The Router – The heart of our home network.

In case you’ve not already guessed our home is extremely network dependent. VoIP for our telephone service, torrents and streaming for our television and a host of domestic interconnected devices that serve a variety of purposes.

For the last three years we have had a Linksys E3000 router running TomatoUSB firmware (Broadcom 480mhz, 64MB RAM and 8MB Flash) as the central hub of our home network, and I’ve had few complaints. The range of the router was more than sufficient to cover our home, and with the expanded features of the TomatoUSB firmware (QoS, parental controls, bandwidth tracking) our needs were met.

The configuration of the E3000 was ‘just right’, and it concerned me that a failure on its part would not only take us offline, but cause all manner of work (on a fairly urgent basis) at an undoubtedly inconvenient time. A backup was needed.

I thought we would roll the dice rather than simply obtaining a refurbished E3000 from Ebay. A LOT of online reading followed. Looking for a router that would notionally offer the same features AND work with custom firmware if needed. In the end I settled on the Asus RT-N66U (Broadcom 600Mhz 256MB RAM 32MB Flash).

A host of features come standard (Dual usb ports, guest wifi, parental controls, DD-WRT ready and allegedly coming with a fairly robust stock firmware) and it seemed the best bang for the buck, and so we plunked down the cash and took one home.

After spending some time copying the DHCP and Port Forwarding tables over I shut down the E3000 and plugged everything into the RT-N66U hey presto near seamless change-over.

Initial impressions are favourable. Configuration was fairly easy and the stock firmware appears to offer enough functionality that there is no immediate need for a change to DD-WRT or other firmware.

Early days yet, but looking good so far.

(Return policies suggest that it’s prudent to make the RT-N66U the primary unit and relegate our E3000 to the position of “backup device” at least until we’re certain the RT-N66U will do the job.)

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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HA – Making your house talk.

I am a big fan of Vera (You’ve probably picked up on this) – one area where it does miss the mark for me is in its notifications.

By default it sends email or semi-SMS notifications. The emails are long and generic, and include more than a bit of Vera branding (I guess thats fair), and the SMS notifications are just as cluttered.

Email Vera Alert

The solution is in an Vera app available called Vera Alerts. This consists of an app installed on the Vera, and corresponding apps on your smart phone(s). The system allows you to configure your own notifications, specifying the precise wording and attachments.

Email Vera Alert

The smart phone app includes an option of having the received alerts trigger a sound or be read out through a built in TTS function. I simply plugged a jack into an old smartphone and fed the audio into our CCTV channel at home.

Hey presto…. voice notifications.

Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch

One of my favorite devices associated with this whole home automation experiment is the Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch. It’s about what you’d expect from an appliance module – you plug stuff into IT, and then you plug IT into an outlet. The zwave functionality allows you to turn on or off the devices plugged into IT, and it reports the amount of power used by the devices plugged into it when they are on/off/sleeping.

Aeon Labs Smart Module

I’m generally not a big fan of appliance modules in general (although at this point we have a couple of the Aeon Labs and a few of the Wemo Appliance Modules shutting things off for us when we leave the house), but I’m warming to them as they give our Veralite the ability to shut down clusters of consumer electronics that would otherwise happily suck tiny bits of energy that collectively add up.

The Aeon Labs switch allows me to actually see what that cumulative value is (our home automation/CCTV/Network/NAS arrangement draws just under 100 Watts, our home entertainment system can draw just shy of 400 with all the devices and the TV up and running).

Aeon Labs Smart Module

Our Veralite keeps track of when we are home and when we are out, obviously we don’t need all these devices on when we’re out so the system (after sending network commands to the devices that can be remotely shutdown) turns the appliance switches off, limiting our vampiric electronics consumption.

(I should plug a Wemo and an Aeon Labs switch into another Aeon Labs switch to see what the parasitic draw of these appliance modules is…maybe later).

MiCasaVerde – Vera Lite – 6 months in

We’re six months into this Home Automation experiment, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself. I feel like I can indulge my OCD and keep an eye on our house while I’m at work, on vacation or sitting in bed reading. The system now turns most of our consumer electronics and lights off when we leave the house, it unlocks the front door for us when we return home, and it turns some lights on and off automatically to give the impression that we are home even when we are not.

In short, Vera has done everything I’d hoped it would do, and we’re far from done exploring the possibilities.

The learning curve has been substantial, and I’ve added to the system bit by bit. The cost of the hardware SPECIFICALLY tied to the home automation system (separate from the cost of the stand alone DSC alarm system and CCTV system, both analog and IP based) has now hit the threshold originally mentioned in my ADT Pulse cost breakdown – that is the cost of the basic ADT Pulse system AND monitoring for three years.

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Aeonlabs – 4 in 1 Zwave Sensor

The most recent addition to our home automation system was the Aeon Labs 4 in 1 Sensor, a Zwave device that reports motion, temperature, humidity and light levels to your Home Automation controller.

Aeotec 4 in 1 zwave sensor

Another solution in search of a problem you say?

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I’m a big fan of my Veralite, but the app that MCV provides is kinda fugly (the recent upgrade to U17 appears to have prompted an overhaul which improves the app asthetically if not functionally).

It works, but it wasn’t particularly pretty, and didn’t give you the option to configure which devices you can see or how they’re presented.


Enter Imperihome an app designed to allow you to design your own interface with your home automation system. Imperihome allows you to choose a layout and to configure which devices, cameras, scenes or switches (both virtual and actual) are displayed.

The app can be used on your phone, or on tablets located within your home to simplify the use of your system. At this point for me it finally makes my home automation system/CCTV/Alarm System feel truly integrated.

While the Vera MMS app ties everything in together the Imperihome app allows me to see what I want to see, and place controls (garage door, exterior lights, media shutdown) right beside status indicators and cctv feeds.

This one app replaces the three I am used to using to see the status of the house.

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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