Reader's Voice: An Introduction To Home Automation

Getting The Lighting System Running

Dimmer switches are not known for getting along well with CFLs (compact flourescent lights), so rather than risk the bulb or the switch, I removed the CFLs previously installed and replaced them with standard bulbs.

The problem with CFLs and dimmers is that CFLs have a ballast requiring a certain voltage for operation. When you dim a light, you're simply decreasing the voltage sent to the bulb. So, you may find that the bulb won't come on or the bulb may end up having a much shorter life if it does function at all. Most CFL manufacturers will consider the warranty void on a bulb if its been used with a dimmer. There is such a thing as dimmable CFL bulbs, but they are much more expensive. I chose the cheap route with regular bulbs. Fortunately, I'll still save some energy if I use them at reduced power. You can also get non-dimming switches, which can be used with CFLs problem-free.

I also added a lamp/appliance module. All that I had to do was plug it into the wall, then plug the lamp into the module. The access points were already plugged in and paired, according to their directions. The tabletop controller plugged in as well. 

To pair devices, you start with the controlling side and hold a button until a light starts blinking. Then, you go to the target device, such as a lamp, to turn on and press its button until the light flashes. At this point, you test the on/off to see if it paired correctly. In some cases, I had to move an access point to get a device paired. I found out later that certain electric appliances like refrigerators and computers, as well as GFI outlets, will eat the powerline signal. So, you may have to rearrange the configuration as I did to get it to work.

Different HA protocols, and even devices on the same protocol, may have different pairing procedures and may even discover devices on their own.

I added the wireless motion sensor to the family room and set it up to turn the lamp on when it detects movement. My step-daughter said she freaked out when she came in late one night after I had set that up. I'll have to remember that trick for later.

Before I went any further, I wanted to play with the system on my computer and smartphone. I plugged in the controller module and paired it with my lights. 

I then set up port-forwarding on my router so I could access my system while away from home. 

  • 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.