Monday, February 17, 2014

Look to the future: Home automation

One of the coolest things about owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it (assuming that you don't live under a HOA, that is).

We decided fairly early on that we wanted to do something special with our house. We wanted to automate the thing as much as possible!

Now, there are a few considerations to take into account when automating one's home:

  • Cost - Home automation is expensive! A simple door lock can cost $200 if network enabled.
  • Recurring Fees - These are the bane of any frugal homeowner's existence. Even if it's just $20/month, these fees add up!
  • Coverage - Do you want everything in the house automated, or do you just want a few of the "most used" devices to be accessible?
  • Purpose - Why do you want your home to be automated? Do you want security? Ease of use? Remote access? Convenience?
I mentioned recurring fees, but have I mentioned how much I abhor recurring fees? They are the worst! You can't just make a recurring fee go away, you have to keep paying it until the end of the contract term. 

Because of my aversion to recurring fees, I won't be signing up for any of the home automation systems that are offered by the telecom companies. They get you with the low installation costs, but charge you an arm and a leg to "provide you service", which consists of them doing absolutely nothing.

After eliminating 99% of the home automation options, what is left? 
  1. Build my own solution - This would involve designing a circuit board, writing software for the processor on the board, and writing a web page and app for access to the automated devices. This is within the scope of what I'm capable of doing, but it would be a lot of work, and wouldn't even be reasonable to start until after I graduate law school (2017).
  2. Use a prebuilt system - My favorite is the Vera system. This system has solutions from $250 to $1000 depending on which controller you want, and what accessories that you buy in the package. You can also add to the system by buying any Z-wave enabled device.
I think that the prebuilt system is going to win out. Vera already has a well built product, and apps that are clean and useful.

I would have to work a long time to get an app to look like that
When the time comes, we will hash out exactly what is going to be a part of our home automation system, but generically, we'll have some security aspects, some convenience aspects (lights and thermostat), and maybe a few efficiency aspects as well.

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