Home automation on the cheap

in Home Automation5 days ago

This community has not seen much activity, but it is here if you have applicable posts.

When we built our house in about 2003 I looked at what automation was available back then. There was nothing like the selection we have now. I do not think much was wireless and DIY solutions like the Raspberry Pi were a long way off.

Via a Yahoo group (remember those) I found an installer who could do me a simple system for lights. It used a Comfort controller that allowed for programming events and X10 units to switch the lights with signals sent over the power cables. Light switches used cables back to a central panel. There were also PIR sensors that could be programmed to activate the lights. An advantage of this setup was that the X10 units would still respond to the light switches without the controller. Some X10 units were dimmable by just holding down a switch and used 'soft start' to fade lights up. That may have extended the life of bulbs.

There were some down sides. Programming the controller had to be done with a computer connected to a serial connection (old school) and it was a bit clunky. There was no wireless aspect at all. The X10 units had a tendency to die if a bulb blew. In recent years I have had issues with lights turning on at random. Well I say that, but some would turn on at around the same time each day or sometimes at night, which is more annoying. I have no idea what could be doing that unless it is just them failing as they age.

For a while I replaced the controller with a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant. This is a really powerful app that can link in with just about any home automation that is out there. It did work, but I had some issues with the Pi, possibly the memory card, and the last time I tried to set it up it just did not work. So my system has been pretty dumb since then apart from some Ikea smart lights.

I have taken out some of the X10 units by wiring in conventional switches. The tricky ones are where there are multiple switches for one light, as on the stairs. In standard wiring you use cable with an extra core to do 2-way switching, but I did not think I would need that. Replacing the cables would be a big job, so I have considered alternatives.

You can get relay boards for a Raspberry Pi or similar devices, but I just saw this one. It uses the Pi Pico which is a microcontroller rather than a full computer so there is less to go wrong.

Relay board
From here.

I should be able to use the light switches as low voltage inputs and then just switch the lights with some simple programming. The board is out of stock now, but it is cheap. The Pico itself just costs a few pounds plus a power supply. I could mount the board in with the existing units. It could be possible to use the PIRs too. I might actually need a couple of boards, but they each cost less than one X10 unit and can control four lights. There is no wireless functionality, but that is not essential for me.

I had been looking into some way to work with what I have. I am less keen on systems that use lots of wireless devices as you have to keep replacing batteries in switches and PIRs. I realised that I do not need really fancy functionality with my lighting. Just because technology makes something possible does not mean you need it.

Do you use home automation? Any frustrations?

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It really is amazing how the prices of devices like this continue to come down more and more. In addition to that, they become increasingly powerful. That is pretty awesome!

The actual computer part is only a couple of dollars. Pretty amazing. I've not programmed microcontrollers, but it should be fairly simple..

No home automation for me. I think I would find it to frustrating especially when it came to lights. Light does not work, Step 1: check circuit breaker. Light still does not work, Step 2: remove and replace bulb. Light still does not work, Step 3: Find a light that does work and swap out with supposed burned out bulb. If it works call electrician. If not take known working bulb and place in original fixture. If it works throw away second dead bulb, if not call electrician.

I would hate to have to throw in check the special little automation box, check the computer, check the wireless routers and check what ever else needed to be checked just to verify it was a dead bulb.

What I liked about the X10 system was that it was family friendly once you got used to pressing and releasing a switch to turn the light on. Unfortunately it has some issues and I do not really want to keep spending money on that. It is probably possible to make a simple circuit to do the switching, so I will look into that too.

The system has to work when I am not around to fiddle with things.

I see articles about homes with full automation of everything, but you have to wonder what happens when something crashes. For a regular home I think it's a luxury. At least I have learned something from my experience.

!ENGAGE 20

Did you ever see that old movie about the automated house and the AI fell in love with the creator? I can't remember the name, and then the Movie: Colossus: The Forbin Project, Always have a bolt hole if you have an automated house that is what I learned from movies like that.;-}

It always goes wrong in the movies. I think the worst most people would suffer is things just not working. Ours has struck back with the bedroom light turning on in the night though.

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So glad to hear that those materials are cheap now and they work fine as well