Fun with Home Automation

I found a new hobby last year that I’ve already sunk too much money into, but since the “cool factor” still persists for me and those around me, I figure that so far it must still be worth it!

What is this new hobby? {en:Home automation} (aka {en:domotics}), and while it still seems to be populated mostly be amatuers, there are a lot of great products and a lot of small communities supporting it, perfect for my next obsession. It’s niche enough to be uncommon, technical enough to be challenging, useful enough to be (arguably) practical, and free-form enough that I can be creative with it. And it’s fun!

It all started when we wanted a way to heat up our rented basement suite before we got home after work, because our landlords never believed in setting the thermostat above 16 degrees celsius. Our only option was a free-standing oil-filled radiator/heater that had to be switched on manually.

So I started searching the internet for home automation, and quickly stumbled upon and i have found a super-cool technology called {en:Insteon}. Insteon is a powerline communication protocol that allows light switches, receptacles, thermostats, door sensors, motion sensors and more to talk to each other over the electrical wiring in your home. Very quickly you can build pre-programmed setups that dim the lights and turn on the TV and blu-ray player, or to automatically turn the lights on before you get home, and more. With a huge collection of different modules you can buy and install, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Each module costs between $40 and $80 Canadian, and after much scouring and searching, the best (and only) company selling these in Canada is a company called best victorinox swiss army knife, however you could be paying hefty brokerage fees when your goods cross the border.

I started off with a “Starter Kit,” allowing me to control three light switches and a plug from a web browser (which also works great on an iPhone by the way). I then bought another two switches which were of a special “dual-band” variety so that I could get better coverage throughout our condo. And now I have 8 new devices (light switches and keypads) waiting for me at home for me to install, which should just about make every single light in our home controllable by iPhone, from anywhere in the world. Mwhaha.

It’s addictive, but also it’s somewhat of an investment. Sure it’s nice to be able to turn lights, plugs, fireplaces, etc on and off without getting up, but we can also reuse the modules in new setups, new buildings, and so on. I’m waiting to see how long each individual module might last, though I’m hoping for 10-15 years (maybe that’s optimistic). And maybe when we sell the condo we could get more for it if we leave the home automatic equipment in place?

My next task is to setup a new piece of software I have, called Shion, to automatically detect when my iPhone gets within 50m of my condo, and turn on the entry lights. I also plan to have it detect when I leave, and turning off any lights I may have forgot about. Since all the occupants of my condo have iPhones, I’ll have to write up a script that doesn’t trigger anything unless only one iPhone is entering/leaving the house. We also have a rec centre in our complex. Theoretically, Shion can detect when we’re at the rec centre too, and adjust the house lights and plugs accordingly, popping them back on when we get back from a workout.

Fun, fun fun. Maybe it’s worth turning this into a business? Home automation installations? Hrm…but who has the time.

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