Home Toys Article
- October 2002 -
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Home Control Systems, What they offer and how they differ.
Dan Fulmer, FulTech Solutions

Your final determination relies on a variety of factors including budget, functionality, upgradeablity, expandablility, confidence in installer and manufacturer. The major decision is to find a qualified systems integrator who can assist in making these determinations. The more experience or knowledge of a large variety of systems will give them the ability to offer a system designed just for your needs.

Dan Fulmer is president and founder of FulTech Solutions and the College of Smart. He is a regular contributor to several industry publications, has a patent-pending on the Universal Cabling System, and sits on training and education committees for the CEA. He can be reached at www.fultechsolutions.com or fultech@fultechsolutions.com.


Home Automation or home control can offer a variety of life enhancements based on functionality and performance of the equipment used and the planning and wiring infrastructure to support it. It can offer integration and control of just about any electrical or electronic device you can think of, and many you cannot. Much of this is based on the experience and knowledge of the installer on the various systems available, the infrastructure they provide for the system, and how the components communicate and work with each other. A basic structured cabling system, usually 2 RG6 and 2 Cat5e per outlet, allows for a video-in, video-out, telephone and a network jack at each location. This does not address any options related to home automation or systems integration. It is paramount that you determine you desire home automation and add the infrastructure to support it, during construction. Sub-systems can include lighting control, HVAC, security, audio/video control, CCTV, pool/spa, drapes and blinds and more. An additional consideration is user interface, how do you use the system. There are keypads, touchscreens, voice recognition, palm devices that interface and web interfacing. A home automation or control system usually requires additional planning, design and cabling to support them. This is where a qualified systems integrator is worth his weight in gold. Their experience and knowledge of the various sub-systems and control systems allow them to design a system around your budget and immediate and future needs.

I have two classifications for home control or automation systems; independent control and integrated control.

Independent Control System

With the independent control system, various sub-systems of the home (lighting, HVAC, security, etc) are distinctly separate components but can also be controlled or automated with a single central controller or 2 or more that communicate with each other. The lights may be using X10, PLC or be hardwired switches, the HVAC system could be communicating via RS485 and the security system uses RS232 and can be any on the market. Each component can be by the same or different manufacturer. The basis here is the type of communication protocols used and whether your central control system is capable to "talking" to all of your devices. The more robust or capable the control system, the more protocols it supports and the easier the user interface(s) is the use and access, the more it will typically cost.

PROS: The benefits to this type of system are the wider variety of choices and options available for any of the sub-systems, the variety in the number (quantity) of sub-systems and components you can control and the quality of the human interface (ie. toucshcreens) and controls. Additionally, with this type of system, all sub-systems still retain manual control capabilities (lights, AC, security), and are usually non-proprietary in most ways. So if one sub-system or component goes down or if the control or interface is damaged, other components can still be controlled or each one from the thermostat, security keypad or light switch, etc, accordingly. You are basically integrating separate components and touchscreens by connecting them to a central control system that is capable of communicating with and between each of them. These systems also offer a larger variety of interfacing capabilities, keypads, voice or touchscreen, although the integrated systems are now offering web and palm device type interfaces. Adding sub-systems or components later is on limited by the infrastructure provided. The entire system can be exchanged, upgraded or scaled at any time.

CONS: An independent control system is often more complex to program and implement due to the variety of protocols and options it supports. An independent system can also be more costly as each component is purchased and installed separately. Few of these systems are user programmable, thus a service call may be required to update or change the programming.

Integrated Control System

The integrated control system is where all of the sub-systems of the home are directly connected to, and dependant on a single central control system to operate. Usually the same manufacturer as the control system must make the components you are controlling.

PROS: This usually consist of a basic system "infrastructure" providing a security system which additional components, cards or boards can be added to increase functionality and capabilities. So adding capabilities is typically pretty simple and relatively inexpensive. Also implementation of these systems can be much less difficult as it is designed specifically for the components it is controlling. An integrated control system can be less expensive than an independent control system as the products are bundled into a single package. Some are user programmable, so changing dates and times is relatively easy for the consumer to do. There are usually direct copies of single, easy to use interface at various locations throughout the home.

CONS: These systems are usually limited in the number of components they can control, but many can be cascaded or piggy backed to support more control or larger systems. These systems are also limited in capabilities and options as you are usually limited to the same manufacturers products, so if you don't like their lighting control products you may be out of luck. They are proprietary in some limiting ways and if wired in a proprietary manner, you may be limited to their systems for future upgrades.

Your final determination relies on a variety of factors including budget, functionality, upgradeablity (ease of adding feature later), expandablility (ease of adding new products from different manufacturers later), confidence in installer and manufacturer to start. The major decision is to find a qualified systems integrator who can assist in making these determinations. The more experience or knowledge of a large variety of systems will give them the ability to offer a system designed just for your needs.

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