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Mega-Size installation and I'm fried from info-overload

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    Mega-Size installation and I'm fried from info-overload

    Hi All, I'm new here but I've been reading about home automation on and off for quite awhile now...the result is that I'm just burnt out on it again because there's so many paths.

    The reason I titled the thread "Mega" is because I have purchased an elementary school that I am converting to a home/shop.
    The place is 3 stories and 30,000sqft+ on 2 acres.

    Some specifics...

    The building already has 2 alarm systems (DSC 832 and some Ademco dinosaur). The wiring for the sensors in "in series" at the panels in that they have "outer parameter" as a "zone" even though there are many sensors...likely because they just went cheap on the alarm panel and didn't need to know exactly which window/door/motion was tripped.
    The alarm is remotely monitored by a local security service (currently alerted by the phone capabilities of the alarm panels).
    The new system must be able to communicate with the remote service and also act independantly if the HA server crashes...for both fire and alarm.

    The building has a darned nice fire system (55 grand to install)...which I believe can communicate with a computer.

    The entire building is wired with Cat5 ethernet and I have several computers on my 100Tbase LAN in different parts of the building.

    There is a "server room" centrally located in the bottom floor which contains the switches and routers for the building (and hopefully eventually an automation server).

    Ok...well this is probably not unique but what I would like to do is...

    Consolidate the alarm system to a single panel...100 zones would be nice...64 minimum. I would like to be able to monitor movement on a blueprint "overlay" of the building to visually reference motion in an area (there are too many areas to remember "south window #3" and I would like to be able to see that motion "travel" through the overlay as different sensors are tripped. I would like to be able to see this on any of the GUI panels that will be installed. I would like to be able to activate/deactivate zones as scenes in the automation program, and I would like live video on any of the GUI's to be able to switch (and better yet track) the motion.

    Audio: I would like to be able to distribute syncronized audio through the building but allow any "GUI station" to listen to its own audio and/or control the audio of any other area. As mentioned before, I already have Cat5 and would like to be able to use this instead of a central audio switcher.

    GUI's: I would like to be able to use a mixture of touchpanels, industrial computers, home computers, and SVGA monitors. I'm a bit lost as to whether to have stand alone touchscreens or full touchscreen industrial computers since often the entire computer can be found used for less than a touchscreen alone. I like the idea of industrial computers since you could say...bring a CD to any station and play it through the whole building (in theory) Premise software seems to have a jump on this...not sure about Homeseer?

    Because of the nature of the building, wiring is not a problem from room to room, but it would be nice to only have to install new switches (and not replace the wiring to those switches). I can pipe *whatever* through Cat5 into a room but would like to keep the original house wiring intact (don't know if the better lighting systems require hardwire control to the switches). I absolutely hate the idea of chasing line noise and other X-10 problems I've read about...the installation will be hard enough as it is.
    I will also need motion detection on the exterior to control floods (dozens)from several sensors and be able to program their response via the HA.

    Add to this the usual bag of being able to listen to internet radio, XM radio (PCRXM), MP3, weather, thermostats, door/gate openers...and the whole host of usual HA capabilities.

    So what do I buy? Of course finding stuff on ebay is great when you can, so that's a consideration.

    I see products like HAI and cannot figure out if *that* is controlling the place, or if the Homeseer should be controlling the place, or what order things go in...etc.

    I cannot figure out if it is better to purchase 10 industrial computers and put them on the LAN with some LAN based HA solution, or run some sort of non-proprietary VGA touchscreens back to the server, or use proprietary touchscreens?

    One thing that I do know is that aside from the fire/burglary systems, I would like to have as much as possible going through standard PC's/componants and standard wiring since the technology changes so much, I'd like to be able to upgrade almost any capability at will.
    I would like a distributed/updating GUI that can view/listen/control the entire system (audio/security/camera/lighting/sprinklers/web access/telephony/..etc) from several stations.

    So I have to ask...if you were in my place, what systems would you purchase, how would you connect them, and why?

    Your help is GREATLY appreciated since I am new, the place is complex, and after several 3 day attempts at figuring it out, I still can't figure out the best/most cost effective solution.

    Many Many Thanks

    This is a first and is overwhelming to say the least. I'm not sure something of this magnitude is within the realm of a DIY installation. This is such a large and complex project that contacting an installer for advice might be your best bet. Good luck and let us know how it goes.
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      AS for the alarm system you may want to contact He is knows alot about alarms and helpful.

      If you want to stay away from X10 try Zwave enabled products. There are only a few products on the market but more will be available soon.

      Regarding your new shop/home it will be reall interesting to read all about it when you do get it done.

      As Rupp stated you may be better off contacting someone local but I thought I would give you another option if you didn't.

      Maybe TechLiving can do a feature on it when finished?


        Thanks for having the courage to reply Rupp, I know that the first post is "one of those".
        I am also involved in some machinist boards and like HA, there is always some newbie wanting a simple solution when there are almost endless options and solutions to any one problem.

        For me, coolness factor aside, HA is a matter of not having to walk so much. Forgetting to turn out the lights in the shop at night means 2 flights of stairs and a 100' walk. Same goes for being in the shop and wanting to check the answering machine in the house...or see who's knocking at the door in the *other* side of the building. If the alarm goes off by accident, the police will show up before I can get to the panel (not really 'cause I get a phone call but you get the idea).

        The premise is really not any different from most HA installations as far as I can see...just a bit more wiring and expense.
        The idea of course is to be able to do *anything* from *anywhere* I happen to be in the place (at least where a station is installed).

        Of course, the server/network approach seems the best for this and having ethernet through the building is a great start towards this.

        Where I get stuck is that the approaches to this vary so much.
        For instance... some systems use "browsers" to talk to the server computer, but I cannot tell if they have the ability to stream video back to the browser from the server. In other words, they can tell the server what to do, but don't really interact with it to much extent.

        Other people try to run multiple touchscreens physically back to the individual "server" so they are just making a remote control station.
        This approach seems to make sense except I have *1* Cat5 to each room and don't really want to run speaker wire...IR...etc in addition.

        I'm just lost as to approach.

        I guess the question though is still simple...

        If you had 30 rooms, a central server room running eithernet to all of them, and wanted to add HA to the existing duties of the LAN, what software/hardware would you buy?

        Ok, well maybe the question isn't so simple because it makes sense that you would want to...for instance...get signal from your security cameras *back* from an area through the same Cat5. It makes sense that any "kiosk" computer could have I/0 go into it and get relayed back to the server (example...USB IR to kiosk computer > eithernet > server takes action > sends result back to kiosk).
        Short of this, IP devices would work (example: Video camera > eithernet in >server >eithernet out >display on kiosk).

        Here's the ironic part...X10...
        X10 I've read gets more unreliable over distance and crossing phases (I have at least 10 electric sub panels), but the LAN has no trouble passing data to computers even at the farthest ends of the place.
        Why doesn't the server send the X10 "command" to a remote IP (or kiosk) translator. Then the actual RF transmission would be 20 feet from the reciever?

        Of course, even 10T 100T ethernet can pass tons of data...well enough to distribute even uncompressed audio in realtime (I've tried it). Forget Gigabit ethernet...that would be well even better.

        There are hardware devices that do some of this. IP audio distribution systems, but the darned computer is already doing that so why spend $300 on additional hardware to get what the computer in that area already can?

        Ok, so I'm lost and obviously rambling again. Of course anything that can be done via the internet can be done better via the ethernet.

        If this response is worth anything, it is a testiment to how confused I am.

        All I really want to do is get started and I'd like to get started on the platform that...when added to over best for my situation.

        (and thanks)


          Thanks Brian.

          I didn't respond to Rupp's suggestion that I might go with a pro' install.

          I'd like to stay away from that because the Pro's usually go with what "they know" or are familiar with...not always the best product, and then charge you umpteen dollars to make their product try to do what you could have done with the correct product in the first place. In addition, installers like to keep "the keys" to their installs...for ego if nothing else.

          Personally, I am capable of wiring just about anything. I have a full machine shop in the place and work on my own CNC machines. Imagine a single machine that has *thousands* of wires to it with each extremely sensitive to voltage, data...even temperature.
          In addition, in my youth I used to be a high-end home stereo installer. The tech' at that time was hardwiring IR ports/repeaters throughout the home so not too exciting by today's standards but I am comfortable wiring anything from audio to coax to eithernet to flat ribbon or optical.

          Fortunately my ignorance about putting together the right solution for HA doesn't cross over to my abilities to install it.

          Of course, my stubborn DIY streak will probably (as usual) end up with "famous last words" attached to it



            If you do not have a lot of 3 way switches then a ZWave installation may work for this very large project. The beauty of ZWave is it's entirely RF and each installed switch/plug/etc acts as a repeater. So you could start close to the Automation PC and start adding modules as you go. If one doesn't work add another in between until they all "see" each other.

            As far as the video feeds. There are several manufactures of Networked cameras and knowing you have cat5 throughout these may be what you are looking for. DLink has a good quality Network cameras for right around $100.

            For most other things a web browser should work for control via HS.
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              Check into this repeater/ coupler. I use it in my house and it works great. One of the features that I am not using is the ability to connect two couplers together via LAN cable. Might be useful to send that X10 signal to the other side of the building, even cross power panels.



                Just another lead try checking out the M1-Gold by elk for alarm panel. I'm supposed to do a training next week if I can manage heading their. But I'm sure others here no more about it. This looks very promising and has alot of benifits. Elk makes alot of good products.

                How many Lighting switches are you planning on?

                Another thought would be possibly Leviton or another manufactor that offers more industrial products. If you like the leviton products I'm also a reseller and can get alot more information industrial wise about it to you. I'm in contact with the leviton rep often.


                  Thanks guys.

                  I've been afraid to count the lighting switches.
                  Cost is an issue. I'm not saying I plan on designing the system with cost as the foundation, but when you have at least 100 light's a consideration.

                  Z-wave looks promising. The length of the place is about 150' max. Before I commit to the switched lighting though, I need to see what doesn't produce ill line noise or RF as both the CNC machines and the (unmentioned) recording studio will have equipment which doesn't like noise. For this, I'll probably have to get one switch type to test at a time.

                  The IP cameras look like the ticket...I'm a little confused as to their operation. I'm assuming you just patch these into the same hub/router that your LAN is on and go?

                  I'm still a bit lost on the GUI station/Kiosk/touchpanel ordeal. Is there a touchpanel that communicates back to the server via ethernet that has audio/video capability?

                  Here's the goal...
                  I'm in the back part of floor 3 and someone rings the door bell (or trips a sensor that chimes). I would like the "station" to play the chime, allow me to see video at that door, and communicate via intercom to that door.
                  At the same time, I would like to be able to see the weather (web)...control home audio...and all other HA tasks from that "station". Before I forget, answering the telephone and checking messages from any "station" would be a huge plus.
                  Now with individual computers working in "browser" mode with the server on the LAN, this all seems perfectly doable. I'm not sure if you can get traditional touchscreens to do this sort of I/0 through ethernet?

                  For the rest of the I/0, am I missing a product which serves as a "remote" I/0 station via ethernet? I'll blurt out my imagination and see if it rings any bells...
                  You have a box plugged into your router with the rest of the computers on your LAN...
                  This box is at the end of 200' of cat5 and has I/0 for audio/32 motion detectors/microphones/svga/and switch output for hardwire relays (to control floods and door locks...etc). This magic box sends data back to the server on sensor status, passes audio/video bi-directionally, and will set relays based on commands from HA software.
                  Basically this is indirectly a hardwired system even though a single Cat5 is the "hardwire" and data is being translated into action.

                  Another way to look at this is to imagine that you have 3 separate buildings...each building is 100' from the next in a triangle. Each building has 10 rooms.
                  You really don't want to run 10 pair of speaker wires from building C back to building A, you really don't want to run 3 video camera coax runs each back to building A from B and C, you really don't want to run 10 motion sensors back to building A (assuming building A has your ElkM1 and your dedicated HA computer).
                  ...and you really don't feel comfortable controlling a separate building 100' away totally via wireless (although wireless using a transmitter in the *same* building as the receiver may be acceptable).

                  This leaves a couple different thoughts on approach...
                  First, computers in A,B,C already do work on the LAN that runs between them. You have a main router in A and hubs in A,B,C.
                  Of course, any one of those computers can do HA on it's own...including A/V. By the nature of the LAN, any of those computers can already video conference (cameras), act as a file server (media), and have USB(etc) I/0 for HA products.
                  Downside is that even if there were a home automation system that would incorporate/control the I/0 of any of the computers on that LAN, you run into the problem of having all these computers running all the time...maybe an issue...maybe not, but that's multiple points for potential crash.

                  This makes you want to run the computers only as "browsers" for control and have the I/0 done with hardware (the magic box on a string again).

                  Anyway, instead of blurting my ever-changing thoughts on this...let me ask all of you what your approach would be to that setup.

                  The setup being...
                  3 buildings in a triangle 100' apart. Each building has rooms/doors/windows/sound systems/security/cameras...etc.

                  1 Cat5 to all 3 (which must also be used for standard LAN traffic)

                  You can run as much Cat5 as you like within the buildings as long as it is patched through the LAN (meaning not just used as regular "wire").

                  Goal being...

                  Control of any building from any building...with syncronized A/V and streaming security video between them.

                  Not to have to run 100 security sensors back to building A from B and C. (running *within* each building is fine)

                  Not to have to run (S)VGA at all (for control stations/touchscreens) Any interface/screen that uses only power and the LAN is fine though.

                  Minimize the use of wireless, and minimize the distance to wireless devices when they are the only option.

                  Note: In asking for a theoretical approach, I should also mention that the critical security hard-wiring is already done and physically spans the imaginary 3 buildings. Additional security and fire would be less mission critical (outdoor floodlights, video...gate sensors..etc). Basically I'm saying that you don't have to consider a router crash taking down the principal fire/security since that is already a true hardwire.

                  Sounds hard, but is probably a lot more simple than it looks if you consider what each computer already on a LAN can do regarding I/0 and HA.

                  P.S. I am actually going to rig this place up and I will be sure to feedback on the results. I really appreciate your advice.


                    You have a daunting task ahead of you but with time, I think you will succeed. You need to list all the tasks that need to be done then prioritize them The core rasks that need to be completed first, those that can be done at any time, and estimated time, cost (equipment, labor, etc) will help you manage the project.

                    Another thing to check would be to see if there is a HomeSeer club in your area. If not, perhaps there are other HomeSeer owners.
                    If you update your profile, it might help others contact you.

                    If you can, post some pictures, as this appears to be very interesting. If you have a website, let u know. And anytime you have a question, pleae feel free to post it here.

                    Good Luck Sean!



                      Congradulations on an interesing purchase & project. First thing that came to my mind after reading the recommendations for light switches above hasn't been addressed and may be difficult for you to overcome.

                      SWITCH RATINGS (Wattage)

                      Most residencial switches only offer capacity from 300w (x-10 & Zwave) up to 1000w (Switchlinc, Leviton, etc) for the dimming switches... I'm not certain on the specs so others please chime in. In a school building, I expect that many of your lights are flourescent or even metal halide, etc. and are non dimming. This may help as they can be controlled by a relay type switch, but many or most of your lighting circuits probably still exceed the capacity of most available consumer type automated switches?

                      Please... others with more expertise in this area provide your opinions.


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                        Sean S, a few thoughts. First, I'd love to be doing what you are doing! This is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking at doing for a few years now, but financially I am not able to make that move yet. I wish you well in making your dreama reality. ;-)

                        Now, any CAT5 run can be used for multiple PCs or ethernet devices in a room, if you place a hub/switch at the room end and plug in multiple PCs. You would be using the CAT5 run form the central data center as a spoke betwen switches. If you decide to go with PC-enabled I/O and control, all the things you want to do can be done with either custom programmed clients and server(s), or with a web browser on the remote client PC. You could also hook up an IP phone, and possibly use that as a control device as well.

                        BTW, keeping the system based on standard PCs means it would be fairly cheap and easy to replace them in the future. Unless you have a really good reason for going with proprietary equipment (which usually means single source and $$$), stick with the standard stuff.

                        Streaming video can easily be done with a server farm, depending on the number of cameras and video feeds you wish to serve up. You would home-run the video feeds to the nearest server that could sit on the network - it doesn't have to be in the data center/wiring closet, but that would be best. The remote viewing PC can use a network-based protocol with a client (could even be java in a web browser, such as the iVista streaming video system or similar), so the only problem becomes selection of the digitizing software/hardware and programming the feature set, along with how many PCs will be used at the end of a specific CAT5 run (= a possible bandwidth issue if you approach the max 100mbps network throughput the single down/uplink could handle at high video rates with multiple feeds simultaneously). Heck, you could even run Linux in there!

                        However, PC-based control will have slight delays no matter how you hook it up, just because of the latency of the network and the software control system that sits between the control point, information source, and the playback point.

                        As for the high-amperage light switches: if this was a school, a place like a gym would probably have a set of switches that actually control a relay (or series of them) in a central control panel which actually turn the lights on. They probably have a control circuit that you could tie into, and that may actually control several lighting circuits. At least that's how it was done in the schools I attended.

                        I'm biased (used to work for GE), but the Caddx Networx NX-8E alarm system (with add-ons) can handle 192 zones including fire zones, stands alone and can use phone line monitoring like your existing system, can be plugged into Homeseer for zones transitions and control (etc.), and has many other devices that can be added through it's NX buss and related interfacing boards and modules. The entire system was designed to make it extremely expandable and most of GE's various lines have modules that can plug into it. You may want to seek a local Caddx dealer/installer, however, to insure the system is hooked up and programmed right given the complexity of your arrangement.

                        Then again, an entire digital video security premise system right down to access control can be installed by a GE dealer, if that's what you want.

                        If I think of anything else, I'll post. Or feel free to contact me via email in my profile. BTW, where are you?
                        | - Gordon

                        "I'm a Man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess." - Man's Prayer, Possum Lodge, The Red Green Show
               - -


                          30,000 sq.ft. Wow. And my Mom thought I was nuts to have a home 4000 - 6000 sq. ft. (depending on how you measure). Sounds like a bunch of fun.

                          In a building that size, it's a good bet that you are dealing with a 3 phase commercial type electrical panel. Still 120 VAC at the switch/receptacle, but the panel itself will not be something that you could pickup at HS or Lowes. It also complicates hooking up equipment at the panel. For instance, in the post above pointing to repeaters, you would need the Model #4822AC unit, instead of the 4821. Depending on how the building is wired, you might even have to get multiple repeater units that can be connected together.

                          If I were in your circumstances, I would probably go with the Z-wave option to avoid all these hassles. It doesn't have a large range of devices yet, but that should change as time progresses. Using Z-wave, you can avoid messing with the electrical panels completely, and don't have to worry about interference on the lines.

                          <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> I see products like HAI and cannot figure out if *that* is controlling the place, or if the Homeseer should be controlling the place, or what order things go in...etc <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

                          This is very much a design/philosophy decision. Take a look at this thread to see a very lively discussion of the various thoughts on the process.
                          My system is described in my profile.


                            Thanks Everyone, this is really encouraging.

                            I'm sure this will all make sense to me at some point and that I can then help others.

                            I'll be a bit more specific about some of the things addressed in your responses...

                            Power: Lots Man...1200 amp 3 phase main running to several 200 amp subs...125v subs..etc etc.
                            Likely tons of noise. As mentioned, the gym is running sodium, or halide or ???.
                            The Gym alone is pulling near 16,000 watts.
                            Yes, it is a switched relay...and weird old tranformers and mercury filled tubes in panels...Frankenstein's Lab' kinda stuff.
                            I actually have some of the street lights on my system.
                            In 1905 the school was a 5500sqft "little house on the prairie" two story colonial (with basement) The 6000ish Gym is also of this vintage. In the '60's it was added onto with a more modern "wing".
                            Because of this, I have about every type of lighting you can think of. I'm probably going to be doing more relays than wall switches (no Z-wave relays yet?)
                            This was one of those places where wiring went on top of wiring, next to wiring..etc.
                            The heating system alone...I have wood burners, electric baseboard, forced air...all different systems.
                            I've got disconnected intercom systems, "central set" clocks (not working), eithernet, goes on and on.

                            Anyway...I don't know if you guys have looked at the "Premise" software, but their browser is similar to the product "Main Lobby".
                            That is basically what I'm trying to have...a nice non-windows looking GUI, but one that can be hidden to reveal a regular desktop so I can check my email from the "far side" of the place.

                            I guess that's not unique at all, but it's really rough for the super-newbie to figure out all these platforms and plugins...and hardware.

                            For the capability of:
                            10 stations each having...
                            un-PC looking GUI (switchable to desktop)
                            streaming audio from server
                            streaming security (not entertainment) video
                            web browsing (and normal windows apps)
                            alarm monitoring and virtual keypad (wired via hardware panel)
                            Fire monitoring and virtual keypad (wired via hardware panel)
                            Lighting control

                            Should I start with:
                            Homeseer (version?)
                            Main Lobby (does this work on networked PC's?)
                            10 industrial touchscreen computers
                            (I'll start just using my few regular PC's to test)
                            Some Z wave switches
                            Some X10 relays
                            Elk or Caddx alarm panel
                            Z wave to USB
                            X10 to USB (which?)
                            Some IP cameras
                            Voice modem (can you answer the phone through a single modem over a network...check voicemail..etc? Via Main Lobby?)

                            Another problem I have is understanding if there is a nice touchpanel style GUI (like Home lobby) that can integrate all this? The object of course is to have it look and perform as integrated...not patched together from umpteen windows apps. I'm guessing you can write your own integration.

                            At the moment, the list above is my shopping list. Would that be a good start?

                            Every few pages of browsing I end up with a different solution. I do like products with good message boards and so far this one is the best.

                            P.S. Yes, I'll put together some photos probably isn't what you are picturing in your heads!


                              Mainlobby does work on networked machines. MainLobby with Krumpy's plugin is very powerfull. I have been playing around with it for a couple of weeks.

                              X10 to USB
                              I would go with the ACT TI103 OR what I use the Ocelot w/psco5 but its serial
                              PowerLinc is the USB suggestion

                              Homeseer Version
                              I always use the latest I find them very stable
                              on a standalone server

                              I check voicemails with Homeseer plugin PHoneWeb the modem I use is WAY2call more expensive but better. You can ckeck voice mails anywhere but I'm not sure about "answer over a network"?

                              Mianlobby can intergrate all this and there is not alot patched together. Its pretty awesome, check out the MainLobby plugin forum for some screenshots.