Home Automation in Action

My passion for music, consumer electronics and real estate led me to examine home automation. I live in a two storey detached 3800 sq. ft. bungalow with a finished basement and a swimming pool with its own cabana. When I moved into the house, my Hydro bill was quite high. Suffice to say, it resembled my monthly property tax bill.

The house already had full Ethernet wiring and basic home automation running Indigo server on an old Apple Mac. The first year, I was busy with structural renovations and could not focus on the electricals. However, when the Apple Mac died, I was forced to buy a new Apple Mac (because Indigo was only available on Mac) or go in for something on the Windows platform.

Middle and Right wall switches are Insteon

After some research, I decided on the Windows based HCA server suite that supports the Insteon protocol built into my existing home automation switches. The software took a week to arrive in a CD (Digital download could have been faster!). I installed the HCA suite in an old laptop and put it in my server room in the basement and connected it to the network switch with Ethernet cable.

The solution consists of two components. The first component involves the wireless and Ethernet circuit in the house to establish communication between the HCA server and other control devices such as Iphone, Android notebook and client desktop computers. The HCA server runs in the laptop and listens to incoming communication and also connection requests from the HCA client on the desktop.The HCA server connects through USB to a special Insteon modem that is plugged in into a receptacle. This modem is now a bridge between the wireless commands to HCA and related commands from HCA to the devices through the Electrical wiring.

Access point, one on each phase talks to devices

The HCA Client desktop allows to individually configure each light or appliance that is connected to an Insteon enabled switch. The Insteon switches look like regular switches except that they additionally have circuits that enable them to communicate over the power lines with the HCA server through access points connected in each phase of the home electricity circuit. For a house with two phases of power supply, an Insteon access point has to be plugged into a receptacle in each phase. This ensures that commands are not lost in transit.

Insteon enabled switches are available for lights with or without dimmers, sprinkler systems and exterior landscape lighting. There are also in-wall controller modules that can be concealed and act like a switch. While in-wall modules help aesthetics, it becomes a problem when the in-wall module fails because the only option available now is to replace the failed module or lose control of the device. Where as wall switches continue to work manually even if their controller circuits fail.

Plug in Insteon for floor lamps

 The HCA client interface allows to name each switch and program its schedule along with intensity of lighting. It also provides a random factor so that a particular light can switch on +/- a few minutes of its scheduled time daily and thereby simulate occupancy in the house while you are on vacation.

One of the advantages of this system is that once set up, you can control all your electrical from your IPhone or Android device. Let us say you have already got into bed and are not sure if you turned off the lobby lights, you can check it through your phone and also switch it off if it is still on.

 Another advantage is that after running the schedule for a few weeks, you can fine tune your HCA schedule and this saves your Hydro consumption. Further if you replace all your bulbs with LED, it takes down your Hydro bill by almost 80%. This saving helps recoup the cost of installing the home automation system over a few years depending on the size of your installation.

My Hydro bill is now 35% of what it was when I first moved into the house. The savings have been from replacing most bulbs with LED and programming a schedule for my landscape lights as well as all in house lights.

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