Computers are now a fact of life for many households. Yet, the tasks performed by these computers are minimal; perhaps we check our email, surf the web or write a few letters now and then. Heck, most of those who have computers are still running an outdated operating system, like WindowsÃ’98, for fear of changing something in the computer that will make it nothing more than a high-tech paper-weight!
Text Box: RESOURCES HomeseerÃ’ from HomeSeer Technologies: homeseer.com HomeSeer Message Board: homeseer.infopop.net X-10 stuff: smarthome.com worthdist.com wlgdesigns.com ebay.com One Wire Devices: midondesign.com aag.com.mxAnd, we are all faced with soaring energy costs! I must admit, I have a gene directly connected to the power company, and when I see that my heat is on at 80Â° and no one is home, my blood pressure starts to rise!
So what was my solution to marrying these two seemingly separate technologies? How could I somehow use the computer I have at home to control my heating, lights and security? Well, after much surfing (yes, I am an addicted web surfer!), and after spending quite a lot of time looking at the various solutions touted by many, I settled on a simple to use, yet extremely powerful software program called HomeseerÃ’, created by a small company called Homeseer Technologies. Personally, I think they should drop the “Technologies” part because it can strike fear in the hearts of many who are still trying to get their stacks of paper out from under their computer.
The basics behind this software is another technology called X-10 which is a simple way of communicating with electrical devices like light switches, thermostats and motion detectors by sending these hieroglyphic bit patterns out over my existing home power wiring. Without getting into the guts of this PLC stuff (Power Line Carrier), because I really have no desire to, my home is now “smart” by using HomeseerÃ’ and X-10 based switches.
SwitchLinc SwitchSo I thought to myself, I’m going to buy all these X-10 devices, replace my existing light switches with some really neat looking ones from places like smarthome.com and I’ll be in business. I did buy a whole bunch of switches, which cost about $2,100 in my case, got my screwdriver and pliers out and went to town replacing my light switches. I have to admit, I could have got by with less money, but I wanted the really cool switches that have two-way capabilities: the kind that not only send these bit patterns over the power line, but can be “asked” if they are on or off. Remember, I have that gene that’s connected to the power company, and I wanted to know, for sure, if a light was on or off.
After all the switches were in, I had a lot of fun turning them on and off from my computer; watching the computer show their status of “on” or “off” when another member of my family hit one of these switches; and generally thinking that, “Wow, I did it!”
8-Button KeypadLinc, with Integrated DimmerSo, I got the bug! I ordered more stuff, like an X-10 thermostat and some X-10 keypads. I wanted the keypads to show if lights were on in various rooms, and so that I could hit a lit keypad button and turn the lights off in a particular room. I also wanted to regulate the heat and air conditioning in my house: a 3000 square foot home with a finished basement. The problem I was having with the heating and air conditioning was that if I wanted it 70Â° upstairs, where we live, entertain and sleep, the downstairs, where the kids sleep and entertain their friends, would creep up to about 80Â°. Similarly, in the summer, when I wanted it about 67Â° upstairs, I found that I could hang meat downstairs without fear of it going bad! Obviously something had to be done about this.
I ordered a couple of X-10 thermostats and some dampers from smarthome.com and when they arrived, I thought “Hmmmâ€¦now what?” You see, I had these boxes of dampers that had to be put onto the plenum (the big box) of the furnace and get these things to close and open depending on the thermostat settings of each thermostat, one for upstairs and one for downstairs.
After a quick trip to the local hardware supply store, where I bought fittings and boots and other things I still don’t know what they do, I brought all this stuff home and got out my brand new pair of sheet metal cutters. Hey, what’s a trip to the hardware store if you can’t rationalize a new tool purchase?
Barometric Pressure Relief Bypass DuctAfter cutting up the existing ducts from where they came out of the plenum, and screwing on all these dampers and boots and fittings, I ended up with a furnace that looks like the robot in Lost in Space. But, it only took a buddy of mine and me one Saturday to do this, and I have to say, it worked! I now had complete, independent control of heating and air conditioning for the upstairs and the downstairs. At this point, I was really feeling proud of myself!
I didn’t do much for a while, because, while HomeseerÃ’ was dutifully logging the temperatures for each zone, and kept telling me (via voice from the computer speakers) that lights were being turned on and off by members of my family, I finally came to the conclusion that my efforts were probably in vain! Why do I say this? Yes, while it’s true that I was able to separate the heating and cooling for the upstairs and downstairs, and it’s true that I was able to turn whole rooms of lights on and off with the keypads, I still was coming home to a house with the heat turned way up and lights left on in the house, when no one was home! I was depressed!
You see the problem wasn’t HomeseerÃ’ or X-10, but my family. My teenage daughter is of the belief that if you turn up the thermostat (“because it’s cold, Dad”) to say, 90Â° then it will get hotter, quicker! And, everyone just sort of ignored my keypads. After all, they weren’t paying those huge monthly bills to the power company, and a gene? What’s a gene? Connected to what?
I was just about resigned to the fact that I would never get my bills down, when I discovered the best thing about HomeseerÃ’. No, it wasn’t the low price (under a hundred bucks), and it wasn’t that it could talk to me or turn off lights by voice command (which I still think is pretty cool). It wasn’t even the fact that HomeseerÃ’ could turn on and off lights based on time or any other number of conditions. No, the best thing about HomeseerÃ’ was when I discovered the message board! With over 6,000 members (did you read that right? Yes, I said six thousand!), I suddenly found the answers to my prayers! With people like Rich, who wrote HomeseerÃ’, Rupp (what he does, I have no idea, but he seems to know a lot), a guy by the name of Doolittle (I keep being reminded of the doctor), and others like McSharry and, well the list goes on and onâ€¦Anyway I suddenly had access to a bunch of people who really knew this stuff about X-10 and writing scripts using HomeseerÃ’.
I started out by reading just about every message post on the board. To say that I was confused is an understatement. But, I did start to learn things. And, when I discovered the Script Forum, I was in Nirvana! I found a script by a fellow named Kevin Knudsen that promised complete control of my X-10 thermostats. Further, he stated that I could set upper and lower set points (I didn’t really know what this meant) and that by doing so, I could make it so that if my teenage daughter set the heat to that ubiquitous 90Â°, I could then take charge, via this script thing, and set it back down to 72Â° or whatever temperature I wanted. Boy, was this cool or what?
I downloaded this script, which is just a text file, and followed the directions for getting it into HomeseerÃ’. It worked! I didn’t write the thing, I didn’t modify the script, I just set it up, told it that I wanted a high temperature setting of 72Â°, a low setting of 63Â°, and away I went.
So, for no additional money, I was able to solve one of my pet peeves â€“ that of the temperature being set really high or low. But, I still hadn’t solved my real problem of getting my family to hit the right buttons on the keypads when they were coming or leaving. Remember, they have no interest in this stuff.
Then I discovered plug-ins. You ask what’s a plug-in? Well, it’s a little program that someone wrote that automatically installs within HomeseerÃ’. What I found are three really neat plug-ins that solved my family problems (no, counseling is still an option; I mean that I could now have my house think and act, with no direct interaction from members of the household).
I downloaded these plug-ins, which cost all of about $50 and began scouring the message threads regarding these plug-ins. The ones I bought were John Oman’s RF receiver plug-in, actually free, but I did buy the little RF receiver device, which cost about $75; Jim Doolittle’s DooMotion plug-in to help manage motion detectors; and Michael McSharry’s mcsTemperature plug-in to handle another little technology called One Wire Devices.
Okay, here is what they do, and how I was able to make my house smart!
X10 Wireless Motion SensorFirst off, I needed a device that could pick up those signals from motion detectors and let HomeseerÃ’ know what was going on. I chose the W800RF32 from WLG Designs and got John Oman’s plug-in with the package. Essentially, it listens for signals from the motion detectors (about 12 bucks from smarthome.com) and lets HomeseerÃ’ know if motion is detected in an area of my house. And, these motion sensors are wireless, which means that it’s really easy to “install” them. I just put a couple of AAA batteries in them, set up the house and device code I want (an X-10 thing), put some Velcro on the back and pasted them on the wall where I wanted them! Forget the screws â€“ they’re a pain in the you know what.
Second, I bought Jim Doolittle’s DooMotion plug-in. With his neat little software plug-in, I very easily set up my motion detectors, and then assigned them to “occupancy” zones, like my daughter’s room, the office, kitchen, upstairs living room, downstairs living room, and the like. Then, I wrote these little snippets of code, that I learned from the message board, to turn off lights in these various occupancy zones when there was no motion detected in a 30 minute period. Voila! When no one was in the room for a period of time, that I could select, the lights were turned off by HomeseerÃ’.
Finally, I bought Michael McSharry’s mcsTemperature plug-in that controls this neat technology called One Wire Device. I think Dallas Semiconductor made these devices originally, but what it really is for me is some telephone wire (category 5, to be exact), that I strung throughout the house with these environment sensors attached. The actual wiring took the longest time. I had to figure out how to run this wire to the bathrooms (more on this later), and outside the house to a weather station. I hooked up all of these devices, which cost me about two hundred bucks, to an intelligent controller from Mitch at midondesign.com who is an active member of the aforementioned message board. What I wanted to achieve was to somehow tell what the outside temperature was (I could already get the inside temperature from my X-10 thermostats), and to be able to tell what the humidity was in the bathrooms. Remember, I told you that my teenagers are just that â€“ teenagers. They really didn’t care if the steam from taking a shower messed up the mirror; they just wiped it off with a towel. But, I cared! The steam was making the paint peel in the bathrooms. I asked one of them why they didn’t turn on the bathroom fan. Their response: “It messes with my chi.”
Well, now, when someone takes a shower, the humidity sensor in the bathroom keeps telling HomeseerÃ’ what the actual humidity in the bathroom is. And, when it gets above 70%, it turns on the bathroom fan and keeps it on until the humidity returns to about 50%. No more paint peeling in the bathroom!
You may ask why I am interested in the outside temperature? Well, I live in an area of the country that actually has seasons. It’s real hot in the summer, and it snows in the winter. And, the temperature varies widely even in these seasons. One time it snowed on the 4th of July! So, I couldn’t just rely on dates to control my furnace and air conditioning. What I did was so simple, yet so powerful, that I like to point it out to all my male friends who have experienced the same frustrations with the heat left on that I have. What I did was to check the outside temperature. If it’s above 70Â°, then I know that I need air conditioning. If it’s below 70Â°, I know I need heat: I don’t want my pipes freezing, and I don’t want the air on when it’s cold!
So, back to DooMotion. I wrote this little script, based on all the info I gleaned from the message board, that checks to see if the downstairs is occupied (or the upstairs, for that matter). When one of these two major zones are vacant, I check the outside temperature, figure out if I should be using heat or air conditioning, and then set the thermostat to a low, but easily recoverable temperature. This way, when no one is home, my heat and air conditioning bill goes down because there is no sense in heating or cooling my house if no one is around to enjoy it! And, when someone comes home and “trips” a motion detector, HomeseerÃ’ says that the upstairs or downstairs is now occupied and I do the whole check thing again and set the temperature to what my family has determined to be a comfortable setting.
I know I can be somewhat long winded when it comes to talking about HomeseerÃ’, but if you’ve read this far, then you know that I’ve become a real fan of this technology. Have there been trials and tribulations? Yes, but with the help of Rich, the guy who wrote HomeseerÃ’ and all of the members on the message board, I’ve triumphed! And, my WAF (wife acceptance factor) has gone through the roof!
Yup! I’ve saved over 28% on my power bill, which comes to about a hundred bucks a month. I’ve spent about $5,000 to make all of this stuff work together the way I want it to, which means that in about 3 more years I’ll have broken even. Am I ahead? You bet!
Because, you want to know the best part about making my house smart? Not the fact that I have saved over 28% on my power bill (the power company hates me!). No, the best part is that my family now expects lights to come on in certain areas when it’s dark and they enter. They now expect that the fan will come on when it’s needed. They now expect that the temperature is set properly when they leave or come home. They now expect that the outside lights will come on when it’s dark and go off at 9:00pm (but come back on if they come home later). They now expectâ€¦I can’t keep up with their wish list now, but I’m having fun trying. And, more importantly, I’m no longer hounding them to turn off lights or turn on the fan or set the temperature back orâ€¦which makes for a more enjoyable family environment!