2021 A new
A rather grand title and somewhat of a
misnomer, whilst I did start to think about "automation" at quite an
early stage in the design and build process, I didn't have a well
thought through plan for what I wanted and how it was going to be
delivered - not a great start, but I think that we've gotten back on
track without too much disruption, so, how did we get here . . . .
As you may have read on the Overview page,
as the result of an accident a few years ago, our "forever" house is no
longer suitable for my long term needs and we are in the process of
"remodelling" it, or more accurately, demolishing it and starting again!
The intention is that the new house will incorporate many "Smart
home" features from the outset and many of the outdated technologies
that I previously documented on this site
are unlikely to be relevant for the new build.
So, given a clean sheet of paper, what should I be designing in from
day 1? A totally integrated system would be nice, where everything in
the home, such as lighting, heating, access, security, entertainment,
kitchen appliances - maybe even "Japanese
toilets", etc., would all be controlled from a central system.
Possible - certainly! Practical - almost certainly not! Sure, the
technology is there to makes that goal achievable - but it comes at
significant cost, I'd say that £100,000 would be a good budgetary
figure. Still, if I was twenty years younger and had an unlimited
budget, I may have been tempted, but, as I am not, and don't, so what am
I going to aim for and how will it be achieved? . . . . . .
When we purchased our existing property back in 2004,
since we were doing some extensive refurbishment
before we moved in, I had pretty much free
reign to do anything that I wanted before we moved in. Very soon after
buying the house, I decided that I wanted to install network and video
cables throughout the house and run them to appropriate termination
points. An overview of my cable work can be found on my legacy
Cabling page. Whist it was
a hell of a lot of work, this was not something that I have ever
regretted and server me well for 15 years or so.
I think that
philosophy is equally valid some 20 years later - whilst a number of
different systems are likely to be installed at the outset, a critical
consideration is "future proofing", at least as far as possible, so that
future modification can be done without significant disruption to the
fabric of the building - i.e., not needing to punch holes in walls just
to run an extra cable or two. Although technology continues to develop
at a fast pace, I think that Cat6 and high quality coax cables,
supplemented by specialist cables as required, will be more than
adequate for the foreseeable (say 10 year) future and will form the
basis for my cabling requirements specification. It is more than likely
I will go overboard on the number of cables, but the cost of cable is
almost insignificant compared to the installation effort - the effort to
run many cables to the same place as one is pretty much the same.
Other items that are likely to be core are multi-room audio and video
distribution, lighting and heating controls, security systems and
actuated window/blinds. In addition, I have more individual requirements
such as control and monitoring of my own tech, including monitoring of
contact status's and actuation of control relays.
So, given the availability of the required infrastructure (cables etc.),
how could the core requirements be realised? My background is in control
and instrumentation and in an ideal world (which it isn't, or I wouldn't
have needed to knock the house down!), I would have liked to design and
install suitable hardware myself, but that is likely not the best
option. Although it would have been possible to cobble together a
solution using disparate hardware from various vendors, the resultant
system would likely have been unmaintainable by anyone else - probably
not a great long term plan and it soon became clear that I would be
moving away from a DIY/hobbyist solution to a professionally installed
When I started to look at the "Smart Home" technology market,
companies such as as Crestron
and Control4 came to the fore
but I found that these companies, or at least their installed solutions,
are not user friendly. Self installation of their, obviously capable,
but damned expensive technology, is not possible due to the sales models
that these companies employ. Their products are sold exclusively through
dealer channels - it is almost impossible to source their products for
self installation and even more difficult to customise the system
without paying the dealer for additional "support".
consider a smaller player called
Loxone, their configuration software is much less restrictive than
the others, but for their hardware, they have moved to a dealer only
sales channel too.
All things considered, I did like the look of
Control4, but the sales and support model is a real turn off for me. As
someone with a background in control and automation, the thought of
hardware that I had paid for being totally under the control of a dealer
is anathema to me. (But, more on that later . . .)
So, that leaves a question as to what the base scope for my "smart home"
system should be and how much should be phased in later, if ever? It may
be worth mentioning something about the UK tax regime here. Here in the
UK, Value Added Tax (a form of sales tax) is applied to most purchases
at a rate of 20% of the sale price. This rate applies to house
refurbishments and extensions, but is waived for new build properties on
materials and systems core to the building. So, things like lights and
cables which are core to the build at exempt from VAT, whereas sound
systems and fitted kitchens for example, are not. There are cost (VAT)
savings to be had by installing VAT exempt items as part of the build,
but there are no tax savings to be made by installing non-core features,
such as AV systems.
It is follows then, that installation of "smart"
lighting and structured cabling should be part of the construction
scope, whereas "comfort" features, such as AV systems can be added
later, as the budget allows.
TO BE CONTINUED