Thursday, June 22, 2006

Home Automation, You Can DIY

Would you like to be able to automate your home's lighting? There are many reasons why you may want to do this: convenience, safety and security, energy savings, aestetics, and value-added desirability if you decide to sell your home someday.

Home automation allows you to turn your home lights on and off based on the time of day or whether someone is actually in the room. With a normal lightswitch, the light, say for example the front porch light is either off or on. With home automation, you can have the light turn on automatically at sunset at 80% brightness and then dim it down by 10% increments every hour until its completely off by morning. Not only do you save electricity by not having the light burn at full intensity throughout the night, but the light bulb actually lasts much much longer.

When I automated my house, I was amazed how long the light bulbs last--- in some cases 2 or 3 times longer! Do you remember reading about the power outages in Southern California in 2000 and 2001... maybe you were here. The power company was asking people to reduce their power comsumption and to conserve energy. I was able to save an immediate 20% just by going through my home and automating every light that I could. From the small nightlights to the outside yard lights. I even automated my little wet bar refrigerator that keeps my drinks cold. I figured that I don't need that thing running at all 75% of the time so now it runs only a couple of hours when I'm actually at home and likely to grab a cold one.

The cool thing about this system is that every light or electrical device that is controlled by it can be managed from a computer. In other words, you can sit at your computer and program the on/off times of any light, turn them on, or turn them off. You can do this remotely from your place of work or while you're travelling anywhere in the world where you have access to an internet connection.

For any type of light, you would buy a small module for each set of lights to be controlled. So for example, to control a floor lamp, you would plug the lamp into a lamp module which in turn is plugged into an ordinary power socket. There are no wires to run and no complicated installation is involved. If you have ceiling lights that are controlled by a wall switch, you'll need to replace the wall switch with an automated version. Its fairly easy to do if you have some basic experience with house wiring.

Originally, I had installed devices known as X-10 which is a very old technology out of the seventies. It worked OK much of the time but not all of the time. I'm just beginning to convert my system to a newly born technology called Insteon from an Irvine California company called Smarthome. Its very cool technology that creates a "dual network" over your home's existing wiring and through wireless RF signals. The software I use is called Homeseer and so far it's all working great. I'll post updates in a future post.

No comments: