Reader's Voice: An Introduction To Home Automation


I learned a lot in the process of writing this article, and I hope it will encourage many of you to consider bringing HA into your own lives. I'll admit that wiring up light switches is not the easiest of tasks for someone who hasn't done it before, but the plug-in devices are a snap to set up and make for an easy entry-point to working with the technology.

Most people are very timid the first time they have to replace a component in their PC and, in the same way, there is a learning curve to HA. And although the components you're dealing with are not as sensitive as those inside a computer, there is a risk anytime you are working near electric circuits (in this case more of a risk to yourself).

Once I finished with the installation, the only signs of the work I'd done was a set of nicer wall switches and a handful of extra adapters plugged into the wall. The only way it could have looked more professional was if I had finished the whole house with Insteon- and Decora-style switches to match the ones I changed. I could have also swapped the wall outlets to Insteon rather than using the lamp adapter, but then I couldn't use the adapter for my Christmas tree when that time of year rolls around. I like having the choice of moving it. 

I won't try claiming that anyone can manage a home automation installation, so if you're uncomfortable around electronics, don't know what you're doing in a breaker box, or are particularly accident-prone, don't even risk it. I would think that if you've soldered wires before, though, then you probably have enough knowledge and common sense to take on a task like this.

In the future, I plan to add a controlled thermostat, tie into a security system, add a wireless controller (the kits simply weren't in stock when I was ordering), and add more controlled lights. I might even add lawn irrigation control.

So what did I think about the project and the hardware I used? In short:

The Bad:

  • Working with electrical wiring can be hazardous to one's health, especially if one is clueless.
  • I occasionally had to move around the access points to perform pairings, and this might make you wonder if a given device is functioning properly.
  • The controllers I chose did not provide feedback as to the on/off state of the devices. This is hardly a con, though, as I could easily have picked a controller that displays status.
  • I couldn't find a full-wall video phone (not that I could afford it if I did).

The Good: 

  • My entire house has become a toy for me to play with and tweak.
  • Great to show off your house to friends, neighbors, and family.
  • Laziness (convenience) is taken to a whole new level. Did I leave the light on in the living room when I've already crawled into bed? Hit the off button and I don't have to go check.

The Verdict: I want more! My computer may not be getting upgrades for a while, as I'll be too busy playing with my house. 

Update: I recently returned my Smartlinc controller and instead purchased a ISY-99i controller with a PLM to remedy the status being displayed. The Smarthome support staff was very understanding and helpful. The PLM in the package translates the Insteon signals for the 99i controller. The 99i allows me to do much more than the other controller, and it supports if/then routines. Of course, I had to pay for it and it was much more expensive than the  previous  controller.