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Automation Three: Lights

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Dave!Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!

One thing you find out very quickly when researching home automation solutions is that everybody has an opinion as to what's best. You're never going to find that one flawless technology that everybody universally loves. Which means making a decision can be a tricky business indeed. You have to weigh all the opinions and reviews so you can find the solution that feels like the best fit for you.

I'll just cut to the chase and say that I ultimately decided on INSTEON for the bulk of my home automation tasks.

Yes, there were some reviewers saying that INSTEON is crap, but there was enough good things said about the types of things I was wanting to do that it seemed the best solution.

One thing I really liked about INSTEON was the dual-mesh networking technology they've got going on. Many of their devices are wireless, but that can be problematic because low-power wireless devices don't have a lot of range. But INSTEON also has networking-over-power lines for many devices, which means your network is instantly extended via reliable hard-wired connections anytime you plug a device into an outlet.

So while that open/close sensor on your window may be battery-powered and have limited range over low-powered wireless... that light switch three feet away is wired into the electrical system and acts like an extender to the sensor, so no problem at all.

And speaking of light switches...

My new INSTEON light controllers are ever so dreamy!

Thanks to the INSTEON Hub, you can control your lights from anywhere your smart phone has internet access. You can also monitor what's on and what's off. You can also link light switches together. And, of course, you can program schedules easily. My front and back porch lights automatically turn on at sunset and turn back off at sunrise, for example. You can use INSTEON motion detectors to talk to the lights and have dark rooms light up automatically. You can pretty much do whatever you want so long as there's an INSTEON device to make it happen. And there are a lot of INSTEON devices available.

But, alas, all is not perfect...

The INSTEON "smart" switches are much, much larger than traditional light switches. They take up a lot of space. Which means if you have shallow electrical boxes throughout your home, the odds of the switches actually fitting into them are remote. Even if there is enough room to cram the switches into the box, that may not be a good idea, as it will involve smashing all the wiring to the back of the box with a hammer. I'm not an electrician, but that didn't seem like a very good idea. Won't heat build up and melt your switches? Or, worst case scenario, start a fire if the electricity arcs in there?

I dunno. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take.

So... I either replace all my electrical boxes with something deep enough to handle the new switches (a positively massive undertaking that will involve cutting into walls)... or I give up on automating my lights.

Except... my dad offered another solution when I told him of my dilemma... a box extender.

Usually box extenders are used for when you add tile or some other thick product to your walls and the electrical box ends up too deep for the switch plate screws to reach. That wasn't my problem, so I had to find a solution which would extend the boxes out from the wall.

I figured with all the home automation going on, there would be a plethora of solutions out there to do just that.

I was wrong.

After hours of research, I was able to find just one.


Which I'll save for tomorrow's discussion.

Along with INSTEON's efforts to make their system Apple HomeKit compatible.

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  1. martymankins says:

    Your talk about the light switches and turning them on and off reminds me of the X-10 devices I used to have back in the 90’s. They worked quite well and I had the timer box that turned them on at certain times (via the analog dial next to each station). This solution is nicely updated for the modern age.

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