New Technologies in Home Automation
Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 03:52 PM PDT
Contributed by: Richard Pitt
In the first article in this series you got a bit of a look at what I've been using for the past decade and more to control lights and alarms around our home. The X-10 system has served well but it's getting a bit long in the tooth so we're looking to change it at some time in the not too distant future, about the same time we move to a new home now that the kids have grown. This article will explore some of the newer technologies and why they are now reasonable, both from a technology point of view and economically.
Home automation is running pretty much in parallel to the rest of the technology and computer sector. It seems that if you wait just a bit longer you can get something that will do oh so much more. We've been through this with the PC revolution in general, and the modem/Internet connection revolution and now the wireless revolution; all of which have had direct impact on the home automation scene.
The problem with this is that unless you jump in, you miss out on either the enjoyment or the learning that using today's products brings. You also miss the possibility of buying into a dead-end, but if you do your homework (like I'm doing here) that is less likely to happen.
A home automation system is just that, a system. You might have to put together the various items, power controllers, actuators, remote controls, measurement devices, computer and software if you can't find a package that fits your needs closely. Today it is possible to purchase most or all of these items from a single vendor, either in person or over the Internet. In the past you probably would have had to deal with at least a couple of different vendors.
The major aspects of home automation are:
|control - the things you use to tell systems what to do, turn on/off, raise/lower the temperature, open/close drapes, open doors, set alarms, etc.
|controllers and actuators - the things that do the work
|sensors and measuring devices
|status and information displays
|connections between systems and other necessary infrastructure
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you should get the picture.
Cost justification of automation
The thing to recognize with any automation project (the home being just one) is that you can automate almost anything, just bring money!
OK, you've decided to look at home automation and need to get the purchases past your spouse (and he is just a clerk in a convenience store so knows little about such things.) How do you justify spending what will likely amount to thousands of dollars on "gadgets"?
The point is that before you think about putting in any automation system you should think about what it is you are trying to accomplish and what the costs and potential benefits are.
Fortunately things are getting much better in this arena.
|The cost of energy is rising and threatening to rise even faster in the near future.|
|The cost of insurance is rising|
|the amount of deductible you might pay if you do suffer an insured loss has risen|
|rebates or discounts for monitored alarm systems are rising|
|peace of mind from knowing that your home is just a phone call or web click away can be incalculable|
|increase in self-reliance of disabled persons through the adaptation of controls to special formats (sip/puff, exaggerated/special key, etc.) as well as voice recognition which can lower the cost of supporting personnel|
|The cost of controllers and environmental monitoring modules for home control is falling.|
|The cost of connecting things together in older homes (i.e. retrofitting) is falling due in part to the use of things like wireless and power line transmission technologies.|
In my original installation I was retrofitting an older home, so the use of the power line and wireless technologies that X-10 offered was critical. The problem is X-10 limited what I could do because the modules didn't "report back" when keyed locally (at the light switch as opposed to the remote/computer control.) This meant that status display was often wrong and things like device usage stats could simply not be done.
X-10's original computer interface also didn't have the back-channel capability they put into their later version (which I never purchased) so what little in the way of monitoring equipment they have in their line was not useful to me.
In my next implementation, I expect to install far more remote monitoring items and use their output to adjust things. Everything from the spa chemicals to heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), lawn watering and sun-shades. I might even put in some hydroponics equipment because my wife and I love fresh veggies, spices and herbs.
While part of my cost justification is "research and development", I still have to justify the core of the system. Based on our current home (2500 sq. ft. with spa, in-ground pool with solar and gas heat and in-line chlorinator, central gas hot water and furnace) our old system paid for itself just monitoring and actuating the solar panels. Based on the gas cost in the first 2 years, the panels paid for themselves in about 3 years. The remote for the gas heater, the jet pump and recirculating pump saved re-plumbing the old pressure-activated switches which were defunct when we bought the house. Their costs, added to the already existing X-10 system, were about 1/5th the cost of getting the old ones fixed. The only added cost over 9 years was the replacement of one remote control which fell into the spa - they are not water proof ($35.00 CDN.) More than that, the new controllers allowed me to turn on the heat from in the house (the spa was outside)
This doesn't factor in the savings in personal anguish and time saved by having a house which could very easily look and sound lived-in when there was nobody around, so that potential thieves might give it a pass in favour of easier targets. Don't overlook this, especially in today's urban jungle.
|home-automation.org The best starting place|