Our Z-Wave Network

We love our Z-Wave network, it simply makes our life easier and adds security and entertainment automation along with lighting and heating. We currently use the Vera automation platform, as well as some others in our lab such as the Lowes Iris, Staples Connect, and HomeSeer.  We selected the Vera since it was one of the first embedded Z-wave controllers, using a router type form factor and using 12V DC power instead of running a full Windows system as Homeseer required.  Get your own Vera system from Amazon.

Our Vera is a very important part of our home network, automating many thing but mainly Lighting and Heating. We can control our lights, heat and other devices such as garage doors, appliances, water valves from the within the house itself or from virtually anywhere.  In the house, we can control the lights themselves, but also from a Z-Wave remote control, from Z-Wave scene controllers, Smartphone, PC, Tablet or using timers in Vera (the “brain” or controller) of the system.

Manual control is great but the true beauty of the system is in the automation. Within Vera you set up what is known as a scene – A series of steps or things to do attach to timers within the system. One of my favorite scenes is the “all off”.   One push of a button on my phone or on the scene controller in the kitchen and other rooms I can instantly turn off all the devices in the house including lighting and other appliances.  It also turns the thermostat down, And keeps a couple of lights lit on the way to the bedroom and in the kitchen. 15 min. later it turns all of these lights off. No more walking around half-asleep to turn off all the lights before bed. With a little bit of ingenuity and the Vera system You can create scenes based on sunrise sunset and other devices/settings within the system.  Below are some of the examples of things we do with our home automation system:

– We also use a wave to power our Entertainment – Using certain plug-ins with the Vera system, we can control the following devices in our home:  DirecTV, Onkyo Network Receiver, our TV LED Backlighting and our network of music players from Logitech know as the Squeezebox.  These devices are all on the IP based LAN network other than the LED TV backlighting which is on the Z-Wave network.  The Vera helps create a bridge between the two and allows us to add control into our scenes that set these certain devices on or off or to certain channels and volumes.

– We also use NFC tags with our android phone to automate scenes. These nifty little tags require no batteries and are made of thin plastic with some type of memory in there. You can link a scene to a tag or do other macro type activities with Tasker and when you put your phone on to a tag or near it it will activate the scene or macro automatically.

– Garage Door Control is another useful option when automating your home. We’re not a fan of walking out to the garage at night if we forget to close a door and can simply bring up one of the scenes to fire up the garage door and close it.

– Another fantastic feature of home automation is water control and freeze prevention. We use many products from a company called Fortrezz.  They make water and freeze sensors, as well as strobe lights, a relay device called the MiMoLite and one of our favorite inventions the whole home water valve with integrated Z-Wave.  If one of the leak sensors triggers ( under a sink or under your water heater) the vera system a scene can automatically turn off the water valve to prevent flooding.  There are many other temp sensors such as the Express Controls sensors, and some other great humidity sensors out on the market like the Aeotec 4-in-1

– We really love the very low Power draw on the Vera system and other embedded home automation systems.  Using only about 5 watts for Vera systems, Homeseer ZTroller and other popular systems

– Vera also works as a Wifi client, providing you have power, you can then move the Vera system to the perfect spot for optimal Z-Wave communication.  It also continues to work on the local LAN if something is wrong with the WAN/Internet connection to the outside world.  This can’t be said for many of the systems that are on the market today that utilize the cloud for all of their processing and then send back the instructions to the dumb controller sitting on your home network.

– We also use the device for some rudimentary home security.  Using the Express Controls sensors (HomeSeer HSM branded) We can set a scene to turn on the lights and play an alarm on the squeezebox when one of the sensors is triggered after the all off seen is set and everyone is in bed.

– For the most part all of the plug-ins on Vera are free (99%).  This is something where it is superior over home seer for cost savings due to the fact that almost every plug-in on the home seer site require some sort of extra payment. That can get quite expensive after paying a few hundred dollars for the controller itself.

– There is also no monthly fee, and no fee for SMS and e-mail alerts up to a certain threshold.   I use an internal SMTP server for alerts to my cell phone and e-mail. This allows me to customize the messages themselves and the from address for consistency. My android phone then uses the application called Handcent and that can set custom sounds and LED flashes based on certain alerts from the system.

– We have a large sprawling house and vera allows bridging over IP to extend the system over longer range Or for increasing the size of the network more than 220 devices which is the limitation for the number of devices on a single vera system.

– Although the vera system has been in beta for literally it’s whole life cycle, we find it fairly reliable and over time reliability has gotten better.  We like the mix of features, low price, free plug-ins and the ability to rollup your sleeves and do some customization with the device using scripts and scenes.  It’s definitely not for the novice who doesn’t have any plans on extending their system or doing many of the things with mentioned here. But if you have a knack for tinkering than the vera system may be just perfect for you.