Hey you. Tell me how you would build your house. Why am I wrong?

Neurorad said:
Keep in mind that audio keypads and in-wall touchscreens are ideally at eye height, like thermostats. I would think that in-wall intercoms would be best at this level as well.
Keypads with hard buttons and only an LCD don't much matter where they're positioned on the wall.  You 'get used to' the button placement.  Things with touchscreens, yeah, you want to be able to see them without a lot of head motion.  Even more so if you need reading glasses or bifocals. 
I still prefer making sure the first thing someone's going to touch going into the room is a plain light switch.  Make keypads secondary devices.  This so guests, housekeeping, etc, will be able to light up the primary source of light for the space without having to fiddle around looking at anything on the wall.
Noticed; and just relating to thermostats; three new builds; not telling the HVAC contractor where I wanted the thermostat they were all installed at switch level.  Never really though paid attention.   (old was all buttons, then a mixture of LCD and buttons)
In wall touchscreens (well paying attention) are at eye level with no buttons.  Alarm keypads at eye level.  Old intercoms at switch level.  My Russound keypads which are a combo of LCD and buttons are at switch level probably cuz they are the same size as the legacy switchs / electrical switch boxes.
The problem is the WAF factor. I'm an engineer, my wife is a nurse who couldn't care less about how 'cool' it is, as long as it works.
This is ideal in that you can engineer custom automation just for your family (and have high WAF). 
Ask your wife what automation she likes in her work environment that would "work" or be feasible for her in the home environment. 
You could introduce some AI, VR and TTS such that she could just request status of the residents in the house (well your family); all kinds of stuff you can do these days with automation. (note this is going into more of a software realm of automation rather than a firmware realm of automation).  This is though beyond just an intercom thing. 
Thinking back to when my kids were kids; they had very selective hearing; wouldn't matter much where my voice was coming from unless there was eye contact.  I did have text to speech in the house and did tell my children "she" was watching over them and to listen to her voice.  They did and gave the voice a name ("Diamond") and wondered how the voice could be in almost every room in the house at the same time.  It was sort of a PITA to set up. 
Geez with the Microsoft Kinect; you don't even have to talk.
I have both at my house - Nuvo audio KPs at switch height and eye height; I replaced existing volume controls at switch height with audio KPs, and moved most up. Up is better functionally, and reduces wall clutter too, IMO. I'll move the remining up, as we paint.
My old M&S intercoms were at eye height. Never used them, most have been removed (each time we paint a room it's an opportunity to reduce wall clutter and improve cabling easily).
milnejames said:
I get where the Vera is a hobbiest product on these boards, but if I put in 50-100 devices then range shouldn't be an issue.
You may be in for a big surprise, the range is only an issue for z-wave devices when you do not have enough. The other issue is when you have too many (40+), unless your house is perfectly built for z-wave communication with no interfering metal objects (pipes, beams, cars etc.) and very isotropic switch placement.
Have you done the switch counts yet?  You may be surprised how many are necessary.  They add up.  Ceiling fan and it's light, recessed cans, sconces, under-cabinet, closets, stairways, etc.  
picta said:
You may be in for a big surprise, the range is only an issue for z-wave devices when you do not have enough. The other issue is when you have too many (40+), unless your house is perfectly built for z-wave communication with no interfering metal objects (pipes, beams, cars etc.) and very isotropic switch placement.
Not only that, but you don't need to use Z-wave devices with the Vera.  It has plugins for Lutron, LiteTouch (which I wrote), and several other lighting technologies.  Also, it can control lighting products connected to the Elk, even if there isn't a plugin for them.  I agree that Z-wave isn't optimal by any means.  I happen to have a couple of locks that support it because that's pretty much the only option for getting automated locks, unless you go with a door strike or mag lock, both of which are kind of a PITA.  
As far as WAF for the Vera...  it's what you make it.  There are numerous apps for the big 3 phone platforms that work with it.  But, my thought is that it's a home automation system, and you should't need to regularly go into the app to do something.  It should be done automatically.  My wife HATED the Elk by itself.  It was difficult for her to go in and manually do something with it.  With the Vera, I can create more complex rules to minimize that sort of thing, or, I can create virtual switches and other things to disable/enable portions of the automation or as overrides.  I haven't heard a single complaint since we moved.
How does the Vera handle a lot of devices using the plug-ins?  I've got over a hundred RA2 devices (spread over two main repeaters).  I don't have any z-wave and don't see getting any in the near future.  I'm mainly looking for adding some conditional logic for occupancy sensors and time of day.   At some point it'll also grow to controlling an as-yet-to-be-planned sprinkler system.  
I agree that, for the most part, an automation system isn't typically something you interact with on regular basis.  Hiding complexity behind scenes & buttons can do a lot to ease hassles.  The trick is having a system that isn't hamstrung from the start due to lack of resources (speed, RAM, devices, etc).  
Higher-end solutions like CQC are fantastic in that they can do nearly anything, but the learning curve and price point are not inconsiderable.  
Old-school systems like HAI and Elk have set-and-forget reliability on their side, but do seem lacking when it comes to getting into sophisticated control scenarios.  Trying to use last-century's embedded device programming environments and tools for this stuff is often exceedingly tedious.  Fraught with a lot of "you can't get there from here" gotchas.
Emerging solutions like Iris, Staples, Vera and the like have a lot of unknowns.  I think most of the more experienced folks here will side with the notion of avoiding dependence on vendor services (aka 'the cloud').  We've all been burned at least once when a vendor decides to abandon something.  It's bad enough when that means you can't get any more hardware or the current stuff repaired.  But it's a freakin' disaster if them turning off the cloud means you lose functionality; instantly and permanently.  No thanks.  I'll pay more for entirely standalone with the option of using net-connected services.  I will not fall in the trap of 'free' internet services as a requirement.
It's a challenge striking the right balance.  
If someone really wants home automation, and not just "connected devices", the optimal way would be to set up a hardware controller for basic functions with near 100% reliability, and a software controller for more sophisticated tasks that one can live without for a longer time in case of PC or program failure. All behind a secured firewall and encrypted Wi-Fi. I would never put a cloud-connected device on my network.
I am not sure how useful Vera will be during a power outage. Elk and Hai will run on batteries for 48 hours, and when the e-mail is down you can get a phone call. And our emergency LV lighting will still turn on when motion is detected.
To OP: you may find that the in-wall intercom is really not so important when you have true automation, with whole house audio and plenty of cat5 wire in every room. It is a lot more convenient to be able to set the intercom station wherever you want it, like a nightstand or the kitchen counter, than having to "talk to the wall". We are currently using Panasonic PBX phones as the intercom, you may want to consider compoint stations, both wall-mounted and table-top (using this: http://www.amazon.com/Insteon-2402WH-Tabletop-Enclosure-KeypadLinc)
An Elk or an HAI is only going to run during an outage because it's got a battery in it.  Well, yeah, so put the Vera (or whatever) likewise on a UPS.  I'm not sure the fact it's got a battery is a compelling enough argument to overcome all the last century cruft related to it.  But then you're talking about a lighting control system being up when power is out... so what exactly would it be controlling then?
But I'm not being argumentative, I get the point you're making.  Yeah, there's definitely something to be said for the reliability of firmware-in-a-can systems.  
We have cordless phones that have intercom features.  We don't use it.  While it's indeed often simpler to grab a handset instead of walking to a fixed wall panel, the hassle is trying to negotiate the wretchedly horrible UI on most handsets.  
As for tabletop, wow, and I thought Lutron's tabletop keypad idea was fugly.  That's just hideous in comparison.  My decorator would pick that up and beat me with it if one of those even showed up on the workshop bench.
wkearney99 said:
As for tabletop, wow, and I thought Lutron's tabletop keypad idea was fugly.  That's just hideous in comparison.  My decorator would pick that up and beat me with it if one of those even showed up on the workshop bench.
They are not that fugly in reality. But of course, you could always make your own elegant enclosure :) The point is, it will be much easier to use if it's not on the wall. And yes, the cordless phone interface is awful, and we don't have any. Panasonic phones are very easy to use as intercom, they have the auto-answer feature, but that model has been discontinued. I'll be looking into IP phones when the old PBX dies, but it'll probably be a few years in the future, this system is very well made.
As for Vera, it can run on UPS maybe for a couple of hours, but it also needs a wifi or LAN to work with other devices, and internet for e-mail or access from the outside. Phone works even during power outage. And we have a low-volt emergency lights that are connected to their own battery, they are controlled by a relay from HAI.
If you have your other gear configured to use the network then the same issues apply.  My point is with an automation system the ability for one embedded box to run off it's own batteries for x number of hours is not a compelling enough justification to overlook the rest of the shortcomings.  Go in with eyes open. 
Besides if you're in an area where power outages at the much of an issue then it'd be pretty short-sighted to not have a generator anyway.  Of course once we spent the money for one the power company finally got their act together and improved the local infrastructure.  That and it seems most of the trees that could fall down on wires have already done so!