New Home Construction and Automation


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In the spring I'm going to begin building my own home that I would like to eventually completely automate. It's going to have to be a little bit here and a little bit there when money is available. I will be building the house myself so I'll be doing all the wiring and have complete control over what goes where. I've been looking around for awhile now trying to find the best way to accomplish this, and so far I can't seem to find the perfect fit. In the beginning I was looking into going with X-10 throughout with HAL software, but then I talked to a local computer tech that installs home automation and led me to believe that X-10 is unreliable. Examples that he gave me were that sometimes you wouldn't be able to get it to control certain outlets, and it was possible for a neighbor using X-10 to get mixed up with my house and control my house as well. So he is pushing me to use Control 4, but after talking to him for a few minutes I found that won't be a good way to go because he has to order me all the parts and do all the programing for it. So I believe I'm looking for a system that will be all hardwired with Cat-5, and won't cost me as much as the house is to build!!!

Any help is greatly appreciated,
Insteon / UPB / Z-Wave are great middle level replacements of X10. All are better than X10 but much less cost than a "hard wired" solution.
All require to some degree programming (either establishing Links between devices, or automating the system via software or a security panel). Lots of info here on all of these choices. This forum has relatively little on hard wired controller systems as they are generally not of interest to DIY'rs that this forum has as most of it's membership.

Hard wired is much more expensive, and a bit more reliable. All are more reliable than a typical X10 setup. BTW the issues that your installer mentions are all resolveable thru good setup and some additional X10 support hardware, but you're probably better starting out with a newer technology since it is readily available now.
If you can, go hardwired. If you can run all the low-voltage wires while building your house, it may not be much more expensive as the electrician will have to run the high-voltage wiring anyhow. There's a few options there, but i can't speak to any as I'm not (yet) doing this. You can also DIY the programming on those, so really all you need is someone to run the wires install the devices.

I know Clipsal C-Bus [will be in US under the squaredlightingcontrol name] uses CAT5 cables for hardwired lighting control. If you want details, you should ask over on the CQC forum as there's several Aussie/NZ/England folks who rolled their own, and can probably handle all that stuff.
I would normally never disagree with David, but I'll make an exception today :)
All are better than X10 but much less cost than a "hard wired" solution. . . Hard wired is much more expensive, and a bit more reliable..
If you are doing it yourself, hardwired is no more expensive then a "good" X10, UPB or Z-Wave. I am spending just over $2500 to wire all of my lighting (24 circuits), and that includes 24 dimmers and scenes. And hardwired is MUCH more reliable then the other alternatives, IMHO.

My configuration centers around an ELK for control, a LiteJet for lighting and ceiling fans, a (TBD) HVAC system (radiant floor), and gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10gig) for AV and data.

If you spend some time searching around here, you will see many threads comparing the technologies. I agree mostly with what David said about using newer technologies over x10, but I disagree about the statement that hardwire is 'a bit' more reliable than PLC. The truth is hardwire is an order of magnitude better. With a closed hardwire system there will not be outside factors that suddenly spook your system. Hardwire is as reliable as it gets. All PLC systems have their pros and cons. Even UPB which is one of the more robust protocols, is not bulletproof as can be seen in some very recent posts.

Bottom line is if you can afford it, and depending what else you are doing and controlling it with, I would go hardwire in a heartbeat. At the very least a hybrid system where I hardwire all of the critical lighting circuits and use a robust protocol like UPB for the rest. There are several good systems out there depending on your budget.

Oh, and welcome to CocoonTech!
In addition to a lighting protocol, to automate your house - you need to think about security and automation.

There are some good products that combine these functions: ELK M1 is very popular here, and HAI Omni is another good alternative.

Another option is to break these functions apart (but still communicate with each other). Typical example is GE Networx (formerly Caddx) and either Homevision Pro or Stargate or the like. This is a good option if you have relatively sophisticated automation needs as the "all-in-one" solutions are a little more limiting.

One more option is to go with a PC based solution (or add a PC to either of the above options).

Have fun researching - there is a lot of options and "many ways to skin the cat"... all depends on your needs, interests, budget, and skills.
Thanks a bunch, that helps me out a ton. Now I have lots and lots of reading. Some of the things that I eventually would like to accomplish would be having motion sensors at doorways where my children will sleep so that the lights will come on in the middle of the night so they can find the bathroom easy. I'd like to have voice activation, well come to think of it I'm hoping to plan it out good enough so I'll be able to do pretty much everything. Any tips/advice/links is greatly appreciated.

I was planning on building a server to control everything where I could use it as a storage center for media. Is this a good idea? or should I be looking at hardware that doesn't require a PC to function?

Thanks for the link Frank, your site looks very informative.

VR (Voice Recognition) can be very tough to implement in a house with kids and alot of ambient noise. It would be pretty expensive to do right and have it work decently with those factors. HAL probably has probably the best VR capabilities. PaulK from SBSmarthomes probably has one of the better voice setups here, along with a guy named Jim Lipsit.

As Bruce mentioned, you really need to take your 10,000 foot view and figure everything you would ultimately want/need so you can at least plan out your wiring and architecture.
BBall4 said:
I was planning on building a server to control everything where I could use it as a storage center for media. Is this a good idea? or should I be looking at hardware that doesn't require a PC to function?
I did this... I have a standalone automation (HVPro) and security system (GE Networx) - no PC is neccessary.

However, I also have a media server connected to my system (which HVPro manages for me). I use JRiver for playing music. I also have a PC-based touchscreen that I use to control the house using HVPro's XL software (no additional charge and is very functional).

I set up my house so it can run completely with all PCs off - I wanted no dependancy to a PC. I like turning them off when not needed (energy savings) and my HVPro will turn them on as needed (some PCs are on UPB switches, some have a simple bypass to the power switch that my HVPro relays control).

To contrast that, there are many people that use PCs very reliably to control their houses... such as CQC or Homeseer. All depends on your goals and interests.
The truth is hardwire is an order of magnitude better.

That is a bit of an exaggeration. While I totally agree that a hardwired system should be the most reliable of all, it certainly is not an order of magnitude better. That would mean competing systems work only 10% of the time, or 1 command out of 10 actually works. One could probably do better than that throwing tennis balls at wall switches.

I doubt that anyone would accept even 90 percent reliability - I certainly wouldn't. The question is how many 9's you need after 99% before reliability is adequate for you. A hardwired system will provide the most 9's. X10 may be the most susceptible to problems in an improperly designed system, but it can give a few 9's when used properly.

It is known that electronic devices can cause problems for some automation systems. If you don't go completely hardwired, I strongly recommend arranging circuits so that your electronic devices are segregated onto their own circuits. And add the appropriate filters to any circuits that will power compact fluorescent light bulbs. The small Leviton 6287 filter will fit into the back of deep electrical boxes, and will suppress compact fluorescent noise for both Insteon and X10 systems.

Hardwired is the best, but it is a costly option, and not one that can easily be evolved as your needs change.
Steve, I would also agree with JeffVolp on "order of magnitude". Once installed reasonably well, my X10 setup (still have some left) was 99.0%. Once in a while, I clicked, it didn't. Since nothing is 100%, that only leaves less than 1% improvement.

Rocco, what hardware based system are you using and used / new and what priceing?

When I am saying "hard wired" I am talking about Crestron / Litetouch / Vantage level "stuff". none of which is cheap, all are excellent products all are multiples of price more expensive even if you could do the install yourself (with a lot of pain and research time / money).
JeffVolp said:
That would mean competing systems work only 10% of the time, or 1 command out of 10 actually works. One could probably do better than that throwing tennis balls at wall switches.
:lol: That one made me burst out laughing for some reason!
It's only exaggerated depending on your point of view. I agree PLC can be near 100% for some people, maybe even a large percentage of people. But the problem is you are susceptible to outside factors that can trash your investment in an instant. My UPB install is virtually 100% reliable right now, and so was the other poster Delicious. But some outside influence like a neighbor or anything unpredictable can come along and trash your system and render it worthless with alot of aggravation, time and expense to find and hopefully fix the offender. Ask Delicious or Madge if they would rather have hardwired systems in place now. And unfortunately PLC problems are becoming more and more prevalent.

My point is you do not have that worry with hardwire. It is a closed system. Once it is setup and working the only thing that will break it is a hardware failure (which can happen to anything) or someone mucking with the programming and messing it up. So yes, in a perfect world PLC (even x10) can be on equal footing, but hardwire is immune from any outside influence. And if I was building a new home, and if I could afford it (even redirecting some cash from other things) I think it is the most reliable and bulletproof thing to do -at least for mission critical items as I mentioned above. And please tell me why hardwire would not be 100% except for some kind of hardware failure. Also, there are less expensive hardwire systems like EDT.

I'm sorry if my statement was misleading and I hope this clears up the point better.
I guess it depends on your environment. I think that the important thing is that, if you put in a hard-wired system, you never have to wonder if it's going to work or not. I use Z-Wave very reliably in my apartment, but some have problems with it. Same with other non-wired technologies, to one degree or another. If you install it and it has no problems, you are probably good to go. An occasional burb turning on a light isn't going to be that big a deal relative to the cost of a retro-fit. But, you may install a non-wired system and have various problems due to your particular circumstances.

So I think that that's probably the biggest difference. In particular if you are a professional installer, and you need to show up on site at the customer's place and start putting in a lot of lighting control, you know that the hard-wired system is going to work without question. Buying and putting in a non-wired system only to find out it doesn't work in that environment for whatever reason would be really painful for a professional.

And I guess it could be painful for the DIY'er, too, if he purchased a lot of of that paritcular technology up front without verifying that it works for him first. So it may be worth testing the waters with a simple setup first.