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Newbie Automation Hardware Advice Please

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    Newbie Automation Hardware Advice Please

    I'm a beginner who is about to join the ranks of Homeseer Users and was hoping for some basic advice.

    I'm in the market for a very robust and dependable hardware solution that will address my automation goals. I'd like a system that can be programmed to function completely autonomously - as well as be interfaced with HS to serve as a real-time interactive controller.

    I don't know if there is a relationship between price and reliability - but if there is - I'm willing to pay for reliability. I will probably rely on a completely separate panel for my security applications, as I feel somewhat insecure about mission-critical functions like security hanging off the same platform as my automation system (which will undoubtedly require being taken offline and/or reflashed on occasion). Therefore, fire, smoke, burglary, panic, keypads, user codes and sirens are not all that relevant. Also, X10 support is not really important as I plan to migrate to Z-Wave (although I could probably find something to control with my old X10 modules).

    Anyway, here's a rough wish list:

    Really Easy to Learn and Program (I've already stretched myself too thin)
    Powerful Programming Capabilities
    Programming Over Ethernet Option
    Rock Solid Two-Way Plugin Support in HomeSeer
    Reputable Manufacturer with Track Record for Support and Reliability

    Either an Abundance of Input Zones Out-of-the-Box -or- Expanders that Don't Add to Programming Complexity
    Support for Wired and Wireless Magnetic, Motion and Water Sensors
    Support for Multiple Thermostats (looking for recommendations on this too)
    Support for Multiple Temperature or Temperature/Humidity Sensors

    Support for Z-Wave Lighting Control
    Support for Relays and Voltage Ouputs
    Support for Proximity Card Readers
    Support for Door Bell and Phone Ring Detection
    Support for Telephone Dialer with Voice Reporting
    Support for Email Reporting
    Support for Telephone-Based Remote Control
    Support for IR Distribution (Unlikely, I'm sure)

    Support for Dual Power Supply and/or Battery Backup with Low Battery Warning

    Any suggestions? Thanks for your feedback.

    Hum .... Sounds like a job for the new HomeSeer embeded device. Blafarm I would email Rick Tinker about this because there have been a few rumors about a new device that hs embeded HS that may very well be wat you are looking for.


      No need - I can address it here.

      The first thing though is that the embedded OS server (Pro) product is not needed, but if you are looking to have a professional install and maintain the system, then that is the right solution for you.

      As many people here already know, HomeSeer is very reliable - it is used in commercial applications today. You don't want to install it on the family PC where the platform becomes compromised over time, and you want a PC that can return to a power-on state after a powerfailure (and in the event that the UPS dies), but other than those items there is little else you need to do to build a very stable HomeSeer platform.

      Scanning the list, I am pretty sure we have all of the above covered in the current product offering. Prox readers can be integrated into HomeSeer and I know of a company working on a HomeSeer specific solution as well (won't be out for a while though). The obvious key to some of the solutions is the right choice of hardware, but I am sure I have heard of somebody integrating some type of solution in all of the categories listed with HomeSeer. Since we are a software company, you will have to look at a professional or one of our distributors for the hardware solutions to all of these areas.

      You are correct Rupp that the HomeSeer Pro 100 product is based upon HomeSeer 2.0 (Pro version) running on a hardware platform with no moving parts and an embedded OS. You can put the small device inside your structured wiring can if you want.

      Rick Tinker (a.k.a. "Tink")


        The Homeseer Pro 100 *does* seem like an appropriate choice to support this wishlist - but I would think the key to solving this puzzle lies squarely on finding a hardware interface that can support these capabilities.

        Have I stumped the panel (no pun intended). Does anyone have any recommendations ?


          I can pretty much guarantee that it will not be "the hardware device" but rather "the set of hardware devices" as there is no single solution for all that you have listed. This is why you are here though as HomeSeer can seemlessly integrate all of the hardware and software solutions that it takes to meet your needs.

          You will get many different recommendations in each category for hardware, some will solve a specific problem (e.g. Infrared) while others will apply to multiple systems (e.g. Ocelot handles Infrared and digital I/O) thus making it very complex to choose what you want.

          There is also a great deal of consideration for the financial outlay you are willing to put up for this. Some solutions are 100% turnkey and very simple to set up, but there is a cost for this convenience. Other solutions are very much a "roll your own" deal which might cause you to look for a professional to set up.

          Without knowing more about what you are looking for in cost, installation convenience, size of the home, etc. it is very hard to do anything but throw a few names out there for your consideration.

          Rick Tinker (a.k.a. "Tink")


            Thanks for your reply Rich.

            Some Answers:

            Although my funds are not unlimited, I am prepared for a significant financial outlay to get this done right.
            I am looking for a very turnkey experience that is simple to setup and administer (my day job is challenging enough!).
            If possible, I'd rather not hire a professional to set it up.
            The home is around 4000', but I've excluded security functions and I'm not planning on going sensor-crazy.

            I've just been browsing the forum and happened across the ELK M1Gold. It seems that this box might address a great number of items on my wish list (I could be wrong but the only one that does not seem included is IR). It seems a HS plugin is in the works - but fully tested or completed. It also seems that the product is not yet fully deployed in distribution channels.

            Am I shooting in the wrong direction?

            Any thoughts. Thanks.


              Well, the financial information is still a little unclear as there were relative terms used to describe it, but given that you do not want a professional to install I do have some general price information to work with. This is, afterall, the DIY version of HomeSeer we're referencing!

              I would strongly encourage you to do security as the security sensors are key to the automated home. Not only do they provide Home/Away status, but the same sensors you use for security can be used for occupancy and HVAC automation.

              The Elk M1 and the HAI Omni series are very comparable, but for the reason you pointed out, I would suggest the HAI Omni. The M1 is new, and the plug-in may not be done and tested for a while yet. If you are not planning on any heat pumps for HVAC, then adding the thermostats to the HAI panel gives you a convenience interface and "one stop shopping" for security and HVAC automation. If you are going to have heat pumps and need the ability to put the thermostats into Aux heat mode on command, then I would change everything. In that case I would go with the HAI or the RCS Serial thermostats, and I would change the security system to a Caddx and use Dave Crawford's plug-in with it. It fragments your solution, but it will save you a significant amount of money.

              To address your topics one at a time given a little more information that you have provided...

              <UL TYPE=SQUARE>
              <LI>Really Easy to Learn and Program (I've already stretched myself too thin)
              Got that in HomeSeer, especially if everything has a plug-in interface as opposed to using scripts.

              <LI>Powerful Programming Capabilities
              Got that in HomeSeer.

              <LI>Programming Over Ethernet Option
              Got that in HomeSeer.

              <LI>Rock Solid Two-Way Plugin Support in HomeSeer
              All of the equipment I have recommended has two-way plug-in support.

              <LI>Reputable Manufacturer with Track Record for Support and Reliability
              6 years, 7K-8K installs, and reliable enough for a bridge in NY and a couple of theme parks = HomeSeer

              <LI>Either an Abundance of Input Zones Out-of-the-Box -or- Expanders that Don't Add to Programming Complexity
              Well now here you can trade some money for less complexity. e.g. HAI will take you up to 16 zones before you need an expander, but once you add an expander and add it to the system, you will never know the difference between the 16 zones and the 16+ zones in programming. It is more expensive than other systems though. Using an ADI Ocelot is the cheapest to expand and it is a distributed system, but adding and addressing an I/O module is more complex than with the others. The Caddx here too may be your cost versus complexity alternative.

              <LI>Support for Wired and Wireless Magnetic, Motion and Water Sensors
              Most security systems and digital input interfaces will support all of those devices as they all provide a dry contact closure when the sensor is activated.

              <LI>Support for Multiple Thermostats (looking for recommendations on this too)
              The HAI thermostats can have several off of a single serial port or off of the panel, the RCS serial thermostats can have several off of a single serial port (through an RS485 converter, so more complex and more expensive). The actual number you need has to be considered against the practical limit on thermostats for the HAI system - I think it is 6 or 8 thermostats for one panel or one serial port.

              <LI>Support for Multiple Temperature or Temperature/Humidity Sensors
              I have NO idea about the Caddx with regard to temperature/humidity, but again in the spirit of how complex you want to go, you can get an Applied Digital (ADI) Ocelot and have lots of digital inputs at a (typically) lower cost per input than a security system, but now you have another device in the mix. The ADI Ocelot allows you to have a lot of Bobcat modules, and Bobcats are available for temperature, humidity, light sensing, etc. The HAI system has temp and humidity sensors too, but they *may* cost more than the Ocelot solution once you factor in the cost of the zone inputs on the panel that are needed.

              <LI>Support for Z-Wave Lighting Control
              Got it - built in.

              <LI>Support for Relays and Voltage Ouputs
              Voltage outputs with HAI, Ocelot (through Adicon modules), and others. Not sure if Caddx is voltage outputs or true relays. Ocelot modules exist with both voltage outputs and actualy relays. What specifically do you need and how many?

              <LI>Support for Proximity Card Readers
              Nothing native to HomeSeer, but Prox-in-a-box (e.g. Keri system, available from many of our distributors) can give you a relay/voltage output that can trigger a disarm event in the security panel (all of the security panels have a contact closure arming facility) when a valid key/card is presented. Using this method opens up pretty much any card reader system. The Dallas/Maxim one-wire system may be your least expensive, but it takes some Googling and reading on this message board to get a list of all of the parts you need and the scripts to run it.

              <LI>Support for Door Bell and Phone Ring Detection
              Phone is easy, door bell entails a little bit of work on your part, but search this MB for probably no less than 4-5 different solutions for that one!

              <LI>Support for Telephone Dialer with Voice Reporting
              Add HomeSeer Phone

              <LI>Support for Email Reporting
              HomeSeer has it.

              <LI>Support for Telephone-Based Remote Control
              HomeSeer has it. (DTMF or voice recognition via HomeSeer Phone)

              <LI>Support for IR Distribution (Unlikely, I'm sure)
              Correct - IR generation yes, but distribution no. Most people use Xantech equipment or Niles. I use Xantech and it is not that complicated or costly.

              <LI>Support for Dual Power Supply and/or Battery Backup with Low Battery Warning
              That is a search from your end for a PC that has dual power supplies, but I would be less apt to look for that rather than just a big UPS. Power supplies do not go out that often, and the power supply to run your equipment and provide +5VDC and/or +12VDC for everything do not need to be that powerful.

              Hope this helps!

              Rick Tinker (a.k.a. "Tink")



                First let me say thanks very much for taking the time to compose that amazingly comprehensive post!

                If I may, I would just like to qualify some of the information I provided:

                1. A couple to $3K for the hardware (not including any part of the HS equation) is what I was estimating for this project.
                2. Thanks for the push towards a security-oriented product - after researching all day, I completely see the logic of that approach.
                3. I am currently planning to have a completely separate system for security - so this hardware will be dedicated to control and automation functions.
                4. I had wanted to deploy two-pronged approach to the system design which I'm not sure makes sense - but I will try to describe:

                I'd like the vast majority of the day-to-day, fixed programming to reside in the controller itself and to run autonomously, such that it could be disconnected from HS and still provide the required support and services. In addition to that, I'd like the panel to function as a controller for HS - to allow HS to execute commands for interactive control of Lighting, HVAC, Projector Screen Control, Motorized Blinds Control and other automation functions.

                Therefore, my references to:

                Really Easy to Learn and Program
                Powerful Programming Capabilities
                Programming Over Ethernet Option
                Rock Solid Two-Way Plugin Support in HomeSeer
                Reputable Manufacturer with Track Record for Support and Reliability
                Support for Telephone Dialer with Voice Reporting
                Support for Email Reporting
                Support for Telephone-Based Remote Control
                Support for Dual Power Supply and/or Battery Backup with Low Battery Warning

                ....had less to do with HS, whose capabilities and stellar track record I am already aware of - and all to do with the actual hardware portion of the equation.

                Like many others, I am adverse to incorporating a X10-based solution again. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the price structure of mainstream products like Lutron's RadioRA. With little or no other options, and bolstered by Leviton's recent Z-Wave announcement, I find myself steering towards a Z-Wave-compatible solution.

                Because of my two-pronged system approach, and my desire to not rely on, or support, multiple controller platforms, it would seem that I am obligated to select a Z-Wave compatible product if I expect the panel to control Z-Wave devices autonomously. And as HAI seems not to have not plans for Z-Wave, I find myself looking seriously at the Elk M1 Gold, which I've read some good things about and which I've been told will soon have Z-Wave support.

                I am aware that the M1 Gold is a new product and that not much may be known of it. I have learned some things today about the product and the company's pedigree, which satisfy some of my concerns listed above. As I'll need plenty of time to get up to speed HS, I'm not in any particular rush to integrate the hardware, and I feel that I can wait for plugin support as long as there is a reasonable chance that a stable, well-designed, two-way plugin is forthcoming. All of this is probably anyone's guess at this point, although probability would suggest that it will happen eventually.

                So I guess what I don't know is:

                Is there a generally positive feeling about this product amongst the people-in-the-know?
                Does the M1 Gold fall into the category of a fairly "easy to learn and program" device?
                Are the "powerful programming" claims in their literature accurate?
                And can it be zone-expanded without too much programming complexity?

                Once again, thanks very much for your response. I look forward to any other information you might have - or any point of view you might want to share regarding the validity of my system approach. The amount of information I don't know is staggering - and I appreciate any help I can get.

                Thanks for your feedback.


                  As far as hardware goes, JDS's STARGATE (JDS) fits the bill on every one of your requirements except Z-wave support (at least not yet). Some may consider Stargate (SG) to be long on the tooth, but it is a proven performer.

                  The beauty of Stargate is that it is an extremely powerful controller without Homeseer. If HS goes down for some reason (usually my fault), SG not only keeps all basic household functions going, but can implement "backup" functionality to make up for the loss of many HS functions.

                  SG has numerous add-on expanders for more I/O, RS-485 devices like RCS thermostats, temp sensors, doorbell stuff, IR - all the items on your list. The WebXpander adds a web interface as well as the ability to program remotely. Built-in support for the Caddx NX8(E) alarm system is flawless. The Homeseer Stargate plugin is is great.

                  JDS has a active and helpful user community. Visit the JDS forum on this board.


                  Hometroller S6 w/ HS3Pro, Way2Call
                  BLAB8SS, BL Backup, Easy Trigger, HSTouch, Open Sprinkler, SONOS, Ultra1Wire3, UltraM1G, WeatherXML, Z-Wave


                    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Support for Proximity Card Readers
                    The M1 has native support for card readers.

                    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Does the M1 Gold fall into the category of a fairly "easy to learn and program" device?
                    Are the "powerful programming" claims in their literature accurate?

                    As has been pointed out, the M1 is new. The initial reviews I've seen/heard say that Elk got things right, including the programming. Is that true, who knows? I would download the Elk programming software demo from here and try some programming.
                    My system is described in my profile.



                      At issue here is the way in which HomeSeer is categorized. While I see it happen all the time, I always have to disagree with it...

                      If you consider putting programming in these ancillary hardware devices/systems so that they will operate when HomeSeer is disconnected, then you are missing the whole reason for using something like HomeSeer - it integrates disparate systems together into one cohesive solution.

                      Many people feel that hardware based controllers are more reliable. Quite honestly, they are subject to the same rules as HomeSeer - it all depends on the programming. There have been bugs with HAI's built-in software and Applied Digital's software in the past, but nobody seems to categorize that amongst the same as HomeSeer because HomeSeer is the all-software solution so it MUST be inherently less reliable.

                      Not wanting to get on a soap box rant here, I'll calm myself down and continue...

                      The thing that gives HomeSeer this perception is A) it is based upon Windows and B) it is software. On item "A", I can only say that Windows, when configured properly and left alone, can be extremely reliable. I shut down HomeSeer often due to software updates, but the PC itself has not been rebooted in probably half a year. My WinAmp MP3 jukebox PC has not been rebooted, other than power failures (not a big UPS for that one) for about a year now! The very small PC (233MHz Windows 2000 system) that answers the HomeSeer phone line at my office also has not been rebooted in a very long time. Item "A" is just a perception, it is not truth unless you make it so. However, because of this perception that we cannot fight, we have come up with the embedded OS solution for the professionals. Trust me when I say the embedded solution is to address the FUD more than anything. Item "B" has to be given consideration for what it is doing - software is infinately more flexible than anything you will find in a hardware based controller, but that is never given consideration. If you throw complex tasks on this software, you are certain to increase the probability of problems/issues. Take for instance the ever changing Internet and scripts that grab information from web pages - that breaks things all the time and people (especially the spouses) always just see it as "HomeSeer is not working" rather than for what it really is. I never see people saying things like "I am going to do more with HomeSeer because it is software based and can do more" - it is always - "I am going to do more with my hardware controllers because they have less capabilities so they must be more reliable".

                      In doing this since 1992 with PC based controllers, I am always happy to have a single place where I can look to view, change, or add to my automation routines. If I had to go back to the days when I had to load the Napco software to change which X-10 signal is sent when a zone status changes, load the HomeVision software to program the automation routines there, load the JDS software to learn IR signals into the IR Expander, run the Adicon software to program Ocelot functions, or run PCA1105W to set up automation in the HAI system (each with their OWN programming language!) I would go nuts (or some would say MORE insane) for sure.

                      So, that may not have been the validity of your approach you were looking for, but nobody could ever accuse me of not telling it as I see it. (Which reminds me, the above is the opinion of me and is not necessarily that of HomeSeer Technologies, LLC)

                      Rick Tinker (a.k.a. "Tink")


                        I have to respectfully disagree with Tink on this one. My father was heavily involved with civil defense in 60's and 70's when I was growing up. That and my own work in the same area, lead me to stress redundacy and elimination of the single point of failures.

                        If EVERYTHING is contained in HS, then EVERYTHING will go down when HS down. Tink makes a good point about the FUD regarding PC based systems, but for me it's less of a hardare vs software issue, and more of a centralized vs distributed system. Yes, it's (a lot) more work to maintain a distributed system, but it is also a more robust, reliable system.

                        Recently, a lighting induced surge came in through the alarm panel and fried the com ports on several PCs. If everything had been in HS, my HA system would have been DOA. Instead, the lights kep coming on, the sprinkler system watered the lawn, the music continued to play, etc.

                        That said, the decision is very much one of design philosophy and choice, and arguments can be made in both directions. There are places where I can see using the HS centric approach, and other places were (IMHO) the hardware centric approach would be better.
                        My system is described in my profile.


                          {begin edit}
                          As I reread this, it sounds a lot more confrontational than I intended it to be. It's certainly not meant to be an attack on JLehnert's opinions.
                          {end edit}

                          <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by JLehnert:
                          If EVERYTHING is contained in HS, then EVERYTHING will go down when HS down. Tink makes a good point about the FUD regarding PC based systems, but for me it's less of a hardare vs software issue, and more of a centralized vs distributed system. Yes, it's (a lot) more work to maintain a distributed system, but it is also a more robust, reliable system.

                          But if all your core automation stuff is in an Ocelot, Stargate, etc. then if you lose that, you lose everything too. From a catastrophe point of view (blown serial ports, etc.) these devices are no better than the PC.

                          I don't think Rick said that everything needs to be in one PC. His example has his winamp/mp3 jukebox on a separate machine. Using a PC does not affect your redundancy requirement at all. All Rick is saying is that there is a good argument for PCs being as stable as an external box (which is also a computer).

                          I too have lost a serial port due to a lightning strike. The loss was not in the PC however, it was in the box connected to the PC. I had to replace a processor because of this (it was tied directly to a BASIC Stamp 2). The PC was fine - I just stopped getting weather information until I replaced it.

                          I don't see anything particularly redundant in your system. All you are describing is isolated components - not redundant components. Don't you also suffer from a single-point dependency? If you lost the box that was running your lights, sprinkler, etc., wouldn't you also lose your lights, sprinkler, etc.? Or, do you use HS to also control these components (creating a redundant system)?

                          While I don't have a problem with using an external controller, I don't use one. All automation stuff is done with HS on a PC (and, don't tell anyone, but I also use Winamp on the same machine). It's perfectly stable. I think that the versatility far outweighs (for me) the perceived stability of an external controller.

                          While I don't want to recommend against using one, I think people sometimes jump too soon and say you need one because HS/PC combinations are not stable.


                            Thanks - I was just coming to the message board to say pretty much the exact same thing that you just wrote!

                            I have had lightning take out a single COM port on a PC over the years, but I have definitely had 2-3 non-PC pieces of equipment go due to lightning as well. I have also seen some HAI systems completely fried by lightning when the PC was left untouched. Lightning is a fickle thing...

                            Also, back when the HAI thermostats were on my HAI panel, I did have some very basic stuff programmed in the HAI panel - e.g. if there is a fire alarm, put the thermostats in the OFF mode. Since HAI limited what you can do with the thermostats when connected to the panel versus on a COM port, I have since removed them from the panel and lost that capability. As I said earlier though, I have been running with a PC as the main controller since the ECS (Dynasty) days back in 1992, and I am still doing it today so there has to be something to my side of the argument... I know, I know... It is just so HARD to trust a PC that you have despised for so long.

                            Rick Tinker (a.k.a. "Tink")


                              With 45 years in the programming and computer field I have to agree with Tinker. Homeseer on a well constructed platform under XP or 2000 is extremely reliable. If you do not touch it, it will not go down except on a real hardware failure of a key component (board). The power restore after power failure is a must. I actually built a circuit to do it for an older MB, but the system I recently built as the HS platform has it. It is an industrial strength configuration e.g. primary drives are SATA Raid, Back up and media storage is IDE. Motherboard is 400 MHZ FSB with an AMD chipset and 1.5 Gig Main memory. It is all in a heavily cooled (ventilated) rack mount enclosure driven through a UPS that gives me 2.5 hours of standby power. In fact my local power company has asked me to forward my utility power failure logs to them to help them isolate line problems, but that is another funny tale.

                              The real key to homeseer is understanding that its job is to integrate and coordinate the control of specific subsystems. It is a much better design when the subsystems are reasonably self sufficient. For exapmle, the security subsystem based on the Napco Gemini.

                              The scurity susbsystem will operate without Homeseer, but not as well integrated as with Homeseer running.

                              The same for HVAC. The HVAC subsystem is based on the RCS thermostats which allow the HVAC system to operate. I loose setback with the TSats I am using, but what the heck, I still have A/C.

                              All lighting in the house will fully operate without HS, just not as seamlessly.

                              I can not control the house from the WEB if HS is off the air, but that is only a single subsystem (web interface) that has failed.

                              The pool is capable of controlling itself to a very high degree without HS, its just nicer to be able to control it from anywhere as opposed to the single panel that came with the pool subsystem.

                              The major design rule for my home Automation venture was that every subsystem would work reasonably without HS so there is really no single point of failure. The next major design rule was that the wife would be happy. Thinking back, I may have had them reversed.