How do I (Home) Automate?
December 29, 2014 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of building a very small unit, with the idea that comfort is about more than size. Part of this means that eventually, I would like to automate my entire home easily (and maybe from a distance). There are many systems out there, and I would like some recommendations please.

Consider the any reasonably priced system (several thousand dollars) is not an issue as I may add more or less components over time.

Things I definitely want to automate:
* All the lights.
* All the blinds (which will probably come with its own remote control, for each window).
* The heat pump (Lennox brand, which comes with its own remote control).
* The radiant floor heating (which will, again, come with its own thermostat).
* The projector/sound system/roll down projector screen.

Things I might consider automating if the price is right and it's not a security risk:
* Front door and garage door.
* All electronics.
* Ability to do this over the internet remotely.

Things I'm looking for:
* Clean aesthetic design (ideally just one thing that can be tucked away).
* Usable without a phone (e.g. for house guests).
* Usable with a phone (e.g. when I'm in the sleeping loft and too lazy to go downstairs). We have androids in the family, so androids are a must. iPhone compatibility is a "would be nice" feature.
* Programmable (e.g. "sleep" setting to turn off everything, "movie" setting to turn on projector, roll down screen, and close all blinds).
* Has a history of being backwards compatible, since I would like to add things over time.

Pie in the sky wishlist:
* Automatically increase music volume when ambient noise is high.
* Ability to give out digital keys and let me know when people are coming and going from the house.
* Manage the hours the grow lights turn on for the orchids, depending on how much sunlight will be coming through the windows.
* Manage when the cat door opens (and whether it's one way or both ways).
* Detect water on the floor (e.g. broken dishwasher, overflowing bathtub) and fire a warning.

Has anyone made things like this yet? Or what's the closest alternative? How much should I expect to spend?
posted by ethidda to Home & Garden (3 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds like you may be looking for something 'bigger' but Belkin's WeMo product line and IFTTT seems to be keeping Mr. Llama really busy. These are separate devices, but controlled together on an iPad/iPhone (like the grow light in my office, the white noise generators, the Christmas tree, the coffee pot, the front door lamp post etc.) It's kind of nice to be able to lie in bed and start the coffee maker. IFTTT lets you do things like 'turn the external lamp post on at sundown' and then it just does it.

We also have zone heating programmed on timers and Sonos in the kitchen for music, which I *think* we have programmed to play classical from 5AM to 7AM and then switch to Iron and Wine's Pandora station. I think that's via the Sonos app, not WeMo.

Lots of little automated mysteries in our house. There's a WeMo attached to the washing machine that I think sends Mr. Llama a text when the wash is done so he knows to go move the laundry to the dryer. I think it's just that he likes the washing machine texting him.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:42 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Insteon hardware should be able to do most of what you want. I have one and it's very powerful but not exactly intuitive to program if you use the ISY series controllers. The Insteon hub, on the other hand, is quite simple to program but not as powerful. You don't need a controller for simple automation like "turn this light on when this door opens" but for what you want, you definitely need a controller.

I have a system that controls the lights, detects water leaks (saved my ass twice so far), and responds to motion, as well as door sensors. There is a thermostat for Insteon but it won't control radiant heat or pump systems. You may be able to do it by using the ISY controller and the optional infrared module like a universal remote.

I've had good experiences with the hardware and you can add on piece by piece at your own budget and pace.
Dimmers are about $45. Motion sensors and door sensors about $35. Same for leak sensors. The controller goes on sale often. I picked it up for under $200 (the ISY 994i). You can buy various keypads to control the system without a phone, or a few apps to use your smartphone. I like Mobilinc for android and iOS.
Check for a good sense of what you can get in hardware (various sensors, controllers, keypads, etc). It's canadian prices but the product is the same in the USA. Not sure, but I think there are UK versions as well.

Hope that helps! Insteon is a lot of fun, especially if you like to tinker a bit. Once it's set up it just runs smoothly without fuss.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 2:17 PM on December 29, 2014

Best answer: I have Control4, which can do most or all of that stuff. It works well for me, but is far from perfect. I would say the primary downsides are:

1. Equipment must be installed and programmed by an authorized dealer. You can do some basic programming yourself (like, "double tap the upstairs light switch turns off all the lights in the house"), but stuff like adding new devices to be controlled requires a dealer.
2. The interface is "OK" but not awesome. It can be controlled from dedicated remote controls, keypads and touch screens on the walls, smartphones and tablets, and computers. The non-technical users of my system don't have much trouble with it, but I see serious room for improvement.

There's a divide between the DIY systems like Insteon and the dealer-installed stuff like Control4, Crestron, and Savant. In my experience, the latter tends to give you more capabilities and a more fully integrated experience, but definitely at a higher cost. As a very technical person, the lack of ability to DIY in Control4 drives me nuts. It's not even about the cost of paying the dealer for stuff; I don't really care about that. It's that I know I could do something in 5 minutes myself, but it involves contacting the dealer and waiting for them to have time to do it. That said, the overall experience is so much better than what I found I could get with the DIY systems, I find it to be worth it. Just make sure you get a really good dealer, because it's a long-term relationship.
posted by primethyme at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2014

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