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DIY Home Automation Lighting

May 24, 2008
DIY home automation lighting has been around since about 1980 and while the advantages homeowners hoped to gain such as convenience, energy savings and security were at times outweighed by the fact that these early systems were not always reliable. These early devices relied on a communication protocol known as X-10 where one light switch or receptacle would talk to the others over an existing household electrical system. As it turned out, X-10 relied on a weak signal that was subject to interference from everyday appliances that would create electrical line noise.

Turn the clock ahead 20 years. Many of those early X-10 systems are still in use today but the technology has advanced tremendously. Enter UPB. UPB or Universal Powerline Bus has proven to be 100 to 1000 times more reliable than the best X-10 systems in existence due to its signal strength and speed, approaching that of hard wired systems.

Many times we've been asked "how can I automate the lighting in my home?". While the answer requires knowledge of some specifics involved, it is well within the ability of those who can safely replace a light switch or a receptacle outlet to accomplish. The next obvious question people have is "how do all the lights know when to turn on, off or dim?" A little basic background information on the technologies involved makes things a lot simpler.

We live in an age of networks and inter-networks. Home automated lighting in that regard, is no different. There are three broad types of automated lighting controls; those that are wireless such as Z-Wave, those that are hardwired and installed as the house is being built and those that communicate over a households existing electrical wiring such as X-10, UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) and a few others. All of these protocols (or communication standards) can operate as a single, stand alone system or can be integrated with more complex home automation and security controllers for a complete smart home solution.

Obviously, from a practical standpoint, you can't tear down your walls to install new or additional wires or switches so I won't go into those types. Wireless systems such as Z-Wave work very well but are subject to RFI (radio frequency interference) at times and rely on using a "mesh" network where all devices talk to all the others and repeat any missed instructions. For the best retrofit DIY lighting automation solution, the technology that appears to have clear advantages over the others is UPB. As mentioned before, it operates over the existing AC power lines in a house and is extremely reliable, unlike its older cousin the X-10 protocol. A simple plug-in adapter and free downloadable software enables full control of the lighting schema when combined with elegant UPB electrical switches and electrical outlets, all from the power of your PC.

Simply turning a light on, off or just dimming is not really a big deal from a PC but the real power comes when you decide that you would like to combine switches to form lighting scenes or zone lighting. You see, these switches are not your ordinary run-of-the-mill variety. Sure there are some that just handle the standard on, off and dim but others are designed to handle scene or zone lighting with the push of a button for any number of rooms or even the whole house, if you so desire.

Also, it is easy enough to scrap your old security panel at a later date and replace it with a unit that integrates other systems in a home such as heating and air conditioning, surveillance, home theater, swimming pool or jacuzzi, water sprinklers, you name it and just about anything else you can imagine. How about a security breech issuing an "all lights on" command? Or maybe you'd like to check on your home or make adjustments from anywhere in the world from your PDA or laptop? The possibilities are virtually endless.

If you can manage to program a remote control for your TV, VCR or whatever, you already have the basic skills...logic! No need to learn complex programming languages, just simple, plain, down-to-earth English.
About the Author
Dan Joubert is the co-founder of Home Network Solutions, a home automation company specializing in premium components for do-it-yourself home automation, lighting control, security and distributed audio and video. http://www.homenetworksinc.com
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