I don't know about you, but I have invested a lot of money in my dedicated home theater and devoted a lot of time to the build. I am currently very content with all the equipment I own and do not wish to upgrade right now; I simply want to enjoy my theater with my family. But with all that investment of time and money, I am very wary about whom I invite over and even more about whom I decide to show my rack filled with thousands of dollars of AV equipment. It's well hidden from visitors, and most don't know there's an equipment room behind my screen.
I think most people would agree that security systems are boring, and not many invest in them. The good news is, I discovered a way to not only help secure your home and protect your theater, but also to automate your home for very little money using Z-Wave.
Some may think that a Crestron or Control4 automation system is needed to automate their home. Although these systems are powerful, I am not a big fan of automating too much in the home. There should be a balance between what I manually control and what is automated. Furthermore, I don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on a single dimmer for my lights. Rest assured there are ways of doing this for very little money.
My primary goal was to install a security system in order to protect my family and everything I have invested in throughout the years, principally my theater. After doing so, I found out that I can save some money by automating my lights and thermostats at the same time. For example, kids seem to think that lights turn off by themselves. Simply having a system that turns them off automatically or manually from your smartphone can help save you money in the long run.
What is Z-Wave? Here's the Wikipedia definition:
"Z-Wave communicates using a low-power wireless technology designed specifically for remote control applications. The Z-Wave wireless protocol is optimized for reliable, low-latency communication of small data packets with data rates up to 100 Kbps, unlike Wi-Fi and other IEEE 802.11-based wireless LAN systems that are designed primarily for high-bandwidth data flow. Z-Wave operates in the sub-gigahertz frequency range, around 900 MHz. This band competes with some cordless telephones and other consumer electronics devices, but avoids interference with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and other systems that operate on the crowded 2.4 GHz band. Z-Wave is designed to be easily embedded in consumer electronics products, including battery operated devices such as remote controls, smoke alarms and security sensors. Z-Wave was developed by a Danish startup called Zen-Sys that was acquired by Sigma Designs in 2008."
What do you need to get started?
Alarm Panel: First you need an alarm panel. There are many companies that can help you choose the right panel for your home. If you want to do this before the installer comes over, determine in advance what you would like to protect. Of course, I suggest adding window and door sensors to the theater room. Also, make sure the alarm panel can integrate itself in one way or another with a Z-Wave controller. That way, you will be able to easily integrate dimmers, thermostats and door locks.
Z-Wave Controller: After choosing the alarm panel, the next step is selecting a Z-Wave controller. In order to add Z-wave devices in your home, you need a controller to enroll them into your system by receiving all the devices' specific addresses. There are many controllers out there; among the most popular are the Mi Casa Verde controller and the Honeywell Tuxedo touchscreen with built-in controller. The Mi Casa Verde is a small green box that hooks up to your network and has a built-in web interface that is used to assign and add Z-wave devices, but you will need to download a third-party app for both iOS and Android devices to control them.
An easier way of doing this—with an additional cost—is the Honeywell Tuxedo touchscreen. The 7-inch touchscreen is a Wi-Fi–based Z-Wave controller that can be used with or without a Honeywell alarm panel. I found it easier to add Z-Wave products with the Tuxedo as it has a friendlier user interface with graphical icons. This touchscreen can display 7-day local weather forecasts, it can be used as a digital picture frame displaying both pictures and videos from an SD card, and of course, it can automate your home with some basic Z-Wave devices.
Z-Wave Dimmers: As a wireless standard, Z-Wave has become extremely popular, especially when it comes to home automation. You can find several products on the market from different manufacturers, which means you can mix and match as needed. If you happen to like the Leviton scene switch but would like to use GE dimmers, you can do it. As long as they all use the Z-Wave protocol, you can do what you like. I haven't seen much difference between one manufacturer and another in terms of dimming performance. There are many devices available whether you are looking for a wall dimmer, on/off switch, lamp dimmer, lamp switch, or even Z-Wave electrical outlets. I've seen some dimmers as low as $44 at smarthome.com and amazon.com.
Here's a tip from the pros: When installing dimmers in your home, preset them to turn on between 85 and 90 percent. You won't see the difference between 85 and 100 percent, so this saves 15 percent of your light bill. I also found that installing dimmers on the porch lights not only helps reduce annual energy costs, but increases bulb life as well.
Z-Wave Thermostats: Z-Wave–controllable thermostats let you pre-program the time you would like to turn on the heat or A/C. If you're not fond of pre-programming, you can use your smartphone app to turn on the air or heat before you leave the office. Another interesting feature is the ability to set a maximum high and minimum low on the thermostats in the case your kids play around with the thermostat. All this can help cut energy costs at the end of the year, and every penny counts.
Other Z-Wave Devices: I have recently tried Z-Wave door locks, such as deadbolts from Kwikset and Yale RealLiving. This is great in case you forget your keys or simply don't wish to give a key to the maid or whoever needs to temporarily enter your home. I found this very handy when watching a movie in the theater room. When expecting guests but the party has already started, simply release the deadbolt with a click on your phone. Did you forget to lock the door and it's too late to turn back? Lock it from your phone. The Kwikset lever is also useful if you have a small room for all your equipment and want to restrict or limit who goes in using code or a key. These types of door locks are useful and are not very expensive.
Cameras: If you're using a Honeywell system with the Tuxedo touchscreen, you can install Honeywell cameras at the front entrance and even in the theater room. If you don't want people touching your equipment or simply wish to protect the grounds around your home, all these cameras can be viewed from your smartphone or the touchscreen keypad. You can even get notification alerts with the picture of the person entering the room or the front door. You choose what you would like to monitor and when to receive picture notifications of certain alarm events. I use a camera in the rack room with all my gear. If my wife is stuck and having a hard time turning on some equipment, I can walk her through it on the phone while watching her physically do it. It has saved me boat loads of time.
I admit it wasn't easy to convince the minister of finance (wife) when I got into securing and automating the house. This is something that I have slowly built up over the years. Start with a security panel, a Z-Wave controller, and a few dimmers and see how you like it. Now that I can automate some lights in my house, my wife and I have a better sense of security at home and when we leave. There are many options out there, and I strongly recommend taking a look the automation section of AVS Forum for additional information. It's a great way to find out what works, what doesn't, and share user experience between fellow AVSers.
For all the products mentioned here, you can find more information from these websites:
Are you protecting your HT? Are you automating?