25 Feb

Home Automation Part 1 – Product/System Selection


I've always been interested in technology and gadgets. Not just because they're cool, but because they can improve things; Improve systems in your business, improve the service you provide to your customers, improve your ability to keep track of your physical activity (or lack thereof). Home #automation  is one such area where I believe it can improve your the life of the user (and others) in many ways, and although it might seem gimmicky to some, I believe that today's systems move beyond just being gimmicky into being really useful. Here's how I got started…

Functionality requirements
Before making any decisions, it's important to first get an understanding of exactly what it is you're wanting to achieve.
Do you want something just to show off to friends that you can have the lights go on and off in time with music?
A simple system that allows you to unlock your house when you get home without having to fumble around in your bag to find your keys?
An alarm & monitoring system that allows you to see what's going on in every room in your house at all times?

For me, it was this: I wanted to utilise the system as a home alarm (I don't have an existing alarm system and wasn't interested in paying for an old-school alarm and monitoring system with on-going subscriptions that don't even allow me to see what's going on) while also having some cool automation functionality with lighting throughout my house and the equipment in my theatre. "Scenes" were of particular interest to me – being able to have multiple 'things' happen through one command. For example, activate "Movie time" scene and have the lights dim, amp turn on, Xbox turn on, projector turn on & projector screen come down. THAT would (will) be cool!

Now that I've decided on the kind of stuff I'm wanting to achieve with my home automation system, it's time to work out which system will best suit my needs… 
There are a LOT of different systems available, and more popping up all the time, especially with Kickstarter (and other similar platforms) giving people a chance to raise funds to create new home automation systems. In researching which system would best meet my needs, I read a whole bunch of articles, some of which you can find here:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_home_automation_software
Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/how-can-i-get-started-with-home-automation-510246491
Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/zigbee-vs-zwave-vs-insteon-home-automation-protocols-explained/

In short, here are the main protocols/systems I considered
1. X10: I ruled this out immediately due to the fact it is such an old protocol and lacks lots of the functionality available in other, newer systems.
2. Insteon: This protocol looked good and seemed to offer all the functionality I was looking for, but was a 'closed' protocol where components are only manufactured by 1 company (Insteon). 
3. Z-Wave: Similar to Insteon in the available functionality, but seemed a little more appealing due to have a larger (perceived?) support-base plus the method of communication uses a 'mesh network' where each component acts as a repeater. The fact that components are also made by a variety of manufacturers seemed to result in more competitive pricing of components.
4. ZigBee: Another protocol which seemed similar to Z-Wave, but without the same level of support and some interconnectivity of devices from different manufacturers turned me off. 
5. WeMo (Belkin): The existing product line seemed a little too limited to me so I didn't really explore this furter.
6. SmartThings: A very new offering that is essentially a controller to communicate with the various components/devices you have. This looked appealing, but being so new, I was concerned about teething issues/bugs and didn't feel like being a beta tester.
7. Revolv: This is another very new controller that works across multiple platforms (Z-Wave, Sonos, Hue, WeMo, Insteon and more) and was VERY appealing. In fact, if it was available in Australia, I probably would've purchased this controller, but even if I bought 1, it's currently region-locked to US only and won't be available in Australia for a while, so it's off the cards, for now.
8. Vera 3/Vera Lite seem to be the most common controllers for Z-Wave devices and have a large user-base, likely making troubleshooting a bit easier thanks to plenty of other users out there who are active in a lot of forums I came across.

There are plenty of other options, but these are the main options I considered in my search.

After weighing up the various protocols and devices available, I decided that Z-Wave was the best fit for my needs. While there are several controllers available to control Z-Wave devices (including SmartThings and Revolv mentioned above), I decided to get a Vera 3 controller. The Vera Lite and Vera 3 controllers seemed to be among the most common controllers people were/are using for Z-Wave, so I figured if I encountered any issues, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone on a forum somewhere who has encountered the same issue and has a solution. Not that I plan on having any issues, but you never know…

The fun part comes when you start looking at exactly what you want to do and which equipment you need to achieve your goals. I decided that I would do things in a couple of stages rather than getting everything all at once – I figured this would be a little easier to implement and also help keep the up-front costs down a little. First up, based on the functionality requirements identified earlier, I now need to identify the actual devices (and number of devices) I would need to purchase to achieve this – here's how I did it:
1. Create a spreadsheet with each room in your house listed.
2. For each room, include a line item for each type of device you would need for that room, based on what is currently in that room. For example, in my lounge room, I have 2 x dimmers for 6 lights and would also like a sensor (for the alarm). Other rooms might have more/less switches, sensors, globes etc.
The more extensive the list, the better. Better to come up with a huge list and then pick out what you actually want to implement, rather than missing things off and having to add them later.
3. Pricing/selection: Once I had the list, I found a few websites who sold the products I was interested in and I included a column for each supplier and added their pricing for each component. This allowed me to see who was cheaper on which items and when it comes time to buy, use those figures to get the best price on all the components. It also helps you see just how much it's going to cost so you can divide things up into stages if you want to help keep your costs down at the start, like I did.

With all of that in mind, here's what I purchased for my initial home automation setup:
1 x Vera 3 Controller – http://getvera.com/controllers/vera3/
1 x Aeotec Home Energy Meter 2nd edition – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-home-energy-measure
1 x Door/Window sensor (for my front door) – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-door-window-sensor
4 x Multisensors (detect motion, light, humidity & temperature) – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-sensor
3 x Micro smart switches – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-in-wall-switches
7 x Micro smart dimmers – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-in-wall-switches
6 x Micro double smart switches – http://aeotec.com/z-wave-in-wall-switches

Other than the Vera 3 controller, all of the other components are from Aeotec/Aeon – this is because when I was looking around at products and comparing pricing and functionality, their products seemed to be superior in both aspects. Many of their 2nd edition components include energy monitoring functionality for each individual switch, meaning I can not only monitor energy usage as a while, but also be switch/device. Sweet!

So now to wait for it all to arrive… 

This is the first in a series of posts I'm writing about my experience automating my home, with the goal of then creating an app for Google Glass to allow me to control it all via Glass. You can find the whole series of posts on my blog at http://homeautomationforglass.com/blog/. Please ask any questions (or share any feedback) you have in the comments, and feel free to share the post in any other communities or tag anyone you think may be interested.

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David Stallard

Director/Project Manager at Platinum Apps
A tech enthusiast excited by what technology can do (and will do in the future), I am always on the lookout for ways to do things better and more efficiently. When I'm not tucked away in my office you'll find me spending time with my (ever-expanding) family, currently consisting of a beautiful wife, 2 older boys and young twins Poppy and Jesse.

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