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Home Automation

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Has anyone delved into the world of Home Automation? I didn't know whether to put this in Hardware or Software, because of course the software would be done via an iOS device. The Nest is an obvious one, but I'm thinking more in terms of lighting and/or ceiling fans. In our new home, we're looking to put in ceiling fans (with lights) in the bedrooms upstairs. I figure since we'll be tearing things apart, might as well see what's out there and if it's affordable. From what I could tell, they don't make ceiling fans with wi-fi controls, but you would get a special wall switch. If anybody has any insight into this kind of home automation, please let me know. Thanks.

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I worked on a "home automation" project. what a disaster. here are some things that I learned. there are three questions that you have to ask before you start:

 

1) who else around you needs to use what you are doing (aka "the house"): wife? kids? house mates? guests? if the answer includes any of them you need to think about how much extra complexity you are adding to an already working, although dumb, system. if it's just you it's still a valid question. who else uses your abode? maid, gardener, guests.

 

2) do a survey of your skills. have you messed with 'lectricity before? does it still scare you? what about trouble shooting skills? if you fix your own car, computer, house already then you should not have a problem. but if you don't have a clue about AC versus DC, how to pull a wire or patch dry wall you might want to rethink everything. not that any of these tasks are hard to do. there are tons of books on home repair that will guide you. but learning these things while you are also installing your HA will only make everything harder.

 

3) are you good with tools? some people are not. this is not a big deal as you can learn. being bad with tools generally means you just haven't used tools. if you've been a homeowner for a while you very likely have everything that you need already. but some people don't have any tools and rely on their hired help.

 

4) how attached are you to Macintosh? most of the HA projects center around Windows. although the incredibly old Mister House runs on practically anything even a Raspberry Pi it has not been an active project for some time. but LinuxMCE is all kinds of modern. but it is Linux. meaning what? meaning it's not hard it's just different. but wait, you are trying to make your house more smart so Linux is the least of your worries.

 

http://misterhouse.sourceforge.net/

http://linuxmce.com/

 

and there's one last question. and it's likely the most important. can you finish projects? if you start things only to abandon a project because it's hard, you get bore or it costs too much DO NOT start a home automation project. especially if you answered YES to question #1. why do I say this? because HA is a long project. it's certainly not a one weekend and done kind of thing. given your list I'd say you're in for a 3-4 month job and more realistically longer. remember that you are taking a system that is WORKING and you are BREAKING it with the intent of making it better.

 

Edited by johnfoster

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the problem with Nest and this is actually the problem with all the houses that I've live in over the years is the that temperature controller for the entire house in somewhere in the middle, usually a hallway without any vents around it. that somehow this "average" point is close enough to where we live that it will make a difference.

 

thing is, it might as well be random.

 

I'm going to generalize for my examples. in the winter all the bedroom doors are shut to keep heat in the room. so the furnace stays on extra long because that hallway isn't getting air. if somebody remembers to turn down the heat to 55-60 then it's absolutely freezing when you move in the morning. the same with air conditioning in the summer. cold air falls into the basement pulling hot air from the attic making the air almost never shut off. it's a disaster.

 

the problem is in the design. in 40 years nearly nothing has changed about home building.

 

pretty much nobody gave thought to heating and cooling when the plethora of homes where being built post WWII. passive strategies have been shunned by builders who claim "the added cost of the home is not worth it to potential buyers." use of glass, rock, water and blinds could heat a house for nearly free. but nope, builders continue to make McMansions without a single thought to the energy cost over a century.

 

back the the Nest. it's problem is that it's replacing the dumbest of parts. a mechanical switch designed in a way that it does not need power. in fact when you look at it you would swear that it's right out of a steam punk artist's collection. so that switch while dumb does the job given it's stupid location just fine.

 

if you really wanted to get down on this project you could make a sensor / switch our of an Aruduino that: controls the on off by time, collects temperature readings over the week, sends that to you via email and tells you the running time of the heater while it's at it. the whole thing would cost about $50 in parts. the most expensive being the Bluetooth transmitter, a WiFi shield or a ZigBee radio to talk to get the Atmel MEGA to talk to you. you only need one of them BTW.

 

or skip the transmitter and pull a cable to the beastie. there's already a cable there kind of. you just have to snake some CAT5 there.

 

even better would be to make a bunch of temp collectors, park them around the house to do a survey of just how bad it really is. this is where I would start.

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Just to clarify, I wouldn't be doing any electrical work myself, like installing the fans. Though we're not afraid to change a light fixture, or install a speaker wire terminal in the wall. I figure since someone would be coming in to do electrical work anyways, if there was any additional hardware needed to turn those lights/fans into a HA system, now would be a good time to look into it.

 

Yes, I am looking for a mac/iOS compatible HA system. From what I gather, Insteon makes an aftermarket attachment which goes to the fan, though another solution is to replace the light switch with an HA one for ceiling fans.

 

I'm just trying to figure out if it's possible and/or worth it.

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johnfoster should talk to the Nest engineers about adding remote temperature sensors to their next update

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I'm sure they've had meetings about expanding with more sensors trying to answer "what good would that do?" question. this is a real problem. maybe you could fix the "bedroom is too hot when the door is closed when the heat is on" problem. but you really only need to monitor one room because vents in 99% of homes are not remote controllable. then there is the time problem where you stop watching one sensor and watch another. the UI starts to get ugly. okay, it doesn't get ugly if you demand that only one sensor will command the air. otherwise it would be easy to create situations where the furnace is running constantly.

 

vent automation is tricky. there are 3 ways to divert air. modify the existing floor or ceiling vent with a controller and motor, add a blocking mechanism inside the vent. this could be door like, it might inflate, an iris is always a possibility. the third way replaces the existing vent with a smart vent. this might be the better way to go because you could more easily leach power from a wall socket instead of trying to snake cables into a vent. which is technically not allowed in most states building codes (reference pulling network cable in previous jobs).

 

it's a hard problem to be sure.

Edited by johnfoster

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