how these stack up.  I'd always heard good things about the Elk M1 Gold as a security panel, but it just doesn't seem to offer enough for my taste in automation, and is expensive to use as just a burg panel, so I'm not sure I can justify the cost for that.
 
These are the various devices I'm looking to incorporate and interact with, and I'd like your opinions on which system you feel may best suit me, both in robustness and room for growth, as well as value.
 
Security.  Have discussed this in the home security forum, but I'm debating either a DSC 1864/32 or an Ademco 20p based system.
 
Fire.  I've read that I should have a dedicated fire panel for smokes (maybe not?), and am looking for suggestions here.  Or should I just run my 4-wires into the PGM on the DSC?  (or equivalent for Ademco)
 
Cameras.  Probably Hikvision cameras because of the value.  I have a lot of experience with Axis, Mobotix and Vivotek cameras, as well as others.  I'm exploring dedicated hardware NVR options as well here, since I don't want to straing my NAS.
 
Doorbell/Intercom to dial my cellphone and show a camera image, and sound chimes over the home's speakers.
 
Driveway probe.  I have experience with Winland (out of production) and Cartell.  So I'd prob go with a Cartell unit.  I'd like this to sound a chime on my home's speakers and to open the driveway cam on my cellphone and sound a notification.  Also to light the driveway floods and walkway path lights if it's dark.  RFID would be nice, because then it could be customized based on the driver.  But can't justify that expense.
 
Lighting.  I have a lot of experience with RadioRa2 and HomeWorks QS.  I've also heard great things about PulseWorx, which I have no experience with.  I can get Lutron stuff at a discount, so I'm considering Ra2.  While I love QS, it's hard to justify the cost.  I was troubled to see that Homeseer doesn't integrate with Ra2.  Not sure about the other DIY systems.  RTI has no issue there.  Love to incorporate shades as well, but again, the cost.  I'll prob start with just a dozen switches, half a dozen dimmers, a couple keypads, maybe a couple tabletop keypads for my bed and sitting chair.  I'd prob opt to handle the garage OHD using Lutron as opposed to the security panel keyfobs.  I also love the Phillips HUE stuff and would love to incorporate this (or something similar/better/cheaper?) into my home using automation.
 
Music.  I really dig Sonos.  There's better audiophile options out there, but Sonos is great for the cost and seems to have a lot of control options for integation.  I also have experience with Autonomic, which was great but expensive.  And Squeezebox, which was great but discontinued unfortunately.  Some of the receivers like Yamaha seem to have some cool options, but I like the mobility of a unit like the Sonos Connect.  Not sure there's anything better than Sonos right now.  I'd prob eventually get 3 of them, one for my wife, daughter and I to use as our own dedicated sources.  Though 1 would suffice for quite some time.  I store a lot of music on a NAS (around 5TB worth), I also use Pandora, and I'm in the market for a high quality streaming service that I can choose specific songs, and that has a large, eclectic database.
 
For distribution I'd love to get a matrix of some sort, but good ones are expensive.  I really like the ADA Suite 8000 series units.  Next might be the RTI units, though not sure I like that it's 25 watts per channel.  I could also utilize a used Autopatch with some inexpensive external amplification.  I suppose Monoprice, Niles, Russound offer options?  Again, I get discounts on ADA, RTI, AMX, etc.  In the mean time, I could also just use a cheap analog 1x8 distribution pre-amp that I have to send one source into an 8 channel amp, and control volume via the app.
 
Speakers. In-ceiling are obviously the most aesthetically pleasing, but I've never loved the sound quality, even with good ones.  Also, heating/cooling/energy efficiency is very important to me and it's challenging to seal the joists to prevent air intrusion through the drywall penetrations.  However, even bookshelves don't sound great if not positioned properly and the room treated.  So ultimately, ceiling speakers may be a compromise I make.  I can get a discount on Sonance so I may go this route.  There's at least one room I definitely don't want ceiling speakers, so I'm looking for some wall-mounted bookshelf options there.  And another 3-season room that I'd similarly need wall-mounted bookshelves with some minor weather resistance.  I'm also interested in a yard system.  I can't afford the beautiful sonance landscape system.  I've also installed Bay Audio outdoor systems, but this is also out of my price range.
 
Video - eventually a couple of TV's and a projector, at the moment I like the JVC DLA-RS400U for value, and I'll prob pick up an OLED in the next year or 2, whoever emerges as the best.  I don't actually have cable or satellite TV, as I cut the cord.  I just use a PC and watch video through the web browser, controlled with a DiNovo edge mini.  I also use OPPO blu-ray players.  I own a Marantz 8801 pre-pro and a Sherbourn 7/2100a.  But I'm actually looking to sell the 8801.  I prob won't ever buy a high-end pre-pro again, and instead opt for medium end, fully featured receivers, likely Denon or Yamaha.
 
Electric, propane and perhaps water monitoring via Brultech, or perhaps EKM or TED.  I'd like to monitor usage as a whole, as well as for specific high-use appliances or circuits.
 
Weather station.  This is something I'm interested in exploring.  Rainwise and Davis both offer very advanced systems with lots of I/O options for automation integration, however I may just go with something simpler.  Ultimately, I'd prob just like to have the lights flashed and my phone alerted if something serious is coming.  Or be able to use my phone to check my local weather conditions according to my weather system, as well as check the temps and humidity levels of any interior rooms that I have sensors set up in.
 
For HVAC, I presently use a coal stove to heat, and window A/C units.  I'm looking to install a multi-split system, either Mitsubishi or Fujitsu.  While I understand there are control options for these units, I actually here they are best set and forgotten.  So I'm not sure there's entirely much benefit other than being alerted if there's a problem, which any temp sensor could also manage.
 
Leak detection in the basement.  I have experience with the Winland Waterbug WB-200 with 6 sensors, so I'll probably incorporate the same system.
 
Eventually like to get an outdoor hot tub, so perhaps would incorporate some Jandy controls, which is the only one I have experience with, but I'm open to suggestions.
 
I don't expect to ever have an irrigation system, but who knows, maybe we'll get the green thumb one year.
 

cobra

Active Member
Wow, quite a pile!
 
I'll just saw if you are going DSC or Honeywell, I'd lean toward DSC on security.  And since it's UL rated for smokes (when installed with some wired detector/alarms), I made that choice here.  It can also be integrated with some automation systems.  I use one with a HAI/Leviton Lumina system.  Zone status and arming status from the DSC can go to the automation system, so the automation can be linked to armed state and and zone status (for example tying automation in to motion detection.)
 
The Lumina's are more pricey than Elk though, but you can talk to just about anything with them (at some cost for interfaces.)  Lighting for UPB (PulseWorx and cheaper versions) is easy to integrate, as well as your RadioRA2 and other Lutron variants if you want.  And you can just drop a Z-Wave or Zigbee interface on it (although there are some complaints about these being dated.) There are different models of these automation panels with steps up in features and price Lumina, Lumina Pro, Omni, Omni Pro...  The Omni's support more security functions, but since you may want to split security out to DSC, you don't necessarily need the more expensive models.
 
DSC makes a wireless water sensor, so that can be zoned in to the security system.  I haven't looked at the Winland, so can't compare.
 
I forget exactly why I opted for DSC over Honeywell, I think it was because the DSC and Honeywell 20p are very similar on the surface, but when I looked at the integration for connectivity (EyeZ-On Envisalink interfaces are pretty standard here), the Honeywell had some limitations in how it reported status and zone updates.  This made DSC a better choice for automation integration.
 

wuench

Senior Member
For weather stations you really don't need direct inputs.  Most HA systems will work with Weather Underground as they have a pretty open API.   So you just need a station that can talk to that, and most do.  Or you can even just forgo it if there is one nearby.  As with most point solutions, software is an afterthought.
 
I have an all wireless/solar powered Weather Station from ambient weather, works great.  The station connects via wifi to weather underground, and CQC picks up the data from there.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Looking through that stuff, if you went with these things, CQC would be a good choice, and plus there are a lot of other options I'm just going by the stuff that we clearly support and that are on your list.
 
RA2
DSC-IT100
Sonos
Russound/Nuvo/Monoprice
Oppo
Weather Underground
Brultec GEM
Marantz
 
For cameras, just make sure they provide access via a browser in Windows, which means you can use an embedded browser widget to display them in CQC.
 
I'm intrigued by the Dayton Audio MA1260 Multi-Zone 12, seems to be a decent option for the price, if it's indeed reliable and of good sound quality.  I could easily get started with one of these, and perhaps expand in time to a second.  Anyone familiar with this unit and what systems can control it?
 
I'm thinking:
 
DSC for Security and smokes
Driveway probe and leak detection I just need a hardware unit with i/O's that can read voltage.
Lighting preference to RadioRa2.  Only really considering Pulseworx if the control system I choose doesn't support Ra2.  Would be nice also if the control system had direct control over the Phillips Hue.
Music.  Sonos, Airplay Express, and some other sources into 1 or 2 Dayton Audio MA1260 Multi-Zone 12's.
Video.  JVC DLA-RS-400U, LG or Samsung or Panasonic OLED.  Marantz or Denon or Yamaha receivers or pre-pros.
Brultech or EKM or TED energy monitoring.
 
I see that CQC is a software interface.  What are my options for adding I/O readers, Relays, RS-232 and IR outputs.
 
I'd like to be sold on one of the DIY automation interfaces, though I'm currently leaning towards RTI because of my familiarity with it, the polished interface for android/iphone, my discount, and the breath of drivers available supporting various devices (not to mention resources for development).
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
facesnorth said:
I see that CQC is a software interface.  What are my options for adding I/O readers, Relays, RS-232 and IR outputs.
 
I'd like to be sold on one of the DIY automation interfaces, though I'm currently leaning towards RTI because of my familiarity with it, the polished interface for android/iphone, my discount, and the breath of drivers available supporting various devices (not to mention resources for development).
 
If it has an interface a driver can be done for it. In terms of existing stuff, RS-232 is always covered. There are various IR blasters and receivers. There are a few standalone relay and I/O devices supported, but such things tend to be very simplistic to do a driver for if you find some other one you need. And of course things like the Elk provide such an interface as well, so you might go with the Elk for security and use it for the I/O as well and kill two birds with one stone.
 
I imagine that CQC is significantly more powerful than RTI. It's a full bore, commercial level automation system that just happens to be DIY friendly. And of course it also deals with media very well. I don't know RTI heavily, but I don't think it's an automation system in the sense that CQC is, though I could be somewhat wrong about that. 
 
All of these RTI drivers, are they all two way type drivers, and does RTI provide a full automation back end that can constantly monitor devices and respond to changes? If there's something you think the RTI can do, lay it out and I can tell if and how CQC does that sort of thing. But there's very little you can't do.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
BTW, if you like the RTI remotes, we support the RP6. So you can have the RTI remotes send CQC commands to invoke actions and whatnot. Those commands can be pretty fancy since they are just configured text strings, and CQC allows you to parameterize them, i.e. you can have a single CQC actions that handles a family of commands from the RTI, it's not just required to be a 'this button invokes that single, simplistic action' type of thing.
 

CRRC

Member
The thing I really dig about the Elk are all the expansion options: 3 types of wireless, support of multiple input and output expanders, serial expanders, temp sensors, prox card readers & access control, etc. What people seem to overlook is the M1EZ8 offers everything the M1GOLD does except for the speech and voice response features and it can be had very inexpensively...panel for $100 on ebay or complete kit for $300 or less. I agree the Elk's rules engine is weak compared to a "true" HA system BUT it's a very handy feature to have to do security-related "rules" in the panel and not be dependent on the external HA system for everything. Put the "mission critical" rules in the Elk and KNOW that they will work, even when nothing else does (remember the Elk battery backup will outlast just about any UPS system). It's also handy to use the Elk rules to customize the response of the security system beyond what is possible with the normal configuration options. Just a thought.
 
Rather than have a bunch of separate systems and trying to string them together I like to get as much going through the main system, then run what you can't separately. For example, you list wanting a doorbell to page and chime and driveway sensors. Both of these can be handled through the Elk. The doorbell button triggers a zone input. Elk rules either text you when the doorbell is pushed or sound an inside chime (voice with M1G) using a relay output, depending on the arming (home/away status). My system goes a step further and turns on my CCTV monitors for 15 minutes if I'm home and sends a TCP/IP "doorbell message" to my Bitwise BC1 a/v controller which in turn mutes the main A/V system if it's on and announces the doorbell over my multizone audio system in the other rooms. The doorbell is also suppressed after the user-settable "Do Not Disturb" time...in which case only the keypads beep and a "Doorbell Pressed" message appears on the keypad display until cleared. All the logic except for the A/V system is handled with Elk rules.
 
Likewise, rather than have a separate driveway sensor system you can use a Resolution Products driveway sensor with either GE or Honeywell wireless direct into the Elk, using the same wireless receiver you might use for wireless security sensors and fire/smoke detectors. Again, the driveway sensor can trigger actions just like with the doorbell. BTW, those door sensors usually have 2 input zones each and are handy for wirelessly monitoring all kinds of things: for example an outside rain sensor to disable irrigation, a relay to monitor the central vac system and increment a counter when its run to generate a "check bag" alert after so many hours of runtime, and a current sensor on the washer to trigger a "wash complete" announcement when the washer stops. Again, all this can be handled directly with the Elk rules or you can monitor these inputs through your external HA system.
 
Elk output expanders can interface to everything from speaker relays, low voltage path lights, garage door openers & gate operators, door strikes, irrigation systems, water shut off valves, hot water circulation controls, etc. And they can be controlled by the Elk or on command of an external HA system.
 
I also like connecting the thermostats direct to the Elk via a serial expander. It's proven very reliable and it's an important safety feature: in the event of a fire or smoke alarm, an Elk rule automatically shuts down all the HVAC systems in the house by sending "System OFF" and "Fan AUTO" to all thermostats, as well as all ventilation fans. It also turns on all exterior lights if at night and all interior lights if the building is occupied.
 
I guess the point I'm trying to make is to not overlook the Elk M1's ability to interface to so many things directly and do all the "low level heavy lifting" of the system, then layer on top a higher-level HA system (or software like CQC...what does the "C" stand for anyway? I have yet to see it spelled out even on their website...) to do advanced stuff like track the weather and provide a "pretty" web/mobile user interface.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
CQC stands for "Charmed Quark Controller". And yeh, lots of folks layer CQC over an Elk, Omni, or RA2 system. In terms of where the layering happens, that's pretty flexible and you may choose to change it over time. Given that CQC can see all of the devices, it can often be desirable to have a lot of the logic there. But some of that may be kicking off lower level logic in the hardware as well. And probably few folks would use any of those hardware systems to control their A/V gear and home theater gear, for instance. That would typically be in CQC's domain, even if they are layering it over something else. And CQC handles the media bits typically.
 

pete_c

Guru
Using software for automation will provide the most automation flexibility today and tomorrow.
 
It is the best for your buck automation and can / does provide a feature set well ahead of automation controllers running in firmware.
 
Here utilize software with my OmniPro 2.  It is first a security panel and then it is a multiple protocol automation controller on steroids running in firmware.
 
I can automate the heartbeat of my home fine with the OmniPro 2 panel but I cannot access NOAA satellites and download weather maps with my OmniPro 2 panel.
 

CRRC

Member
pete_c said:
Using software for automation will provide the most automation flexibility today and tomorrow.
Here utilize software with my OmniPro 2.  It is first a security panel and then it is a multiple protocol automation controller on steroids running in firmware.
 
And that pretty much narrows down the pros/cons of automation software vs automation hardware (embedded software):
 
- The software route is infinitely flexible but not as reliable. There is OS, possible other software/drivers to crash, and hardware not purpose-built for 24/7 reliability like a UL-rated security system
 
- The dedicated-hardware route is going to be rock-solid reliable. It has to be to get the UL rating. No OS issues, driver conflicts, etc. Downside is not as capable as a software solution.
 
In the end, the best is to use both and leverage each at doing what they are best at. In my case, I went a little different route and went with two hardware-based solutions: Elk M1 for the security and primary automation (including lights and HVAC) and a Bitwise Controls BC1 automation controller for my A/V systems (using IP, IR and serial control). Rather than running master-slave, they operate truly peer-to-peer and can also operate 100% independently if the network link is severed. Because the controllers operate in parallel, the response time is  near-instantaneous: when I leave and hit "AWAY" I hear the thermostat click "OFF" as it sets back and the TVs and audio throughout the house shut down before my finger has gotten 1" from the keypad! With these two I've been able to accomplish everything I've wanted to this point. The BC1 has the bonus of a GUI user interface editor for deploying control on phones & tablets. I'm still using my Prontos, so I haven't even explored that aspect yet.
 
One thing I did do is purchase an ISY994i/Pro to add to the system. I plan to offload the lighting control from the Elk to it and use it to extend some other functions of the system beyond what I can do presently. For example, right now the Elk runs my irrigation system but I have to adjust watering times manually as needed. With the ISY, the Elk will continue to actually control the valve run times, but those run times can be calculated dynamically by ISY rules using weather information, then sent to the Elk each day. In this manner, if the ISY fails (or loses network connection to the Elk) my lawn continues to be watered but the run times revert to manual control again. The ISY also looks like it will be a great way to add Zwave control to my system in the future.
 

rsw686

Active Member
facesnorth said:
DSC for Security and smokes
Driveway probe and leak detection I just need a hardware unit with i/O's that can read voltage.
Lighting preference to RadioRa2.  Only really considering Pulseworx if the control system I choose doesn't support Ra2.  Would be nice also if the control system had direct control over the Phillips Hue.
 
I would go with a Leviton OmniPro or Elk security system over the DSC for the ease of programming and basic rule support. I've programmed both DSC and Ademco systems with the LCD keypad and it was a pain. I've setup both Elk and OmniPro systems using their respective Windows application and both were easy. The automation rules come in hand for water sensors, thermostats, etc.
 
I had UPB switches at my last house for 2 years. At this place I went RadioRA 2 and even after only having it a few months I would go this route again. The signal reach is impressive and switches in my detached garage work without adding an additional repeater. Flashing the firmware can be finicky, but once I had it updated it has been rock solid. I'm sold on the fact I can create scenes across any set of lights and the status is always correct. Occasionally I do miss the UPB double tap feature, but adding a RadioRA 2 keypad makes up for it (if only they weren't so expensive).
 
You guys are making a great case for the Elk.  I'm definitely reconsidering my choice.  If the M1EZ8 truly does everything as the M1GOLD except speech and voice response then I may have to jump on that.  I wasn't really planning or considering incorporating any speech or voice response into my system.  Is that something people use a lot?  I don't even siri.
 

ano

Senior Member
facesnorth said:
You guys are making a great case for the Elk.  I'm definitely reconsidering my choice.  If the M1EZ8 truly does everything as the M1GOLD except speech and voice response then I may have to jump on that.  I wasn't really planning or considering incorporating any speech or voice response into my system.  Is that something people use a lot?  I don't even siri.
Before you pick ELK over Leviton Omni, add up the prices of everything you are going to want. The Omni supports more third-party technology and costs more overall. The Elk is cheaper especially for lower-end systems, but make sure you compare apples to apples. Speech is up to you but I think its quite helpful especially if you can send it to speakers throughout the house. When you here a beep than its the difference from having to walk over the console and here it spoken.  If not voice, how will you get instant status of things that happen? I even thing voice isn't enough so I use an LED sign as well.  Even with voice, sometimes you don't hear it. You and wife are watching TV. The door open beep goes off. Knowing which door or window is pretty important.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Either the Elk or Omni would be good choices. Of course the gotcha is that, if you get an RA2 system, there is some overlap there, so the Elk probably makes more sense, just getting it in a very minimal configuration that only includes the core security and whatever I/O you want. The RA2 will handle everything else. If it weren't for the I/O requirements the DCT plus RA2 would be fine, but if you want the extra I/O then the Elk plus RA2 is probably reasonable.
 
BTW, on the speech, that's another advantage of a software based system. You can do very fancy speech notifications, delivered in a very high quality voice.
 
Top