Home Automation Intro

I’m a geek. If I’m building a home, it will be automated. This post will outline the things I’ve learned so far about home automation and plans for what will go into the new house.

Home Automation is more accessible now

At some point in the last few years HA features that were at one time available only in ultra high-end proprietary systems like Crestron became accessible to the average home owner. Back then, it was pretty much an all or nothing deal. You had to buy a whole system and pay an installer to put it in and make it work. These days, home owners have the flexibility to buy individual gadgets piecemeal. Take, for example the Phillips Hue light bulb.

Phillips Hue, WiFi-enabled, smart phone-controlled LED light bulb.
A light switch on your phone.

Lighting that’s automated and controlled from your smart phone and there’s no complicated installation required.

Then there’s Canary, the blockbuster success on crowd-funding site Indiegogo that totally re-invents home security for the connected 21st century and does it with style.

HD camera, sensors, notifications, all in a slick tube-ish thing.

The big shift is to individual products that can be marketed to the masses instead of this niche for the well to do. You can pick and choose individual devices at any time, just don’t expect them all to be so tightly integrated.

Goals for my house

  • Lighting control
  • HVAC control
  • Energy monitoring
  • A/V control
  • Whole house audio
  • Shades
  • Window opening and closing
  • Cameras
  • Door locks
  • Garage doors
  • Irrigation
  • Security cameras
  • Remote monitoring and control
  • Control from Android and iOS devices

That’s a pretty extensive list and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. Now, I opened this post saying how HA is so much more accessible now and pointed to a couple of nifty products to prove that point. I won’t be using either of those products. There are a couple of reasons. They have nothing to do with the quality of those products or how well they work. It comes down to integration and that this is new construction. I want everything to be integrated and I have the luxury of planning ahead and being able to put any necessary infrastructure (cabling, etc) in place. Phillips Hue comes with its own app. Canary, I’m sure will too. I don’t want to have to jump between multiple apps to control various things. I want to start a movie by pressing one button that dims the lights, lowers the shades and turns on the TV. I want to press another button at the end of the day to lock all the doors and turn out the lights. That’s what true automation should be; the various systems of the house working together with one command or even automatically.


What are the things you need to meet all of these goals on an everyman budget? I’ll reserve the big list for another post; here, I’ll list the key components that I plan to use.

Micasaverde Vera 3

The Vera 3 is a home automation controller.

Vera 3 home automation controller

It’s the brains of a full HA system. Here are the things that make it an attractive choice:

  • Z-Wave built-in
  • No subscription fees
  • Android & iOS apps + a web interface
  • Several plug-ins available
  • Owners can write custom plug-ins

This is essentially a WiFi router with a web server and the ability to talk to various devices like light switches, sensors, and cameras that support a few different standards.

Z-Wave dimmers, switches, outlets, etc

Z-Wave is one of those home automation standards that works with the Vera. It’s a robust wireless protocol that’s and there are many devices available that support it. All of the light switches and dimmers will be Z-Wave so all lighting can be centrally controlled without any additional wiring.


Wigwag is a pretty innovative little system I ran across on Kickstarter.

Wigwag devices

There’s some functionality overlap between it and the Vera. Only time will tell if it can completely replace the Vera. It’s a system that uses a central box (the relay) plugged into your home network and multiple other little boxes called sensor blocks that provide the inputs an outputs you want. Inputs can be motion sensors, light sensors, door sensors, etc and outputs are relays (switch, like for the garage door or irrigation) and infrared for controlling A/V equipment. They also have a product called the Glowline that’s essentially a controller for color changing LED light strips. It’s the Glowline that initially interested me because I plan to make judicious use of them in the house. Stay tuned for more on that.

What made me a backer of the project is the rule-based setup. It allows you to setup rules using an “if this then that” or ITTT paradigm. This is where home automation becomes actually automated and this is one area the Vera doesn’t really shine. It does mean that Wigwag will follow a subscription model, but being a backer means you get that for free.

If this then that.


I had a hard time finding a cost-effective system that can automate roller shades with feedback that allows the system to set the precise position of the shade instead of just up or down. I eventually landed on Rollertrol. Here’s why:

  • They made sure it works with the Vera
  • Battery powered so no complicated wiring
  • Wireless so no complicated wiring
  • Optional solar charger to eliminate having to manually re-charge the batteries
  • Low cost

They also make a motorized window opener that I plan to use to control the windows way up in the top of the stair tower.

Those are kind of the high points to what I’ve decided on for automating the house. I’ll follow up with more posts about various different aspects I’ve just touched on here.

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