A question that comes up again and again in home automation is “Do I have to hire a professional company to automate my home or can I do it myself using my own computer to drive the system?” That should be a straightforward “Yes/No” kind of question, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. The answer is “Yes, it’s possible,” but the answer may also be “No, you don’t want to try and do it yourself.” Let’s have a look at some of the benefits and pitfalls of attempting to do this as a home handyman project.
For starters, you are talking about using a home computer to run the system. Sales of PC’s are way down, because most people are moving into a tablet or laptop system. But you can’t run this type of technology on a computer you take with you. If this is going to run your house, it has to be on all day every day, when you’re on holidays, when you’re at work, when you’re asleep. That means the first thing you’ll need is a very sturdy computer to become the 24/7 server that operates your house.
Then you’ll need software. Here’s where it starts to get tricky. There are many different ways of controlling devices in a home. The big companies like Crestron and AMX have their own protocols, languages and methods that take years to master. You don’t have the time or money to learn these systems, so you have to look at something simpler.
Software like Home Director of Homeseer is often based on the assumption that you are going to use “X10” devices. There are many devices made for X10 control, including lights, thermostats and TV remotes. X10’s main trick is that it sends signals through the power lines that are already inside the walls of your house. That eliminates the need to run new wire, but it is also a system that can drop messages or misinterpret cable noise as a command (for example, turn on a light when you don’t want it on) The signal can also bleed into your neighbour’s wiring. A system called Insteon was devised to address these problems, but they can still happen.
If this is making you nervous, you could look at a system based on UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) which is a bit more reliable, but there just aren’t as many devices available for it. Maybe the answer is to go wireless.
Still with me? If you choose to do your own wireless system, you can look at open-source technologies like Zigbee. You still have to be careful, because even though all Zigbee is supposed to be the same, the truth is it isn’t. A better bet might be to try Z-Wave. It’s controlled by one company so there are fewer compatibility issues. What does it take to make a device work? Let’s imagine for a moment you are using Homeseer on a PC and you want to control a light wirelessly on Z-Wave. Here are the instructions for setting it up, as described by Zack Stern in PC World:
Let’s say you want to configure a hallway lamp. Attach a lamp module to your outlet. You’ll use a Z-Wave remote to connect the lamp module to your Z-Wave network: Position the Z-Stick Series 2 (or a similar computer adapter) next to the lamp module. Push the button on the USB adapter, and then push the main button on the lamp module. The two will pair, and the USB adapter will store this information for the PC.
Turn your lamp on, and connect it to the Z-Wave module. (The lamp should stay dark.)
Connect the USB adapter to your PC. Install any driver software if needed, and import the lamp details into the HS2 software. You configure the software in a Web browser (which is great for accessing the HomeSeer PC from a networked computer of any OS). Click through to the Interface tab to attach the Z-Wave USB adapter.
Most important, be sure to configure the correct COM Port. With the USB adapter attached, open Device Manager and pick Ports. Check the port number of the USB stick, and enter that back in the HS2 configuration page; if you have the wrong COM Port, the software won’t show the adapter, and it won’t reveal a clear error either. When you’ve configured the software properly, you can import the details about the Z-Wave lamp module. You can now control the lamp from your PC, turning it on, shutting it off, and setting the brightness.
Once it’s installed, you might want to control it from offsite with software like GoToMyPC.
Did you feel comfortable with those instructions? That project is described as an “easy” one. I know there are some of you who will read that and say “No problem.” If so, you are probably the best candidates to take on automating your home as a hobby. But whether you think you’re ready to do it or not, be prepared for a system that still isn’t up to Crestron standards. When you use the real thing, you get leading edge technology that will do so much more than turn lights on and off. When you use a professional home automation company, you will be getting an experienced designer to develop the perfect system for you based on your needs. You will be getting a free-standing system that doesn’t depend on your PC or the internet to run. And you will be getting the technical support of someone with a career commitment to this technology. A simple system as a weekend hobby could be fun, but when it comes to true whole home automation, some things are just worth paying for.
The experts at OneTouch Automation are here to help. We are dedicated to selling you no more and no less than exactly what you need to give you the electronic lifestyle you want. Contact us today for a consultation.