Archive for Home Automation

Power on? Hard to be sure.

I had hoped to use the Vera to send shutdown messages to other devices in the house if the power went out, but it turns out Vera doesn’t track whether the power is on or off (it IS plugged into a UPS, so that would kinda limit that).

My first solution was simply to trigger some Vera events based on a “vendor code” generated by the alarm system, after all it switches to battery power when the power goes out.

No good. Turns out it doesn’t kick that vendor code out to Vera – I can get it to warn Vera when a “trouble” status is triggered (an “AC FAIL” generates a trouble indication), but it might be a different trouble (“Low Remote Battery”, “Communications Issue” etc etc) and that doesn’t sound like a reliable kludge.

The vera forums discuss using a wall wart 12vdc power supply, a relay and a wireless zwave door/window contact to monitor the AC Status – it’s clever – the wall wart voltage triggers the relay keeping the alarm circuit closed, as soon as mains power drops the relay loses power and breaks the circuit, triggering the zone.

I can do that, but using our alarm system to instead of a zwave door/window contact.

simple ac sensor

As luck would have it I have a pile of generic 12vdc wall warts, a number of 12v security relays and I happened to have a zone free on my alarm system.

About 30 minutes of monkeying around, running wire back to the alarm system and making sure the new “AC Sensor” was plugged into the same circuit as my home automation gear and we were away to the races.

I’ll have to double check the programming in our alarm system to make sure it doesn’t trigger a burglary alarm when the power drops, but otherwise it seems pretty slick.

I’ll do a little quick programming in Vera, and some monkeying with ssh and I should have something that saves our hardware from an unexpected shutdown.

Vera – Is someone home?

Home automation was attractive for two specific reasons, or functions if you prefer.

  1. Timed routine event management – the ability of Vera to turn perimeter lights on and off, and to complete certain actions at certain times (and even with a slight variation if needed) regularly and without fail.
  2. Occupancy driven events – Air Conditioning / Heating set points modified based on whether anyone is home, lights turned off when no one is around etc etc etc.

Vera Home Automation

It’s the second class of items that has caused me issues (the first are as easy as making a schedule and letting it rip… being able to set the schedule based on a +/- sunset/sunrise is just a bonus) – think about it, if you’re a computer sitting on a shelf how do you tell if someone is home?
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Vera – Three months

We’ve had Vera now for three months. The lighting control and “smart home” features are as advertised, and the integration into our existing alarm and CCTV systems has been nearly seamless. We have approximately 11 devices controlled by the system, with plans to expand.

We’ve hit some hiccups. The Wemo switches were occasionally unreliable (this is likely a result of the Vera Plugin and not the switches themselves), and are being phased out – and we’ve had the system lock up once (a few days after its initial setup) but which appears to have been resolved now with a scheduled reboot.

Vera Home Automation

Vera, working in conunction with the alarm system (this is a one way path for security reasons – the alarm system can trigger Vera events, but the Vera cannot directly arm/disarm the alarm system) the vera can ensure that all doors are closed before the alarm system arms itself – either sending a warning to me via text/email or in the case of the garage door it will just close the door itself.

Monkeying around I’ve even managed to have the Vera turn off our Boxee Box Media Players when we leave for the day (this is done via http across the local network).

I am planning on adding a zwave thermostat and some additional “appliance control units” which measure hydro use, and will allow me to power down groups of electronics like our TV and console arrangement in the living room.

So far so good.

ADT Pulse

When our alarm monitoring company increased our rates (from $9.99/mo to $12.99/mo) recently I started shopping around. I didn’t really expect to find anything cheaper, but it’s the way I’m wired.

I contacted three local contractors to give me a price on taking over the monitoring of our existing system, and/or adding some bells and whistles to the arrangement. The prices were not too shocking, typically $30/mo for monitoring, and a few hundred to switch some hardware around to “take over” our system. I asked each about “home automation” options, and generally got no meaningful response.

ADT came in and the salesman demonstrated their “Pulse” system. This integrates CCTV, alarm and home automation through a local control unit and a clever app on your android/iphone allowing you to check your cameras or receive notifications when your kids get home etc.

The quote I got was to take over the existing system I have, integrate the CCTV and later add zwave devices to add HA functionality to the system (at additional cost). The price? $150 up front, and $60/mo. Thats $2310 to me over three years BEFORE adding any bells and whistles.

I decided that if I had to pay for the hardware anyway I’d go with Vera, and save myself a few dollars;

$2310 – $467.64 = $1842.36 (Monitoring cost over 3 years)
$1842 – $100 = $1742 (Add EVL-3 DSC Interface Module).
$1742 – $200 = $1542 (Add Vera Lite Controller).

I now get to spend $1500 before this system costs me the same as the ADT pulse system (bare bones) would have AND Vera allows me to integrate the Belkin Wemo Switches I already had installed, instead of replacing them.

I get that the route I chose has more bumps in it, but damn. I cannot justify three grand over three years to acheive the same result.

Vera – Scripting

Emergency responders often complain about the difficulty in finding an address while responding to an emergency call. Street numbers posted on the house that are visible at night is an obvious first step (and one that more people should take), better lighting is a part of that.

There are other products that can help the front porch light “flasher”, for instance (replaces your front porch light switch and has three settings, off/on/emergency – emergency flashes the light until it is turned off), alarm system strobe lights mounted to the front of the house (instead of, or in addition to a siren).

In the case of the Vera Lite I’ve programmed the exterior lights (front porch, back porch and garage) to flash on and off repeatedly in the event that the alarm is triggered using LUA (code that simply flashes lights A, B and C on and off every X seconds for Y cycles).

This is a great little bit of code (even returns the lights to their original on/off status when it ends) blatantly stolen from the Vera Forums – Perimeter Emergency Light Flash thread.

Vera – One month in.

So we’ve had our Vera for one month.

Generally the experience has been good. Quite a learning curve, but we’re seeing the functionality I hoped for at this point, and I’m happily ordering new zwave devices with some regularity.

Problems we have had are few, but are noteworthy;

  • Unit frozen/unresponsive – While on vacation the unit became unresponsive to the mobile app, and was not activating scenes on its schedule. We had it manually rebooted and all went back to normal. It has now been configured to reboot itself once a week, and there have been no problems since.
  • A few days back the Vera showed all Zwave devices as unreachable. I ran a network “heal” which confirmed that none of the devices were communicating (odd!). They would respond to commands immediately, but would not report back. I fiddled with the individual device network settings and eventually got everything back to normal, but am unsure what caused (or even fixed) the issue (on reflection I think I should have just left the thing alone for a bit and it would have resolved itself).

I feel confident enough in this system that I’ll be adding a thermostat and a few more light switches.

Zwave Kwikset Lock

One of the devices I like with the Zwave system is the integrated electronic deadbolt. We already had a digital deadbolt on the back door (although it lacks the Zwave integration) for if and when we forgot our keys or accidentally locked ourselves out (definately beats a key hidden under the mat or on the top of the door frame).

Kwikset Zwave Lock

We went with the Smartcode Deadbolt with Zwave for key consistency and asthetics. The ability to program access codes from my laptop instead of while standing at the front door with a user manual in my hand is an added bonus.
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Vera Micasa Verde – Setting the scene

One of the great features of the Vera Lite unit is the flexibility it offers. Basic functionality is easily acheived using the Scene/Trigger functions (which as it suggests sets out “what” happens – Scene, and “how” it happens – Trigger.).

Examples of this in my system presently include;

  • At Dusk +/- 30 minutes turn the front porch light on.
  • When garage door opens turn on interior lights (when door closes turn off interior lights)
  • Turn on exterior outlets at dusk and turn them off at 10:00pm (this is our Christmas lights, garden lighting circuit).
  • Lock the front door when the alarm system is armed / Unlock when disarmed.

The appeal however is in the more detailed “scripting” options that Vera offers for less immediate or directly related events.

My first “script” (or Lua code) was to prevent the front door from unlocking when we are home, and just turning off the alarm in the morning when we get up (from “stay” mode to “disarmed”).

This took a bit of thinking, and I used the “Ping” app to sort it out. The system will poll both of our cellphones (to see if we are logged in to the local Wifi), if either phone is present then the front door now stays locked when we disarm the alarm. If neither phone is present it unlocks the front door and turns on some interior lights (assuming one of us is just getting home).

After a few hours of tampering with things I’ve managed to figure this part out;

local allow = true
local status = luup.variable_get("urn:micasaverde-com:serviceId:SecuritySensor1","Tripped",50)
return ((status == "1") == allow)

I’m only halfway there. It presently checks to see if Lisas cell phone is logged in. Clearly I’ll have to look over the if/else/then portions of this.

Still….progress? Yeah.

Vera, Zwave and Wemo

As anticipated the addition of a few more Zwave devices firmed up the zwave network and improved reliability. The Zwave switches reach well beyond the range of the Wemo switches (as the zwave network expands with each device adding to the range of the network, while Wemo relies on the Wifi signal).

I’m exploring the automation and programming aspects of the Vera, which at present only acts as a centralized timer turning lights on and off in a quasi-random fashion.

The advanced progamming appears a little counter intuitive, and I’m still grappling with more advanced programming;

- return home and disarm alarm system with remote, system turns on foyer lights and unlocks front door.
- arm alarm system to “stay”, system locks door, turns off downstairs lights.
- arm alarm system to “away”, system locks door, turns off interior lights, turns down thermostat.

You get the idea.