Our main automation controller is a Home Vision Pro from Custom Solutions, Inc. This is a well designed, very reliable, and very feature rich controller. I have been extremely pleased with it and highly recommend it. CSI's support is also first rate!
We currently have two of the add-on cards from Sylva Control Systems. These add more relays and input ports to the controller. The Home Vision controller runs all of the home automation processes for the house.
You will notice my inexpensive solution for enclosures for the Sylva boards. Those are simply plastic contains – like for food – from Wal-Mart. The top is screwed to the plywood mounting board and slots are cut in the container for the cables. The container then fits over the board and snaps into the lid. They work perfectly and cost about $2.00.
There is also a computer in the media room. We call it the home automation PC or HAP for short. It plays a key role in the whole house audio and also is the gateway for the data network to the Internet via a satellite connection. It does very little of the home automation tasks itself. It is used to program the Home Vision controller, but once the program is loaded into the controller is does not really need the computer. The computer does stay connected with the controller, however, with two serial lines. One serial line is the main line used to communicate with the controller and for loading its program. The other is for the controller to talk to Girder and do some automation functions – most notably text-to-speech announcements and Media Player control.
There are two Dell Axim x30's, one in the Great room and one in the Kitchen, that are used as touch pads. This was the least expensive way I could come up with of doing touch pads. Many things can be controlled with these though I am still working on configuring the interface. I use a program called HouseBot for the interface. It is actually a full blown home automation program in its own right, but it also has cool support for the "software remotes." I only plan on using the software remote feature since HomeVision does all the home automation control. The PDAs run the HouseBot remote software which talks to the HouseBot server on HAP. The buttons on the touch pads simply cause HouseBot to send events to Girder through the HouseBot-Girder interface which in turn sends serial commands to the HomeVision controller.
The PDAs have WI-FI cards so they can talk to the server via the house wireless network. This has not worked great. For some reason the PDAs keep loosing their connection to the wireless network. They last anywhere from a day or two before they lose the connection and the wireless card has to be turned off and back on to re-establish it. I haven't had a lot of time to troubleshoot this.
The remainder of this section covers some home control items that don't fit into any of the other categories.
We have two hot water heaters in the house: one for the Master bedroom suite and one for the rest of the house. Unfortunately, when we did the plans for the house we didn't think and placed both of these in the same corner of the basement. This is great for the master bath since the water heaters are right under it, but it sucks for the rest of the house. The kitchen, laundry room, and other baths are on the opposite side of the house. This means it takes a long time for hot water to reach the faucets – several minutes in the case of the laundry room and guest bath. It's sort of sad that no one caught this mistake – not us, our general contractor, architect or plumber!
At first we were going to have a plumber move one of the water heaters, but then some Web research yielded another idea: a hot water loop. A hot water loop cycles hot water from the water heater, through a copper pipe loop that extends close to the farthest faucet, and back to the water heater. You can do them with either convection or a pump. We went with a pump but also added temperature and time control. To save energy, the pump only runs at certain times and only if we are home. Also, it only runs long enough to pull hot water to the farthest faucet. The home automation controller does the logic using a temperature sensor strapped to the pipe. It controls the pump with one of its relays. This relay actually just triggers a larger relay that is rated for line voltage. The controller monitors the temperature sensor and if it falls below a certain temperature, it turns the pump on. Once the temperature rises to a specified temperature, it turns the pump off.
All the pipe of the loop is insulated to reduce heat loss. With the insulation, limiting the time it is on, and temperature control, we don't expect much of an increase in propane for heating the water due to the loop. And it is really nice to now have hot water in seconds!
If the home controller knows we are not home or we are sleeping, it periodically checks the garage doors and closes them if they are open. This ensures the garage is closed if we forget or it gets blocked the first time – sometimes snow, leaves, or dust blocks the emergency sensor. If the controller tries to close the garage door and it doesn't close, the house will announce that fact if we are home or send us a text message on our cell phones if we are not.
The home controller will also automatically open the garage door if the door between the garage and house is open with in two minutes of someone checking out (meaning they are leaving).