Windows Based Home Automation
Summary: To be ready for a wired future, and to create an excellent
resale value of your house, retrofit or install structured wiring to
every room. This allows you to include 'internet-ready' in the ad for
your house. In other words, structured wiring is a great investment,
and a lot of fun from the moment you have it installed.
You are a professional computer user, and many of you have a home LAN,
so you may be thinking about some form of home automation, or you have
already started to a degree. I have been in the IT business for 22
years, and I'm now building a house in Belleair, Florida so let me
tell you how I came to choose and install the wiring in our new house.
There are literally whole books written about this subject so here
are some hints and tips from the trenches.
The very first thing you really need to do is to visualize your own
'ideal scene'. Then look at where you are now, and plan the project
to methodically get to your ideal scene. Do you want to start a home
automation project for energy savings, security reasons, as a hobby
or perhaps all three and even more?
You need to do a lot of thinking UP FRONT, because both the type of
wiring, and how to wire (where the drops are going to be) depend
entirely what you want to automate. The home automation industry is
still in an early stage, meaning it is relatively fragmented in the
sense of standards. Think cars in the early 1900's. The good thing
is that there is at least one existing home automation standard we
can work with, which is X10. It's s-l-o-w compared to a 100Mb ethernet
network, but it can do the job if you plan it well, up front!
When I was confronted with how to wire the house, experience in
the IT world taught me that the only constant is change. So in ten
years this area is going to look completely different from now.
New industry standards will have come and gone. So the best thing
you can do is wire as much as possible, and even overdo it a bit,
for example just in case things like video-on-demand finally make
it and you need high definition, high bandwidth to most of the
rooms in your house.
So, my ideal scene was that I wanted to be able to voice control
most of the functions of the house. I wanted to be able to remotely
(via the web) control the house and make sure it would look 'lived-in' even when we were not there. I wanted to be able to receive email and get paged when certain events happen that were not expected (for example, the garage door opens when both my wife and I are not at home). And I wanted to be able to remotely see via cameras what was happening.
The final goal, over time, would be to have the house become an
intelligent agent, that would be able to anticipate certain things
and for instance go out on the Net and search for the best price of
chlorine when it monitors that the pool levels get low, and propose
to me to put an order in. The only thing left for me would be to
click "yes" and voila! a pool company comes by and replenishes it.
Granted, setting all that up does not happen immediately. It takes
a few years when you are a busy individual. However, the first thing
you need to create is the infrastructure that will allow you to
achieve this over time. So the process I went through, was to make
sure that the wiring I needed was in place for all that and put it
in now, when the drywall is not up yet.
Essentially you need to wear the hat of an "electronic architect"
for a while which is a fun and very creative frame of mind. Some one
in our office has a piece of paper stuck to the wall of his cubicle.
"The best way to predict the future is to create it!" So you now need
to sit down and ask yourself a whole bunch of home automation
Next, is draw a diagram of what functions need to be where. The process
I went trough was somewhat as follows. "I need to be able to have fast
Net access in every room. I also want TV, audio, and a telephone possible,
both inside and on the patio at the pool. I'll have one wireless access
point if I want to work on a laptop in the garden. All this needs to be
accessible via a remote, by voice or by screen (local or internet).
I want the whole thing to be intelligent, so there has to be a computer
hooked up as the central hub of all this. That means I need a server
closet where all wires will be centrally mounted and distributed. The
server closet needs its own AC duct, because it's going to get mighty
warm in there. And I want all that in the study, (not the garage) so
that I can tinker with it whatever the temperature is.
Having all those points in my mind, and scouring the Net for weeks, it
was clear what I needed to do. A "star"-topology where everything would
wind up in the server closet and centrally hooked up. After calling some
friends and experts in the home automation, that was indeed how the wiring
was done. Structured wiring has 2 coax, 2 cat5 and 2 fiber strands nicely
tucked together in a jacket.
That means for every room you can plug a personal computer into a 100Mb
Ethernet LAN, you can intelligently distribute both video and audio,
and optical in a later stage. I decided to keep the cost down and not
trim out the fiber yet, but the Cat5 and coax will be hot from the start.
Structured Wiring costs just over a dollar per foot at on a 500 foot
spool at smarthome, which is the home automation site I like best:
The good thing of double Cat5 is that you can use the second 8 strands in
there for phone, audio or other devices instead of a LAN. I also had the
house fully wired for security, with all the wiring coming to the server
closet too. The software I chose to drive the whole setup is the HomeSeer
product. You can find them here:
Reason? By far the most features, fully X10 enabled with advanced scripting
and a tremendous bang for your buck. The other thing is that it interfaces
with the Napco Gemini 3200 security system, has a web interface and speech
recognition (both in- and output).
When you are building a new house, keep in mind that you should plan the
power wiring according to your home automation plans. If you want to
drive the outside floodlights with X10, better make sure there are power
cables pulled before the drywall goes up. And while you are at it, make
sure you have deep j-boxes where X10 receptacles and switches are planned.
Last but not least, get all your heavy duty devices on one phase, and all
the other (incandescent) ones on the other phase. It will prevent a lot
of noise on your wires. And if you want to see how my new home is progressing, here is the photo gallery with the status up to now. The big spool with fat blue wire is the structured wiring that has been put in.
I was given this book by one of my co-workers. It's very useful to read
and gives you the perspective of the "electronic architect" that you
need to have before you even start automating and wiring your home. This
book gives the conceptual overview so you can ask yourself the questions
you need to answer before you start with the project. Recommended reading!