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Author Topic: Light switches and sensors for new house  (Read 1290 times)
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I'm building a house, and I want to automate it.  I have lots of ideas about what I want to do, and I'm looking for hardware recommendations -- and more ideas. My background: I'm a software guy. I have very little experience with hardware so while I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty I have a strong preference for solutions that don't involve soldering.

One of my key requirements across the board is that my solutions must meet the wife-approval test, which basically means they must function normally (manually) when not being remotely controlled and they must look nice. I'm not inherently opposed to wireless devices, but this is new construction so I would prefer to use wired devices for cost (I assume they'd be cheaper) and reliability.

One thing I'd like to do is make the lighting system smart, and I'm planning to control lines to each switch before the sheetrock goes up. I'm thinking of just using cat 5 since I have a lot of it around and it will provide me with four pairs to each switch. But I'm having a hard time finding the switches. What I'd like is a reasonably normal-looking light switch that can be manually operated, but which can also report its current on/off state to a controller, and can be remotely switched. Ideally, I'd like it to work as an ordinary switch without the controller (it may be quite a while after the house is built and we move in before I get time to finish all of the control hardware and software).

I also want to remote-control my windows. Any pointers to motorized, controllable windows? Again, they need to be manually operable as well as remotely-controllable. Remotely-controllable blinds would also be great. The combination of windows, blinds and interior and exterior temperature sensors should make it possible to exploit ambient temperature changes to reduce heating and cooling costs.

I'm looking for remote-controllable door locks, or maybe manual door locks plus a switch in the deadbolt socket so I can remotely determine when a door is locked.

I'm interested in an unobtrusive and inexpensive way to detect when doors are open or closed. Ideally something that can be built into door and frame so it's completely invisible... but also very easy to install :-)

The house will have radiant heat in the floors, divided into zones (possibly per-room, if that doesn't turn out to be too expensive). I'm not sure how exactly that works; I'm supposing there must be a control valve in each zone. Motorized valves plus temperature sensors and a touchpad in each room should make it possible to create a very nice system. I'll probably install a normal whole-house thermostat to begin with, but I'll need to get the per-zone valves and all of the control runs in place before the walls go up.

Any suggestions for good ways to sense the presence of people in the room? Motion detectors are cheap but make it hard to distinguish between an empty room and one with occupants that aren't moving. I suppose I could put them in the door frames and use them to figure out when people enter or leave. It would be really cool if there were a nice way to distinguish not just whether someone is present, but who. Not only would that make it possible to adapt controls to individuals, but it would be awesome to be able to build a system that tells me with a glance (at my phone, say) where everyone is at in the house.

I think I want to put temperature, and maybe humidity, sensors all over the house, perhaps even more than one per room. Any suggestion for which sensors I should use? Is it possible to use resistive sensors with very long leads running 50, 60 feet to a controller? I suppose I can probably look up how to do the math on that smiley

Any suggestions for other sensors I should think about? I'm debating about cameras. I can see lots of utility, and would love to have whole-house camera coverage remotely accessible when we're away, but I can also see that they might make people uncomfortable. Perhaps only in common areas.

Any other suggestions?
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I should probably clarify my background a bit on the hardware side: while I'm moderately uncomfortable with soldering, I'm almost completely clueless with respect to circuit design. I have little to no idea why people use resistors all over the place, for example (though I have figured out their use as current limiters, after burning out an LED or two).
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In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, however in practice there are many...
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- wired ethernet in every room
- have a separate LED emergency light in every room
- use movement detection where possible (closets, stairs, hall, garage..)
- use movement detectors outside (alarms)
- use led strips on the stairs
- have a big pipe between the floors so you can add cables later
- ...
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Rob Tillaart

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What you're asking for (a physical switch that reports its state and can be remotely changed) doesn't really exist, because that's a really hard way to do it.  Generally you will have controls (physical switches or internet devices) connected over a data network, and then outputs (relays) that are connected to the data network and switch the power.

If you're retrofitting a house and therefore there is unswitched power at each light/appliance fitting, the usual approach is to put a relay module at the light fitting and then get data to it somehow, e.g. wireless (802.11, UHF serial, whatever) or one of many twisted-pair bus options (ethernet, CAN, RS-485, etc).  If you're building a new house, you can do that also, or you can put all your relays in the distribution panel and then run only data out to the physical switches - have a look at the C-Bus architecture.

If you don't understand what a resistor is for, there is absolutely no way you should be playing with mains power.  You should get a commercial HA system, e.g. KNX or C-Bus, which will be safely and professionally installed.  You can then use the software layer of your chosen system to implement whatever fancy custom control schemes you want; both systems can be ethernet-connected.  Both ecosystems have a wide range of sensors (temperature, occupancy, etc) available already, or you can make your own if you become more competent with electronics.
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