The “automation” bug hit me when I was about 12 years old. When my wife and I decided to build our dream house, it was a foregone conclusion that:
a) It would be highly Automated (my hobby)
b) It would have a kitchen “to die for” (her hobby)
c) It would have a Private Theater (our passion)
The house may be seen online at www.the-gordons.net
My home control system was designed and built upon the Homeseer product. It interfaces to key subsystems that provide specific control over the house using X10, TCP/IP, UDP and RS232/RS485 serial control for different devices and functions around the house:
* Security System – (RS232 Serial)
* HVAC Thermostats – (RS485 Serial)
* Touchscreens – In-Wall and Under wall cabinet as a flip down (UDP)
* Lighting – (X10)
* Text to speech – (normal speaker Audio)
* Whole House Music System â€“ (TCP/IP)
* Voice recognition (Future plan)
The House in General.
The house is approximately 5000 square feet under air. It was custom designed by my late wife Jill and me. We acted as general contractors in a sort of unique way. We hired a GC, but all skilled trades such as stone masons, landscape designer, or cabinet makers worked directly for us not the GC. The house is architected into several functional areas:
* The Master suite – (Master bedroom, Master Bath, Master closet, Gym)
* The Guest Wing – (Guest Bedroom, Guest bath, Office/Spare bedroom)
* The Theater â€“ A private home theater (16 x 28) with its own bath, and wetbar
* The Great Room â€“ an open area with 12 foot ceilings (all other rooms have 10 foot ceilings) comprising the Entry way, the Living room, the Dining room, the Kitchen, and the Leisure/Family room. No walls separate the areas in the Great room.
* The Pool Deck – fully screened with sliding doors to the Great room and Master Bedroom
* The Garage- A three car oversize garage with a separate workshop and utility closet.
The bedrooms and theater are carpeted. The rest of the house has marble floors in a mat finish. The house, due to the large volumetrics and generally hard surfaces, is poor for voice recognition. The theater has special sound control applied. Most of the rooms are oversized. All switch plates are at “adult hip” height. This is very convenient, works well with children and assists those with disabilities. The house lighting is all high hats and special niche lighting for effect. Every light is controlled by a Leviton Green Line switch. They are very reliable, but they do not transmit when operating locally. If I had it to do over I would have gone for the type that also transmit
Here is the general floor plan of the house. The storage closet in back of the garage is where the Home Automation control equipment is located. The theater is at the top right.
The house was built from the ground up to be X10 friendly. Power distribution and grounding were carefully laid out. All boxes through out the house have a neutral line. The grounding system is an 8 foot by 1 inch copper rod sunk into the ground at the service entry. The service is rated at 400 amps and the watt meter and main disconnect switch is located outside at the grounding point. Service is delivered from underground.
The service is split after the main disconnect switch to two main panels located about 40 feet away in the garage, Each main service panel has a Leviton whole house surge suppressor (Leviton 51120-1) attached to it, and there is a single (ACT CR234) repeater/coupler/amplifier bridging the two legs of the 240/120 service at one panel (the panels are in electrical parallel). A CM11A X10 interface (controlled by Homeseer) attaches to the same panel that has the repeater/coupler/amplifier just below the panel with an 18″ wire run to the circuit breakers. There are three sub panels off of the main panel to save wire runs. The workshop has its own panel. The outdoor system for lighting has its own panel, as does the pool system.
Almost all X10 components (switches and receptacles) are Leviton green line. Ninety-eight percent of all of the house switches are X10 modules. One of the more interesting X10 controlled devices is a set of power strips in the kitchen island. Jill was a stickler for class and elegance of design. (Why she married me I will never understand, but thanks to whomever made it happen).
The center island of the kitchen has two concealed power strips. Jill hated outlets on islands that always looked unsightly. The power strip is hidden in the tilt down sponge storage space in front of the kitchen sink and on either end of the kitchen island. These power strips are controlled by Homeseer. I recently hosted the coffee and desert phase of a traveling dinner party. I gave up trying to explain to my partners that no one would have to rush back to turn on the coffee urns; the house would do it automatically.
The touch screens are Panasonic CF-01 handheld computers. There is a companion paper on the web site which illustrates the screens of the inwall touchscreens. When messages are sent by the touch screens to Homeseer, they are received by a separate executable module using UDP communications. This module is a Homeseer Plug-in with the touch screens as the clients and is in constant communications with Homeseer. Each message identifies the touchscreen that sent it, and messages may be sent back to the touchscreens as a broadcast or individually. Here is what a “Touchbase” controller looks like sitting in its little stand and in a wall.
The development of the Touchbase controller was a joint effort between David Roberts, whom I met through the Internet, and me. It was David’s original idea (“Touchbase”) and I did a lot of the programming for/with him.
The HVAC system is based upon the RCS TR-15 thermostats running on an rs485 network and interfacing through the RCS rs485 to RS232 hub. The network is laid out as a star. The system allows for control of up to 6 zones (I only have two at this time) from any touchscreen. The touchscreens all know what zone they are in and default to that zone but may operate any of the zones. The interface is through a Homeseer Plug-in. The plug-in understands the concept of setbacks by day of week and holidays. Since I am out of town a lot, it also understands holding a constant setting until I return.
The above two screens are the HVAC control screens. The left one is the main screen, and the right one is used for editing the setback values which are stored in a file. The system is very reliable and I have had no problems with it.
One of the reasons is because I do not have any problems with Homeseer. The only time it stops is when I stop it. On a power failure of short duration (less than 90 minutes), the UPS (to be described later) handles the issue. When there are long duration outages the UPS restarts and when power is stable the PC running Homeseer reboots and autostarts the Homeseer application restarting all the plug-ins.
The security system reports all events to Homeseer via the HAwizard package. The security system was installed when the house was built and then I added the automation (PC) interface. It is a fully monitored system. The system treats all zones as inputs and the master Gemini script is called on any change in state. Let me illustrate by an example:
I come home and drive up to the double garage door. I press button 2 on the security key fob on the car key chain. The Secure RF receiver senses this and tells the Lynxport digital IO board through a digital input. The Homeseer Lynxport Plug-in sees an RS232 input message and starts the a Homeseer event which was configured to process the required actions. A script driven by the event commands a Lynxport relay to close (it automatically opens after 0.5 seconds) and the garage door opens. The relay is wired across the garage door opener contacts. The Gemini Security panel sees this and tells Homeseer of the change in state of the garage door through the HAwizard software. At the same time the disarm countdown has started in the security system. The Gemini script is called to handle the change in state and determines that the main garage door is opening, that the system is armed, and therefore someone is coming home who is authorized to enter and disarm the system (ie. he has the secure keyfob!). The script disarms the system. When the system disarms, there is another change of state and through the same process the Gemini script is called to handle the disarm event. The house is now disarmed when the script is called. The event handling then cleans up the world and performs other actions/scripts as needed to set the house the way I want it; lighting, music, HVAC, etc.
Jandy Aqualink Pool Control:
This subsystem completely mimics the standard pool control panel. Anything that could have been done from the panel may be done by Homeseer. One of the touch screen screens is the pool system. It provides the capability to add water to the pool for 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes. It shows temperature (which is also on the web) and the entire system can be commanded from the web with appropriate authorization.
Whole House Music System:
The house has a music system that is independent of Homeseer, although it could be easily interfaced to it. The CF01 touchscreens provide the interface to the music system without Homeseer getting involved. The whole house music system is based upon the Turtle Beach Audiotron which is in the Home Theater but sits on the house LAN. It is capable of dealing with MPEG files stored on the home automation server and with Internet radio stations. The system has its own amplifiers and stereo speakers. Because of the great room design of the house, there is only one channel (i.e all speakers sets play the same music). There are speakers placed to cover the entire great room and the Pool deck. The touchscreens allow for the turning on and off of the system, volume adjustment, and all of the audio nuances one might expect.
Music selection is made by playlist, artist, albums, etc. The audiotron automatically finds all mpeg files on any server on the LAN it is connected to and uses the information stored in the mpeg header to organize the library by title, artist, genre. Selection involves picking a category, followed by selecting from a list sent by the audiotron as to what is to be qued up for playing. Sound quality is very high. The amplifier is a 6 channel (each channel is a stereo pair) 2 input unit. I only use one input. The amplifier automatically powers up when it detects an input signal.
As songs are playing the key information is displayed on all touchscreens that are showing the Music system page. The information consists of time remaining, current song title, current album title, current artist. The touchscreen can be moved to a different page with no effect. Here are the two main touchscreens for the whole house music system.
The system runs a Homeseer plug-in for callerID. The plug in deals with any modem capable of running callerID or the inexpensive NetcallerID device. Calls are screened and logged. Whenever a call comes in, the plug-in tells all of the touchscreens (remember they are win 98 PC’s sitting on the network) and they display the caller’s name and telephone. It uses the HomeSeer Text-to-Speech system to announce the caller. Nothing is displayed or announced for out of area or private calls and I don’t answer. The Theater is handled specially. It will pause whatever is playing, put the caller information on the monitor (not the main screen) and wait for me to resume after the phone call. This is configurable so only specific callers may interrupt movie watching.
IR Input and RF Input:
The system will accept directly IR inputs from the Xantech IR network in the house or X10 RF from any X10 RF source. The IR system uses the inexpensive IRAman device and a Homeseer Plug-in I developed
On the IR side, it will learn IR commands from any remote. Once learned, Homeseer may be configured to trigger events based upon recognition of a learned IR pattern. All transmission of IR out is handled by the home theater PC, merely because it already did it. I use IR to Homeseer very infrequently.
The X10 RF uses the standard MR26A plug-in from Homeseer. It is a very sensitive system with a CB antenna (proper frequency range) in the attic and a small RF amplifier. There is a second independent IR system that is very secure that is used for all security related operations. More on that later.
The HA Head End.
All wiring in the house goes to either of two locations; the punch down panel in the garage (Audio, Video, Cable, telephone) or the utility closet in the garage. The house is a single story with a Truss design for the roof. This means lots of space in the attic, but I do need to be careful getting around up there. When the house was being built I took photographs of all of the stud work so I would be able to do modifications later. That has helped a lot. To install things like touch screens, I cut out wall board, line the back of the wall board with one by two to give me attachment surfaces. I the use a 6 foot drill to get up to the attic going through any fire breaks (“Cats”) and through the top plate. I go up to the attic and drop my wires down by attaching them to the hole in the drill bit. That is very time consuming when you are working alone!
All of the HA wires go to the Home Automation head end which is in the utility closet in the garage. This is an air conditioned space used to store winter clothes, skis, sports equipment, etc. The HA cabinet is 42″ high and is the same width as an EAI 19″ cabinet. The depth is only 20 inches though.
The head end is built into a wooden “rack mount” cabinet. I built it, but dimensionally it is a standard EIA rack mount cabinet with rails. It only has rails in the bottom half. The top half are pull out shelves where I have mounted different types of interfacing equipment. I very rarely go to the cabinet. I use a program called Remote Administrator between all PC’s in the house so any PC can deal with any others. RA is a remote control program (keystrokes, mouse and screen paints) that is very fast and efficient at the sacrifice of network bandwidth when operating which is not an issue for me.
The PC is a home built. It is based on a Jetway 630TCF mother board which has everything on the motherboard plus 3 empty PCI slots. No additional boards are needed to run Homeseer, except I needed lots of serial IO. The board is in a micro ATX form factor.
The processor is an Intel Celleron running at 1.3Ghz. It has 512 Meg of memory on a single DIMM, and the board will accept 2 DIMMs. There are two hard drives; (a 10 Gig for the OS and Programs; and a 40Gig for data, backup and the whole house Music Library as mpeg. (Yes, I have all of the CD’s; I do not steal.) The 40G drive is partitioned to provide another small drive (“Z”) which holds the swap file.
The Jetway 603TCF motherboard I used to build the system does not have the necessary “Auto restart on power restore after power fail” for unattended operation. Their product specs said it does, but it doesn’t. A good hearted soul from WWW supplied me with the schematic for a circuit which provides any PC with an ATX power supply the auto restart facility. Basically, it monitors the SB (Standby 5 volt) line (the purple one on the ATX power connector) and when it changes from zero to five volts (indicating power is back) it delays about 10 seconds and then closes a small relay for 0.5 seconds. The relay is in parallel with the front panel start push button. I built it onto a small perf board and added a bypass switch and a PCI angle bracket. It looks like a PCI card but does not plug into the bus.
The whole rack is fed from a 1.5 kilowatt rack mount UPS by APC. They do a very good job and supply software for UPS monitoring and control via a serial port. The software tells me the complete state of the UPS (input voltage, output voltage, % capacity being supplied (I am using 11%), % battery remaining, input frequency, output frequency, and mode (on Line Voltage, On battery, Brown out adjusting, etc). I tested the system by pulling the main wall plug and it stayed up for a little under 2 hours before going off on low battery at 25% battery capacity remaining). That was for the whole cabinet, not just the PC. It switches to battery in a little under 3 milliseconds and waits a configurable time before telling the PC to properly handle short transients. The UPS output feeds a rack mounted power strip, so I can shut down the cabinet except for the UPS. Remember pulling the plug on the UPS shuts nothing down. The strip has its receptacles (8) on the back; built in surge protection, a single receptacle in the front (for test equipment) and a master switch that only controls the rear outlets.
The RS232 Shelf in the Head End cabinet.
The above shelf holds four basic components. All components connect to the outside world via terminal strips on the back of the shelf. Twelve volt DC power is brought to the shelf. The shelf fully extends for ease of modification.
In the left rear is an IO Networks Edgeport USB to serial converter. It takes a USB port and provides eight (8) serial ports. Most of my sub systems are connected via the serial interface.
In front of the IO networks Edgeport is the Jandy Aqualink Pool control. It connects on a 4 wire bus (2 power, 2 signal) to the Jandy Aqualink RS-4 pool control system (RS 422) which controls the pool and the SPA. The other side connects to the Edgeport for Serial IO. All commands may be issued via this interface and all status changes are received by the interface and presented to Homeseer. The interface connects to Homeseer via a plug-in. The data lines to the pool controller have surge suppression at both ends. Until I figured that out, Jandy was replacing interface units from lightning damage twice a year with no complaints! I believe it is now their standard configuration.
Not quite visible between the Edgeport and Aqualink control is a MR26A X10 RF receiver. This unit plugs into the Edgeport (Serial IO) and has its antenna in the Attic. A 15 DB RF signal amplifier is between the unit and the Antenna. This allows X10 RF control fobs to be used anywhere in the house and for a moderate range around the house.
The last unit on the right is a Residential Control Systems (RCS) Thermostat/LCD Keypad control. It is a RS 485 to RS 232 converter and allows the RS 485 devices to be configured in a star network as opposed to a multi-drop bus. I have used it with their LCD keypads; however I no longer use them due to the CF-01 touch screens. The RCS T15 HVAC thermostats are connected to the system through this device.
The Digital IO and Secure RF Shelf in the head end cabinet.
Above is the Digital I/O system and the Secure RF interface shelf. It is constructed in the same manner as the prior shelf with regards to connectivity, power, and ease of modification.
The main unit is the Marrick Lynxport-10. This board connects to Homeseer via an RS 232 (Edgeport on shelf below this one in rack) interface and is managed by a Homeseer Plug-in plus some scripts. On startup the plug-in initializes the board and opens the associated serial communications port. The port is monitored for any received status and commanded as needed. It also has X10 capability which I have turned off.
The board has three major sections:
* Relay section- 8 DPDT relays which can be set as latching or momentary closure
* Digital input â€“ 8 digital inputs to sense change in state of a voltage
* Analog input â€“ four analog input channels (not used at this time)
The relay section is used as follows:
Momentary 0.5 sec.
Open/Close main garage door (double door)
Momentary 0.5 sec
Open/Close Single Garage door
Connect Master bedroom Speaker to Amplifier
Connect Guest bedroom Speaker to Amplifier
Connect Office/bedroom Speaker to Amplifier
Connect Great Room Speaker to Amplifier
Show state of security system (armed/disarmed)
Turn on front doorbell light
The Digital input is used as follows:
Security Key Fob Ch 1
Close double garage door and arm security. Run Leaving House script
Security Key Fob Ch 2
Open Double Garage door and disarm security. Run Arriving Home script
Security Key Fob Ch 3
Change state of Double garage door
Security Key Fob Ch 4
Change state of single garage door
Security Key Fob Ch 5
Not used yet (will use for Guest security fob)
Security Key Fob Ch 5
Not used yet (will use for Guest security fob)
Doorbell button Pressed
Tells Homeseer to play Doorbell wave file
The Secure RF subsystem is a receiver for a typical 4 button secure keypad designed as a key chain fob. It is the type sold with Automobile security systems. I chose this because I would not use X10 to command the arming and disarming of the house as it is too unreliable and too common. It has a rotating pattern system so duplication is almost impossible and is very secure. Range about 50 feet in my installation. The two main key fobs (mine and my late wife’s) were mapped to the same channel, so the system did not know which of us was leaving or arriving, but with the two additional channels there would have been no problem. We just wanted the house to treat us both the same way. Seven different keypads may be coded to energize the 6 channels of output. For example all button 1’s on all keypads would energize channel 1 output at the receiver. Each keypad would have a different security pattern/code.
The programming controls allow the system to learn new key pads or reassign the channel outputs. The system will also either operate in momentary mode or latch on a per channel basis. I have all the channels set to signal for 0.5 seconds. I just want to know which key was pressed. I do all of the control work inside Homeseer.
As an example, Button 1 on both keypads now signifies that the last person (me) has probably left the house and the house is to be armed and the normal “nobody is home” script is to run. This may be tempered by “No motion on any motion detector for 5 minutes” if the system has been told I have a guest visiting. This script shuts all open garage doors, ensures that all inside lights are off, shuts down the hot water circulators, blanks the screens on all touch screens to save backlight components, and several other items. Likewise, there is a similar script for when the first person comes home. I use this level of indirection to provide totally flexibility.
The Audio output shelf in the Head end cabinet
The two audio channels of the PC are fed to four small 10 watt audio amplifiers. Each amplifier sees the exact same input (the two channels are feeding the same signal out). Each amplifier feeds a single ceiling speaker (Master bedroom, Guest bedroom, Office/spare bedroom, Kitchen/Great room). The speakers are interfaced to the amplifiers through a set of SPST relays which are controlled from the Lynxport digital IO board. I could have used the relays on the Lynxport directly, but I wanted the shelf to be “self contained”. Each amplifier has a volume control so the system is set such that a PC Homeseer level of “10” is pleasing and proper in every room. By using the separate amplifiers, I gained individual volume controls, low distortion, and no issues regarding the loading of the signals (volume changes) based on how many speakers are connected
The system is very flexible. Certain announcements are house wide, certain are specific to a room, and others may be inhibited if the room’s occupant requests so. Let me explain by describing some of the things being done. The doorbell “rings” (i.e. the selected wave file is played) over all speakers unless someone in a bedroom has indicated (via that rooms touch screen) they are napping and do not want to be disturbed. The system has an alarm clock for each room (the touch screen is the interface). The Alarm clock system plays (a wave file again) only in the room that set it. All rooms can have active alarm clocks set to different times. In the master bedroom, the alarm rings a set of chimes and “Audrey” recites the weather and any special meetings on my calendar. In fact, my secretary can send a message to the house indicating an early flight schedule and the alarm will automatically adjust my wake up time from the default weekday standard of 6AM. The alarm clock system knows about holidays, weekdays vs. weekends, etc.
None of this would have been possible without the Homeseer product and the continuous excellent support supplied by them and the army of dedicated sharing users that have flocked around the product. It, the product and the “Hobby”, has provided me with many hours of enjoyment solving puzzles, building things and the gratification that comes through doing something new and seeing it work. There have been some frustrating times, but there was always support to drive through those educational experiences.
I had a lot of support from Jill. The Wife Acceptance Factor was never an issue once the rules were set down (by Jill) and agreed to (by me):
Jill could spend on her hobby (Cooking in the “kitchen to die for”) the same amount of money I spend on my hobby (Home Automation).
Ever see a $300 Toaster?
Â© Copyright Barry V. Gordon 2003 All Rights reserved