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New home, some specifics now

Tessa

Member
Greetings again, kind folk of Cocoontech.  You helped me earlier to get started on some understanding of the basics of automation and the terminology (that in itself was huge; it's hard to research when what you're reading makes no sense).  Thank you again for all the help last time.  I have been trying to use the resources that were linked last time, but I still run into terminology issues.

I have returned with some much more specific questions, I think.  Previously, I was trying to determine where wiring should go.  I still am, but I also need some more understanding of what I should be looking for in continuing to research various issues.  My current issues are
* linux/Android compatibility,
* security vs automation,
* automation sensors/controls in outbuildings, and
* incorporating miscellaneous hardware into an automation system.

Since members also suggested that long questions are less pleasant to read, but it seems kind of rude to post a bunch of questions, I'll break this up into a post with additional questions in followup comments.  If anyone feels like reading a really long, very ambitious, probably decades-long project plan, I'm trying to organize it all here: http://lady-of-lothlorien.com/etc/automation/Automation.html

~ ~ ~

I am building a house.  I have some physical...issues and some automations will accommodate those.  Other automations will just be pleasantly convenient.  I would like to use an Android tablet in each room for day-to-day control (by default displaying a clock, swiping to other screens for each set of controls).  

I hope to control the thermostat, the lights, display various videocameras, display sensors for whether doors are open/closed/locked, display sensor information from the outdoor thermometer, etc (by way of communication from the Android tablets to the central automation server, of course).

From time to time I assume it will be easier to use an actual keyboard.  So that would be easier on my computer, which runs linux.  I don't have Windows. I have no Mac.  It is starting to look like this may be a serious issue.  I keep looking at automation control systems and seeing "Windows software required."
 
~ ~ ~

Cocoontech members advised me that I should have both a dedicated security server and a dedicated automation server
*** Why is it better to have one for each, and what does each control?  (And which controls--and records--the video feeds?  Or do I need yet another server for that?)

I'm a little confused on security vs. automation, because the security systems people mentioned (HAI and ELK) claim on their websites that they control security--and lighting, and thermostats, and home media, and any other devices on the network.

Soooo...what is within the realm of "security," and deserves its own security server?  I mean, is a separate "security system" mostly a matter of having a "security" panel where you can enter your security code to arm/disarm it, and door/window contacts and motion detectors that set off an alarm when it's armed/disarmed?  And having a 3rd party that monitors those sensors?

We don't plan to have a dedicated panel to arm/disarm the security.  We don't intend to give any access to a 3rd party for monitoring; we want "something is wrong" detections to come to us, so we can check our own videocameras, door sensors, smoke alarms, etc--or call a neighbor and ask if they see anything odd.  We'd be happy to put together our own scenes for "something is wrong" without having it pre-programmed.

*** So do we really NEED a specific security server, and if so, what does it do?
 
*** If we really do need one, are there security server packages that play really well with linux and Android?  
(For example, I've had some very informative and pleasant correspondence with a tech from ELK, who tells me: to control ELK settings from a computer you must use their Windows software.  Period.  To control ELK from outside the house you must use their Windows software.  Period.  But you can carry it with you on a flash drive!  Oh, well, yes, there's an Android app for control, once everything is set up.  But it's 3rd party--and it hasn't been updated in a year and a half.)
 

Tessa

Member
*** Are there automation server packages that play really well with linux and Android?  Some automation controller I can buy, that controls a variety of hardware, that has a good Android app, that will let me use a linux computer to interact with it?

If there is software that will do what I want, I could...possibly...set up a dedicated server instead of buying a pre-programmed one, but I'm not sure where to start there, either.  

*** What am I looking for?  What terms don't I know?  How do I find automation server software to convert one of our various discarded computers into the automation system of my dreams?  What Android apps do I use?

I am not a programmer.  If there's a software with a gui that can display "something at the other end of QSJ5 wire is on (or off)" and "something at the other end of 558uS wire is on (or off), and I can send a signal to toggle it to off (or on)" [and so on], that would cover most of my needs.  It'd be nice to be able to rename "558uS wire" to, say, "Well House Lights."  The great majority of my needs are either on/off sensors, or on/off sensors with on/off control switches.  If there's basic programming I can do to directly modify settings, that would be superb.  I am thinking something along the lines of: duplicating one scene's settings, opening it with a text editor, figuring out the syntax and variables and making modifications for another scene.

I am guessing that more complicated sensors, like a weather station with lots of different kinds of info (temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed, etc), would need their own software, and then that software would feed the sensor data into the automation software in a format it could understand.

And I presume the same would go for, say, a garage door opener.  It would need its own device software that would have to interact somehow with the automation software.

And then I need an Android app that can take the data being processed by the automation server, and display it either as static data, or on/off toggle widgets, or graphs, or video/audio streams, or or.

I would really prefer a product that's already made, that I can just install or buy, and use.
 

Tessa

Member
I will have several outbuildings, such as the well house.  I'd like to have multiple sensors and controls in the outbuildings.  For example, in the well house: a freeze sensor, a flow/leak sensor, multiple water valves (with "manual" control by turning them on and off at the tablets, timed controls, programmed responses to the freeze sensor, etc), a videocamera/webcam mounted in the well house that points to an area we can't see from the house, things like that.  In my previous question, one of you kind folks suggested that I just run one cat6 line out to each outbuilding, and control my automation through something like a CAI Webcontrol board.  This looks fascinating, and it was a great help to point out that such remote systems exist.  

However, the CAI Webcontrol board doesn't seem ideal.

1) It only has 8 controls; that's a dealbreaker in one of the outbuildings.

2) I'm not sure about the webcontrol.  Isn't there any way to relay sensors and control signals directly, down the cat6 line, integrated with everything else and displayed on the tablets?  This would make more sense than to control everything in each building by IP on a web interface.  If I go to check that I've locked all the doors, I don't want to have to check the house, then log into and check outbuilding 1, then log into and check outbulding 2.  I just want to see ALL the doors.  

*** So, are there other forms of remotely controlled, sort of, sub-systems that can be used remotely?  What is the term I am looking for?  What is a system that I put in a remote location to manage sensors and controls and relay everything between the system at the house, and the system in the outbuilding?  What is this CALLED?

Can I set up something like a Raspberry Pi in each outbuilding and have all the sensors/controls relayed from the network, through it, and back again?  What else can do this sort of thing?
 
 

Tessa

Member
It seems like the many of the automation servers claim they're moving towards compatibility with all transmission protocols.  (Now, if only they felt the same way about computer OS's.)  So it looks as though there might be a lot of different kinds of hardware available, in multiple protocols.  

[Though a lot of the hardware I'm looking at plugs directly into a sensor wire or a network jack, and then I just get to figure out how to control it once it's connected.  No transmission protocol necessary.]

Is one of these types of hardware systems *better*?  Or more prevalent, likely to last longer (as a manufacturer, keep putting out hardware and updating software), has better quality control, is more durable (as hardware), more reliable, stays connected without problems, etc etc?  If there are multiple choices, should I prefer one over another?

*** Basically, does any hardware system stand out as just plain better quality?

~ ~ ~

I ... really can't find fans and lights that are set up for _building_ into a house.  I keep finding kits (very expensive ones, at least if I wanted to use them for every room in a house plus outbuildings) to convert an existing wall switch into, say, a Zwave controlled automated switch.  But the fans and lights themselves are still manual, and the kits are dependent on the protocol staying current (continued software updates, etc).  

*** ARE there fixtures designed for original building, rather than backwards compatibility with existing wiring?

~ ~ ~

I can find *A* piece of hardware for almost anything I want to do.  It seems like, if something is made to use a remote control--if it is operated by radio frequency or IR or Bluetooth or whatnot--I could get a networkable transmitter and use it to control the hardware.  

*** Am I right in thinking this?  Can I, for example, control any random garage door opener through an automated IR transmitter?

If I buy dumb fans that come with individual IR remotes, can I just get an IR transmitter and program the control codes into the automation server, and control them that way?  

Or is hard wiring still going to be the most reliable in the long term?  And if so, WHAT do I need to wire _to_, and what kind of wiring do I need?  22/4 "alarm system wire" to the wall switch?
 

Tessa

Member
Okay, I'm done with the "aaaaaugh I don't even know whether to go clockwise or counter-clockwise when I run in circles, scream, and shout" questions.  Thanks in advance if anyone can offer me any advice :)
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
So, for the record, several posts in a row is no better than a single long post - just makes for more scrolling in fact!   ^_^  But that's ok... If I weren't dog tired I'd be tempted to go to the computer with 3 screens so I can keep my response on one and your original on the other so I can follow aaaalllllllllllll the way down.  I take it the "physical issues" don't relate to typing ability?  Just kidding - but if you care to share I'm sure it'll spark more ideas than criticism.
 
First let me ask - what's the aversion to running Windows or Mac or whatever is needed to get the software that best suits your purpose?  If its a dedicated appliance box, get what's best suited for your needs and figure out the OS from there.  In theory the OS should be hardened, behind your firewall, and have all automatic updates disabled - in that state it can run reliably for a decade easily.  People write software for Windows because it's more common and easier for integrators to use - that easy.  Once the server is in place, you have it act as the back-end server to android apps; I don't know of anything GUI based for linux worth mentioning, but I'm sure many automation systems have browser-based interfaces.  I'd definitely start with CQC and Homeseer for investigation, then look up top on this page under Resources and have a good look at the Home Automation Software link to see what automation software exists for linux.
 
Next - I'm not sure who told you a security server and an automation server or whatever... but my approach would be a security system that lends itself well to automation combined with an automation server - and this automation server can generally be pretty low power and purpose built.  If you need to record cameras, that's another purpose-built device which should be built accordingly specifically because IP Cam decoding/recording is processor, network, and disk IO intensive.
 
My first question to you - is I need to understand these separate buildings - how big is the house; how big are the other buildings; how far away are they?
 
I have very limited familiarity with the HAI panel, but I know the Elk quite well - and reading down your list of wants, it would accommodate most of them.  Thanks to inputs and relay boards, you get most of your switching things on and off and inputs for sensors of all types.  Added bonus is the databus and remote power supplies.  As long as you keep the overall distance in check, you can extend the databus to outbuildings then provide a local P212S power supply in the outbuildings - meaning you can have an M1 and whatever is needed at the main building, then in a remote building you can have input and output expanders in their own enclosure along with their own supervised power supply, keypads if desired, etc - whatever goes on the databus.  Rinse/Repeat for each outbuilding (within reason of course).  This handles all your inputs and outputs of contacts and relay type switching (water sources, garage doors [a garage door contact is just a relay or I/O output], etc).
 
The automation panel will take care of all the basic I/O - but as you've noticed, not quite everything ties in together - like a weather station, or what have you... that's where the HA Software comes into play - they don't have the I/O interfaces with each subsystem, but they can tie them all together quite well.  It'll have "Drivers" for each of the supported subsystems.
 
Even water valves count as I/O - water valves come in two flavors - solenoid or actuator - one requires power to stay energized (like a sprinkler valve - as long as 24VAC is applied, the water is on - remove it and it stops) the other is Power On, Power Off - a few seconds of power on each of 2 circuits makes the switch happen.  Either way they can be accommodated through a relay off an output board.
 
I struggle a little with a couple of your technologies; 1st is door controls.  There's a lot of bluetooth and wifi and z-wave options, but they're best suited for smaller spaces and aren't going to traverse between buildings like you've described.  To be honest, if there's any way on earth to swing it budget-wise, I'd do what any commercial Elk M1 customer would do and use electrified handsets.  These are controlled off the M1 Databus which I've already mentioned extending to each building anyway for I/O.  A single Cat5e supports nearly unlimited daisy-chained devices in the outbuilding including door controls.  You can also mount a compatible reader by the door - this can be keypad, cardreader, fingerprint, etc - whatever fits the Wiegand standard.
 
2nd is lighting... the short answer is to wire your home like any other would ever be wired (unless you have bucks to spend for one of the specialty systems); the problem is bridging the buildings.  You don't ever wire in a specialty fixture - your fixtures are always the same... the difference is in 2 types of wiring.  The most common and more affordable is the retrofit-compatible market where you replace a dumb mechanical switch with a smart switch (UPB/ZWave/Insteon/X10/RadioRA), or you go with a very specific wiring practice where all the dimmers and loads are run to a special location using very specialized wiring techniques.  The latter is usually quite stable and responsive but more expensive, less flexible, and more restricting should you ever want to change things.
 
That said, I'm sure there are solutions for both - the M1 may allow multiple UPB or ZWave or whatever receivers - I haven't researched yet.  The point is, the Fan doesn't change - the switch that controls power to the fan changes... 
 
Another point - in these lines, stability is key - I bought my Elk M1 6.5 yrs ago; and some of my UPB switches then; some in 2010 - but nothing has changed.  This isn't a rapidly evolving system - it's a super stable system.  What evolves the fastest is the control interface, and for that I have eKeypad for iOS or the windows flavors.  Don't be scared of stability.
 
I don't know that I captured everything but that's all I have in me for tonight.  Good luck with your adventures!!  If you find yourself still totally overwhelmed, I could do a Hangout (or equivalent) with you to try to talk through as many things as you can think of until you have a good understanding of where you're going.  
 

Madcodger

Active Member
So, just to help you get more response, cut the amount of info / questions you post at any one time (say, every day or two) by about 90%. I know you have many questions, but many of us are looking at the boards on a tablet or phone, and it's hard to deal with so much at once. Even on a computer, this is a hobby for most of us and we enjoy the interactions. So much at once sort of has a person dealing only with you for a long period, and we sort of want several conversations, including yours. Questions / topics will simply go unanswered by many. Just sayin', and I can write some long posts myself. And don't worry - most of us have done this in our early days on the board, so join the club...

Separate devices to control security and automation just allow each to do what it does best. Neither are really "servers" in most cases. I personally use an Elk for security and ISY for automation. Works great together. Yes, Elk can technically control automation. But it's not great at it, in comparison. Also, having a system with no moving parts that does only a limited set of functions, with firmware rather than software, lends itself to greater reliability. And you do need at least one dedicated keypad for security, just as a backup in case the computer goes haywire, monitored system or not. I don't know that I've ever really needed it, but I wouldn't be without it and cost is minimal.

As Work2Play notes, some things require a separate computer. Video feeds can be handled by a dedicated DVR or viewed through a tablet / phone. But a computer can be used for that as well. That computer can, as noted, also do a nice job of tying things together to give added functionality. I formerly used HomeSeer for years. I currently have it turned off because I have had many problems with their 2nd gen version and the rollout of their 3rd gen does not yet have the functions I need. When they get there I MAY use them again but as W2P notes other great systems also exist. I have often compared the situation to the human brain. Basic functions like breathing, heart rate, etc., (your security, HVAC, basic lighting control) are best handled by the very basic but very reliable "brain stem". You may get knocked out, but those things normally continue to function and keep you alive. Higher level thinking / logic is better done by a smarter but less reliable and more fragile "brain" (the software controlled computer). Most commercially available packages seem to be Windows - based. I have no idea about Linux systems, but others may have ideas there. Personally, I would get the brain stem (security and lighting) figured out before making software decisions.
 

wuench

Senior Member
Hardware solid state systems like Elk/HAI = Reliability
Software/Server based systems = Flexibiltiy
 
That is why both are recommended.  A PC, even running Linux is not as reliable as a solid state device.  Reliability is the most important requirement for functions like security and HVAC.   They have a battery backup and will run for a good length of time even during a power outage.
 
However solid state devices have limited memory and aren't as flexible, so a PC based solution on top gets you access to more features, more frequent updates, and more customizable interfaces. But when it fails (and it will fail), security etc still work.
 
My HA PC failed last week due to a bad power supply.   It took about a week to troubleshoot and get it back running.  My security system/HVAC (ELK) and Lighting (Insteon/ISY) still worked fine.  A lot of my more complex rules, and AV integration were down since they were controlled by my HA server (CQC).  The most popular packages for HA servers are based on Windows however there are a few Linux based solutions out there.  
 

Tessa

Member
Okay :)  Thanks for the responses!
 
I think the #1 thing that stands out is:
 
I don't want a system that requires Windows control (that requires me to go to a Windows machine in order to change settings etc) (as does, for example, ELK).  I don't mind setting up a server that runs Windows (or Mac), if that'd really be the best route, but then I must be able to control it from my primary, linux, computer.
 
One of my issues _is_ mobility.  Some days it's just too painful to move any more than absolutely necessary, and sitting absolutely doesn't happen.  Those are the days I spend laying on the couch, with my linux laptop, and fiddling with things like writing articles, sorting thoughts, playing with Tasker on the phone, etc.  Those would be the days I'd spend setting up automation settings.
 
If I need Windows software on MY computer to control the automation system, it would never happen.
 
~ ~ ~
 
I'm a little disinclined to list out my various physical problems because, honestly, they sound kind of wacky all put together.  It's a combination of several disorders compounded by several injuries.   When I tell people the list, I feel like I'm whining.  So I try not to go into it.  If you really want to know, I'll make a link to a list I already had for my builder.  :)
 
Basically, if it makes life more convenient, it helps.  _Almost_ everything I want to automate is to accommodate one thing or another, but some of them are more minor than others. 
 
I really, really want to find a good way to operate the one major swing door I'll go through regularly, because it huuuuuurts to push or pull forwards and backwards; sliding doors aren't nearly so bad.  The whole interior of the house will pocket doors.  The windows will be horizontal sliders.  I just can't get around this one door that needs to be a swing door.
 
~ ~ ~
 
My apologies for "multiple comments aren't any better than long posts."  Drat.  I hoped maybe breaking them up that way, people might just read one or another of them and ignore the rest, and so it might act like there's one shorter post that happens to be surrounded by other posts.
 
I'll come back in a few when I've got that other link.
 

Tessa

Member
Okee-dokey.  In addition to the previous link (If anyone feels like reading a really long, very ambitious, probably decades-long project plan, I'm trying to organize it all here: http://lady-of-lothlorien.com/etc/automation/Automation.html)
 
I have also collected my list of physical issues I'm trying to accommodate:
http://lady-of-lothlorien.com/etc/automation/Automation-PhysicalProblems.html
 
(BTW, my apologies if I sound terse today.  Today is a bad day.  Days like today I tend to not try to communicate.)
 

oberkc

Active Member
I, too, use insteon and ISY for lighting. I don't have a dedicated security system. My perceptions are that I can do security type "functions" with the ISY controller, but the reliability and complete reliance on power make it less than optimum for those who need greatest level of security possible.

In my mind, whether one needs an automation server is dependent greatly on what protocol you choose, and the interest in mixing protocols. In my case, for example, I am happy with insteon and my interest in mixing in other systems (control4, lutron, upb, zwave, whatever) is relativley limited. Forr this, I find the best solution for controller is the ISY, and no server reqiuired.

I have a handful of wifi cameras around the house. There are a variety of options for a recording system, including on-board memory. The type of approach for video is dependent on you interests regarding reliability, image quality, physical security and resistance to tampering or defeating. Cloud-based storage seems like a good option here.

I also use a couple of android tablets for lighting control and camera feed. These work well, but I find the biggest deciding factor is human-macine interface. If you are flexible, there are plenty of apps that will do what you want. If, however, if you require aboslute flexibility in your ability to configure the interface, you may need to do some sort of home brew setup.

In summary...if you require complete flexibility, look at one of the software-based controller solutions, and the suggestions of others are fine, I am sure. If you are willing to make some decisions now, and understand the limitations and capabilities of certain options, you may not need any server at all.
 

oberkc

Active Member
I, too, use insteon and ISY for lighting. I don't have a dedicated security system. My perceptions are that I can do security type "functions" with the ISY controller, but the reliability and complete reliance on power make it less than optimum for those who need greatest level of security possible.

In my mind, whether one needs an automation server is dependent greatly on what protocol you choose, and the interest in mixing protocols. In my case, for example, I am happy with insteon and my interest in mixing in other systems (control4, lutron, upb, zwave, whatever) is relativley limited. Forr this, I find the best solution for controller is the ISY, and no server reqiuired.

I have a handful of wifi cameras around the house. There are a variety of options for a recording system, including on-board memory. The type of approach for video is dependent on you interests regarding reliability, image quality, physical security and resistance to tampering or defeating. Cloud-based storage seems like a good option here.

I also use a couple of android tablets for lighting control and camera feed. These work well, but I find the biggest deciding factor is human-macine interface. If you are flexible, there are plenty of apps that will do what you want. If, however, if you require aboslute flexibility in your ability to configure the interface, you may need to do some sort of home brew setup.

In summary...if you require complete flexibility, look at one of the software-based controller solutions, and the suggestions of others are fine, I am sure. If you are willing to make some decisions now, and understand the limitations and capabilities of certain options, you may not need any server at all.
 

picta

Active Member
Tessa said:
If I need Windows software to control the automation system, it would never happen.
 
Homeseer is a software controller that can run on linux. However it is still a "work in progress", can only control very few things and currently only supports z-wave lighting (various plugings are being developed for other technologies, but not there yet). You may have to wait for a few years before there will be a system available for your requirements. The reason there aren't many linux automation systems out there is because of a user interface required, and most GUI libraries for linux are not on par with any other OS. When you put too many constraints to a problem you may price yourself out of solution.
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
Don't have time to catch up... but I'll say that 1) you'll need windows somewhere - for your HA server and place to configure things most likely (Like Elk RP); but FWIW, I have made Elk's RP run on a Mac with Wine - so it can no doubt work on Linux too.  I'll find the link later.
 

wuench

Senior Member
As a networking guy I am no MS fanboy.  But I think your requirement to avoid Windows is going to limit what you will be able to do in HA. Unfortunately that seems to be what all these platforms are tied to in one way or another.   You can always resort to a VM running windows to cover the gaps.
 
I think the primary reason these are MS based it that is the most cost effective platform to program in for small companies.  They have to focus their efforts on the platform with the most market share and that was/is currently Windows.  The future is probably all HTML5 web based, given the explosion in various mobile platforms in the last few years.  But none of these packages are there yet.     
 
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