Home Automation Tips and Tricks

Entry 1- Bedroom AssistantMark Knickelbein mark@bstar.net West Allis, WI, USA

I happened to have a spare sound card in my computer. Figuring I needed to utilize it somehow, I wired it into my bedroom stereo, however I could’ve just used any cheap speakers for it. Using Keware’s (www.keware.com) free ActiveX control for the CM11A, and Microsoft’s free Text-To-Speech technology (http://www.microsoft.com/iit/), I built myself a Visual Basic program that would do this all by using my X10 Palm Pad at my bedside. (Computer is even in another room) 

  1. Read the time/date to me by pressing one button 
  2. Pull off the internet the local weather report and read it to me 
  3. Allow me to play predownloaded MP3’s (It asks for the predefined number of it, of which I have a list of all numbers. 10 keys on my palm pad double as numbers when asking for this) 
  4. Allows me to play a playlist of MP3s already downloaded 
  5. Allows me to set my alarm, and my alarm works with predefinded and chosen WAV files, and also turns on the room lights 
  6. I am working in support for checking my email right now

Components used: 
Separate Speakers – $10 cheapies do the trick nicely 
Speaker Extension cords – $20 (Or, you can opt to use an X10 video/audio sender) 
Separate sound card – about $20 
CM11A – $50

Comes out to a total of about $100, but for me, I already had all the things I needed already to put it together; you may too.

Entry 2 – Automatic Dog Door C.N. Rush cnrush@ccnmail.com Woodland Ca. USA

The Story:

We have a female Golden Retriever that is part of the family, While we are at work we would always open the regular dog door so she would have free run of the house and be able to go outside and do her business. (this also contributes to our house never being broke into)

The Problem:

On more than one occasion, we have come home to find our house a total mess, It seems at times a cat would find its way in and all hell broke loose.

The Solution:

An electric Dog door? After looking into some these we decided they were much more expensive than what we wanted to pay, so we figured Sadie would be left outside while we were working.

One weekend while I was bored going through the garage, I decided I would try to make a pan and tilt base for our outside camera. Well after tearing apart a few of the kids broken RC toy cars for the servo’s, I spotted that old electric antenna, then it hit me! (The same way it does most home inventors that are bored) The rest is history 🙂

How it is done:

I opened up the wall (should of seen the wife’s face) and started at it. I started where the old dog door was and just made it a little wider, 16 inches (the distance between two studs).

I placed two strips of 1/2″ channel iron up both studs four feet high for the track. At the top of the track I have a 2×4 going between the studs that holds the electric antenna, after figuring the throw of the antenna I cut it and fed the end through a piece of 3/8 plywood that is 15 3/4 wide by 2 feet tall. (See Diagram) I then took an old Radio Shack Car alarm that I have and wired the part that activates the headlight when the alarm goes off to the antenna motor. To test it I hooked up a 12 volt power supply to the alarm. The door went up real nice, But I soon came to figure out I couldn’t put it down. So I went to Radio Shack and picked up a couple of relay switches and wired them between the alarm and the antenna motor. The top switch when hit by the door when it comes up reverses the power and sends the door down. The bottom switch when hit by the door cuts the power and reverses the polarity so it will go back up once the alarm is activated. 

Well after playing around a bit to get the adjustments on the switches just right I had to figure out how to make it open for the dog, knowing she was not going to push the buttons herself I opened up the hand transmitter for the alarm and took out the LED light and soldered the panic function of the transmitter together.. This worked real well.. In fact the door just started going up and down, up and down…. So I disconnected the 12 volt power supply and opened up the alarm and removed the antenna wire on the alarm.. This helped a lot as the door did not start to open until you got within about 10 feet of the dog door, but that was still more than I wanted, So I took some clear silicone and placed it over the connection point of the alarm wire antenna, put the cover back on the alarm and it worked great.. now when the hand transmitter is within about four feet of the door it opens. We sowed the transmitter into Sadies coller and walked her towards the door, she jumped back the first few times it started opening but after a few times walking her to it she got use to it. I considered hard wiring the 12 volt power supply in the wall to permanent electricity but decided against it for fear of maybe it would overheat and start a fire.. so the power supply cord comes through the wall about two feet away just under a plug in receptacle and plugs right into it.. This way we can unplug the power if there is any problems or if we go someplace with Sadie we can unplug it.

This project may seem hard to make, But I was able to do it in a weekend. We have been using this dog door now for over a year and the only maintenance so far has been to replace the battery in the transmitter twice. It is easier than what it seems, but you should have some knowledge of electrical work. Also, the way the switches are setup the door will come right back down after it hits the top switch.. This has not been a problem of the door hitting the dog, You could use a timer that would close the door after say a few seconds if you were concerned with this. The amp output is low so the door does not move as fast as the antenna would if it was connected to your car.


Old Electric Antenna Motor ($5.00 Dollars at a wrecking yard) I had one. 
Old Radio Shack Car Alarm (Cheap at any flea market) I had one. 
8′ piece aluminum channel iron ($4.00 at Home Depot) 
2 12 volt relay Switches ($7.00 at Radio Shack) 
12 volt power supply (Everyone has a few of these laying around) 
Plywood for dog door. (Cheap, I had plenty in the garage)

Total cost for me to make was under 15 dollars verses almost $200.00 for a commercial door.

Entry 3 – Broken, but not worthlessC.N. Rush cnrush@ccnmail.com Woodland Ca. USA

I took a Broken PhoneMate cordless phone with a built in digital answering machine and made it into a combination doorbell and outside answering machine.

When someone comes to the door and presses what looks like an intercom doorbell it will either notify us in the house that someone is at the door or allow them to leave a 30 second message if we are not home.

On the Phonemate digital answering machine it has a button to press so you can leave a 30 second memo for someone in the house, It also has that nifty little button so if you loose your phone you can press it and it makes the phone beep so you can find it, When you press the button to find the phone it will make the same beep on the machine as it does the phone.

I bought a 4in x 4in x 2in enclosure from Radio Shack. I opened up the answering machine and removed the combination speaker mic and placed it in the inclosure, I drilled a bunch of small holes in the enclosure BEFORE putting in the speaker-mic so the sound would not be muffled. I put a momentary contact switch on the enclosure that would act as the door bell switch. I drilled a hole through the wall to run the wires into the house and inset the inclosure into the outside wall so only about 1/2 inch of the inclosure sticks out (cosmetic looks). I then took the wires from the speaker-mic and wired them back to the same place on the answering machine as they were before. 

Now comes the tricky part. I took the wires coming from the momentary contact switch and connected them to a three way switch I had added to the answering machine. I have one wire from the three way switch soldered to the lost phone button on the circuit board and I have another soldered to the memo button on the board. The third goes to the common ground on the board. I put a plain little speaker back in the answering machine in the same place as the speaker-mic was. I closed it all back up and mounted the answering machine inside the house directly behind the outside enclosure. 

Now, when someone presses the button on the outside enclosure it will make the sound like the phone is lost letting us know someone is at the door. If we leave, we switch the inside three way switch that I put in the answering machine and then when someone presses the button they get a quick message saying (We are unable to come to the door right now, Please leave a message – This is programmable to say what you want) and then just by speaking into the outside speaker-mic it will record their message up to 30 seconds. When we come home, the memo light on the answering machine will be blinking to let us know we have messages and we can play them back.

Parts Used:

1 Broken Phonemate Digital cordless answering machine phone ($45.00 at Frys) ps. It worked a whole 2 weeks 
1 4x4x2inch Inclosure ($7.00 Radio Shack) 
1 Momentary contact switch ($1.50 Radio Shack) 
1 Three way Switch ($3.50 Radio Shack) 
1 three inch speaker ($5.00 Radio Shack) 
Some wire I had laying around the house

Total Cost for this project was about $17.00 because I already had the broken phone answering machine.

PS. I used a larger outside enclosure than was needed because I am planning on installing a board camera in with it someday.

Entry 4 – Remote Controlled ChurchTim Shephard  tim.shephard@bigfoot.com Suisun, CA, USA 

My father is in charge of recording the sermons at his church. He also has to ring the bells for the classrooms when the class is over. He used to have to get up and miss part of the sermon or his class to do this. That was before automation!

Now with a wireless Palmpad remote, receiver, and a universal module, he can handle all of this without missing a verse.