DIY Home Automation

Written by rob callahan
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DIY Home Automation
Your home computer can be a central component in a DIY automation system. (chilling out at home image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com)

Many commercial home automation products are available today, including robots and other devices that schedule and perform common household tasks. Such devices include vacuums and other floor cleaners, lawnmowers, pool cleaners and rain gutter cleaners. While convenient, these devices can put a dent in a tight budget. If you're looking for affordable automation to control your home's heating, lights and other appliances, you do have other options.

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Reasons to Consider Home Automation

If you're frequently pressed for time, automating regular tasks can gain you back valuable minutes. In fact, you might already have automation without even realising it. Some methods of automation--such as dishwashers, laundry machines, programmable home thermostats, coffee makers and even automated bill payments--have become so ubiquitous that people take them for granted. Imagine how much more of your time you would spend if you had to wash all of your clothes by hand. Now think of other tasks and chores around your house you could automate to free up more time.

Using Motion Sensors

Motion sensors can control indoor and outdoor lights in your home. These sensors switch lights on when you pass through their range of detection and then turn lights off again after a set amount of time. A motion sensor on a hallway light lets you see your way at night without having to move blindly toward a switch you can't see. This reduces possibility of an injury due to tripping or falling in the dark. An outdoor motion sensor provides the same safety--and it deters nighttime theft or vandalism when the light shines on any would-be thieves. These sensors also reduce energy consumption and lower your electric bills. Sensors can integrate with other timer-based and computer-based home automation systems so that they only operate at night.

Using Appliance and Light Timers

A timer may be a device as simple as a power toggle controlled with a slowly rotating dial that triggers an on-off switch. These timers attach to a power outlet between the outlet and an appliance cord. When the dial rotates to a preset position, it completes a circuit between the wall socket and the appliance's plug to turn it on. As it continues to rotate to another position, the circuit breaks and the appliance ceases to receive power. You can install more complex timers as well, such as those that control appliances from a central computer running specialised software.

Software for Your Home Computer

Several programs can convert your home computer to a control centre for home appliances. Linux Home Automation is an open-source application under development for Linux-based operating systems. The X10 home automation system uses Windows to control lights and appliances around your home--it can even open your curtains at a certain time. You can dim the lights or start a movie without getting up from the couch, or make sure your air conditioner cools the house before you arrive home. For the Mac, Thinking Home can automate tasks such as turning on the outside lights at dusk or heating up your electric blanket before you climb into bed for the night. These and other automation programs come with a variety of options in a range of prices. Websites such as Home-Automation.org feature extensive lists of automation programs (see Resources).

Hardware for Computer-Controlled Home Automation

Your home automation program needs to work with compatible hardware. Commercial automation systems based on Insteon, X10 and Z-Wave technologies work with specially designed hardware that you can buy as starter kits and add-on packages. These kits come with software or control devices to operate them; many other free or commercial programs will work with them as well. If purchasing or installing a third-party program to communicate with your automation hardware, check the program's compatibility to ensure it will work with your devices. Some setups also allow users to control devices through e-mail, with a click on a Web page or via a simple voice command.

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