I’ve started down a rabbit hole and looking for some advice.
I am in the final stages of a new house design, and I thought ‘How am I going to close that blind way up high, probably motorise it. Hmm, I wonder if I can automate that?’ so down the rabbit hole I went.
Whilst the intention is certainly for this to be a ‘forever house’ I’m still wary about going the whole hog down where there is no switches anywhere.
The goal for the house is to be off grid power wise, so battery and solar powering it, and hence trying to leverage passive solar design as much as possible. This then means managing blinds/curtains day to night to gain heat, keep heat, lose heat etc etc. But also potentially leveraging the generated solar energy to use a heater, air con, or heat water after the batteries are charged.
Things I am thinking about are:
Blind control throughout the house
Possibly doing lighting through sensors predominately, including dimming options
Control of power hungry appliances to line up with solar energy peaks (including a potential EV)
Door locks/garage door
So with a clean slate, how would you do an initial setup/wiring to accommodate this whilst not harming the functionality of it being a ‘normal’ house?
Well, if building a new house, I would recommend to use a wired bus system. I’m in Germany, so I’m addicted to knx, but there are other options, too.
Another option is to centralize actuators and sensors per room, so build a small electrical cabinet per room and use star layout for wiring. this way you are free to use whatever you want to use.
But as you want to be off grid, you have to calculate energy consumption for automation stuff carefully
Having recently gone through this process, I can share from experience. I started off by thinking my house could be like the bridge of the Enterprise. Bad idea. Don’t automate just to automate. Automate because it makes sense in the context of your house, and concepts such as safety, energy conservation, “aging in place” (since you mentioned the ‘forever house’ idea), and things that just make life better or easier. Sure, some things are fun to automate and contribute to the hobby experience, and that’s fine also.
I don’t think you will find anyone on this forum who would advocate eliminating switches. Think redundancy. You can have both.
My solar system is grid tied and a net energy producer, so I don’t worry too much about peaks and valleys. But you are correct in thinking that home automation is a good start to managing your needs. Search this forum for solar projects. Someone has done exactly what your are thinking about.
All of these are possible through Zwave, Zigbee, or both. Read about them in add-ons section. I went Zwave, and most of my home automation is handled here. Lighting through sensors sounds good, but I have found certain spots like closets, garages and some exterior spaces are best suited for sensors turning on lights. Somfy is a big player in blind and awning control (I have one awning, but am adding blinds), but there are also Zwave solutions I am exploring.
Run power, data, coax, and whatever your choices are, to as many corners and nooks in your house as you can (including exterior). Then find 10% more to run. It’s worth the additional cost now. Also, (this may be controversial, but…) don’t be afraid to buy products based on binding availability in OpenHAB (if it fits the rule of automating because it makes sense). I did and am happy with the results. This is an open source project, and if a product is not supported by a binding (or other method), it may never be (unless you are a programmer and can contribute). When in doubt, search this forum.
I agree that you always want the ability to manually control every device in your house. You may not need the physical switches very often, but when you do need them, you REALLY need them.
On the flip side, I’m not a fan of adding touchscreen control panels and other interfaces. Often, these sorts of things are only meaningful to the people who set them up, and make everyone else feel like things are just too complicated. When humans believe that something is a hassle, they’ll do something that’s simpler…even if it requires more effort.
In my opinion, an automated house should still present itself largely the same as a non-automated house so that anyone can use it without confusion. I use some of my manual lightswitches all of the time, and they trigger other switches that I never touch.
I also use motion sensors, but I do so very sparingly. I only want to automate things that should happen 99% of the time, and I find that motion only works in very specific scenarios. When automation does something you don’t want or expect, it feels less like magic and more like a curse.
Go with the escalator approach, not the elevator/lift approach. When an escalator loses power, it still functions as a staircase. An elevator? Not so much. Always have a non-automated method for controlling the device, switches, etc. It also helps with the WAF.
For large permanent blinds, best to ensure there’s electrical wiring going to where the blind will be located, i wouldnt rely on battery-only blinds, particularly for large motors/windows.
Trying to fully automate a house will get expensive, quickly. You could offset/delay some of this cost by ensuring your switch boxes in the walls are deeper than the “standard” depth. This shouldn’t cost anything additional during the build but you’ll then have space behind your switch boxes to put in dimmer/switch/module controls (zwave is what i use, so Fibaro, Aeon, etc) and you could do this over time, doesnt all have be done for day one.
If I have a chance to start from beginning, I will pull cables for everything to a central location or per floor and use some kind of PLC or maybe rPi or some other GPIO device with relayboxes to automate. Just old school wires to every load switch and sensor. I would even use larger conduits so I could pull extra wires if needed in future.
The protocols and devices change and who knows what will be available in 20 years from now. The wire keeps you flexible.