Reader's Voice: An Introduction To Home Automation

Interview With George Hanover, Continued

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.

  • Gin Fushicho
    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.
  • Twoboxer
    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.
  • Twoboxer
    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.
  • mrubermonkey
    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.
  • Twoboxer
    What industry standards? HAI's? Lutron's? X10's? Standards from what era?
  • sorusbay
    I suggest you to use KNX
  • pratik77
    If you want the real deal, go for Crestron.
    Sure it costs money but so does liquid nitrogen cooled overclocked gaming rigs.
  • 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.
  • How can you not mention, the largest DIY home automation site out there.
  • sublifer
    cocoonerHow can you not mention, the largest DIY home automation site out there.It was mentioned on page 3:
    Many of the searches for further guidance landed me at, and reading other people's guides and questions helped me through the process.