This article is an excerpt from a report entitled, Home Automation and Utility Customer Services, written by Dr. Wacks and published by Cutter Information Corporation. Please see the Cutter web site ( ) for an outline of the report and ordering information.

Figure 1. Home Automation Networks

The full report is intended to guide energy utility companies in developing new customer services that use home automation networks. This except focuses on the creation and definition of the SMART HOUSE system. An excerpt in the October issue of HTINews summarized the Echelon LonTalk® protocol. The CEBus® protocol was featured in the August issue of HTINews. The full report covers additional protocols including BatiBUS, European Home Systems, European Installation Bus (EIB), the Home Bus System from Japan, Home Electronic System (HES, an international standard), and X-10®, as shown in Figure 1.

The Formation and Marketing of SMART HOUSE

In 1984 the U.S. Congress passed the “Cooperative Research and Development Act” that allows companies to collaborate on R&D, but not on marketing, in a private consortium without violating antitrust laws. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington, D.C. formed the SMART HOUSE Limited Partnership (L.P.). The NAHB then invited companies to consider membership in SMART HOUSE. The intent of SMART HOUSE was to allow three competing manufacturers per SMART HOUSE component or product to join the consortium.

Viking Electronics
SMART HOUSE has about 25 manufacturers who have signed formal contracts, called “Research and Licensing Agreements,” to develop products. Another 25 companies have formed business affiliations with SMART HOUSE to develop applications. Most of the $50 million in capital for SMART HOUSE was provided by wealthy builders and loan guarantees from the NAHB. In 1992, two manufacturers of electrical connectors, AMP, Inc. and Molex, teamed to buy all the rights to the SMART HOUSE technology and to provide additional funds for the SMART HOUSE L.P. to continue system development.

The NAHB is one of the largest trade and Congressional lobbying associations in the United States. It represents about 85% of the builders of residential and light-frame commercial buildings. Because of the initial NAHB sponsorship, SMART HOUSE is intended for the new home market. The fundamental goal of SMART HOUSE is to provide integrated wiring for all current home services and to include provisions for home automation technology. Cost savings are promised from reduced labor to install an integrated wiring system. The actual cost of a SMART HOUSE system depends on the services supported and the builder markup. Prices have ranged from $2000 for SMART HOUSE apartment wiring to more than $15,000 for a house with wiring, electronics, and various applications.

In August 1997, SMART HOUSE L.P. was restructured and ceased selling the SMART HOUSE technology. Nevertheless, an overview of this technology is significant historically because it was the first widely-marketed integrated home automation system. The current status of SMART HOUSE is described at the end of this article.

Overview of the SMART HOUSE System

SMART HOUSE is promoted for the following home automation applications: entertainment, lighting, HVAC control, and interface between an existing security system and a SMART HOUSE control panel.

The SMART HOUSE L.P. has developed a proprietary system design. Following are the key technological features of SMART HOUSE.


General contractors who build houses must deal with many trades-people when installing wiring. Different persons are responsible for the electrical wiring, the telephone wiring, a security system, cable television wiring, and so forth. A typical new house may have more than a dozen wiring systems. A motivation for the SMART HOUSE concept was the creation of a unified wiring bundle that would substitute for the diverse collection of wires. A single electrician could then handle all the wiring, thus lowering the total cost of the job and easing the problem of scheduling different installers.

SMART HOUSE wiring consists of three cable groups:

– Branch Cabling: power + digital data

The Branch Cabling includes a conventional power cable and a digital data cable to minimize mutual interference and reduce costs. The digital cable consists of four pairs of twisted-pair wires.

– Applications Cable: digital data + DC voltage for sensors

– Communications Cable: video coax + telephone wires

SMART HOUSE Communications

The digital signalling wires accommodate appliance control, status, and message data. The system topology consists of a star with branches corresponding to the present electrical branch circuits.

A System Controller is located at the hub of the star. Physically, the System Controller is placed adjacent to the electric load center containing the circuit breakers. This location is called the Service Center because it also contains an uninterruptible power supply, surge suppressors, ground-fault circuit interrupters, the head-end for the coaxial cable system, and the telephone gateway.

The System Controller performs system management functions, handles the routing of data between appliances, and provides scheduling for selected services in the house. The use of a System Controller for all message transfers is different from most other home automation infrastructures.

Figure 2. Example of SMART HOUSE Topology


The SMART HOUSE topology is illustrated in Figure 2. (The SMART HOUSE Communications Cable is not shown.) Note that only wired media are specified. Also, all message routing functions are handled by the System Controller. SMART HOUSE has defined a formal language for appliance control and status messages.

In SMART HOUSE, wall switches are not wired directly to outlets, as is done conventionally. Instead, all wall switches attach to Applications Cables that contain a communications channel. When a switch is thrown, a signal is sent to the System Controller. The controller then decides, based on a preprogrammed table, which lights or outlets to operate. This provides flexibility to accommodate relocation of lamps, for example. Also, this switch assignment might change according to the time of day. The same switch could turn on ventilation in the daytime and a lamp at night.

SMART HOUSE specifies a dual coaxial cable system. The “down stream” cable carries external video signals from sources such as cable television, satellite dishes, or an antenna. The other cable, called the “up stream,” collects video signals from sources within the house, including closed-circuit cameras, VCRs, and computer screens. A head-end located in the SMART HOUSE Service Center combines the in-house signals with the external signals for distribution on the down stream cable.

Other SMART HOUSE Features

– Telephone Gateway

This unit is located in the Service Center. It provides two key functions: an in-house telephone intercom and access to the house for remote control operation.

– Uninterruptible Power Supply

The Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is a 12-volt direct-current source of power. It is converted from the mains supply to operate the SMART HOUSE electronics. Filters provide a low ripple supply that minimizes false tripping of occupancy detectors. The intent is to retain the operation of alarms, security devices, and memory in the SMART HOUSE electronics.

The Restructuring of SMART HOUSE

In August 1997 SMART HOUSE L.P. was dissolved and the assets transferred to a new company, SMART HOUSE, Inc. The organization was relocated from suburban Washington, D.C. to Raleigh, North Carolina. The focus of the new company is franchising home automation through independent dealers.

SMART HOUSE L.P. achieved significant name recognition. National exposure for SMART HOUSE started in 1985. A trade show featuring SMART HOUSE was staged in Canada two years later. The close ties with the NAHB provide SMART HOUSE, Inc. with good will among home builders. The company is seeking to exploit this value. SMART HOUSE, Inc. will select products for endorsement, installation, and servicing through the franchise network.

The President of SMART HOUSE, Inc., Mark Tipton, summarized the value of the new company: “When people hear SMART HOUSE, they immediately think of the home and the intelligent things that can be installed in it. Our dealers will be able to leverage our name, our expertise, and our service network to build their businesses. Home automation is a growth industry with accelerating opportunities for the top notch dealer network that we can now provide.”

© Copyright 1997, Kenneth P. Wacks