HOME AUTOMATION Those two words bring to mind many different things to people. From homes that go mad and attack their owners to very expensive installations only affordable to the rich. In reality, Home Automation can be both very useful and affordable to even the modest home owner. You can start small and add functions as you get time and money.
For the beginner, just adding a couple of wall switches or lamp modules, and a plug-in controller can make things easier around the home. Most the equipment needed is available from your local Radio Shack or through many sites on the internet at very reasonable prices. By simply placing a lamp module between a lamp and the wall outlet, you are then able to turn the light on or off using a controller that can be located anywhere in the home. The lamp module also gives you the ability to dim the lights instead of just being able to turn them on or off. Add a motion detector and a small hand held X10 remote and your are on the way to automating your home or apartment.
As someone who has been a tinkerer all my life, home automation was just another thing to play with. In my first home automation project, I installed wall switches in the bathrooms that turned the lights on when someone walked in and then off after the room had been empty for about 5 minutes. Very simple but effective. I got so used to not turning lights on or off, it was a real hassle when I moved into a new (to me) home.
One nice thing about using these devices is they can be moved from home to home if you ever move. Your investment is not lost. Just simply replace the switches with standard ones and take the old ones to the new home or apartment. They do not require any additional wiring since they use the existing 120 volt power cable that is already in your home. Some of the switches are wireless so they can be mounted anywhere with double side sticky tape. Great when you want to add a new switch without having to hire an electrician.
The devices I am referring to use a protocol called X-10 and use the existing 120v wiring already in your home. No additional wiring is required for their use. They are made and sold by X-10, Radio Shack, Leviton, and many others. A good source for home automation equipment and devices is Worthington Distribution ( www.worthdist.com ).
I am in the never ending process of automating my third home and did most of the wiring before the walls went up. That is the easy way and gives you more options. This additional wiring was to provide for features not supported by X10 such as phones, computer connections, audio and video distribution. House #1 had a few motion detectors, lamp modules, and wall switches. Not much as far as automation is concerned but then again, very low cost for what I was able to accomplish. House #2 of course had more of the same plus some additional functions that were more in the automation and “Fun Things” area.
I added a computer and a software program named HAL2000 from Home Automated Living (www.automatedliving.com) , that gives me Voice Control of all the X10 devices and also includes using voice control for all of the video and audio equipment. Now instead of pushing a button, I was able to say “Computer, turn on kitchen light” or “Computer, turn on the TV, turn to channel 5” and it was all done. No remotes to carry or lose. That was great. I have a motion detector at the start of the 400′ driveway that notifies me of someone coming up the drive by making an announcement that “We have company coming up the driveway MASTER”.
JEANNIE has appeared twice on the home automation information site www.hometoys.com and has won the Tips & Tricks contest 4 times.
HGTV’s Dream Builder program heard about what I had done and came out in June 1999 to tape a segment for their show covering home automation. The show was broadcast in November 1999 but unfortunately the house burned down due to a faulty furnace, just one month before the show. I am now finished (as much as ANY project is really finished) with the replacement home and had the ability to plan ahead of time all the things I would like to be able to do.
The new home has appeared as the Featured Home of the Month in the March 2002 issue of Home Automation Magazine, and in the GATEWAY Computer’s magazine, Winter 2000 issue.
It has also been featured in Kentucky Living magazine … sent to the owner/customers of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.
My home is located about 20 miles south of Louisville Kentucky, on just over 4 acres on the top of a hill with a great view. This picture was taken in Dec at the start of the new construction and shows the view after the leaves had fallen. The white stuff on the ground is gravel not snow.
This is an early picture of the house The home has only 5 windows. One in each bathroom, one in the dining area, and two in the kitchen. Every room has a walkout sliding patio door for access to the deck that will surround the house on 3 sides. The side and back decks are already complete. The back deck is 10 X 78 while the side is 8 X 45. I will be adding a 20′ X 78′ deck with a hot tub and fire pit along the front of the house. The home has just over 2300 sq. ft of living area on the main floor that includes 4 bedrooms, kitchen, dining area, entertainment area and 2 full baths. There is another 2300 sq. ft. in the soon to be finished basement that contains a 12 X 24 ham radio and automation room, utility room, a 30 x 50 activity room, another full bath, and a wiring room. There will be almost 3000 sq. ft. deck area when the front deck is finished.
One requirement I had for construction was that every step was photographed. If I ever have a question on what is behind any wall I just have to check the pictures. I figured that this would be my last home that I would automate so I really went overboard when running the wires. When the walls finally went up, I had installed over 1_ MILES of Cat5 wire for the computer and phone connections, _ mile of RG6 cable for the whole house video distribution, another _ mile of wire for the security and motion detectors, and almost _ mile of wire just for speakers and microphones in every room. The builder just laughed every time I showed up with one or two MORE reels of wire. The electrician just shook his head.
Every electrical outlet has a minimum of 4 outlets, some outlets that were where I planned to put entertainment or computer equipment have 8 outlets. Every wall has at least one set and any wall longer than 8′ has two. I also applied the same rule for the computer, phone, and video cables. Each box contains wire for up to 4 phone lines, 2 Cat5 cables, and one RG6 video or TV signal line. They were spaced similar to the electric outlets. I ended up with over 100 cables running to the basement wiring closet. I will probably never use all of them but I now have the ability to put a computer, phone, or TV on any wall, in any room, with no connecting wire or power cord longer than 5 feet.
All the audio and video equipment (VCR, DVD, CD, Satellite, surveillance cameras) is available on TV’s and speakers throughout the house. This is one of the 12 outside security COLOR video cameras along side a door key to give you an idea on the actual size.
Each video device is set up to have its own private TV channel. That way anyone can select any unit from any location all at the same time. Each room has it’s own audio speakers, volume control, device selection and remote control to the main components.
ANOTHER HOBBY is ham radio and I have a complete Amateur Radio station set up in the basement. In my spare time, I usually spend it there, talking to other ham operators all around the world.
I have a motor driven tower that goes from 23 feet to 55 feet high. When fully extended, the very tip of the top antenna is almost 90′ high. The tower can be operated using the voice control system just by saying
“JEANNIE, raise tower”
“JEANNIE, lower tower”.
If the tower is extended and the wind gets over 15 mph, the automation system will automatically lower the tower to minimum height. This reduces the chance for damage. This is done even if I am not at home so if I forget to lower it, it is protected.
Antennas from the top down are:
Comet GP9 144/440 vertical, A270-6S 144/440mhz vertical beam, A148-10S 144mhz beam, A50-6S 50mhz beam, X7 10-15-20m beam. All beam antennas are Cushcraft. Next is the local TV antenna, and an Arrow 144/440 J-pole on the left side arm. There is also a G5RV going out North/South just below the TV antenna. All the beam antennas at the top of the tower are turned by a Yaesu G-800S rotator.
The tower is a motor driven U S Tower TX455.
The white pipe at the right side base of the tower is the 4″ feed pipe for all the antenna and rotor cables going into the basement ham radio room. There is also a Davis Weather Monitor II on the tower that feeds the weather map at the web site. Temperature, Humidity, Rain fall, Wind speed and direction are sent to the web site every 15 minutes.
I named my automation computer “JEANNIE” after the TV show, I DREAM OF JEANNIE staring Barbara Eden, that was popular many years ago.
Instead of saying “COMPUTER”, I say “JEANNIE”. Just to add a little levity to the home, I have the computer reply “YES MASTER” when I request it to do something.
I have a couple of WAV files of Barbara Eden saying the phrase so it is in her voice.
When I want to watch TV I just ask “JEANNIE, turn on TV”, she replies “Yes Master, what channel would you like to watch?”. I then just say “WAVE 3”. She then turns on the TV, selects the channel and if I have lights turned on, dims them for best viewing.
One of my other pursuits is GENEOLOGY. So far I have over 4000 names and go back to 1115. Having a little problem in my search to include JEANNIE. Not too many records go back THAT FAR.
I just completed installation of a 120″ front projection system along with two 301 disk jukebox DVD/CD players so I have my entire DVD and CD collection loaded and am able to just say, “JEANNIE, Play REBA” and have the correct disk selected, and the audio system turned on. The 120″ screen displays a picture 6′ high and 8′ wide.
The projector could display up to a 300″ picture if I had the room. That would be a 15′ X 20′ picture. Talk about a BIG SCREEN TV.
When I say “JEANNIE play Neil Diamond Concert” the system selects the DVD, the projector turns on, the lights dim and the drapes close as needed. All I have to do is just sit down, relax and enjoy the show. Oh, but I STILL have to make the popcorn! This is the seating area for the home theater system. The projector is on the shelf above the seating area. Rear speakers for the audio system are on each end of the shelf. One of the 301 disk CD/DVD players is the unit on top of the cabinet on the left. All 8 of the remotes on the table are being replaced by just one, just in case JEANNIE is taking a little nap.
The kitchen currently is very low on automation. I still haven’t been able to figure out how to have JEANNIE load the dishwasher or fix dinner yet. In the upper right corner you can see two of the room motion detectors. There is one in every room and hall.
Some of the functions that I have automated in the home are:
Bathroom lights go on and off when anyone enters or leaves. Between midnight and dawn, the lights are turned on at 10% so you are not blinded.
The same applies to the hall leading from the bedrooms. Makes getting up in the middle of the night a lot easier on the eyes but enough so you can see where you are going.
As soon as anyone opens the door leading to the basement, the stair and basement lights are turned on. They stay on until no motion has been detected for 30 minutes.
When any of the outside access doors are open for longer than 5 minutes, the heating or air conditioning is turned off. Don’t want to try and cool or heat the outside. Great when the grandkids are visiting. As soon as all outside doors are closed, the heating or air conditioning is turned on again.
Open any outside door after dark and the lights inside the room turn on for 10 minutes.
The outside lights are turned on at dusk and then off at 1am.
All lights can be controlled using hand held remotes, multiple controllers located around the home, or by voice control. There are built-in microphones in every room.
At bedtime, all lights and audio/video equipment can be turned off by pressing one button on a controller on the master bedroom headboard or just asking JEANNIE to shut down for the night. No more having to get up to turn off that one light you forgot.
When the alarm system is set to AWAY or VACATION, the heating and cooling are automatically set to extended ranges to reduce power requirements. The water heater is also turned off to reduce resource usage even more.
When anyone starts up the driveway, JEANNIE announces “We have company coming up the driveway MASTER”.
Being out in the “country”, I occasionally need water delivered when the well doesn’t keep up with use. When the storage tank gets down to a certain level, JEANNIE automatically calls the water delivery company and schedules a delivery. That was a funny experience the first time. I had forgotten to notify them that JEANNIE would be calling to order. Since they knew I was single, they wanted to make sure that the “LADY” that called for delivery was allowed to do that.
I am currently in the process of setting up the security video cameras to save a video clip every 5 minutes and put them on a web site so I can check to see what is happening while I am out on the road. I still have a little more work to finish that part.
JEANNIE handles all the phones. She answers calls, takes messages, and when I do extensive travel, she sends an email to me when I get more than 2 messages. The voice messages are attached to the emails.
When I want to make a call to family or friends, I just say “JEANNIE Call Lynn at home” or “JEANNIE, Call BISHOP Realtor” and the call is made. All I have to do is pick up the phone when it is answered. There is a speakerphone function so I wouldn’t even have to do that but I really dislike them myself so I never use it.
JEANNIE screens and sends messages from blocked callers to a separate mailbox and doesn’t count them as requiring a prompt reply.
When any family member or friend calls, she replies using their name by recognizing the phone number. This allows me to create a special message for each number in my directory that is played only to that person.
JEANNIE connects to the internet once a day and gets the current weather forecast, today’s TV listings, emails, news headlines, and stock market quotes. I then can ask her to read any of the information to me. I just say “JEANNIE” what is on TV at 8pm, and she replies with the programs for 5 of the stations I have selected as favorites. The TV listings can be retrieved for your area as well as for Direct TV, and Dish Network. If I have emails, I just ask her to read them to me. I can then either save or delete them. These same functions are available to me while I am traveling as well as when at home. I also have the ability to control almost every device in the home by using any phone. This gives me the opportunity to request that the VCR be started for channel 3 at 8pm on Wednesday while I am out of town.
It is also just as simple to request that the living room lights be turned on at 8:30pm for 3 hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On those days, the lights will be turned on at 8:30pm and off at 11:30pm.
My automated X-10 dog, REX, lets me know when anyone is in the area by barking and sounds an alarm chime when any of the outside motion detectors see anything. He barks at a lot of deer and an occasional squirrel or bird that flies right in front of the detector.
My other dog, BUTCH is not as big or mean sounding.
He is just a little pussycat.
He walks around the house like he is the boss. He likes to get pats on the head once in a while. If you ignore him, he starts to whimper. After a while if you don’t pay any attention to him, he takes a nap and even snores. Sounds or lights coming on wakes him up and he starts barking to let everyone know he is around and wants some attention.
The nice thing about my two dogs is that they don’t need to be taken care of. No feeding, taking for walks, cleaning up after. Couldn’t be any easier pets to have.
At night, the outside lights where motion is detected are turned on and a VCR is automatically started. Most of the time I just get some nice videos of the deer having a late night snack or raccoons on the porch finishing up the cat food. In some areas I have infrared illuminators that come on so the B&W cameras can really see in the dark. Most of the cameras are color. The B&W cameras are only where I want to be able to see in very low light or use the IR flood light so I don’t announce the camera usage. The IR flood lights are not visible by people or animals. All cameras are connected to a 16 input controller. All cameras can be displayed on any TV in the home and when a detector is tripped, that specific camera is routed to a VCR which records at standard speed as long as the detector remains tripped. If more than one camera is tripped, the controller rotates the view between each tripped area. After all trip conditions have reset, the VCR switches back to time lapse mode and records for another _ hour at 1 frame per second and then stops until the next trip condition. That way a standard 8 hour tape can last almost 25 days.
The NEWEST automation addition is … MY CAR NOW TALKS TO THE INTERNET
As I drive, a ham radio transmitter in the car passes on the information from a GPS receiver as to where the car is located, direction of travel, speed, and height above sea level once every minute. This is a system called APRS and is used by ham radio operators all over the world. My daughter uses it to see where I am during the 4-5 hour drive to and from her home in northwest IN. The system keeps a history of up to 3 months so you can see where I have been driving. Talk about BIG BROTHER WATCHING. This would be it nice if the car is ever stolen since it will always indicate the last location of the car. You can see how this works by visiting my web site and click on the links for Where Have I Been for the last day or week. K9SOA-9 is the location indicator for my car the last time it reported into the system.
I hope this little tour of my home has been of interest. Keep in mind that being single, I like to add a little humor so don’t take anything too seriously.
If you have any questions or comments about JEANNIE, you can contact me at:
Or visit JEANNIE online at www.k9soa.net