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Home Automation – Part 2 (Planning)

Home automation planningThe most important step in home automation is planning. You can spend more than all of your money in addition to getting very frustrated if you don’t have a good plan. The great thing about home automation is that you can do almost anything. That can also be the greatest pitfall and turn into a money pit. The first step in developing a plan is to establish the scope.
Home automation is a broad term. I would define it simply as automating things in your home. The age-old and most trivial example is the "automated" coffee pot that comes on automatically at a certain time and when you arrive in the kitchen the coffee is ready. At the other end might be an automated home theatre. When you push the "Watch a movie" button in the kitchen, the lighting begins to dim behind you and light up in front of you on your way into the theatre. As the screen comes down from the ceiling, the projector rises from a cabinet in front of it. As the projector bulb warms up the lighting in the theatre synchronously dims until it is movie time. There is a wide range of things in between these two examples. I would break the scope into the following areas below. Any one of them can add a lot of fun and functionality.

  • System design
  • Security
  • Lighting control
  • Audio distribution
  • Video distribution
  • Universal remotes
  • Home theatre
  • Appliance control
  • Spa control
  • Sensors
  • Remote access

These are the nine areas I will be writing about and then will conclude with stories on project management and changes and upgrades. I don’t mean to imply by the outline that I have all the answers on the topics. My intent is to share what I have learned in hope that it will be useful to others.
It is also important to think about what is not part of the scope of your home automation endeavors. One example that we decided to exclude is irrigation. The Irritrol Total Control system has four independent programs which offer concurrent operation seven days per week or only odd days or even days. It is totally reliable and totally flexible. It is tied to a roof sensor so it doesn’t irrigate when it is raining. In other words, it does everything you could imagine and it is really easy to use. Why would anyone want to automate something that is automated? There actually are some examples that I will explain in the security and spa control areas but for something as self-contained as an irrigation system there is really nothing to be gained by tying the irrigation sub-system into an overall system.
You actually can tie an Irritrol system to your PC and do the control from there. Unfortunately, most sub-systems that are "PC Controlled" require Windows. One of the decisions I made as part of my scope was not to use Windows. Have you ever had to re-boot your PC? Would you like to re-boot your house? Me neither. If you decide to go with a Windows approach I highly recommend using a dedicated system. It doesn’t have to be the latest or greatest and does not require a big video display. For less than $500 you can get a PC and put it in the basement or out of the way.
The other area that we excluded from the overall system is digital door locks. I investigated this quite a bit and found some interesting technology, including fingerprint activated locks. There are advantages to having a system know when a door was opened or closed but that can be accomplished in other ways that I will describe when we get to "sensors". Bottom line, based on the technology available and the appearance of the locks, I decided that getting into the house should not be dependent on a central system, no matter how reliable it is. We chose the Weiser Powerbolt Digital locks for all the doors.
Not sure how long it is going to take me to write the remaining dozen or so stories and there will likely be other topics and stories interspersed. Stay tuned.