Thinking about home automation? Wondering if it is right for you? Wondering if you need it? Is it worth it? What can a home automation system do for you? Anyone who is considering this purchase, and has not yet experienced the enhanced lifestyle of living with a home automation system, asks those same questions.

The objective of this Discussion Paper is to provide you with a primer regarding the issues that must be considered when contemplating the installation of a Home Automation System. This paper has been written to ensure that all areas of your home, inside and out, all systems types, and all control types, are thoroughly evaluated to simplify your life, while living, in your home.

In this discussion paper we will briefly review five areas that a prospective buyer should investigate and include in their analysis. Depending on individual needs and lifestyle, some items may be more relevant than others. Those major areas that should be addressed are: 1) Cost, 2) Extent of Control, 3) Methods of Control, 4) Items To Be Controlled, and 5) Types of Systems.

This primer is not intended to be the final word in selecting a home automation system. There are many sources to assist you in this decision making process. Two good reference sources are Electronic House Magazine & Home Automation Magazine. Also, most designers, dealers, and installation companies are ready and willing to answer your questions.
System Costs

Cost is always a major factor when considering and designing a Home Automation system. An independent consultant or a reputable dealer can offer many options for your system. The consultant or dealer can assist you with an analysis of your needs, desires, and the cost to fulfill them. The good news is, in today?s marketplace of home automation systems, there is seldom a budget that cannot be met. However, think long-term. Shortsighted decisions can be very costly in the long run. Plan ahead.

On A Limited Budget

Consider an expandable system that utilizes either PLC or one of the wireless protocols (See Types of Systems) for controlling each element or event

Limit the areas to be controlled (See Extent Of Control)

Reduce the capacity of the controller to perform only the functions you need

Shop for the best prices. There are over 100 control manufactures

Do-It-Yourself is a possibility if you have the time, tools, and skills to do the project

An Unlimited Budget

Provide control and monitoring for every device on your property, and every common situation which could arise

Utilize the best installation companies with the best references and most advanced equipment to ensure perfect results

Review the system, as needed, to change with your lifestyle on an ongoing basis

Provide wiring or empty conduits to every possible area for future control use.

Extent Of Control

Lighting should always be the first consideration in any control system. The following areas of required lighting are listed in order of importance:

1st Level – Selected exterior, entry and main pathways or hallways

2nd Level – Balance of the exterior, living room, kitchen and garage

3rd Level – Balance of the common areas, master bedroom and bathroom

4th Level – Balance of the homes? interior and the exterior of the property

Once all four levels of lighting control are included in the home automation system, additional capabilities can be added as desired and as finances permit. Some of the more popular areas that are added to home automation systems are audio and video control, and home/property security, home data and voice networks, and other technology integration capabilities. You no longer have to look at a wall full of switches and thermostats like the one shown here.
Methods Of Control

There are many options for controlling the home automation system. What we have included here are the primary devices that might be touched on a daily basis to perform tasks controlled by the system. Operation, simplicity, appearance, cost, and reliability are all significant considerations when considering options for controlling the home automation system.

Keypad ?A keypad is the least costly method to control light fixtures, lighting scenes, audio/video equipment, or other devices. These are wall plates, similar to a regular wall switch plate with 2 to 8 buttons on them. You simply press a button to initiate the desired action. A single button press may activate only one light fixture, many fixtures located anywhere in the home, or lighting with A/V events simultaneously. Each plate has an engraved description as to what each button will activate. Buttons can be illuminated for locating them in the dark.

LCD Touch Screen ? Considered the ?Cadillac? of control panels, an LCD Touch Screen controls everything a keypad does plus it can display an array of additional information. The display may include such things as video camera shots, email, weather, and stock quotes. These can be presented on a grayscale screen or on full color screens. In addition, the information is presented in real-time. Essential for HVAC and monitoring, LCD screens provide enhanced control of the lighting, audio/video systems, security, and the capability to control the entire home from any room.

Hand Held Remote Control ? Similar to a standard universal remote control that you use for your television, DVD player, VCR, or any other electronic equipment, a Hand-Held Remote Control is used to provide portable, in home, control of any function available in the home automation system.

PDA / PC ? Control systems can be completely computerized and, if you choose, web-enabled. This capability allows you to perform complete control and monitoring functions from any personal computer or PDA device, either while you are at home, or from anywhere in the world where you can get access to the Internet.

Timed Events ? Employing a computer-controlled system typically includes software that can be programmed to initiate activities. This capability provides the ability to trigger, or initiate, pre-defined events at pre-scheduled times or under predefined conditions. For example, the system can be programmed to turn off all interior lights, turn on exterior security lights, and lock all doors at 11:00pm. Or it can be programmed to monitor the weather, and if rain is sensed by an outdoor sensor, the system can check that all windows are closed, or if the windows are motorized, automatically close them.

Sensors ? There are many sensors, which, based on a predefined set of conditions, can trigger a programmed event in the control system, without your interaction. This wide range of sensors can be used to simplify daily living, and to increase the performance of your home. Most people are familiar with the standard motion sensor. These devices can be installed indoors or outside, to trigger events day or night, if motion is detected in the vicinity of the sensor. Sensors are available to react to anything from water to heat to daylight to a pump motor starting. Sensors may be the most important item to enhance how you live in your home.
Items To Be Controlled

The list of controllable items, and events, is bound only by your imagination and cost. Start with lighting, which is, by far, the most important for safety and comfort, and then expand as you wish.

A single Light fixture and groups of fixtures

Audio and/or Video service to different rooms

HVAC control to increase the daily comfort level and to decrease energy usage.

Security system interface to control lighting and/or notify authorities during alarm activation conditions

Water flow monitoring to prevent interior flood damage from burst pipes

Window shades, to provide privacy, heat gain/loss and UV protection for your belongings

Control the windows themselves, so when pre-defined conditions are met (indoor temperature, outdoor temperature, wind speed), they will open and let the cool breezes in, turn off the air-conditioning system, and save on electrical costs

Fireplaces may be controlled to have the flame ignite for an event or ?scene?

Receive email, or any other type of information on the LCD Touch Screen to have up to the second information

Web-enable the entire system so you can keep track of probably your most expensive asset (your home) from anyplace in the world.

Types Of Systems

There are several types of systems, or commonly called system protocols, that perform home control to suit your needs and budget. Following is a brief description of each.

Power Line Carrier (PLC): This technology, or protocol, has existed for over 20 years. Used for existing homes and expanding existing systems. A command signal is transmitted over you existing 120 volt home wiring. Some PLC systems are subject to interference from other electrical devices in your home, creating unanswered or false commands.

Wireless Protocols: Wireless technology, sometimes referred to as ?RF?, or radio frequency, control systems, have existed for over 10 years. RF systems are sometimes used in new construction. However, RF is more commonly used for existing homes, and for expanding existing hardwired systems. A command signal is transmitted by radio waves (RF) to the controller. Systems using this technology have been experiencing increasing reliability and dependability. Some interference from other radio-operated devices may cause unwanted results in some homes.

Hardwired Systems: This technology has existed for over 40 years. Hardwired systems create a communications network within the home that is impervious to the problems that are sometimes suffered by the other protocols described above. This technology is most always used in new construction due to the extremely reliable communication by a data path over wire placed in the walls before they are covered. This is known as ?pre-wiring? the home for automation and control. Each control device has copper wire connecting it to the main controller. This system should also be used during major home remodels and controlling other sections of the home not being remodeled with one of the wireless methods described above.

So which type of system should you use for your project? A hardwired system is always the preferable choice when building activity and budgets allow. This type of system eliminates any possibility of interference from other sources. In addition, this type of system will have the most programmable control possibilities.

All of these various types of control systems should have the capability of interfacing with other systems in your home. However, you should determine the extent of control, and controlling method, before selecting a system type.

A home automation system will be a welcomed addition to any home. Consider the benefits such systems provide; controlling the lighting to provide a warm pleasant area for living, to brightly illuminate any area for safety, home security, energy savings, and even remote access to control the operation of your home.

If you have experienced an early example of ?modern home automation? that did not meet your expectations, then it is time to re-visit the new, lower priced control systems that are available in the market today. As with all technology over the past ten years, the improvements have been extraordinary. Installation companies are now being factory trained. The equipment is much more ?user-friendly?. There is no longer the ?what does this button do? confusion regarding the systems? use and operation.

Still confused? Contact us! We will help clear up the questions.

Clear Lighting and Electrical Design welcomes any questions you may have. Our Home Technology Integration team is standing by to assist you with the design and selection process of a Home Automation System for your home.