Home Automation

Brandon Beattie brandon+plug at beatties.us
Tue Feb 20 13:57:19 MST 2007

I'm building now (at the framing state) and am putting in what you're
looking to do and a bit more.  I'm about finished with all my choices
and cost has been a large concern.  There are a lot of things you can do
yourself if you plan ahead.  In my home I actually had designed so I can
run 3" PVC front/back and left/right and I have boxes where they '90
off of that split out into 1" conduit that go to 2 places in each room.
You can possibly still do most conduit but larger pipes are tough
because if put in the wrong place can weaken flooring or walls.  

On Tue, Feb 20, 2007 at 06:26:54AM -0700, C. Ed Felt wrote:
>    Things I am interested in:
>      * Security (cameras, motion etc.).
Axis for IP, lots of brands for coax based, if IR is important go with
an IR flood light than paying a lot for a camera with IR led's.  Most
cameras can pick up IR and a $10 IR floor light gives you most distance
(100'+) vs the 10-30 IR leds that only do 20'-40';
>      * Is "wired" cheaper than wireless?
Security, security, security.  I would never do wireless unless you have
to, and then put it on a dmz.  Last thing you want is making it easier
for someone to play with your home, especially if you have automation
controlling security and/or hvac.
>      * Custom, in wall, speakers and theater.
This gets expensive if you want high quality speakers, I'm looking at
various options myself.  Best thing is to run conduit from where you'll
have your AV equipment (like in the basement) to the attic and make sure
you keep it towards the center of the home to minimize extra length
runs.  If it will be hard to get to where you want to add a speaker
after the home is sheetrocked run a conduit from that place to where you
can easily stuff a wire in to get it to that far location.  Add speakers
as you need them, not all at once, but if you think you may want a
speaker there spend the money just incase.
>      * Home theater (Computer based of course - mp3, DVD caching to HDD
>        etc.).
Lots of choices, Myth is the obvious but there are some decent windows
based ones too.  Myth is great for low cost home music/movies/etc.  Most
high-end homes still use 16+ zone amplifers rather than a set top box in
each room for music, BUT, I think this could change in 5 years.
>      * Lighting, (timers and dimming would be nice).
Stay away from X10 anything.  You should look at Insteon (It's a second
gen X10, different company but still sold by smarthome and insteon has
two way communication so if you send a signal it will resend if the
device doesn't answer saying it got it.  Insteon also hasn't had reports
of false on/offs or neighbors controlling your lights. :)  It works
and is fairly cheap, $30-$40 a switch), control4 is an option ($80-$100 a switch),
levitron (expensive), HAI (very expensive), and so on.  My choice if I were on a budget
would be insteon, second choice would be control4.  low voltage wiring
is becoming a thing of the past with zigby (used by control4) and other
wireless technologies.  Even transmitting over powerlines is getting
better, and this is partly how insteon works (but insteon has wireless
modules you can place around the home to jump phases and also act as
>      * Heating/Air Conditioning (remote controlled from PC of course).
Each HVAC controller will vary so plan on ripping out whatever your HVAC
guy installs and buy one that works for the automation system.  Most
third party HVAS controllers handle everything from fully variable
furnaces to heat pumps.  Be careful as some HVAC controllers can't be
controlled at it and by an automation system at the same time.  Worst
case senario would be your linux box kernel panics and the HVAC
controller thinks it's still being used by your linux box and won't let
you adjust the temperature.  
>      * Computer controlled, (Linux of course).
Look at Mr. Mouse and go from there.  If you really want a lot of
control plan on spending a lot of time and maybe even writing everything
yourself so you can have it _your_way_.
>      * As inexpensive as possible.  I may just run the lines first, and
>        add the hardware as I can afford it.
perl, apache, cron, will become your friends. :)

Other things to consider: security sensors for doors/windows only cost
$2-$4 each.  Put it on 20 windows/doors and that's $100 and you can
start do do things like turning on the hall lights to 80% within an hour
of sunrise and sunset, or 30% if at 2am and you don't want to be
blinded.  You don't have to run your hand along a wall to see, just open
the door. :)  You can really start waste time, I mean design a system to
help your family to have an easier life. :)  .. There's a lot you can do
with sensors like putting one on the mailbox, hooking it to the
doorbell, and so on.  You can either hook them to the security system
or get a device that will send info to your linux box for "open/close"
state to do a lot of really cool things.

For security camera software, look at zoneminder.  It's extremely
powerful, I've used it for some time with great results.  .. I'm split
though between IP and coax cameras, there are pro's and cons to each and
I'm having a hard time deciding.

If you want something that works for most things, last mile like
sprinker systems, hvac and don't want to write your own drivers or
software you could get the control4 system or do a lot of searching for
drivers and what other people have done.  Again, Mr. House is a good place to
start.  If only control4 were sold at a discount for us geeks who are
more on the development than pure user side. :-/  $100 a switch may be
tough to explain to the wife. :)  So... If you're following me still I
think the best thing to do is start with what you can afford but make
sure you leave conduit or cables for anything you may want to do, but
make sure you plan a good location for your server room and cable runs
from the basement to attic.  I personally stayed with a rambler for this
reason. :)  My server room is in small room next to my furnace/utility
room.  It's designed so during the winter I can open a vent on the floor
and ceiling that opens into the furnace room (that has cold air coming
in from outside for combustion) to cool equipment and during the summer
I close those two vents off and open two (one lower one higher) into my
basement for cooling the equipment.

I'm not going to skimp on network or audio cable, but I'm not buying
monster cable either.  Cat 6 and 16 guage audio wire for speakers (I'm
not going to install speakers for a year or more because I can't afford
them or the amplifier).  I'm also going to buy a big switch rather than
having a punch down board for things.  I'm doing IP cheap IP phones and
astericks.  I just advise running conduit and make sure you'll always
have room in them.  I have a 4" pvc pipe for security wires, 4" pipe for
audio and 4" pipe for something I haven't planned for going from the
basement to the attic, but you will have to make sure they're fire rated
and sealed when the inspector comes by for fire code.  Having backup
conduit or atleast taking photo's and maybe run things so if there is a
kink or a long run you can get into the conduit with less problems (ie,
don't run the conduit along heat pipes, electric wires, or somewhere
that if you had to open the wall you don't have to patch where people
see often (closets as Great places to access panels).

I know I've missed some useful things so I'd like to know if someone has
some ideas too.  Has anyone done major planning and installations?


More information about the PLUG mailing list