Archive for Home Automation

Alarm System – Bells and Whistles

I’m a big fan of the DSC 1832/1864 series of alarm systems. It’s a robust system with all sorts of functionality right out of the box. A few of the features we’ve made use of include;

  • Scheduled auto-arming – On a preset generic schedule the system will automatically arm itself to “away” mode bypassing any faulted devices. You can specify days of the week and time of day for this.
  • PGM – Progammable outputs – These are extremely handy. In our system the PGMs are used for;
    • Activating an LED by the back door indicating the system is armed (our keypads are not prominently displayed).
    • Linked to our garage door so we can open the garage using our alarm system keyfobs.
    • As a “false alarm reduction tool” for our hardwired smoke detectors (the system automatically shuts down, then restarts the smoke detectors in the event of an alarm – if the smoke detector STILL detects smoke after the reset the system considers it a legitimate alarm and notifies the monitoring centre and activates the siren).

DSC ws4939 remote

My personal favorite feature is being able to open the garage door using the keyfob – Lisa just enjoys the convenience of pressing a button on the remote to arm/disarm the system without messing with codes and entry/exit delays.

Home Flood Protection

Aside from burglary protection our alarm/HA system offers some other features;

Fire Monitoring: Individual smoke/heat detectors connected to the alarm system and monitored remotely.
Freeze Protection: If the temp drops below 6 degrees the alarm monitoring company is notified.
Hydro Status: If the power fails a zone is tripped.

To this I wanted to add proper flood protection.

All critical functions of our home setup are delegated to the alarm system as it has proven itself reliable. This way detection and notification are handled by the alarm system and any automated response is handled by the HA system. If the HA system fails a notification is still sent to the alarm system, and by extension me.

The proposed arrangement is to have two Water Detectors (these are fundamentally just two metal probes that trigger an alarm when water completes a circuit between them) installed – one under the water heater and the other by the supply lines in the laundry room. Water detected in either area will trigger an alarm which will in turn notify the HA system.

This will be augmented by a Zwave Motorized Controller for the main water shutoff valve. Once a water leak is detected the water for the house can be automatically shut off.

At least that’s how it should work in theory.

Vera – Two years later

It was just shy of two years ago that we started down the Home Automation path setting up a Veralite to look after some routine home automation tasks. The system grew, and now I can’t imagine our home without it. We’ve since upgraded to the Vera Edge (which was good and bad – good in that it increased the reliability of the device, bad in that we lost a few devices that had worked just fine on the Veralite)

Vera

We have no immediate plans to expand the system any farther, but who knows what shiny things lurk around the next corner.

Aeon Labs 4in1 Sensor – Hardwired

I know I’ve mentioned it before but battery powered devices included in a home alarm or home automation system are, at best, temporary fixes and more likely long term headaches.

In our case I HAVE been feeding batteries to three Aeon Labs 4 in 1 sensors used in our home automation setup. Four “AAA” batteries seem to last around three months (and that is a few bucks out of my pocket if you’re keeping track – I am).

I sourced some automotive 12VDC-USB devices and as the outdoor multi-sensors are co-located with surveillance cameras pulling 12VDC this seemed like a good way to get better service from the devices AND save a few bucks on batteries. It did, however, take me more than a little time to get rolling.

USb thimgamawhosit

I’ve now installed the first one and it seems to be working just fine. Of course this involves a song and dance with Vera – but more on that later as I rewire the other two.

Vera – Recovering from the upgrade

Just over a week since the upgrade to U17 and I am 90% certain that the system is functioning properly again. The processor is under a higher load, but routine functionality is back.

Vera Home Automation

I’ve opened two tickets with tech support (the first dealing with rolling back the firmware – which I have put on the back burner), and the second dealing with a recurring error message (the forums suggest this is a common problem, and that tech support does NOT have a solution for it).

Meh. We’ll see.

Vera Upgrade – Oh dear.

I’ve been running my Veralite with the older U16 firmware since I got it. The new and improved U17 was rolled out some time ago, but I was happy with the performance of my Vera and decided I’d put off the upgrade.

Last night I received an email from the company recommending the upgrade, and I figured “what the hell, it might just resolve some minor issues I’ve been dealing with.”

It did not.

Vera Home Automation

It broke, or more importantly ‘bent’ every facet of this system aside from manually turning things on or off. The entire “automation” part of my “home automation” system needed to be torn apart, examined and put back together by me over the last 16 hours.

Most of the issues seem to stem from the way the firmware converts scenes from U16 to U17. Examples of the malfunctions are;

– Virtual Switch set to turn exterior lights on or off – using this switch causes a runaway process where the switch turns itself on and off dozens of times a minute until the system is rebooted.
– Vera Alerts App configuration screen damaged, causing multiple pop-up window errors. Had to be deleted and reinstalled.
– Exterior Multi Sensors began reporting detected “motion” as “Low battery” alarms (regardless of ‘armed’ or ‘disarmed’ state).

There were others, and presumably issues I could not find as the system itself would become unresponsive and would fail to fire scenes when the associated triggers were activated.

I fired off an email to tech support demanding they help me roll the firmware back about 4 hours ago, but in the interim I have identified a few of the key problems and resolved them. I’m now sitting on the fence trying to decide if I should keep working on this, or roll things back to the way they were.

-sigh-

Phillips Hue

Phillips Hue is a line of Hub controlled lighting products – initially just LED bulbs capable of producing thousands of ‘hues’, it has expanded into LED strips, spotlights and plain-Jane dimmable LEDs.

Phillips Hue

The appeal of the system is likely its non-intrusive nature. Simply pair the Hue Bulbs with your Hue Hub and screw them in where you want them.

Hey Presto! – Remote control lighting!

Of course it won’t work if the light switch controlling that particular bulb has been turned off, but that’s not a total deal breaker – this stuff is snazzy.

The Hue system is, for me, a solution in search of a problem (even more so that the rest of my Home Automation experiments). It DOES allow remote control of lights that are controlled by switches who do not have a neutral (preventing a smart switch being installed to control them), and there is some “neato” value to having your bulbs change colors at the press of a button, but for the $300 I’ve spent on the Hue hub and bulbs its a feature we hardly ever use.

As a gadget geek however, I felt obligated to give them a whirl, and truthfully the do fill a niche here in our house (Our Hue bulbs are controlled by the Vera system through a plugin).

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 Sensor – Power issues?

We’ve had two of these sensors running for the last two months, and the batteries (generic batteries included with the units) have run down to 20%. I’ve replaced the stock batteries with Lithium batteries and we’ll see how long those last for comparison.

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 sensor

These sensors have the option to hardwire (which I would obviously prefer), but this is done using a supplied USB cable. This presents some minor, but not insurmountable, difficulties in getting the 5VDC to the locations.

Instead of running additional wiring to each location from a central location I found an automotive 12VDC – 5VDC USB unit for cheap that will allow me to tie into the 12VDC supply for the CCTV cameras (located nearby) and supply the sensors.

In theory this should be a simple solution.

Boxee Box – Network stuff for posterity

I’m happy with our Boxee Boxes, and expect to be using them as our primary media players for some time to come. I’ve experimented with XBMC on them, but in the end have stuck with Boxee Hacks+

Their versatility and dependability, combined with their useful interoperability with our home automation system (remote shutdown, displaying network messages originating from Vera, etc etc etc) has been astounding.

Boxee is dead however, and each time I have to go out on the interwebs and find reference materials for obscure commands they seem to be harder and harder to find. I’ve decided to save my notes on these under the cut, more for my ease of reference rather than yours.

I’ll add to it as we go along.

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