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Dignan17

May 12th 2014 7:59 pm

Z-Wave and Home Automation

I thought I might write up a little primer on home automation using ZWave technology. I'd like to offer up my approach on home automation, so others who were interested in the subject could see one way of accomplishing it. Here I'll briefly explain my history with home automation, then talk about the advantages of ZWave and what you'll need in order to get started. I'll also talk about some of the cool things you can do with it. My apologies in advance for the TL;DR post and if I start to ramble a bit towards the end :)



I've been interested in home automation since 2000, when I was a freshman in college. Anyone using the internet at that time remembers X10, a company that seemed to be the sole advertiser on the entire web and dominated banner and popup ads. Even worse, X10 focused their ads on pervs who wanted to set up small cameras to spy on women (it was a weird time for the internet). These ads rarely focused on the neat home automation tech they sold, which let you turn on your lights (and dim them) with a remote control. I bought a kit and soon enough I had my dorm room lights on remote, able to turn on my string lights, desk lamp, and lava lamp without leaving my seat (yup, it was a clichéd dorm room).

Fast forward to around 2012. I'd been using X10 technology in every place I'd lived for 12 years, and it was getting to the point where the tech was outdated and frustrating to use. X10 was invented, after all, in 1975, and [primarily] sends command signals through your home's power lines to the various modules you've installed. This method is flawed, as power lines can be noisy so sometimes signals don't get through. There's better alternatives to X10 out there today, and that's when I tried out ZWave.

ZWave is a licensed standard, with modules and devices manufactured by a number of companies. Some you've heard of (Leviton, Shlage), others you probably haven't (Linear, Evolve, Intermatic). ZWave has several significant advantages over X10, primarily that it uses a wireless mesh network to get signals to all the devices. Most ZWave devices act as repeaters for the command signals, and communication is verified to make sure that all the devices respond. ZWave is far faster and much more reliable than X10.

The biggest downside to ZWave when compared to X10 is the cost. There are ebay stores where you can get X10 lamp modules for $5 each, whereas a ZWave Leviton light switch might set you back $80 to $120. There are affordable ZWave devices, though, and I'll outline them here. The reliability of ZWave completely justifies the cost of the hardware.

If you're interested in a ZWave network, here's what you need to get started:
  • Controller - this is the device that creates your network. You pair it to your devices, and configure everything using the controller. I use the Vera Lite controller from a company called Mi Casa Verde (MCV). I recommend that or the Vera 3, but the Lite version should be all you need.

    Vera Lite: http://goo.gl/IAG1Xk
    Vera 3: http://goo.gl/lvyQde
  • Devices - the most common ZWave device categories are light switches, lamp modules, thermostats, and door locks. Here are some examples:

    Linear light switch: http://goo.gl/M2W8cW (this one is the best value, IMO. It's the least expensive ZWave switch I've seen that has a neutral wire connection. This is for two way switches only, though, not 3-way).
    GE lamp module: http://goo.gl/OnlgkD (I've been using these for years and they're great devices. This model can dim, and there's an on/off version you can use for fluorescent lights and appliances)
    Thermostat: http://goo.gl/qnnyGe (I use this Trane model)
    Kwikset door lock: http://goo.gl/BOlXdm (this is just a deadbolt model, but there are others with a lever)

All you really need in order to get started is the controller and a single device. Vera will ask you to create a free account that you can use to access your system remotely. Once that's done, all you do is take the Vera controller around to where you've installed your ZWave device(s) and pair them (usually by pressing one button on the device - that's it). This is done so the controller can get an idea of where all the devices are located and what the best routes are for the signals that get sent around your home. Once the device is paired with the controller, you're set to do whatever you like with it. Turn it on/off, set it to precise dim levels (0-100%), create scenes (to combine multiple devices), and create automation triggers for the lights and scenes (based on time, behavior of other devices, etc.).

From there you can do an incredible amount of things with any of the devices you add. Here are some examples of the types of things I do with my home automation setup:
  • The following happens every day: My outside lights turn on at sunset, no matter what time of year it is. A little after sunset a few lamps (with LED bulbs to save energy) turn on as a security measure. When my wife and I go to sleep, I initiate a "Good Night" scene that turns out all the lights in my home, locks the front door, sets the thermostat to a comfortable level, and turns off the front porch light. Then at sunrise our garage light turns off.
  • At 6 times during the day, my cat feeder dispenses food.
  • I have 4 scenes I use most often. When I get home I tap the "Evening" scene, which turns on all the lights on our main floor for a nice, livable atmosphere. When we sit down for dinner at the TV or the table, I start a scene that lowers all the lights in our main living area to a pleasant dining atmosphere, and turns off lights in parts of the main floor where we aren't going to be for the rest of the evening (the front hallway, for example). I then have a scene for watching TV, which lowers the lights even further. Lastly, I have a "Movie" scene, which turns off most lights and lowers the others to minimum levels needed to get up and find the bathroom :)
  • On a similar note, I have a scene set up for those 3am trips to the restroom. The "Sleepy" scene turns on the lights in the bathroom and the hallway to our bathroom to the 2-5% level, which is just enough to find your way but not enough to hurt your eyes. I also have a scene for early morning wakeup times that slowly ratchets up the brightness levels in our bathroom, giving our eyes time to adjust.
  • A "Going Out" scene turns all the lights off, locks the front door, and sets the thermostat to heat at much lower temps and cool at much higher temps.
  • When I put in the code for my front door, it unlocks and the lights in my front hallway turn on long enough for me to make my way into my house, then they turn off again.
  • When we're out of town and I have someone coming to check on our pets, I give them a new, unique front door code that only works during the hours I set and sends me an email when they've come.
  • I have NFC tags in various places around my house. I can tap my phone against these tags and initiate a scene command. I also have a tag in my car, so that when I'm headed home I can tap against it and let my house know that it should make the temperature comfortable again.
These are only some examples. There are plenty more things that are possible with ZWave. You can control your blinds to open during the day and close at night. There are ZWave water sensor modules that can sense when you have a burst pipe and shuts off a ZWave water supply valve. A window sensor can tell your thermostat to turn off if the windows are open. Lots of possibilities.

In the past, I've been negative towards products like Nest and Hue because they were proprietary devices that didn't interact with any other home automation products. As a user, I didn't want to go into separate apps to control my house, and I want all my devices to be able to talk to each other (without using 3rd party services like IFTTT). Fortunately, there's a fantastic community of people all figuring out ways to do cool things with their automation products, and several of them have found ways to control the Nest and Hue products from within Vera, which will give you that control I was missing. I'm still not a fan of Nest and Hue mostly due to their cost, but at least they will work with ZWave devices now. With some work, Vera can also work with X10 and Insteon devices.

Here are some other ZWave recommendations:
  • Devices:

    Outdoor module: http://goo.gl/NlGwYp (I use these to turn my Christmas lights on and off)
    3-way dimmer switch: http://goo.gl/aNu8Zs (made by GE, you can also get these at Lowes. The only problem with this inexpensive model is that it doesn't use a neutral wire, so you can't put LED bulbs in the fixtures)
    On/off switch: http://goo.gl/UW80Oj (use these for fluorescent lamps, appliances, bathroom fans, or switchable outlets. I use one of these to turn on/off a ceiling fan. Never use a dimmer switch for a switchable outlet)
    On/off module: http://goo.gl/xI0SXJ (just for on/off and no dimming. I use this to turn my cat feeder on and off, or to control an air purifier).
    Water/freeze sensor: http://goo.gl/ytQK1G (great if you have a basement that floods - like mine!)
    Motion/temperature/humidity/light sensor: http://goo.gl/8XTxMy (this one is quirky to set up but does a lot!)
  • Community:

    The Vera community has been invaluable to me as a resource. There are some really capable people there: forum.micasaverde.com/
  • Android app:

    My absolute favorite mobile app for Vera is called "Authomation HD." You can find it on the Play Store here: http://goo.gl/ZMNF9I

    Sadly, the iOS apps are a little lacking, but I haven't played with some of the alternatives available. Vera has their own app on Android and iOS, but it's pretty basic.
I'm by no means an expert on ZWave or home automation, but I've been using it pretty extensively and I've been playing around with home automation for 14 years. I try to keep up on all the developments in the product categories. At the moment the two biggest obstacles to widespread adoption are:
  • The difficulty of setup. The average consumer is not going to change their light switches, for example.
  • The cost. The least expensive ZWave switch on the market sells on ebay for about $22 (I don't recommend it, but search ebay for Intermatic and you'll find some sales with six switches for around $130). My favorite switch is nearly $40, so just switching out ten switches in your home costs $400. The only reason I was able to start my system on a small budget was because Radio Shack ran a firesale on their ZWave stock in ~2012 and I could pick up a lamp module for $10.

If home automation is a hobby that you're willing to invest funds, time, and research into, you'll get a lot out of it. If you have questions about ZWave, please ask me or visit the forum I linked to here.

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167 replies
CarlosB

I rarely comment publicly online, however your write up was superb. Having started my z wave network 3 months ago with 13 light switches, a door lock,and some tasker integration it has been a fun, productive, and sometimes frustrating hobby. However, it's been worth it when I can say ok google to wake up my old galaxy nexus and make voice commands to control scenes. I was thinking about getting a nest next, but your preference has got me thinking twice and learned a few things from this article like led's need neutral wire. Thank you for this post as I now have a reference that I can point family and friends to so they can fully understand and have a starting point to go off if they want to start automating their homes.
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Dignan17

Thank you, CarlosB! That means a lot! I'm glad to hear you've enjoyed starting your ZWave network.

I really should make it clear that I no longer dislike the Nest. My problem with the Nest was purely that it was a siloed product that couldn't interact with anything else. There was no way to include instructions to a Nest as part of any other scene. The whole idea of the Nest was that it would be automatic and learn your lifestyle based mostly on motion detection, but that simply wouldn't work for me (I have odd hours and my thermostat is on a wall nobody walks in front of).

However, thanks to some fantastic work from people on the Vera forums, there have been plugins made for the Nest, so now it can work like any other thermostat, except that it's a lot prettier than the others :)

Which controller did you end up getting? There are quite a few out there.

Again, thanks for the kind words.
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CarlosB

I have the vera lite. I mostly decided on it because of the authomation app. I wanted something that I felt was user friendly and while the controller software isn't bad, that app is what sold me on it. What concerns me most about nest is although there are plug-ins to integrate it into the vera, my understanding is the thermostat is still somewhat closed off, so all that has to happen is a firmware update to the unit and it could break compatibility. With a house that has 2 thermostats essentially spending $500 + for 2 nests is a hefty investment on uncertainty versus finding a more open solution. While the nest has its own app to always fall back to, I like the one app to control it all. I also wanted to highly recommend the pebble watch to any fellow zwavers on Android, the integration of tasker to the watch has put a lot of control of my home right on my wrist :)
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abepaniagua

How are you able to control your vera-lite with your google nexus?
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Dignan17

There are many ways. If anything, the best Vera apps are on Android (I wish the iOS selection were better), and there's a ton of ways to use an Android phone to control your Vera automation system. For example, you can use Tasker to create triggers from your phone (like turning on your lights when your phone gets on your home's WiFi). You could use NFC tags to create phone-operated virtual light switches around your house. You can use several methods of enabling voice control of your automation. There's a lot of options.
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DennisS

Ah, this answers the question I asked you earlier. I appreciate being able to tap into your knowledge as I get my feet wet in the HA environment. There was an article in today's WSJ about a smart crockpot from Belkin using WeMo technology. Is that another proprietary protocol?
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Dignan17

Yes, WeMo is Belkin's home automation product. As far as I know, it only includes products that Belkin has made themselves. I think the slow cooker might be the first product from another company other than Belkin (and I still don't quite get the point of that particular device).

It's possible that there are ways to integrate WeMo with other systems, but other than the slow cooker I don't believe there are any WeMo products that can't be found in other standards. In other words, there's a ZWave/Insteon/X10 device for every WeMo device, but not the other way around.
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frankspin

Matt, this was seriously an awesome write up. Thanks for doing this.

Based on what you've written ZWave is most comparable to a product line such as Control4? One that can control anything in the house from light switches to individual sensors. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on SmartThings? Being a renter I can't take advantage of things like light switches, but the SmartThings platform seems to offer a good amount of flexibility for me.
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Dignan17

Thanks, Frank!

Control4 was the company that Nest was teaming up with before Google bought Nest, right? Did that ever go through? When that happened, my reaction was "what's Control4?" I'm still not certain, actually, and I wouldn't necessarily compare them to ZWave. ZWave is just a standard (albeit not an open one), that companies can license to make their products. ZWave products can be purchased and installed by end users. Control4, on the other hand, appears to be a system that's sold to installers who resell it. I can't even tell what technology they're using for their devices. It could be ZWave, but I have no idea. The furthest I got with looking into them was finding a few installers in my area, but I didn't call any of them up. This didn't make me much of a fan of Nest's partnership with the company. I didn't feel it was the most consumer friendly move, and at the time Nest was that proprietary product I was talking about. Since then there have been ways to integrate it with certain ZWave controllers like Vera, so I'm less negative about the product. I still think it's expensive and that the motion detection is useless for some people (my thermostat is on a wall nobody walks by), but it's easily one of the best looking thermostats on the market so I can understand the appeal.

I actually hadn't heard of SmartThings either until you mentioned it. There are a ton of players in this space, so it's tough to keep track of them all. I like what the company is doing, which is making the process of home automation setup and configuration a little smoother. They're putting a friendlier face on it than you can get with the more DIY solutions like cobbling together your own ZWave network. Of course, they're also adding a small amount to the cost of those devices to make a profit :)

That said, it looks like SmartThings is actually using mostly ZWave products! They're using some other standards like Zigbee, but most of the products in their store are ZWave. In this way they're also like the Iris system from Lowes. They have a controller that combines a few different standards into one system. The upside is that these systems are often much easier to configure. The downside is that they usually give you less configurability. And if you want to get really into this stuff, controllers like Vera give you a lot more power. You can even write some code in the Lua language to get it to do more things for you.

That said, I like the presence sensors. I'm not certain if that's possible with Vera or not. I'd be very interested in figuring that out.
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frankspin

Control4 is proprietary protocol, I believe, where there is a base hub that everything connects back to but it can control almost anything rated for Control4.

The SmartThings was interesting to me because it can integrate with IFTTT and the stuff looks very straight forward to use. I kind of like when all products of a particular use case are of the same brand, I'm weird like that.
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Dignan17

I definitely appreciate the "just works" approach. I like the direction they're going with it, and like I said that presence sensor is a really cool feature which, even if it's doable with my preferred controller, probably requires some programming to get working.

As for wanting everything to be the same brand, I'll just point out that even on their store they list most of the items as being made by other companies ;)
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frankspin

Regarding the branding, fair enough sir. If I go this route I think I'll end up going through SmartThings just for the sanity aspect. I think you can agree, as we grow older the desire to tinker becomes less and less. Time becomes more valuable than money (to an extent) and if SmartThings has it all figured with what works best than I am a-ok with that.
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Dignan17

Haha, I hear you there. It was killing me to not be able to respond to this thread yesterday because I was working all day long. I hear you about the business.

Personally, I don't think it's really all that time consuming. Or rather, I doubt either route is much more time consuming than the other. You still have to install the devices, pair them with the controller, name them what you want, and create scenes.

I keep coming back to those presence modules, though. I'm going to have to look into what it would take to do something similar to those using Vera.
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dave

BOOM! You just gave me some awesome ideas for weekend projects. Seriously, this is a fantastic post and there's a lot I want to try. Right now, I'm mainly concerned with automating lights for both ease of use (e.g., sunset to sunrise) and security.

Interestingly, our security system is already Z-Wave compatible and we already have door and window sensors that support this. I could see some use where we come in, disarm the alarm and lights in the house automatically light up in the evening.

Speaking of scenes for movies and television, it looks like a company is working on a Z-Wave compatible LED light, similar to what Philips and LIFX have. That sounds really awesome too!
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Dignan17

I forgot to mention that ZWave is used in some of the leading security systems. I'm pretty sure you can just buy additional modules and add them to your security system's configuration without going through them for the hardware. I think I've heard of people going the other way - using Vera as the main controlling and integrating the security system - but I'm not sure about that.

Here's my opinion on the bulb products: the ability to control each individual bulb is cool, but if you have a decent number of recessed lights it gets quite expensive. My basement has about 16 recessed lights, so going with Hue bulbs for the whole thing would be cost prohibitive. I have a few ZWave light switches on those 16 bulbs and that has me covered, but I can only dim all the bulbs at once, so that's the downside.

I also don't get all those pretty colors, but I'm not interested in that.

For now, I'm slowly replacing all my bulbs with Cree LED bulbs. It makes a big difference in energy usage to swap out those outdoor incandescent lights that are on all night long.
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mlhalegr

Z-Wave is compatible with ADT's security system.
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YIofE

Great write up! As a user of ZWave for the past few years, I would add that you are quite limited in the complexity of the processes you can run on the Vera3 or any of the controllers. We at Your Internet of Everything (YIofE) are working on a prototype that will allow you to model complex processes across all of your touch points regardless of protocol (ZWave, Zigbee, MQ, SOAP, HTTP, JSON, .Net, etc) then execute these models. Orchestrating your touch points should be easy for technical users AND non-technical users. You sound like you might be a good beta tester. Any interest? BTW, love the Bottle Rocket reference.
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Dignan17

Thanks for the compliments! And yes, that handle was picked when I first saw Bottle Rocket in ~1997. I don't know why I chose the 17... (I wasn't 17)

I wouldn't mind being a beta tester, but I think it would be tough to play around with my home network. If I were living by myself I'd probably tear it down and build it back up all the time, testing new things. But my wife would probably kill me :)
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comprocket

So since you seem to be quite knowledgeable on the subject...

I have been wanting some automation since I moved into my house 4 years ago. But the biggest thing stopping me was trying to understand what I needed to make it all work!

Requirement #1- Every switch that exists today which controls something MUST work when its implemented.

Requirement #2 - I have (5) sets of 3-way switches in my home
- Livingroom - 3-way controls single outlet with table lamps (CFL Bulbs)
- Hallway - 3-way controls 2-bulb light fixture (CFL Bulb)
- Dining Room - 3-way controls dimmable chandelier (incandescent)
- Kitchen - 3-way controls Fluorescent Light fixture
- Basement - 3-way controls multiple fluorescent light fixtures

Requirement #3 - Every light should be dimmable

Should I buy (5) 3-way kits? Or can I setup MCV to create a "Virtual 3-Way Switch" using a single switch and a wireless (scene) controller?

How can I make every (non fluorescent tube) light in my home dimmable? Can any light be dimmed by placing a dimmer switch on the line which controls it? Does the light fixture itself need to be anything special do perform dimming?

Can I use a dimmer switch to control an outlet with table lamps plugged into it? I assume this breaks some sort of wiring codes. The goal being dimmable table lamps which can be controlled virtually or via the switch. Otherwise, how can I control these lamps via a 3-way wall switch?

How do bulbs affect the function of the switches? Should I just replace all of my CFL bulbs with dimmable LEDs?
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opperdast

comprocket - you'll want to determine if you have a neutral wire in the switch boxes before buy dimmers. The best zwave dimmers are "three wire" which require a neutral. You'll also want to get rid of the fluorescents for LEDs. LEDs dim great and use half the energy of CFL. Even "dimmable" fluorescents don't dim much.
You can't dim a wall outlet by code, but you can add an external lamp module to a regular outlet that a zwave wall switch can dim.
Don't buy in-wall stuff before you know your wiring options. Two wire zwave in-wall dimmers buzz with many LEDs, and should be avoided. LEDs are going to almost entirely replace CFL, so one must plan for this future.
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comprocket

Thanks. I have confirmed that I am have the 3-wires that are required. So I am all set in that aspect.

So for the table lamps on the switched outlet...Since I cannot dim an outlet I would plug them into a lamp module. But what would I do with the 3-way switches that control their outlet? Just replace the switches with a wireless switch? Do they make a switch that doesn't actually do any physical switching to turn off the outlet? I assume I would need something that would tell the module to turn on/off but would never actually change the state of the power itself.

Additionally, I see that a lot of the switches have LED indicators on them. In a 3-way switch setup, would both switches be notified of the state that the other was in? Could the LED for on/off/dim be shown correctly on both switches at the same time?
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opperdast

For the switch that currently controls the outlet, you replace it with a scene controller like the Linear WT00Z that can be paired with a plug in zwave lamp module, or the Leviton VRCS4-M0Z that can control any zwave device through the Vera reviewed above. (You would rewire the existing outlet to be always hot).

Understanding the choices in three way control is somewhat complicated now. The old way, used by Leviton and GE/Jasco, uses the existing traveler wire to establish a link between a zwave load control switch and a "dumb" slave switch.
The newer, and more flexible choice, is used by Linear/Evolve and some cooper devices. The non-load switch communicates with the load switch by zwave. No traveler wire is used. This device can later be reprogramed to control any zwave load device or groups of devices. After the link is established, the home automation controller (Vera) can even be turned off and the switch will still work.

Here's a comparison between zwave wall switches that has some LED info. The matrix applies to dimmers too. Note that Linear is missing from the matrix, but they make the Evolve zwave products and are functionally identical. Most of the items listed aren't important. Instant status is missing from less expensive switches. IMO the ideal zwave dimmer would be three wire, instant status and wireless three way control. That doesn't exist, AFAIK.

store.homeseer.com­/store­/HomeSeer­-Z­-Wave­-OnOff­-Wal...

I agree with the author that Linear is probably the best value currently, at least for those who can do without instant status, and have neutral wires available.
For a three way circuit that would be one Linear WD500Z and one WT00Z. For four or more way switch circuits, add more WT00Z. Only one device controls the actual light load, a single WD500Z.
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Dignan17

Excellent response, opperdast. Spot on.

For those wondering, instant status is pretty much what it sounds like. When the switch is pressed, the controller knows right away. For example, you tap the top of a light switch to turn on a light, and Vera knows this immediately. The advantage of this is that you can trigger other things to happen when this occurs and it will happen immediately.

Without instant status, you have to wait for the controller to poll every device on the network and ascertain its status.

I fall into the camp that doesn't mind if a switch doesn't have instant status. It's not the end of the world, because I rarely want the same thing to happen every time I turn off or on a light switch. Plus, if I understand correctly it was mostly Leviton that invented the instant status switches, and their switches are super expensive (at least $80). So I stick with the Linear switches for $40.

Vera has ways to choose how LEDs respond. I believe that by default, GE's switches have the LED on when the light is off and vice versa. I guess it makes sense, so you can find the switch in the dark. Personally, I don't like these LEDs at all, especially in my TV room where I don't want blue LEDs staring at me when I'm watching a movie. Vera lets me swap the behavior of the LEDs (on when the light is on), turn them on all the time, or turn them off all the time. The way this is done depends on the brand of switch.

The last thing I'll add to opperdast's summary is Intermatic. Intermatic's switches had a great feature where they could be either 2-way or 3-way switches. If you wired up a normal light switch with an Intermatic switch, you'd have a 3-way circuit. Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend these switches because they don't have a neutral wire and Intermatic doesn't even make them anymore. You can only find them on ebay. Still, they're the cheapest switches available and if you don't care about controlling LEDs and want to get into home automation on the cheap, they're an option.
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Dignan17

Interesting. I haven't seen a lot of 3-way switches for outlets. That seems like overkill to me. For me, being into home automation means that I resent switched outlets because they're completely useless :)

opperdast is correct that you should never add a dimmer switch to a switched outlet. You can cause some bad stuff to happen to devices that can't be dimmed when they're plugged into those outlets. Are these outlets the type where the whole outlet is switched or just one of the jacks? If it's just one then you could leave the switch alone and just get a lamp module. Lamp modules are dimmable, appliance modules are not (that's the general naming convention but not a strict one).

I should revise my earlier statement. I do like switchable outlets now because they represent less work for me. In my house I'm in the process of slowly adding scene controllers to some of the rooms so I don't need a phone or a remote to initiate the scene(s). These scene controllers need to be tied into the neutral line too, so if I couldn't replace a switch in a particular box, I would need to remove the box, cut open more drywall, get a wider box, and wire everything back up. It's a PITA. But if there's a switchable outlet, what I've been doing is merely removing the old switch, wiring it so that the outlet is just always on, and then putting the scene controller in. I lose the ability to switch the outlet, but I don't care about that.

As for all your requirements, every one of them is completely feasible. You can replace as many or as few of your switches as you like. You can purchase on/off or dimmable switches and modules. As opperdast is correct in everything he said, too. Switches with neutral wires are best, and in fact are required for circuits with only LED bulbs. LED bulbs are also the best way to go here. They're far cheaper and better than they've been, and will dim better than CFLs. I've been slowly replacing all our bulbs with Cree LED bulbs from Home Depot, and they work great. It's especially important in our outdoor lights which are on for most of the night.
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Benvolio36

What I like about MeCasaVerde and the VeraLite is that you can log into it from your pc and you don't need to program things through your phone. I've also be starting to scrape the surface with AutoVera app for android and it's quite powerful. The community was what won me over compared to other controllers. How did you get the VeraLite to learn sunrise/sunset?
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Dignan17

Sunrise/sunset is very easy, though the Vera UI could use some work.
  1. In the Vera dashboard, set your location (so the system knows what time sunset is for you)
  2. Edit the scene you want to schedule to run at sunset or sunrise
  3. Click on "Schedule"
  4. "Add Schedule"
  5. Choose "Day of the Week Based" (this is the part that's slightly unintuitive
  6. Put a check mark by all the days of the week (presumably)
  7. In the dropdown box, choose the option that works for you. I actually have my outside lights come on at sunset, but my indoor security lights come on 30 minutes before sunset.
That's it.
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Handbanana

I'm curious if something like a sunset schedule could be taken a step further.

Are you aware if I can set it for something like, "If it is sunset / between sunset and 11 P.M. and the door sensor (or motion sensor) is tripped, turn the lights on"?

Also, do you know of any simple switches that are battery powered and can basically be stuck/screwed to the wall? Something simple that would allow me to toggle it as I go out the door and the function is to switch everything off. Rewiring would be generally frowned upon by my landlord.

Thanks for the write-up!
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Dignan17

First of all, I really like your handle. That made me laugh.

And you ask a fantastic question. What you're asking for is most likely handled by scripting. Vera lets you create scripts and plugins to change how scenes behave. Check out the following link:

http://goo.gl/Y83GtV

That describes using Lua code to alter an existing scene with an existing trigger/schedule. Honestly, I haven't played around with this much. It can be challenging, but this is where the community for Vera comes in. There are extremely helpful people in the forum I linked to in my initial post and they'd be happy to help you with any project you have.
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Handbanana

Appreciate the response, I was worried anticipating worried that it might involve some fiddling with code, I will be sure to read up on that link.

It may be more or less the same response, but have you played around with trying to geofence your home to activate/deactivate as you move out of the area?

As for the handle, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I went to register 30 minutes ago and this was available. Tonight... you...
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Dignan17

Haha!

Yeah, things start getting tricky with the scripting, but I really think it's just a matter of posting to those forums and waiting for someone to help you out with the code or point you to a thread where it's already been explained.

My apologies, I forgot to respond to one of your other questions. If you're talking about controlling devices that are normally controlled with light switches on a wall, there's mostly only the option of replacing the switch. Or, if you keep the switch in the ON position, I suppose you could use one of these in every socket:

http://goo.gl/BkgbQJ

But that might get expensive and will probably look pretty terrible.

If you're talking about having something at the door that can turn on and off lamps in your room, then the following would do the trick:

http://goo.gl/SxZMpV

You might have to do a little painting if the sticky parts don't come off when you move, but it'll do the trick.

As for geofencing, there are a couple ways to do that, but I haven't figured out a really good one. This is where the presence sensors of Smart Things is really smart. Because I live in a house with my wife, I'd need a way to make sure that Vera knew if both of us were out of the house. I could set things to happen when I left, but if my wife were still there those kinds of automated actions would be annoying.

If it's just one person living in the house then it's very easy and there's several ways to do it. The main way would be to set up Tasker so that it runs a scene when it stops seeing your WiFi access point.

To have it handle two people is something I'll need to look into.
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Scottwk2

Thanks for the great write up. I'm always interested in seeing other great systems. I started my zwave setup about 6 months ago and my home is almost completed with dimmers and switches. The thing I like most about zwave is that every switch operates just like a regular switch meaning anyone can use them unlike the wemo or hue devices that require a phone. I use the vera lite as well for the automation and scenes. I haven't messed with the scripting either as it seems over my head at this point.

Question for you. How did you integrate the 45631 and how well does it work? I have 1 leviton 4 zone scene controller that I attempted to add in but was having issues and put it to the side for now. I couldn't get it to control all the lights correctly and was getting too much of a delay.

The last device I added was a schlage door sensor. www.amazon.com­/Schlage­-RS100HC­-SL­-Window­-Intellige....
I created a scene and trigger to make my garage light turn on when I open the leading into the garage/house.

One word of advice that I learned the hard way.... Don't upgrade the Vera to UI6. I am just waiting for a little more time to downgrade it back. I don't have any android devices and the iOS app makes you clear out your username/password and re enter every time using a heavy password. I've stopped using the app all together and go directly to the vera page directly using an iPad.
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Dignan17

Nice suggestions! Yeah, I'm still on UI5 but I'll hold off on upgrading for now. Sounds pretty bad!

I actually don't have the 45631 myself, I just suggested it as the only scene controller I'm aware of that fit Handbanana's requirements. Have you been to the Vera forums to ask about the Leviton controller?

Nice job with the door sensor! I need to add those to some places around here. I wish they were a little less expensive, as I have a ton of windows and doors on my first floor.
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Handbanana

I almost wrote that into my question ("or as my girlfriend and I both leave the geofence") but thought it might be a similar setup. Makes sense that it introduces a new wrinkle.

And that wireless keypad is exactly the type of thing I was looking for, thank you again.
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Benvolio36

Sweet thanks for the reply. I'll check it out! Looks like this is only available in the "Advanced UI5" and It's not shown in UI6 (which I had been using)
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DennisS

Thanks for all of this. I have learned so much from this thread!!
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DennisS

Where did you find the AutoVera app? I don't see it in the Play Store. I am just getting started so this entire thread is of great help! Thanks
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KorbenD

Take a look at the ISY-994i controller from Universal Devices. It controls Insteon and X10 out of the box, and you can add a Z-wave controller module.

If you use Insteon's standard dimmer switches, you can set up virtual 3 way switches easily. For the basement fluorescents, you can use the dimmer switches with the ramp rate set to the fastest speed, or buy on/off only switches that also will work with virtual 3 way. They're $45-50 each (dimmer or switch) depending on if Smarthome is having a sale.

I've been gradually replacing all the switches in my house with Insteon modules, and haven't had a single issue. At the same time I've been replacing CFL lights with Cree LEDs.

So far I haven't added any Z-wave devices, but probably will buy some of their water sensors and cutoff valve.


Insteon does make an outlet specifically for dimming table lamps. To help prevent damaging other equipment, there's a small key that's placed onto the lamp's plug. I haven't used this one myself though. You can set these up to be controlled by a switch or scene too.
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BeckTech

Good stuff! I use HomeWave for my iOS solution and it works flawlessly.

Trouble areas for me right now are : Home Theater and Blinds

There are plenty of options for the blinds but they seem much less fine tuned than other areas of z-wave devices. I am very close to making a purchase from rollertrol.

But the complete lack of home theater control baffles me. I have been following a thread for some time now about integrating the vera with logitech's hub device, which I am all for. But it seems like it's still a ways out from its beta stage.

Once we figure this out we will able to sidestep the industry giant Crestron!
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opperdast

I use roomie for HT with homewave on iOS. Roomie allows vera devices, so I can turn on and off lights while using the home theater virtual remote. HT needs its own screen on the ipad anyways, so I don't mind switching apps when I want extensive vera control.
Central control for AV is rapidly changing, as you know. With products like Airplay and Sonos there's no need to worry about preplanned distribution wiring or centralize hubs other than the wifi router. I don't see the benefit of vera as the center of AV.
$5 for homewave, $20-40 for roomie. I doubt I can buy a creston decal at those prices.
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davegravy

If you want theatre integration look at Linuxmce. Open source (free), far more powerful than Vera, but limited support (you kind of need to be a hacker).
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RedRaider

I am interested in the vera/logitech hub integration. Can you point me to the thread you are following? thx
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DennisS

I am using Roomie for my iOS devices controlling my entertainment systems . I wonder if it will work with the Vera Lite for the Z Wave devices??
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Oshawapilot

With the advent of WiFi automation devices, I don't totally understand the reasoning behind going with protocols like zwave. Mesh is nice and would allow a larger network of devices easier, but with WiFi easily blanketing most houses, it's arguably unnecessary. I was a 20 year X10 user (with all it's downfalls) up until recent - I still have a few now unused modules installed around the house for that matter, but I've moved onto the Belkin Wemo platform instead, which is WiFi, has proven very reliable, and most importantly, reasonably inexpensive compared to almost all the alternatives, including Zwave - once you factor in the requirement for a base station and quality hardware. I can buy 3-4 wemo devices for the cost of the recommended (and "lite" version, at that) base station recommended in this article, for example, or roughly 6 additional Wemo devices if I opted for the pro version.

It seems like Belkin is planning to become more entrenched with devices as well, recently expanding the platform to some appliances (A crock pot being an arguably weird start, but whatever, it's progress) as well as relay devices like the Wemo Maker in the pipeline, the "hackability" of the Wemo platform looks to increase dramatically very soon.
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opperdast

Every Wemo device is more expensive than the equivalent zwave device I use. Wemo is an extremely limited line of devices compared to zwave.

Lots of alternatives could work well. But the market has standardized on zwave for home automation. Zigbee probably would have worked well too, but that didn't happen. The Hue system is a closed zigbee network. Vera controls Hue light through a free plugin.

I have zwave devices that last a year on one small battery. That's not going to happen with wifi. A mesh network is necessary so that low power devices can talk to the central controller.

There's a free WeMo plugin for Vera.
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dave

I've actually been less than impressed with WeMo (and having been having a TON of problems with my WeMo switches). This post is making me consider switching over to Z-Wave!

And for those of you who are WeMo proponents, I could use some help with my problem here: www.engadget.com­/discuss­/problem­-with­-belkin­-s­-wem...

/threadjack
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Dignan17

opperdast is killing it here. Excellent points all around, and I didn't even think about the battery life aspect.

I would have mentioned the WeMo plugin but I thought some people were having difficulties with it.
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Dignan17

WiFi doesn't cover as much of every house as you think (I go into a lot of homes for my work). WiFi is a good way to handle this stuff, but I don't think it's the best. I much prefer the reliability of the ZWave mesh network, which lives on a different frequency band and won't be interferred by as many other things.

But the big drawback to WeMo is the proprietary nature of it. What do you do about a front door lock with their system? It doesn't look like they have a thermostat either. When it comes to this stuff, I'd prefer to invest in a system that I know supports a wide variety of devices right now, or at least has a way to speak to other standards.
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frankspin

Going to piggy back on the WiFi issue. I'm in a ranch and our router is in the basement. If I'm on the main floor, 20 yards are away from the router, I get a weak signal. If I move just outside to the deck, almost no signal. WiFi, for as far as it has come, is just not as reliable as it should be in 2014.
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Fouclo62

I think one of the reasons that Zwave is better than WiFi for home automation is because with WiFi somebody "could" hack into your WiFi and take control of your house juste by standing outside close enough to your WiFi signal (so if you have a WiFi door-lock for example, that person could unlock your door and pillage your home) , but with zwave, once a device is paired with your controller, it cannot be paired to another controller, therefore even if a thief came stand just outside your door with his own zwave controller to attempt to hack your door-lock, it would be impossible because your door-lock is already paired to you.
Still, WiFi is a fantastic invention that I couldn't live without, but to each it's strengths
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