Automation Overview
Design Brief



Automation Overview

2021 A new beginning

The Design Brief

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 The intention is that the new house will incorporate many "Smart home" features from the outset and many of the outdated technologies that I previously documented on this site are unlikely to be relevant for the new build.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 one.

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".

 I did 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.








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