In this post I hope to help the person completely new to home automation, learn how to get started. I believe home automation is truly about to take off as an industry. More and more people are becoming more comfortable with additional devices, and electronics around the home. People can see how electronics can help our daily lives, and the next step is controlling the home itself. Lets take a look at the first steps, in simple terms.
1- The first thing you need to do is chose what you want to control/automate. Are you looking for very simple control of a few lights, or do you want the entire home running itself? Are you going to be happy with just lights, or do you want to control appliances, HVAC, audio and video, doors, motion sensors, garage doors, security cameras etc.
2- The second thing you should do is define a budget. Are you looking to spend a few hundred dollars, a few thousand ($3000-$5000) or much more? ($10,000 and up). This will help to identify exactly where you stand in the world of home automation. Just because I ask this question does not mean you have to spend over $10,000 to have a good system. I believe with the right home automation professional, and good planning, an excellent system can be had in the $5000- $7000 range.
Be Aware! Home automation can be addicting. Once you see how fun and easy it is to control some lights and systems in your home, you will want to add to your system to make it complete. So think hard about questions 1 and 2 before setting out on a system that might “pigeon hole” you into a smaller or more simple home automation system. By this I mean, make sure the system and standard you select it scalable. That is, it can work fine if you start out small, but can also grow with you. In my experience, this has been a nice benefit of Insteon, and it’s another reason it is the standard I believe in. Insteon works fine with just a few devices, and actually gets better (faster, more robust) when you add more devices to it.
3- The next step in your journey to an automated home is to select what home automation standard to use. There are several out there, X10, Z wave, UPB, Crestron, Control 4, and of course- Insteon! Each system has its own features and benefits but the system I believe in most is Insteon. Some systems use power-line only, others RF only, but Insteon uses them both, so that if one method doesn’t get the signal to its destination, the other will. Also, each node (think light or appliance etc) acts as a repeater, and repeats the message that was originally sent. Thus dramatically increasing the odds that the message (turn on porch light) gets to the corresponding location. This helps when signal noise is an issue, as even if the first message was blocked, the follow up message will most likely get through. Another added benefit with Insteon is that it is backward compatible with older X10 devices. This is very important for people that have used the older X10 system in the past. They do not have to completely start from scratch and remove everything they have at once, they can slowly replace units over time, thus saving a lot of money.
4- The fourth step to consider when starting out with home automation is to consider what you will use to be the main controller or brain of your system. By this I mean will you use simple control panels built into the house? Do you want to use a PLC or PLM? That is Power Line Controller, or Power Line Modem. These are devices that plug into the wall like any other device, but have a “Brain” that helps run the entire system. This is the cheapest way to go but limits greatly what you can do with your system. Or thirdly, will you use a computer to control the whole home? Following up on that, will it be a Mac or PC, and what software will you use? Now I realize that there are a lot of things to think about here, and a lot of variables in place that might make this decision for you. For the sake of brevity I will not be able to go into all variables at this time.
What I believe is the best choice, is to use the third option, using a computer, in my case a Mac, in conjunction with a PLC or PLM to control my system. I love the Mac as a controller for home automation. There are many reasons for that, including the stability of the Mac operating system, and the general lack of viruses out there for the Mac OS, make it a very stable and reliable platform for your Home Automation system. I was already a Mac user, but even for PC users, I suggest having a Mac run the home automation network for you. In addition to stability, reliability and a lack of a significant number of viruses for the Mac, the Mac has some great software out there to run your home, and as an added bonus, has another programming language built in called AppleScript, that allows the end user to add an almost limitless amount of additions to the system. In simple terms, Applescript can be used to write programs that can do almost anything. This can be used in home automation in countless ways. One example is weather reporting. My system uses applescripts to go out to the internet, and collect the weather data for my area several times each day, and reports that data to me to use anywhere I want. I can display that data on web pages or touch-screens anywhere in the house or on my iPhone. It greatly increases the usefulness of my complete system. Further, this data can then be used, to make decisions around the home. For example my home checks the weather for rain, before turning on the sprinklers. Another example is stock quotes can be gathered and displayed adding to the amount of information you can have at your fingerprints. In summary, a Mac computer, connected to either a PLC or PLM, and excellent software (I recommend Indigo by Perceptive Automation– more on that at a later date) makes an amazing “Brain” for your home automation system.
5- Next, decide if you are going to “Do It Yourself” or Hire a Pro. Obviously going the DIY route will save you money up front, but no amount of money can make up for a knowledgeable professional installer. A professional will help you plan for the future and help you decide on a plan of action that best fits your family. Shameless Plug Alert: Of course if you are in the Central Florida, Brevard County area, we recommend you call Duprey Home Automation.
6. Its time to get started! Now the fun begins. Most likely you will need to prioritize your purchases, so put some thought into what you will buy in what order. I suggest getting all the “backbone” modules first, then add to it. By backbone I mean any access points, phase couplers, signal repeaters, PLC/PLM modules, etc. Get that and if you a going to use a computer, the computer, up and running, and then start to have fun with devices.
In most cases for the DIYer, especially when you are not hiring a Pro to automate the entire home at one time, I recommend you start out small. I recommend investing in one of Smart Home.com’s – Insteon starter kits- they are a great starting point. From there, add a few lights and remotes, then more wired lights and keypads, and then move on to the more advanced devices. Such as thermostats, garage door controllers, motion sensors, contact closures, security cameras, IR control and other devices. Before you know it, you will have everything in your home connected, and you will be able to monitor and control every part of your home. For more information drop me a line at Brian@DupreyHomeAutomation.com or visit our website at www.DupreyHomeAutomation.com. You can also follow us on twitter at DupreyHomeAutom. Thanks for reading!