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Soul Searching – do I really need home automation?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
This may not be the right thread to post this here, but I would love to get your view.

By way of background, I am tech geek – I love gadgets and I wired and installed distributed video and audio in my current house on my own (I have a Nuvo system for the distributed audio and Audio Authority for the distributed video). I have all the components in one closet so my two DTV box, my popcorn hour player and my video security cameras are hooked into my Audio Authority switcher so I can watch everything on any TV in the house. All of this cost about $7-8k installed.

I am building a new house in Chicago so I have the chance to do a home automation system anyway I want. At first, I was like a kid in a candy store, the opportunities were endless – I could have the ability to unlock doors remotely, I could open a close a garage door from Paris, I could turn up the lights and close the shades on my way home from dinner, etc, etc.

Then the cold hand of reality grabbed me – when have I ever wanted to remotely unlock a door, when have I ever needed to open a garage door from Paris or anywhere else – as the hand of reality slapped me it asked – What is it that you really want or need …… and that is my problem

The thing I was most excited about in building the new house was the home automation system. I had budgeted about $100k for the system and spoke with two great guys who ran their own AV Company’s – one represented primarily Elan and one represented primarily Creston. Both guys were very knowledgeable, seemed honest and came highly recommended. Both systems are strong and have a lot capability. However as they spoke about the feature sets of the systems, while very cool, I began to wonder how often I would really use / need them.

For instance, if I am in the basement watching a movie and the doorbell rings, both systems will pause whatever I am watching and bring the security camera at the front door up on the screen and patch me into the intercom. This is very cool but really, I am not popular enough to have this be an event that occurs frequently and, how important can a visit really be if it’s unexpected?

Another cool feature they both offered was when the alarm goes off, the zone that was tripped will be brought up on the security cameras – a cool feature indeed, but my alarm goes off maybe once every year or two.

For about $10k I can replicate a whole house audio / video distribution system; for an additional $75k - $90k I can add all these bells and whistles, that while cool, I am not sure I will use much.

The point of my post is to get folks feedback that have one of these two systems to see if I am missing a feature(s) or advantages that you use a lot that is more than just audio / video distribution.
Thank you
post #2 of 23
Is there some kind of intermediate solution, to give you some of the cool features that you'd really like? Make a 'would really like to have' list, and see what the Custom Integrators can do.

What music systems did they specify? Another Nuvo? Do you currently have a Nuvo music server, or just the distributed audio system? Nuvo's music server is the best aspect of Nuvo, IMO.
post #3 of 23
1. Plan ahead by prewiring for your audio/video distribution & security.

2. DIY everything. Add what you want when you want. Pick a DIY friendly central controller. Assuming you have the time.

3. Spend all the money you saved on more gadgets, vacations to paris (so you can lock doors from there), etc...
post #4 of 23
Some day you will kick yourself for not wiring while the walls are opened. If you don't believe me, you are welcome to come help me pull a couple thousand feet of Cat6 this summer. eek.gif
post #5 of 23
I posed a similar question a couple of months ago. Like you, i was excited at the prospect of lots of new toys/bells/whistles, then I started asking, what do I REALLY need it to do. (and strangely enough, I have Nuvo D/A and Audio Authority D/V).

It's a tough pill to swallow when you really try to nail down the benefits. And yeah, you CAN try to wire your house in advance, but what if you only drop cat5e and you wind up needing Cresnet?

I wish I had an answer for you, but each person has different needs. I decided to sit down and make a list of what I wanted my system to do that I don't currently have, with rock solid performance (it would be replacing an excellent, well-functioning URC IR/RF setup for audio/video control). The biggest things I could come up with were lighting control (especially when I travel for vacation or business), remote access (disarming alarm/unlocking door for maids on cleaning day), monitoring of alarms (yep, I get maybe 1x every couple of years, but it's always when I'm at work or out of state, so it'd be nice to know WHAT is going on). Invariably, my uninvited guests ring the doorbell on Saturday morning when I'm trying to sleep, so having that screen popup would be nice. I also wanted climate control and some brains to do smart control of my irrigation system. But yeah, there wasn't a LOT of necessity. Probably the only thing I found that was great to have was notifications related to sensor issues - i.e., leaky water heater, battery backup kicked in on a/v gear, etc. - all things that alert me to take certain actions. That's where I see HA paying off for me.

I will be curious to see what other responses you get, and I hope you'll post your decisions.
post #6 of 23
Originally Posted by mike1812 View Post

It's a tough pill to swallow when you really try to nail down the benefits. And yeah, you CAN try to wire your house in advance, but what if you only drop cat5e and you wind up needing Cresnet?

many folks have used CAT 5E in lieu of Cresnet: http://www.remotecentral.com/cgi-bin/mboard/rc-custom/thread.cgi?21084

I built a new house in 1999 and had no idea what audio/video solutions I would eventually end up with: luckily my installer insisted i run plenty of CAT 5E and coax to every room: I tried Crestron but ended up with an RTI system: and added lots of toys I never planned for including a Yamaha Disklavier Baby Grand piano and Jandy pool controller which used extra CAT runs that were pre- installed

Point is you don't have to decide in advance exactly what you are going to do as long as you end up with enough prewiring to every room: particularly extra CAT 6 runs: that gives you the flexibility to do what you want, and upgrade for future needs.

btw: the Nuvo line is very nice and gives 2 way feedback on many systems
post #7 of 23
Yeah, Mark, that probably wasn't the best example, and while you CAN use cat5e/6 in place of Cresnet, (at one time at least) it was not Crestron's supported stance. I think my point was just that if you ARE going to pre-wire, and you have NO idea what you're going to do, it's going to make it very difficult and expensive to run wire everywhere. Better to go in with a rough plan on what you MIGHT do, then overwire on top of that for unexpected stuff. Not knocking pre-wiring - it's so much easier to put wire and smurf tube in during construction. But invariably, you WILL forget something - which is why smurf tubes are good to have in the walls.
post #8 of 23
I am going to be the voice of decent though I should point out that I am now in my second automated home...

I love the home automation and use it everyday BUT -- and here is the big but -- depending on your personally it is a looooooooooooooooooooooooooot of work to get it where you want it to be...I have a professionally designed and installed Creston system and I can tell you that the numbers of hours that went into the design, programming and testing of the touch panel was staggering...and, before anyone jumps in, I used a fantastic integrator who has won many CEDIA awards so they do know what they are doing...

If you have the patience then go for it...if you do not have the patience then beware as you may be frustrated by a system that does not do everything you want and the way you want...to me, it is all about the touch panel as that controls your interaction and, by extension, your experience...

Hope this helps...
post #9 of 23
Some people look at a motion sensor and ask why. Other men look at a motion sensor and ask, why not?

But anyhoo, I think that the real benefits of automation are not the sort of things that the company is offering you, necessarily, though those things are certainly going to be useful for some folks. Some of the other benefits of a well done automation solution are:

1. Integration. Yeh, popping up a security camera is a form of integration, but not much of one. To me it's more things like making a home theater completely trivial to operate reliably for non-technical family members or friends, or tying sprinklers to ground wetness in a smart way, or providing access to your media from anywhere in the home in a very nice, browseable sort of way and automatically switching things depending on location and source, speaking important information over your multi-zone audio system (weather alerts, someone at the door, excessive temperature changes, scheduled activities, and so forth), sending you an e-mail if some particular set of circumstances occur that you would consider bad, etc...

2. One stop shopping for control the home, control of media, access to external information such as weather, traffic cameras, weather maps, lights, HVAC, security, etc... all from one integrated interface.

3. The ability to track energy usage and do things in response, e.g. close blinds, adjust set points based on occupancy, warn you of usage, provide graphs of usage, etc...

4. Yeh, control and monitoring of the home when are away is also a nice benefit for some folks. It sort of comes for free once you have an automation system in place, so might as well make use of it.

5. Doing things for you on a schedule or in response to events occurring, e.g. turn porch or driveway lights on and off at the apporpriate times so you don't have to worry about leaving them on, or turn them on when someone comes up to the door and turn them back off after a length of time, pool cleaners, sprinklers, drippers, greenhouse equipment, cameras to record on motion when certain circumstances are true wrt to security and time of day, power up the theater when you enter it, issue a voice warning on motion when security system is armed in a given area.

There are lots of ways to put them to use that are very convenient, entertaining, or useful. It depends on your bucks and imagination. The problem with an installation company of course is that it's difficult to provide solutions that provide these sorts of features in a way that doesn't require significant customization per customer, which means more bucks. So it's more practical for them to probably set up a standard set of features that they can deploy similarly in every case and try to sell that to one strata of the market, and the highly customized version to the well heeled customers.
post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 

Thanks - all great, thoughtful responses.

So here is where I am. We just completed our home design. It is 3 levels and about 7,500 sq feet including the basement. I have asked three firms to provide a quote for home automation (1) a Crestron guy, (2) an Elan guy and (3) a Control 4 guy. All three guys were featured in at least one article in Home Automation magazine and all are CEDIA certified (not to mention they all seemed like good guys on the phone). I added a Control 4 guys given the volume of users and seemingly relative satisfaction that folks have with the system.

Below, I provided a copy of the request for a quote so you can see what i have asked for. Each providor was given the same request as well as a copy of the plans so they are all on equal footing. I made it clear to the three firms i am much more interested in effectiveness of the system, value of the system and utilization of the system rather than just pure price.

I will be sure to update as the bids come in

Thanks again for all the input


We will have 3 Direct TV boxes, a 20 Terabyte server that stores all of our movies and TV shows, and security cameras – we want to be able to watch all of this content on every TV in the house.

For the distributed audio we only use ITunes – we want to be able to access the playlists we make on iTunes. We do not use Pandora, XM, etc

We want to have remote access to the security cameras on our ipad / iphone

All else being equal I would prefer to have as many of the components wired (vs. wireless) given the stability of wired systems

All else being equal I would prefer the remotes to be RF vs. IR

I am looking for four separate quotes:
1) Please include a separate quote for wiring of the system
2) A separate quote for just the audio / video distribution
3) A separate quote for the security system
4) A separate quote for the home theater (i.e. screen, speakers, setup, etc)

First Floor
We will have only one TV on the main floor which I will provide - a 70’ TV in the Built In entertainment center

We would like distributed audio with two in ceiling speakers in the Kitchen, Dining Room and Living Room and two speakers outside the family room.

In the Family room we would like 5x1 Dolby (rear speakers in the ceiling, fronts speakers in the built in cabinet)

We would like 10 exterior security cameras. We would like 8 interior cameras ONLY if we can hard switch them off when we are home (i.e. using a light switch to shut off power to the interior cameras). Please see the attached exterior for our desired camera placement.

Second Floor
I will provide a 50’ TV in the master bedroom.

We would like a 20’ TV in the master bath on the exterior wall of the shower mounted on a swivel shower so it is viewable from tub.

We would like distributed audio with two in ceiling speakers in the master bedroom and master bath

I will provide: a projector for the theater room, a 60’ TV above the fireplace, a 50’ behind the bar, a 70’ above the bench/storage in the game room, a 42’ in the exercise room and a 42’ in the guest room

We would like distributed audio with two in ceiling speakers in the Bar area, Game room, family room, exercise room and play room.

We would like 7.1 audio in the theater room and as large of a screen as possible given the room size
post #11 of 23
I'll be curious to see what they tell you. cool.gif

Though I will tell you now, your TV's will be expensive. I mean a 70 ft screen on the main floor???? eek.gif (you only used one ' mark. You should use two '' ) tongue.gifwink.gif
post #12 of 23
I think you should spend some time in the Dedicated Home Theater Design subforum, before signing up for a home theater professionally installed. You may want to consider room acoustics during the design stage, and increase your budget accordingly. Or, delay the HT, and focus on the rest of the home.

If you just want a big screen in the HT, without added difficulties, then don't read anything in that subforum. You'll save yourself a ton of money. You have been warned.
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by NickTheGreat View Post

I'll be curious to see what they tell you. cool.gif
Though I will tell you now, your TV's will be expensive. I mean a 70 ft screen on the main floor???? eek.gif (you only used one ' mark. You should use two '' ) tongue.gifwink.gif

Good catch - sorry, you are correct all measurments are intended to be inchs not feet - that would be one hell of a TV smile.gif
post #14 of 23
I'm surprised no one has mentioned conduit. String the wiring you need with the walls open. But, also put plenty of 2" (maybe 2.5") conduit from each room to a common area. For our house we had all of the conduit terminate in the attic so all vertical cabling was done using the conduit and then the attic has the horizontal wiring.

This way you can add whatever you want later or if a new type of cable is needed, then you can add that. You aren't stuck with what you remembered to do when you had wall access. Also if an HDMI (for instance) cable connector breaks, you pretty much have to replace the cable. This way you can.

As far as home automation is concerned, you are asking the right questions. It is a value versus dollar trade-off. If the value isn't worth the bucks, then it's time to look for something else. We used URC and besides the whole home A/V distribution and control, the lighting (and ceiling fan) controls are used most often. Thermostats are next but most of the time we don't touch the t-stats.

It's all in what you think will be useful for you. Also, don't forget cooling of the equipment. The more you add, the more heat load you add.
post #15 of 23
@ Andy - I did, above, in my reply to Mark (smurf tubes = conduit), though it wasn't a very obvious comment.

@ Lewis, a few thoughts/questions on your RFQ:

1. in several instances, you say "I will provide". Does that mean you already have it, or you will buy yourself? Many CI's don't like to integrate non-supplied equipment, but are more willing to do so if it's pre-owned. If you are buying concurrent with the build to get the lowest price, then you may get some pushback from one or more of the vendors you sent the RFQ out to.. Also, it's not clear what you mean by "I will provide". Does that mean it's on the wall ready to be wired, or in a box and needs to be mounted (mount not included)?

2. Your request for RF vs. IR. Actually, when you start talking about automation/advanced control, the real benefits come with controlling things through RS232 or IP - because you can get feedback to your controllers as to power state, volume level, channel, etc. IR/RF should be the MINIMUM standard for equipment that cannot be controlled otherwise or provides no benefit to control otherwise.

3. what will your sources be? You describe the DirectTV boxes, and talk about a server, but what devices will playback the server content? Or do you plan to do that through the TV's directly - if they are networked and have "apps" to do so (this won't work for your pj in the theater)?

4. It's not clear from your RFQ how well you understand the relationship between screens and projectors. You mention you will provide a pj, but you ask them for the largest screen possible for the room. There are many interdependent factors that go into that analysis. You have to determine how much seating you want, how far back it can/will be, that will drive the screen dimensions as much as the room size will. Once you get an idea of screen size, you can then assess what PJ works best in that room - does it have a lot of ambient light, or is it fully darkened. Do you want Constant Image Height or a variable image size? Building a quality HT is much more complex than throwing up a PJ and screen and mounting some speakers. See Neurorad's post and recommendations above.

5. No climate/lighting control?

I can foresee many of these questions (and others - these are just off the top of my head) coming from your vendors, so hopefully you've been thinking about them. What I did (granted, I own everything already and wiring is in place) is provided my vendors with floor plan, wiring diagram (a/v, network), a list of current network connections, a complete list of existing a/v equipment, down to brand and model number, how currently connected and where, how currently controlled (e.g. IR), and best available control (e.g., IP), and a list of expectations (watch any program on this source in any room, control all lights/scenes/etc. from anywhere, etc). I would at least provide a list of your existing equipment to be integrated by brand/model so that they can factor into their plan how best to control them.
post #16 of 23
Originally Posted by mike1812 View Post

@ Andy - I did, above, in my reply to Mark (smurf tubes = conduit), though it wasn't a very obvious comment.

Silly me - I did a search on "conduit" and thought no one had mentioned it. I didn't think about looking for "smurf tubes" :-)
post #17 of 23
A couple of more items on your RFQ.

TV Sizes (assuming that feet = inches, of course). Some of the TV sizes you chose are non-standard. I'll bet you can find a cheaper 48" TV than a 50" TV for instance. 26" instead of 20" (unless you are talking about a computer monitor).

Do you want HD or SD? Do you want 3D? If you want HD, then you could use component video or HDMI. If you want 3D HD, then you are stuck with HDMI, which will be more expensive for switchers and have longer wait times when changing sources.

As Mike said (follow his advice), you're missing any lighting controls and a definition of what you want your remotes to do. Do you want macros for everything or do you want to be able to push single commands yourself? IR is great but if you want feed-back to your remote than you need IR + WiFi for the remote.

When you talk about audio, how will your source send the audio? As two-channel or as multi-channel? Will it be Dolby Digital or True-HD? How will that be downconverted to 2-channel? The DirecTV boxes do this for you, however, your server may not and so you have to plan on how to downconvert to 2-channel for the 2-channel TVs.

What you or your installer has to do is to "walk" the signal path. Start out with your server. How will the signal get to your TV in this room versus the theater? What will happen when you have the same source on in the living room as well as the theater? The DirecTV HR24 has a nasty habit of blocking the HDMI and component signal on some movie channels when the HDMI is connected to an AVR (but not switched to that input) and you're trying to watch elsewhere on component. If the AVR is then changed to HR24 input, the component and HDMI outputs work fine. It's a gotcha that you have to account for.

Whichever way your choose, make sure you leave some budget and time for the gotchas.
post #18 of 23
Great post. I'm going through the same process and reaching the same conclusions. I think a lot of the automation is of limited practical utility. And I like the idea of picking best-of-breed sub-systems that even if I can't tie everything together in one single control app. Particularly since nearly every home sub-system has a native iPhone/iPad app, which seems to limit the need for a lot of custom integration. Even the Samsung washers and dryers have an iPhone app. Maybe a couple extra clicks to get to everything I need versus a single Crestron panel, but I can live with this.

I'm also planning to use Nuvo for audio, and I'm assuming HDBase-T switches will keep coming down in price to something more reasonable by the time my home is done for video distribution. I'll use Ubiquiti airVision for POE IP cams (and their great uniFi product also). OnQ intercom. So as long as I have home run wired a ton of Cat5/6 everywhere, I'm assuming I can pull together just about anything I want down the road.

I have decided that I do want to pay for a professionally designed lighting automation system and will likely be using Lutron's Homeworks. This is both for energy efficiency and just aesthetics in some of the common areas to cut down on wall clutter. But even with this, it's possible to do a more cost effective hybrid design that uses some centrally switched and some locally switched circuits (still under Homeworks control) rather than shelling out for a fully centralized solution. And I'm considering an Elk security system, which seems to be a popular choice for both security and as a home control platform.
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 

Sorry for the delay - it has taken this long to get proposals from AV companies.

Here is where we stand

Proposal 1: $115k-$135k for a Crestron system. This is for wiring, distributed AV, Theater room speakers ONLY, video surveillance system, remote controls and programming

Proposal 2: $94k - $135k for a C4 system - essentially the same as above

Proposal 3: never got back to me, he was supposed to get me a bunch of stuff including detailed question lists; we were supposed to have a conversation regarding options, etc. Emails kept supposedly not getting to me, he had emergency travel issues, etc - eventually I gave up. My view is if I can’t get his attention now, when will I?

In my current house I have a Audio authority HD video distribution system, a Nuvo 8 room audio distribution and a separate video surveillance system. All of this, if I were to replicate it today would cost about $20k (the top of the line Audio Authority system is about $5k, a Nuvo system at market, not MSRP, is about $5k, and a security surveillance system installed is about $10k – so all in, about $20k to do most of this myself.

So I would be paying a $30k - $65k premium for a consolidated/integrated control system and to have someone set it all up and trouble shoot it. (I am subtracting the $15k for the wiring and $10k-20k folks were charging for the theater room speakers / amp)

Given I am able to do the basic set up and it would take only a day or so once the wiring is already in place I just cant justify the premium for an integrated system

I do think I will hire someone to build out / install the theater room set up as it takes a lot of time.

I was hoping I could take folks through the process of selecting a provider, installing the system, etc – but it looks like I will be posting in the AV distribution and home theater forums from now on

Guys – thanks for all the feedback and input, much appreciated
post #20 of 23
If you went with something ilke CQC, then the automation system is separate from the gear. So you can put in whatever gear you want, though picking stuff that is known to be good on the automation integration front is a good thing, and then treat the automation system set up as a completely separate thing. I'd be happy to talk with you about it.
post #21 of 23
A day for the setup? Hehe.
post #22 of 23
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Neurorad View Post

A day for the setup? Hehe.

Fair point - i am assuming i dont mount the TV's and all the wiring is already in place

I am using the same remote for all 8 TV's so programming is easy - probably 5 hours

With the wiring in place hooking up the distributed Video is probably 4 hours

With the wiring in place getting the Nuvo system up is easy (i have done this before) - 2 hours

Video security system will be outsourced, so all i have to do it hook it up to my Audio Authority system - 20 minutes
post #23 of 23
Don't forget rack mounting, and cable management.

And terminating all the bulk cables, at the head end and behind the plates - or will that be included in the prewire? Will the cable installer test the cables?

Any time planned for hdmi troubleshooting? Who is installing the speakers?

What type of remote control? Most high-end remotes are $400-1200 each. Distributed IR for the control system? One of the things you'll miss with IR is feedback - not 2-way.

How many ipads will be wall-mounted, to replace the touchscreens that were spec'd?

Did those 2 quotes include security systems?

Make sure all of the alarm system cables are done correctly. You may want to have the installer put a basic system in, to be replaced by the system of your choosing down the road, just to make sure the wiring works. Category cables to the security keypads.

If you're set on DIY, do your homework now, to make sure all of the cables you need are installed. (Empty) conduit to the video locations will be helpful, but won't be useful for adding subwoofers, motion sensors, glass break sensors, irrigation control cable, security keypads, and wireless access point locations.

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