Basic Home Automation Guide

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aptalca Offline
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Post: #1
Well, I literally just got into automation. I received all the hardware in the mail yesterday, but I was prepared software-wise (did a ton of research), so it only took about an hour to set it all up. Here's my little guide to setting it up.

First of all, the two best options (if you're on a budget and want to do it all yourself) for home automation are: z-wave and x10. (For others, there are systems you can have installed by professionals and they include control 4, crestron, knx, etc. but they are beyond the scope of this guide)

Z-wave is all wireless rf, more reliable, more secure and has 2-way communication, but it is a little pricier (each lamp module costs about $35).

X10 is the cheapest system by far, each lamp module costs about $7. It is a combo of rf and power-line signals. Most of the lamp/appliance modules receive power-line signals and they sell transceiver modules that receive the rf from remotes and convert it to power-line signals. Most modules are one way, meaning you cannot poll them, and if the module happens to not receive the command (due to noise in the power line) the software may think the light is on, but in fact it will be off.


With that said, I decided to go with X10 just to try it out. I didn't want to spend a ton of money upfront.

Here is what I purchased:

1) $49.99 - Complete software package + USB device (CM15A)
[INDENT]This came with the USB device that plugs into the computer and the powerline. It is the main controller and can send and receive both rf and plc signals. It also came with Activehome Pro and all of its main plugins including ActivePhone (which was essential for eventghost interaction)[/INDENT]

2) $6 each - Dimming/Soft-Start lamp modules (LM465)
[INDENT]You plug the lamp into the module and plug the module into the wall. You set the house code and unit code on the device. Pretty simple. (Works only for incandescent bulbs, not halogen, not fluorescent and not energy saving because they are not compatible with the dimming function. For those you have to get an appliance module that does not dim)[/INDENT]

3) $11 - Transceiver/appliance module (RR501)
[INDENT]This device converts rf signals to plc and also has a built-in appliance module for basic on/off. I plugged my halogen lamp into this. (This is not required as the CM15A usb device also acts as a transceiver, but I put this in a another room to increase rf range and I also needed an appliance module)[/INDENT]

4) $5 - Stick-on-wall light switch (SS13A)
[INDENT]This is a very thin remote that can control three devices and you can stick it on a wall and it looks just like a regular light switch. You can also carry it around and use it as a remote.[/INDENT]


ActiveHome Pro software is pretty capable with macros and all. It was very easy to figure out. ActivePhone plugin lets you use it through any cell phone with a browser and also introduces an http api that eventghost can send commands to.


How it all comes together:

1) XBMC needs to broadcast events
[INDENT]Cinema Experience took care of it. Details right here[/INDENT]
2) You need to receive these events
[INDENT]Latest eventghost comes with the xbmc event receiver plugin. Details here[/INDENT]
3) Eventghost needs to send commands through http
[INDENT]A python script takes care of that. When you add a macro, select "Python script" under "Eventghost" and enter the following code:[/INDENT]
Code:
import urllib2

urllib2.urlopen('http://127.0.0.1:8777/image?Act=sendplc&State=0&X10Cmd=On&X10Addr=C2')

[INDENT]The url is the command to turn on device at house code C unit number 2 through the powerline using ActivePhone. For more info on commands, click here[/INDENT]

My current macros include:

1) When Cinema Experience (CE) trivia starts, turn lights on and off three times and remain on.
2) When CE trailers start, dim the lights to 30%
3) When CE movie starts, turn the lights on and off three times and remain off. (To let my wife know that the movie is starting, she's usually in the kitchen making popcorn or salsa at this point)
4) When paused, turn lights on
5) When resumed, turn lights off
6) When movie is over, turn lights on

My near future automation additions:

1) $149 - X10 security system. 19-piece, includes security panel, door/window sensors, motion sensors, palmpad remote and keychain remotes
2) $5 - X10 Motion sensors (MS14A). So hallway and bathroom lights automatically turn on when I get up to go to the bathroom at night
3) $87 - Add-A-Motor blind and drapery controller. Plug this into an X10 appliance module and you can control your curtains with a remote or have them open and close at preset times.


Alternative Solutions:


Plugin: The ActivePhone plugin normally sells for $10, although I got it bundled with the Activehome on a special sale. If you don't want to spend $10 on that, you can check out X10 Commander. The server side of it is free and has an http api through ActiveHome SDK. Find out about its commands right here


Software: Instead of ActiveHome Pro, you can also use Homeseer with the built-in CM15A plugin and the free ActiveHome SDK. This software plugin adds the http api. The only downside is that Homeseer Pro software sells for about $600. But it is compatible with Z-wave as well, so you would be able to mix and match X10 and Z-wave devices. I am considering doing this in the near future, when I will start switching to Z-wave modules one by one. But I think I will keep using X10 for a security alarm since it is much cheaper and easier than Z-wave alarms.


Hardware: If you want to go with a hardware controller, I have read really good reviews about Mi Casa Verde's Vera 2. It's pretty much a tiny linux box with automation software preloaded that sells for under $250. Compatible with Z-wave (out of the box) and X10 (X10 usb device not included)

I decided to go with a software only solution on windows because the same windows server also runs sab/couchpotato/sickbeard. I use an old laptop that runs xp pro for this since it is energy efficient and win 7's security features kinda piss me off. (Certain software such as eventghost need to be run as administrator and it was a major pain to have it start automatically on system startup) I have the laptop in a closet and access it through remote dektop when I need to.

There are up and coming linux software but most of them are not ready for prime time yet. The main problem with X10 is that the usb device CM15A is still being reverse engineered and the linux drivers are not yet complete. Hopefully when they are more mature, I will get rid of the windows server altogether, and move sab/couchpotato/sickbeard and the automation setup to the unraid media server.

I hope this helps anyone who is interested in getting started in home automation.



***UPDATE***


I have been using this setup for several months now and here are my observations:

X10's wireless range has been pretty bad in my experience. The wireless switches (or remotes) work in the same room, but through walls, the reliability goes down significantly. The X10 security system turned out to be complete garbage due to wireless issues. Read my rant and comparison here. I replaced it with a Vista 20p and couldn't be happier.

Although wireless is bad, I have not had any problems with their powerline signal transmission. They have been 100% reliable. I also moved during this time and it worked perfectly fine in both of the houses. (The xbmc controlled lights work through powerline transmission, so that part still works really well)


The next step for me will be to transition into zwave. I am planning to completely deck out my new place with zwave switches for all the lights, zwave locks for the front and back doors and integrate the alarm system with it for remote control as well. But it will have to wait a little, as moving turned out to be pretty expensive.

To do all that I will be using Mi Casa Verde's Vera 2 (or maybe 3 if it's out by then). It is very cost effective and there is a ton of support and plugins being written for it (including a very nice plugin for control of Vista 20p, my security system). Not to mention it is pretty much Vera's custom software running on a wireless router with a usb port, so it uses very little power and doesn't need a computer to be on 24/7.
(This post was last modified: 2011-12-15 19:17 by aptalca.)
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Juanflaco Offline
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Post: #2
Thanks for putting this together - very helpful. I'll be looking to do something similar, albeit with a simple IR dimmer. If I understand the process correctly, the final process will look something like this...

1. CE script broadcasts events which are received by eventGhost.
2. EventGhost sends the macro via USB to USB-UIRT (a $50 USB connected IR Receiver/Transmitter)
3. USB-UIRT broadcasts the IR code which is received by the dimmer and lights are adjusted accordingly.

Will post my experience once I convince wifey that the theater needs another $50 toy Smile
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aptalca Offline
The Dude
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Post: #3
Yep, you got it. There's a lot of support for USB-UIRT and its integration with eventghost. It should be very simple to teach it the necessary ir commands and trigger those actions through the eventghost plugin.
(This post was last modified: 2011-12-15 19:10 by aptalca.)
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darkscout Offline
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Post: #4
Why not Insteon?

Dang it, this guy didn't get funded: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/9161...l?ref=live

[Image: aeKO.jpeg]
Code:
GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON `xbmc_%`.* TO 'xbmc'@'%';
IF you have a mysql problem, find one of the 4 dozen threads already open.
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aptalca Offline
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Post: #5
I researched insteon a little bit. It is based on X10, but they added extra commands and features I guess. A lot of the modules are compatible with one another. But insteon seems to be a more polished solution in terms of looks, design and their marketing, so the prices are much higher.

For instance the x10 software plus the usb device costs $50, whereas the insteon software + usb costs $150.

Insteon has two-way lamp modules that are both rf and plc, that make the system more reliable overall compared to X10, however they cost $50. Those are the ones that compare to Z-wave devices. The powerline only lamp modules that compare to X10 are $30.

I realized insteon prices were higher than even Z-wave. So it would be a more direct competitor to Z-wave rather than X10.

And to be honest at that price range, I think I would go with Z-wave. Z-wave is gaining market share very quickly, and Z-wave alliance has many partner companies building devices, including GE. And it is an important one because GE sells the components for much cheaper than any other company, helping Z-wave become more affordable and easily take off.

There are also kwikset Z-wave locks and deadbolts that can be controlled, which is really neat.

The only thing that's holding back Z-wave in my opinion is the software. The most popular software/usb stick combo was ControlThink's Thinkessentials that sold for $90 for the pro and $45 for the standard version. They also have an SDK that was used by a lot 3rd party sw or plugins. However, they got bought by Leviton in 2008 and a year later, the head of the operation, Chris Walker quit. Since then the software has largely been neglected and hasn't gotten an update in a while. The SDK has discontinued support for 3rd party zwave usb dongles. And unfortunately the ControlThink dongle, the only one that still works with it, hasn't been updated to work with the latest devices such as the door locks. Using Homeseer software with a $50 Aeon Labs Z-stick seems to be the best software only version right now, but Homeseer pro costs $600.

The most promising up and coming software for it is "Open-zwave" that is an open source option in its early development stages. Once matured, it has the potential to be the #1 software for DIY home automation. Until that's ready, I would consider the hardware controller Vera 2 as I mentioned in the original post.
(This post was last modified: 2011-05-12 02:33 by aptalca.)
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andrewf Offline
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Post: #6
cheers for producing this thread. This is something I plan to do once I get all my movies added and ce tweaked to my ideal set up.

Then I guess I need to read up on EventGhost - all new to me that.

In readiness, in regards to the hardware did you order online and can you recommend a seller for the bits you've listed?

Cheers Andy
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aptalca Offline
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Post: #7
For X10, you can start by looking at x10.com

Their prices for individual devices are high, but they a lot of really good combo deals. Watch out though, their website and their marketing strategies seem a little shady, but all my orders came through with no problems.

If you would like to purchase devices separately, there are quite a few ebay dealers that sell a ton of x10 devices with free shipping. Their prices are comparable to the combo deals from x10.com. Just look for the ones that are power sellers with really good feedback.

For instance, the usb device + main software (no plugins) costs $50 on their website.

However you can buy the usb device + main software + 4 plugins for $50 on ebay.

I ended up getting the same ebay deal + ActivePhone plugin + floodlights w/motion sensor for $50 from x10.com when they had a "one day only" sale the other day. Liking their Facebook page gave me an extra 15% off as well. (I used a dummy Facebook account that doesn't have any of my personal info) That deal made me bite the bullet and get started. So just check their website frequently as they have different deals ALL the time, otherwise ebay dealers sell them the cheapest individually.

When I need a module I just search for "x10" and the model number on ebay, I get a ton of listings.

Good luck Smile
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TonyNoone Offline
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Post: #8
aptalca Wrote:First of all, the two best options (if you're on a budget and want to do it all yourself) for home automation are: z-wave and x10. (For others, there are systems you can have installed by professionals and they include control 4, crestron, knx, etc. but they are beyond the scope of this guide)

That's funny. You managed to squeeze "best" and "X10" into the same sentence! That's a stretch. You could have used "cheapest" and "X10" but, BEST? How about UNRELIABLE and X10?

While I commend you for beginning a system and even more so for documenting it so others could benefit, I'm afraid that of every three who try to follow, two will fail. Simply because X10 is, well there's no nice way to put it, garbage.
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aptalca Offline
The Dude
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Post: #9
Please read the full sentence rather than cherry picking words.

Important keywords in that sentence:
"best options"
"budget"
"DIY"

I did mention reliability as a possible disadvantage of X10, due to its one-way nature in the guide. However I have not experienced any reliability issues myself. The system has been used for decades and there is a ton of support if you're having issues with it.

To me it's far from garbage. But then again, one man's garbage is another man's treasure.
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cider123 Offline
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Post: #10
This is so cool. I will try to make something like this in my appartment - the automated drapes is just awesome.

[Image: widget] :cool:
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andrewf Offline
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Post: #11
aptalca Wrote:For X10, you can start by looking at x10.com

Their prices for individual devices are high, but they a lot of really good combo deals. Watch out though, their website and their marketing strategies seem a little shady, but all my orders came through with no problems.

If you would like to purchase devices separately, there are quite a few ebay dealers that sell a ton of x10 devices with free shipping. Their prices are comparable to the combo deals from x10.com. Just look for the ones that are power sellers with really good feedback.

For instance, the usb device + main software (no plugins) costs $50 on their website.

However you can buy the usb device + main software + 4 plugins for $50 on ebay.

I ended up getting the same ebay deal + ActivePhone plugin + floodlights w/motion sensor for $50 from x10.com when they had a "one day only" sale the other day. Liking their Facebook page gave me an extra 15% off as well. (I used a dummy Facebook account that doesn't have any of my personal info) That deal made me bite the bullet and get started. So just check their website frequently as they have different deals ALL the time, otherwise ebay dealers sell them the cheapest individually.

When I need a module I just search for "x10" and the model number on ebay, I get a ton of listings.

Good luck Smile

Just a post to say thanks.

TonyNoone Wrote:That's funny. You managed to squeeze "best" and "X10" into the same sentence! That's a stretch. You could have used "cheapest" and "X10" but, BEST? How about UNRELIABLE and X10?

While I commend you for beginning a system and even more so for documenting it so others could benefit, I'm afraid that of every three who try to follow, two will fail. Simply because X10 is, well there's no nice way to put it, garbage.

TonyNoone - for those of us not so in the know a dual post with recomendations as well as the above rather than just the above would always be appreciated. Big Grin
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giftie Offline
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Post: #12
Other great systems to look up are the following:

UPB - Most notably Simply Automated and Pulseworx
Lutron RadioRA2 - Probably the upper end of DIY system

Personally I like the UPB system over X10 or Insteon as it is a fair bit reliable.

It would be a good idea to stick with a system that can be enlarged since once you have the Theatre done, you know you'll want to do the rest... Smile

[Image: e4f63e45ba34fe4695b3bb08eb2499d8e4ee484e...4c076g.jpg]
For troubleshooting and bug reporting please make sure you read this first you can also use XBMC Log Uploader Script.
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TonyNoone Offline
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Post: #13
giftie Wrote:Other great systems to look up are the following:

UPB - Most notably Simply Automated and Pulseworx
Lutron RadioRA2 - Probably the upper end of DIY system

Personally I like the UPB system over X10 or Insteon as it is a fair bit reliable.

It would be a good idea to stick with a system that can be enlarged since once you have the Theatre done, you know you'll want to do the rest... Smile

I agree. UPB is a considerably better option than X10, Insteon or, IMHO, ZWave.

Insteon has been rife with quality over the years. While it is reportedly much better these days, from the standpoint of failure, people still report problems dealing with SmartHome. Plus, the hardware feels cheap.

There's little wrong with ZWave but for the fact that the chipset comes from a single vendor. Also, they haven't done nearly as well as was expected. Hence, I worry for the future of the product.

UPB has a much better track record of stability. The flexibility in ramp rate, default levels, links and more make it my go to lighting control product. I would urge you to look at Web Mountain, though as they offer Simply Automated hardware (killer) but, load Generation II firmware making it a FAR better product than Simply Automated's offering Plus their new RUC server is an amazing piece of gear at a terrific price.
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Livin Offline
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Post: #14
I've used many HA hardware types. I currently use mostly Insteon and some Z-wave. Here's my experience and observations...

X10 :
Lowest Price & cheapest quality devices (except Leviton which are very good, but much more expensive)
Basic feature set
Reliable if properly installed with reasonably clean powerlines (active repeater, etc)

Insteon :
Mid priced & very good quality with devices made in the last 2 years
Most device types/options of any DIY hardware maker
Best dimmers I've found, period. They are TRUE rocker with up/down, unlike most X10, UPB, and Z-wave dimmers which are a single toggle - these suck!
High-end feature set (ramp rates, etc)
Very reliable with a decent amount of devices on the line. They all have built-in repeaters so you will need a few on each circuit depending on your size home.

UPB :
High priced & very good quality
Not as many device types/options as Insteon, more than Z-wave but this is changing quickly as Z-wave is becoming the defacto standard.
High-end feature set (ramp rates, etc)
Very reliable

Z-Wave :
Mid priced & good quality
Not as many device types/options as Insteon but this is changing quickly as Z-wave is becoming the defacto standard.
High-end feature set (ramp rates, etc)
Very reliable
Biggest problem here is CRAPPY dimmers like 10 year old X10 - single toggle, NOT true rocker with up/down - shame on Z-wave makers!

I'm not an expert but I play one at work.
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IsleOfMan Offline
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Post: #15
I integrated X10 into my theater long before I found XBMC. Way back in my Pronto remote days I just used a hard-wired "Sundowner" controller next to the couch. When I moved to Harmony remotes around the house I also moved to IR543 mini-controllers (one controller and house-code for each floor of the house).

I had planned on setting up ActiveHome Pro but, thus far, had not found a strong case for further expanding our automation. It took 6 months to get my wife to turn lamps off with the remote instead of the lamp switch. It took nearly as long for her to get used to the push-button X10 dimmer switches.

The dimmer switches, in particular, seem to confuse the hell out of guests. The idea of "push once for on, push again for off" seems so simple to me but so foreign to everyone else. Almost everyone holds the button until it's the point they think it's on, and then hold it again until they think it's off... this results in the light being left on at the dimmest setting with that dimmest setting now set as the memory brightness. I would have gone with the Leviton switches, but at $30-$50 each it didn't make sense considering I wanted to do the whole house... and we have SEVERAL master/slave locations.

This XBMC integration may be the catalyst that pushes me into setting up ActiveHome Pro. Luckily I can start with integrating it into the Theater without changing any of the functionality my wife is accustomed to in the rest of the house. Unfortunately it gives me another reason to keep the full-blown HTPC I currently have running in the Theater... there's a part of me that wants to simplify and replace the two remaining HTPCs in the house with ATV2 clients and no longer have an "always on" PC... but I guess progress comes with a price.

What really might push me over the edge would be an add-on that allowed basic direct-input control of X10 modules... like a very basic version of the Control4 interface. It seems like it would be pretty simple since all it would really have to do is send HTTP events to EventGhost. Otherwise it would just be a matter of setting up a logical layout of lables with basic on/off and dim/bright commands for each. Maybe where you simply highlight the device you want to control and use the red/blue/yellow/green buttons (or whatever custom mapping) for on/off/bright/dim?
(This post was last modified: 2011-08-01 15:36 by IsleOfMan.)
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