18 Mar

Intro to home automation part 2 – Installation

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This is the 2nd post in my series on automating my home. You can find the whole series of posts on my blog at http://homeautomationforglass.com/blog/.

Installation was probably the part I was least looking forward to, largely because it requires an electrician which is expensive and has the opportunity to blow out costs significantly if things don't go to plan, but it has to be done because I don't fancy myself being able to do this, plus if/when I burn the house down due to my shoddy workmanship, insurance wouldn't cover it, which means I'd be even more screwed.

In looking around for an electrician I sent out a few e-mails with details of the products I was wanting to have installed and the manual so they can see what needs to be done. Responses varied from 'I'm not familiar with those so I can't help you' to 'yep we can install those for $x per unit' (where x is a ridiculously high amount), and then I found a local guy who was happy to chat about it further as he had some concerns. In further discussions, it became apparent that this was not going to be as simple as I had hoped. The switches (to control the lights) were made to be installed in the wall behind the existing light switch, which sounds pretty simple to me. However they require a neutral wire, and while this may be standard in some countries, it turns out that wiring in Australia isn't done this way. This meant they couldn't be installed behind the switches and instead needed to be installed back at the transformer/joints. THIS was going to make things hard (read: expensive). My house is a 2-storey and the concrete slab means that access is going to be a challenge. And it was.

On the day the electrician came out, we were hoping to get everything done in 3-4 hours. How wrong we were. He started with the easy stuff first – the energy monitor. This was installed in the meter box without too many issues while I helped my wife get the kids out the door so she could take them to school, and once it was installed I was able to get it paired with the system all ok. Well, that's not entirely true. It did pair with the system, however it displayed as a "_Generic IO" device for some reason, however a quick e-mail to Vera and they provided some instructions to overcome this issue. I just had to install a plugin that allowed an update to be downloaded and then it was all good to go. In fact, while I'm mentioning this, let me tell you the support system Vera have in place is really great. Not only did I receive fast responses, but in the Vera controller interface there's an option to be allow Support staff to access the system. I turned this on and they were able to login to identify the issue and assist with resolving it. GREAT setup, rather than going back and forth lots of times with me trying to accurately explain what is going on and them trying to suss it out and provide a response. Anyhow, it worked beautifully on this occasion so it's nice to know they're there if I encounter any other issues in the future.

After the energy monitor was it, it was time to get dirty. I'd previously spoken with the company who initially did the wiring when my house was built 4 years ago and they told me the transformers for all the downstairs lights were together in the ceiling space above the downstairs shower, so that's where we started. Negative! We couldn't see them anywhere, so I put another call in to them and while we awaited a response from them, we tackled the upstairs lights, given it's easier to get into the roof space upstairs anyhow. He installed a double switch and 4 x switches with dimmers and all seemed to pair perfectly and turn on/off and dim all ok. Happy times. That is until the electrician suggested we check if they still work manually. The double switch lights worked all ok, but for some reason the lights with dimmers didn't respond at all. For the next few hours, we tried LOTS of different ways to try and overcome this issue, without any success. We could control the lights via the switch and we could also control the lights via the Vera, but only if the wall switch was in the 'on' position, otherwise it just wouldn't work. We just couldn't work it out, so we gave up. We bypassed the Z-Wave switches and put these lights back to how they were, hoping that Aeotec would be able to provide some guidance on how we can resolve this issue later. Time to head back downstairs.

After getting further direction that the transformers should be accessible via the exhaust fan above the downstairs shower, we explored further and finally found them. Access was going to be a problem. The exhaust fan is big enough to fit your head through, but not your shoulders, so it was a challenge to be able to see where the transformers were and then even more of a challenge to get enough access to the wiring we needed. We began testing the wires to try and work out which wires were for which lights – this took another good hour or more as there were a lot of wires and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. By this stage we'd been at it for around 4-4.5hrs and feeling more than a little frustrated that we hadn't kicked many goals. So far, all we'd achieved was installing the energy monitor and 1 x double switch – we were both more than a little frustrated. And even moreso when most of the lights we wanted to access we couldn't find in this bunch of wires. We labelled these wires so we could come back to them next time and went for a couple of easy wins. Some of the lights were accessible directly so we installed another double-switch. Happy times, now there were 2. We then went in search of other locations where the transformers could be but didn't have much luck, but then had an idea that maybe the required wiring had been joined directly above some of the light fittings. Hoorah! We managed to get another double-switch installed (in the kitchen) and also a single switch in the dining room. By now, my kids were back from school (yep, we'd been at it for 8 hours!) and we really needed to call it a day.

While the first half of the day wasn't particularly successful, once we found what we needed, the actual installation of the switches was pretty straightforward and after doing the first couple, the electrician was able to make short work of them. So here's the tally at the end of the day:
1 x energy monitor
1 x single switch
3 x double switches
4 x dimmer switches (inactive)

Definitely not what I had hoped to get done and definitely longer (and more expensive) than I had hoped, but we'd certainly learned a lot about these components and the installation process. When I hear back from Aeotec with a resolution regarding the dimmer switch modules, I will get the electrician back to get the 4 dimmer switches already installed, plus install the other 3 x dimmer switches plus 3 x double and 2 x single switches and then we'll be all set, at leas for this stage. There's plenty more I'd like to do in the future, but maybe I'll give it a little while to get these all setup and working how I want them to before I go any further.
I've also got 4 multisensors which I was able to pair to the system without too many hiccups (after updating the firmware on them) so I'll need to track down a ladder and get those installed. They're battery powered (4 x AAA) so I don't need any wiring, just a drill and some willpower and hopefully I'll be able to get those installed all ok.

Next up I'll tell you all about the experience on configuring and setting up the whole system now the installation is (partly/mostly) complete, so check back again soon for the next instalment.

This is the second 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.

#software   #automation   #googleglass  

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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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