Let’s take a moment to not talk about subfloor. I’ve been interested in home automation since I was a kid reading about “Smart Houses” in magazines. When I was a teenager I bought Plug ‘n Power (later X10) modules from Radio Shack to remote control the lights in my bedroom. The idea of having a house that responds to the people inside, the weather outside, the time of day, and any number of other factors to be more comfortable, more efficient, and more secure has been a dream of mine for a long time. Fortunately, Sarah discovered the convenience of the X10 lights I was using at our condo and is on board with my techno fantasies.

Several years ago Z-Wave was introduced. It’s a wireless mesh technology designed for home automation, meaning that devices can communicate with each other, pass along commands and status, and operate much more reliably and faster than X10. Z-Wave offers the same types of controllable light switches, outlets, sensors and controllers as other home automation technologies, but it’s more DIY and cost effective than most. As I read up on it, I found that the best way to implement it when you’ve got your walls opened up already is to install a wired security system, then connect that to the Z-Wave controller along with the other modules you want.

There’s a few reasons to do it that way. First of all, the door, window, and motion sensors for a wired system are much cheaper than Z-Wave sensors, and since they’re wired they are more reliable and don’t require batteries that need to be changed. Other components, like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are similarly less expensive with more options than the smattering of Z-Wave enabled devices on the market. These sensors can then trigger Z-Wave devices, like lights or send alerts on your phone via the Z-Wave controller. Plus, while some Z-Wave devices can have a delay between when you push a button and when it happens, a wired security system can trigger events immediately.

DSC Security System

DSC Security System

With all that said, I bought a DSC security system, along with the necessary expansion modules, sensors, and detectors for the first floor. Eventually we’ll be able to use this fancy technology to do some cool stuff, but for the time being it’s just sitting in boxes. When we get a bit further along in the first floor build out, we’ll install the security system and connect it to the Z-Wave controller I got a while ago (the Mi Casa Verde VeraLite) and tie it into some Z-Wave light switches. The electronic deadbolts we bought shortly after we moved in are also Z-Wave enabled so we can remotely monitor and control the door locks.

What can this all do? Since we’re anticipating having several different lights in, say, the kitchen (ceiling, under cabinet, chandelier, etc), we could have a control that would toggle these between different settings with a single button. If it’s dark out, the motion sensor could turn on just the ceiling lights to a dim level when you walk in, but only if you’re not watching a movie in the living room. Using dawn/dusk data or even a light level sensor, it could only turn on the lights if they’re needed or only to a brightness that’s needed.

One button by the front or back door could turn off all the lights, unless the rooms were occupied. You can turn off the lights downstairs when you get into bed or have them turn off automatically at a certain time if no one is  up. The exhaust fan can come on automatically in the bathroom and run for ten minutes after you leave. We can forgo 3-way light switches in a lot of cases and just have a central bank, then use controllers where they’re convenient. These types of things add more than just convenience. In a lot of cases they can save electricity. It takes a larger up front cost in time and money, since setting all of this up will likely be an ongoing process, but the result should be really cool.

2 Responses to Smart Home Planning

  1. prairieman says:

    Hmmm, you can teach me a thing or two here. Did you / will you install the security system yourself or do you have someone come out to do it for you?

  2. Matt says:

    We haven’t yet, but we’ll do it ourselves. I’ll write a post on it when the time comes. We’ll probably wait until we’re running our other cabling to set it up. You’re also welcome to stop by and see it once we’ve got it installed. The only thing a DIY system doesn’t have versus a service is the monitoring (and the monthly fee that goes with it). We’ll get alerts on our phones, though, and can call 911 ourselves if need be.

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