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Interview With George Hanover, Continued

Reader's Voice: An Introduction To Home Automation
By

Tom's Hardware: Are multiple protocols or a lack of compatibility a hindrance to the widespread adoption of home automation?

George: These are probably hindrances, but it’s hard to say if this is the (or even a) major cause of the HAs slow take-off.

There are activities to bring together HA standards in various ways, for example, by defining a set or sets of rules that allow translation among systems and their protocols. If the consumer saw the value in HA, the market would sort out (though probably in a messy way) the compatibility and other technical issues.

Tom's Hardware: Some of the best-known automation protocols/products are X-10, Insteon, UPB, and Z-Wave. Are there many other automation protocols?

George: Yes, and there are also company consortia whose only aim is to make the protocols compatible. And there are groups which concentrate on only one aspect of the network protocol, such as the application language protocol or the message sending and receiving protocol.

Tom's Hardware: Are there any distinct advantages or disadvantages to adopting one protocol over another, or going with a particular product line that you can think of?

George: There are several factors that stand out, and the potential home system buyer should be aware of them.

First, can the system be retrofitted into existing homes easily? Remember “homes” include dwelling like condos and townhouses not just single-family houses.

Second, is the system designed to easily interface with the outside world? Consumers should insist on home networking as a feature of the system they buy. Home automation (automation only in the home) limits the usefulness of the system. Home networking links the home to the outside world, as well as linking devices within the home, making the system much more useful. With networking, you get the option to more dynamically control energy, while monitoring device status.

Third, can the system be easily expanded to add new devices? This strikes at the heart of plug and play functionality. An installer might do a great job in getting the home system up and running to begin with, but what happens when the homeowner wants to add new appliances with HA features? The ability to easily add a new appliance to the system without calling the installer every time is very desirable.

Fourth, is the start-up cost low? It may not be easy to sell the customer on the somewhat vague concept of home automation, let alone convince him/her to spend big bucks up front (especially when the system requires one or more controllers).

Tom's Hardware: Given your networking suggestion, is security a serious issue for home automation and its associated protocols?

George: Yes. Just as when computers were first connected to the Internet, home network systems also link to the outside world. And there are those who would like to take advantage of that connection. The threat is potentially more serious in a home networking system though, because the system might be used for monitoring disabled persons or for providing fire and home security. Most protocols incorporate sophisticated encryption and other means to protect messages both within the home and on the outside network.

Tom's Hardware: Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers about home automation?

George: Obviously, I would like to encourage your readers to look into home automation, as there are many benefits to installing these systems in their homes and it is worth taking a closer look to see if it is the right fit for your environment.

Now that we've learned a little about home automation, lets take a look at what we can do with it.

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  • 1 Hide
    Gin Fushicho , June 19, 2009 6:55 AM
    Sounds like a lot of fun, though my Grandpa wouldnt like it , he likes to work too much. =/ He might like setting it up though.
  • 4 Hide
    Twoboxer , June 19, 2009 7:14 AM
    IMO, the problem with "Home Automation" is that

    (a) it's fragmented

    (b) most applications can be accomplished in most homes with less expensive, individual systems than with any integrated system - even if one existed.

    HVAC: Unless you have a large home requiring multiple HVAC zones/thermostats, and unless parts of the home are unoccupied for varying amounts of time, a programmable thermostat is an adequate solution. Setbacks (eg while you are at work) don't seem to save much money with modern HVAC systems in most US climates.

    Lighting: If "security" means cycling lights so the house looks occupied, again simple timers are adequate. Unless you have a large, multi-source lighted home, few need automated lighting and "scenes".

    Irrigation: If you have any sprinkler system, once again timers and rain sensors do the job well enough.

    And so on.

    FYI, I have a large primary residence with a networked security system that also controls multiple thermostats. A dedicated PC has replaced a stand-alone DVR to monitor security cameras. A low-voltage, microprocessor controlled system controls lighting.

    If these 8-year old systems talked to each other well, maybe I could use the motion detectors to automatically turn lights on and off. And maybe I wouldn't be better off using standard internet cameras to monitor security as I travel between homes.

    Its all cool technology, but as a substantial user and tech-lover, I just don't see significant, practical application in most homes.
  • 0 Hide
    Twoboxer , June 19, 2009 7:29 AM
    Please forgive the double-post, but I couldn't resist pointing out one savings I learned about from all of this.

    I use a lot of 130V bulbs in the fixtures controlled by microprocessor controlled lighting system. Most of these bulbs are also oversized for their purpose, and are therefore set to run at, eg, 60% or 75% of maximum voltage when turned on.

    I don't know whether I've saved any electricity or not - I doubt it lol - but I have saved a tremendous amount of money on bulbs. EG, there are 11 such bulbs in my kitchen ceiling and they run a minimum of 12 hours per day. I have not replaced a bulb in that set since they were installed over 8 years ago.
  • 0 Hide
    mrubermonkey , June 19, 2009 8:11 AM
    Buying proprietary systems is bad. Go with equipment that goes by industry standards and the whole issue with home automaton being a long-term investment goes away for the most part. Unless some company's proprietary technology always leads industry standards by leaps and bounds, but this is rare.
  • 0 Hide
    Twoboxer , June 19, 2009 8:27 AM
    What industry standards? HAI's? Lutron's? X10's? Standards from what era?
  • 0 Hide
    sorusbay , June 19, 2009 8:31 AM
    I suggest you to use KNX
  • -1 Hide
    pratik77 , June 19, 2009 9:08 AM
    If you want the real deal, go for Crestron.
    Sure it costs money but so does liquid nitrogen cooled overclocked gaming rigs.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 11:11 AM
    On the life of light bulbs . . . .
    Lamp life is very sensitive to operating voltage - for 120 volts Ge quotes 125 volts as shortening the lamp life to 1/2 and 130 volts to 1/3. The inverse is true - if you put a 130 volt lamp in a 120 volt circuit you can expect over double the lamp life, and if you have a dimmer to soft start then it can last a way lot longer.
    http://www.gelighting.com/na/business_lighting/faqs/incandescent.htm
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 11:47 AM
    How can you not mention http://www.CocoonTech.com, the largest DIY home automation site out there.
  • 0 Hide
    sublifer , June 19, 2009 11:56 AM
    cocoonerHow can you not mention http://www.CocoonTech.com, the largest DIY home automation site out there.

    It was mentioned on page 3:
    Quote:
    Many of the searches for further guidance landed me at cocoontech.com, and reading other people's guides and questions helped me through the process.
  • 0 Hide
    pkellmey , June 19, 2009 12:06 PM
    I researched HA a couple of years ago, but I found that my house is really not large enough to justify it, the standards and the equipment are subpar, and it's very expensive (which again can't justify it). Unless if the components and system are completely "plug in and play" with complete across-the-board industry standards, HA will never become mainstream. After reading the efforts involved in this article, I see it is still in that condition.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 12:08 PM
    Sadly, I think there are two, very basic, problems with "home automation"...

    First - With no set "standard" to work with, we (the consumers) are left to piece together a system from a hodge-poge of available components. By definition then, an "integrated" system is all but impossible to create, unless you have a fair amount of money to permit not only hardware modifications to be done (and paid for), but also programming / software writing. A "expensive" proposition...

    Second - The "industry", for all our "talk" does NOT think home automation is even remotely a priority for the "masses". A "techno-geek", here or there, yes, but not the average consumer.

    Without the second, you will not get the first.

    Sadly... The second (to me) is the simple result of no one really outlining what the REAL benefits could be. Sure, we see a bit here or there, but it is about as disjointed as it can be. Until someone decides to truely invest in the idea of HA and promote it accordingly, it will not take root, to any appreciable amount.

    As consumers, we need to be told what this will do for us in a way that we can understand and see real benefits from. Not "off the wall" concepts of futuristic homes, but down to earth, realities that we could feel, today...or even tomorrow (short term). Not to mention, at a price point which is do-able for the majority.

    There are also "some" issues with using existing wiring, etc., that need to be addressed... ie., for this sort of thing to take hold, it has to be available, not only for new construction, but also to be retrofitted into existing buildings, without having to rip out walls, etc. It's there, in other forms, it just needs to be adapted for this type of use.

    Could any of it be done? I believe so, but I think, at this moment, there is no one company, no group of companies, who will bother. The ROI just is not there.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 12:18 PM
    sublifer, I somehow missed that reference, my apologies.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 12:50 PM
    I have been Home Automated for quite a few years now and really can't live without it. Just the lighting control saves time turning this and that on for all times of day (Morning and Evening). Also supplies passive security and with newer motion detectors and nice jump up in performance.
    Getting the right hardware/software combination is critical. I have gone from X-10 to the latest "Insteon" products and reliability has improved 90%.
  • 0 Hide
    sublifer , June 19, 2009 1:50 PM
    jbierrieA "techno-geek", here or there, yes, but not the average consumer

    I've enjoyed my system greatly so far. Yes, I'm a tech geek and not an avg consumer... you hit the nail on the head with that BUT that is how innovation starts. Enough people jump on board or get involved, even just making suggestions to the companies that are involved, and that is how it will grow into commonplace. Do you think the future homes, as are portrayed in the movies, will come about without prevalent HA technology? Nope. Its just gonna take baby steps to get there.
  • 1 Hide
    candide08 , June 19, 2009 3:36 PM
    Insteon is FAR superior to X10.

    I ran X10 for years and had reliability and interference issues.
    99% of these are gone with Insteon, the appearance of the devices is much nicer and the programmability is superior - using the ISY99 from Universal Devices.

    http://universal-devices.com/
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 3:55 PM
    No mention of LinuxMCE which brings all these protocols together as well as your network, home cinema _and_ much more? As far as I've heard they're even coming out with a beta very soon for the new version.
  • 0 Hide
    cldebuhr , June 19, 2009 6:44 PM
    SAFTEY WARNING!!

    The author should seriously refrain from giving electrical advice:
    ... White is neutral (hot) and is ...
    I really hope this was a typo, because it kind of suggests that the author doesn't know (very basic!) difference between hot (black) and neutral (white).

    In the name of not having any Tom's readers electrocute themselves, I'd reccomed saying nothing more than "installs like standard electrical hardware." and leave it at that. If they have to ask, they either need to hire someone, or at least get a good book and spend some serious study time! By the way anytime you see a red wire comming out of a box, if you KNOW its a 3-way lighting circut, thats fine, but also be aware that red is also used as "hot" in split-phase 220v wiring, so that you've got ground (bare or green), neutral (still white), and TWO hots (black and red), each at 110v AC with respect to neutral, bat out of phase with each other to give a combined 220 v AC. 110v hurts ... 220v is a lot more likely to kill.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 19, 2009 7:36 PM
    Also, perhaps only relevant to Europe I dunno but cable color codes have changed through time and older houses might provide you with installed runs of cables that do not match the current standard at all.

    Sometimes you'll happen upon different colors used for the same thing just because an older standard wasn't specifying a color for certain things at all, or the technician ran out of white and didn't care...
  • 0 Hide
    sublifer , June 19, 2009 9:14 PM
    cldebuhrSAFTEY WARNING!!

    Good point, neutral is not hot, its the return (completes the circuit) but not really a safety issue. People afraid of touching the neutral won't hurt anything, besides, the author already covered making sure that power was removed from the circuit.
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