Overview of our Home Automation System

Setting up a Home Automation System

It’s summer, and the heat is here!  Yuck!  We’ve been thinking about getting a thermostat that is compatible with our home automation system, and so I thought this would be a good time to give an overview of our home automation system.  What does a home automation system do?  Well, I think that is best illustrated with a few examples. Here’s just an overview of what our home automation system can do.

  • Most of the lights in our house can be controlled by our computer and iPhone, regardless of our physical location.
  • We have several control panels throughout the house that can be customized to turn on and off whatever series of lights that we want.  For instance, with the touch of one button on our 2nd floor, we can turn off all the lights on the 3rd floor.  No need to go upstairs to turn them off!
  • At 10:10PM on weeknights, all of the lights dim in our house, as a reminder that it is time to get ready for bed!
  • We built options into our remote control so that we don’t have to get up to turn on and off lights. For instance, our “watch tv” mode option on our remote control turns off all our lights except our floor lamp.
  • We customized our lights in consideration of the time-of-day.  For instance, if we turn on the bathroom light between midnight and 8AM, it turns on to about 60% brightness.  That way, we don’t strain our eyes too much during middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.
  • On our way out the door, we just have to hit a button that we have programmed as the “Away” button, which turns off all the lights and ceiling fans in the house that we want to turn off while we are out of the house.
  • We have it set that our bedroom ceiling fan turns off 3 hours after we turn off our bedroom lights.  This helps because we sometimes get cold from the fan in the middle of the night.
  • Our bathroom fan automatically turns off 20 minutes after someone turns it off the bathroom light..
  • We have a “bedtime mode,” and all we do is hit one button on a panel that sits on our nightstand, and it turns off all the lights in the house, dims the bedroom lights and locks the front door.
  • We can lock and unlock the front door remotely.

So, how do we do all this?


Setting up a Home Automation System

Setting up a Home Automation System

There are many different systems available to folks who want to do this type of home automation stuff.  We use Insteon.  On the plus side, it is cheaper (significantly cheaper!) than some other home automation programs like Lutron.  On the other other hand, it is a much more “DIY Home Automation” type of program, which is okay with us considering we’re a bit more technologically savvy.  Either way, Insteon can be programmed fairly easily.


Adapters and Controllers

In order to “program” the types of commands I mentioned in the bullets above, each light or plug that you want to control needs to be connected with the Insteon system.  For instance, each lamp, each ceiling light, each fan, and each whatever else needs to be “added” to the Insteon system.  You typically do this by either by replacing the outlet or plug with a “smart” outlet or plug.  Similarly, if you don’t want to go around replacing each and every plug in your house, you can use a plug-in adapter.  The adapter plugs into your normal outlet, and then you plug the device you want to control into the adapter.  This works easier for things like table lamps and floor lamps, but for “hard wired” things like recessed lights or ceiling fans, you will likely need to consult an electrician, or feel comfortable enough doing some basic electrical work on your own.

Next, you’ll need a controller to actually control the lights.  We use ISY by Universal Devices.  There are a couple of different models to choose from, and in fact, Smarthome sells simpler controllers.  We’ll discuss this in future posts, but for basic setups you may not even need a dedicated controller.

Then you can get into the really fun stuff, like controlling your home automation setups from your smart phone!  For the iPhone, we use MobiLincPro.  It connects to the ISY controller (or whatever controller you decide to use).  Plus, I love all these customized buttons we have around our home that allow us to control the lights from many different places.  The black one is kept on our nightstand.  No getting out of bed to turn off the ceiling fan or some hallway light that we left on!



And that’s pretty much it!  In the future, we definitely want to add a thermostat that is compatible with our home automation system.  We do have a programmable thermostat, but not one that can be controlled remotely or anything.

So, think about what types of things you’d want to automate in your home, and in our next post, we’ll talk more in detail about setting things up!

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