Home Automation Shopping List


When I pitched the idea of Home Automation to my wife, all she asked was, "Why does our house need to be automated?". Not a good start to my home automation project. Starting off with a negative WAF can be a hard hole to climb out of. The good news is that after several years of marriage, I am ready to climb another everest. I hope this one is as successful as the HTPC w/CableCards & extender route.

For more information on getting started I recommend checking out Chris Lanier’s Guide to getting started with Home Automation . He summarizes the available standards, hardware installation and use of mControl. I won’t duplicate his fine work :). A quick search of "getting started" on his site will reveal more useful posts.


Mike raised a good point in his comment. I really didn’t outline my intentions and I sort of left it vague because I wasn’t sure where it would lead pending my evaluation of the software, expense and economics of the situation. I do have some very general goals in mind that I will share. 

  1. Convenience – Lving in a two story house with kids is the perfect storm for lights left on all over the house. It would be nice to have the convenience of checking to see what lights were left on in the basement, outside etc. I am not sure the reduction in my powerbill for this will ever payoff my investment but I think it is worthwhile.
  2. Security – There is no window in our door so you have to open the door to see who is there. Not only for security but not having to answer the door when a sales person is there 🙂
  3. Temperature Control – Though I have a programmable thermostat, I think remote access (all over house) and Internet, will have a big impact on gas and AC bill. As a family we tend to manually change the thermostat and forget about it, this should help resolve that issue.
  4. Cool Factor -A lot of my project is driven my the inner geek in my. I want to have the lights dim when I start a movie etc 🙂
  5. Remote Access – Access via the internet to check up on things while I am gone is important as well. I have had one house flood, that is enough for me :).

Hit the read more for more my shopping list. Update 1-18-2009 to include Zwave shopping list.

For my conisderation there were two contenders, Insteon and Z-Wave
. Both are mesh networks (each device repeats the command) and both are
RF based. However, Insteon can send commands using power lines and can
be X-10 compatible. Z-Wave is a little more on the expensive side as
well. Economics and the possiblity of backwards compatability were
reasons enought for me to go Insteon.

Update: Upon further research and great advice from fstrydom, I have decided to use Zwave. I have found Zwave to be about the same price AND will work better with mControl. mControl will not detect a manual change (i.e turn the light on with controller as opposed to the PC) with Insteon devices, however mControl and poll Zwave devices for status changes.

I am really looking to
ease my household into home automation. I have a couple of killer
applications but I am going to wait to reveal those. Not quite shock
and awe, more like sleep and yah that’s ok. With that in mind I am just
getting the basics to start out HA.


Shopping List – Insteon

Software: There are a couple of options open to Vista and XP Media Center users. The first one I had my eye on was HomeSeer plugin available here. The required bits and peices to make this work was a little bit out of my budget. The other option I checked was mControl . This seemed a bit more intuitive to me as the Media Center program is the core business and should have a better idea of what Media Center enthusiasts are after in a DIY automation setup. mControl has a very flexable network topology including WHS support, Vista Support (W7 works too), and remote access.




Hardware: For the computer to interact with the Insteon network I will need a USB to Insteon device. The PowerLinc USB controller interacts with mControl and Indigo (for Mac) to connect to an Insteon network. Other software packages will require a seperate controller. There are a ton of different ways to skin this cat, don’t be afraid to contact customer service if you have specific questions.

To ensure consistent communication across my powerlines and RF network, I am going to use two Insteon Phase couplers access points. Access points allow communication with RF devices and with two of them allow commands to be sent over a two-phase electrical system.

The first two purchases are the base of the home automation network. The combination of the three devices should allow for consistent communication and high WAF. The last thing I want to hear is that the light didn’t go off :(. With the software and base hardware requirements, I am in for a 200 dollar bill give or take a few bucks. While not cheap, custom solutions will run several thousands of dollars. 

Adding a LampLinc controller will run you $30 dollars and a dimmer switch will be $40 to $50 . It is not hard to see that this is the type of project that will expand over time.


Shopping List Zwave

As mentioned in the Insteon section, you need a PC-Zwave device to communicate between mControl and your Zwave network. In this case, the widley regarded ThinkStick suits my needs just fine and it is a little cheaper than the Insteon device. With an RF only network, and a solid density of Zwave devices, you should not need access points as you do with the Insteon network.

Smart Home.com has a wide range of X-10 and Insteon devices but their Zwave selection is lacking and more expensive which drove me to my original conlusion of using Insteon. Upon further research I found a few more places with more affordable Zwave devices and brands.



Wayne Dalton Store

Perhaps someone can chime in why Vizia RF+ requires a 50% premium over Intermatic devices. Both sites have a wide selection of devices to suit yout automation needs. 

My choice for a dimmer switch is here.

Lamp module here .

Zwave control remote.

Why do I need a remote if I have control and the switch and PC? Thanks to fstrydom, I now know that the primary controller has to be within 6′ of the device to match. I am not carrying around my server to link the devices :).

One other thing to consider before I leave! Three way switches (more then one switch controls a load) requires a different type of switch like this. Phase two of my project will be interesting as several lights are controlled by three to five light switches :0.

My first foray into the home automation world will be a simple lamp and
dimmer module. A conservative approach yes, but should get me well on
my way as I learn about home automation implementation. Hopefully I haven’t confused you too much.