For many years now I have been learning about, testing and reporting on Home Automation and Networking systems and equipment at www.hometoys.com . The time has come to build a demonstration room and lab where we will be able to illustrate not only the equipment and what it can do but also some of the installation and set-up processes. I’m sure there are many readers out there who … like me … want to be part of the process but need some or a lot of help along the way. The HomeToys Home Technology Demonstration Project in conjunction with our “HowTo” online book is designed to demystify the processes and products for those who want the Technology but need to take part in the process to save money, satisfy their curiosity or just have fun.

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Equipment Rack
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SoundServer
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Lighting & Wiring Hub
Receiver
DVD Player
Wireless Phones
Speakers & Tuner
iPronto Remote Control
Multi-room A/V Solutions
Multi Room Speakers
Plasma Screen
Theater Speakers
Awning Control
Infra Red Distribution

I for one am not qualified to take on a project like this without help from experts. I have some building and wiring skills as well as some computer expertise. I know about systems and I know what I want to be able to do with them. I like to be involved but don’t have the time or energy to do it all. Here’s how I plan to get this project done:

* The first thing to do is write down a list of the systems that will be included in the project. Here’s what we plan for the showroom.
o Home Theater with plasma screen, surround sound and easily accessible and changeable equipment rack (hidden in a cabinet).
o Multi Room Audio System – 6 zones with keypads for source selection and volume control.
o Multi Room Video System – one additional TV, one future TV, various security cameras
o Home Office Network – 1 home server, 2 workstations, 1 laptop
o Home Office and Personal Phone Network – 2 lines, 6 handsets, intercom
o Automated Lighting and Sprinkler Systems – Home and Home Office
o Security System – CCTV, intruder alarms and monitoring
o Structured wiring network
* Next decide where the equipment will be located. In our project we plan a Media Room with the Home Theater equipment and the Lab for the rest.
o Media Room – Plasma Screen, Home Theater Speakers, Receiver, DVD Player, VCR, Satellite receiver, master control station, extra space for future and test components.
o Lab / Workshop – Multi room audio components, Wiring Hub, Home Server PC, Ethernet and wireless hub, lighting and automation controller, communications hub, security panel, extra space for future and test components.
* Next step is to decide where and how these systems should be controlled. There are many options here and we want to allow for future components as well as control options.
o Master Control Interface – able to access and control all of the automation and entertainment systems. Locate in the Home Theater. Should be wireless (Infra red or ???). Internet and home network access would be desirable (web pad ???).
o Secondary Control Interface – able to access audio, automation and security systems. Locate on the wall in the kitchen / dining area. Internet and home network access would be desirable but not a requirement.
o Home Office Control Interface – able to access all systems from the home office PC network.
o Audio Keypads – Source selection plus volume control. Locate 1 keypad in each zone.
o Security Keypad – Arm / Disarm / Status etc. – locate near front door or combine with secondary control interface. Ability to view security cameras would be beneficial.
o Lighting scene controls – various locations.
o Remote site control and monitoring via the internet.

OK … that was fun … and easy. Just a bit of research and let the imagination run wild. Now we need some help and advice. The marketplace holds an abundance of products to do the tasks that we listed. The problem is that there are so many products and their functions are so diverse that it takes a professional integrator to put it all together for you. Availability and compatibility can restrict your choices as well.
AVToolBox Home Theater Components
You also need to decide how much of the work you can do yourself, how much your friends can do, how much outside consultants and contractors can do and how you want to divvy up the jobs. There will be high and low voltage wiring, construction, cabinetry, equipment ordering and installation, programming, testing, commissioning and training. One thing to remember here is that many contractors, installers etc. are not willing to take on piecemeal jobs as it is difficult for them to make a dollar unless they can work very efficiently. Here’s what we plan to do:

* Systems design by HomeToys with consultation from Systems Integrator (Simply Automated Inc.) and equipment manufacturers.
* Equipment procurement and ordering by HomeToys. Generally I would recommend that you let your Systems Integrator take of this. He knows the sources and he knows what is needed.
* Construction design by HomeToys … me!
* Construction – Demolition and framing by yours truly. Drywall by subcontractor. Cabinets by cabinet company to our specs. Finishing carpentry, painting etc. by yours truly and subcontract.
* High voltage wiring by local electrician (Lennon Electric).
* Low voltage wiring by local electrician (be sure that your electrician is familiar with the delicacies of installing cat5 and rg6 etc.)
* Equipment installation, programming and testing by Systems Integrator using HomeToys (me) as cheap labor and general nuisance.

These are the general tasks that will need to be done. Use your skills where they fit in the process … but I advise that you seek expertise where you don’t feel confident and unless you are really a wizard and have lots of time don’t plan on setting up the systems by yourself. A good systems integrator will save you hours of needless head scratching and have you watching that first movie rather than programming a bewildering remote control unit.

The next step will be to prepare a list of equipment and draw up some construction and wiring plans. It’s quite possible … and probably necessary depending on your budget … that you will be installing wiring and outlets for equipment that you won’t be installing right away. Don’t skimp here … try to dream up as many future scenarios as you can and get the wiring pulled into place now. Run wiring conduit if necessary so that you can add wire later without tearing walls and ceilings apart. The HomeToys Tips and Tricks library has many helpful ideas from our readers as does the online “HowTo” book. Your integrator will have his own gaggle of methods as well.

Another important aspect of this type of project is communication. Your family needs to be involved in the decision making process and they should also be aware of the disruptions that will occur. Construction is a funny process. It starts out with everyone excited about the prospects … creative about the design … and optimistic about the cost and time involved. Take advantage of and enjoy these good times … it’s pretty much guaranteed that your emotions and bank account will be tossed around a bunch before you finish. In the middle of the process your home life will be in a mess … panic will be a common occurrence … and Murphy’s laws will come into effect … big time. There should be counseling groups available during this time but thus far I haven’t run into a psychologist who could handle it 🙁 One thing for sure though … try to keep the family involved … and on your side. The best thing about the construction process (as with child birth) is that all of the bad feelings are quickly forgotten once the project is completed. Everyone feels relieved, rewarded and proud of the accomplishment.

My better half / significant other / partner in crime (I’ll refer to her as Gracie here) likes to be involved creatively, is a great helper and has enthusiasm to burn. It can be a bit frustrating at times as she likes to sweep up my mess and put away tools … often when I’ve just stopped for a glass of water 🙁

My biggest challenge with this project will be to build systems that Gracie can operate. Don’t get me wrong … she can use a computer and phone system well enough to keep HomeToys ticking along … but when it comes to turning on the TV and selecting a channel to watch … well there just doesn’t seem to be any desire to learn how to operate that remote control. I think for some reason she feels that since it is a “remote” control that it should be able to read her mind as well.

I must admit though … I haven’t made it easy for her. I’m forever getting new remotes and equipment to test and review … so those buttons keep moving around on her. Same goes for light switches etc. Over the years we’ve had push buttons … decora style switches with a multitude of configurations … automation systems that worked some days and not others … you name it. Fortunately for all of us, I think those days are fading and home technology products are becoming more user friendly and reliable. Now all I have to do is try to explain why we are installing miles of wiring in the attic. Perhaps I’ll tell her that it’s to hold the house together in case of an earthquake. She already thinks I’m wacky so that won’t come as a major surprise.

OK … that’s it for this installment. Time to sit down with pencil and paper to draw up some plans and things. My mind is full of ideas and I need to put them in a form that others can understand. Early in my engineering career one of my first and most influential mentors taught me the importance of getting started with pencil and paper. “Just get a bunch of stuff on the drawing so I can start erasing” was his theory … and it works for me to this day. Stay tuned as we build this project together. At the very least you may learn how not to do things 🙂