Many have or will use home automation tools at some point as it is too tempting and too cool not too. We even justify it as a power savings, but the reality is that it probably more of a convenience than anything else. The savings alone would probably take a couple of years to be realized. That being said, it is still a very useful and cool thing to do, and in many cases it can serve a genuine purpose. I messed with HA since the X-10 days and still have a box full of their stuff. In their prime, X-10 made decent hardware and pretty decent software. As things changed and Vista was released, they fell asleep at the wheel and lost the market share they once had.
Jumping ahead to present day, there are many product out there such as Insteon and Z-Wave that sell a huge variety of products ranging form lighting, irrigation, thermostat, and I/O controllers to virtually control any item inside and outside your house. I have had lighting control in my house for quite some time with varying degrees of success, but it was not until very recently that I have begun to have faith in it and consider it robust and reliable enough to not worry about it. Since I now had the confidence, I want to try and expand beyond the lighting and get into the areas that would be of the greatest use to me and that was temperature control, and the ability to control my garage door (long story so we will skip why).
I realize that controlling temperature to a degree can be done with most current day thermostats, however they are typically limited to some basic 7 day events and of course you have to be there to override the settings if you want something changed (which is usually my problem). My schedule fluctuates so much that a standard setting was not always effective. Living in Southern California, air conditioning is somewhat critical and can be very expensive. I wanted the ability to monitor and change the house temperatures while on the road using my iPhone or iPad, as well as to have a more flexible way to schedule.
Since I had already setup and installed an Insteon controller, I wanted to make sure that all devices as well as software I used where compatible with these controllers and the HouseLinc 2 software used in for controlling the devices.
There are several options for doing this the most common being to replace the thermostat with one that is supported, however after doing some research I found that if you already own a Venstar or Totaline thermostat, that you already have a unit that can support virtually any Insteon controller by just adding a transmitter module. As I happen to have a Totaline 1800, I was able to buy the transmitter module simply plug it in. The other part of this equation of is the ability to control from a portable device. After trying no less than 6 different solutions, I finally found one that mostly lived up to the potential as well as the hype. So lets talk about specifics in what I ended up with, and what it costs. One caveat is that the end result is scalable, reliable, and very useful however it can be a bit of a painful road so start slow, and build slow. Don’t invest allot of money up front until you are happy with the infrastructure such as your controller and software. As I stated be patient as it is not always easy to get things to work.
There are also many other approaches and software solutions such as mControl depending on what you want to do, however this was the only way I could a blend of automation and external controls to work as I wanted to.
Hardware (new and existing)
Here is a list of the hardware I setup for this project. It is not the complete list of hardware I have, but rather what I setup initially to establish a level or reliability and baseline the system.
HouseLinc 2 Software
Below is some basic screen shots of the software that comes with the controller. It is designed to run on PC that is on all the time and is the center to creating all your events, setting up your devices, and creating as much customizing as you want.
This is the screen used for creating a custom event such as setting up lighting with sensors, timers, or tied to other events.
MobiLinc HD (iPad and iPhone)
The MobiLinc HD sot ware is an iPad/iPhone app that runs separately from HouseLinc. You setup your devices that you want to control independent of what you had setup in the PC software. They both work with the same hardware invisibly but the setup and customizing is completely independent. Once you configure an iPad lets say, you can wirelessly transfer the entire setup to all your other IOS devices.
YouTube Video for more information:
Here are actual screen shots of my device of the basic start screen with icons for (left to right) Favorites, Scenes, Devices, Temperature, and Setup.
Here are the basic devices you see from the “Devices” icon. Labels and colors can of course be customized. As you can see, I started small and only have two rooms setup (living room and office) along with temp control and the I/O module for the garage door. I will be adding full media control soon from the AV media kit as well as adding the balance of the rooms to complete my project.
As you can see from the picture, it allows you to monitor, change temperature, turn on/off/auto, alter fan settings, and change the built in program modes by simply touching the area you want to alter all from anywhere via Wi-Fi or 3G.
Home automation is certainly at it infancy in terms of usability. It is pretty obvious after trying virtually everything out there that the companies that market this stuff do not know how to write user friendly software. That being said, if you are willing to invest a bit of time to figure some stuff out to get things to work the way you would like, the end result is pretty cool and can be very functional. Given the right attention to hardware, mixed in with some learning curve, and a sprinkle of patience, you can end up with a reliable foundation that is very scalable. I do not think that HA is for everyone but if you have a need such as a second home, or if you need to customize things while your are away from the house as I do, or if you just simply want to trick out your surroundings, then this might be a great project for you. If you want to browse to see the hundreds of different items that are available, then check out Smarthome.com.