Wireless Home Automation Granite Falls NC
Granite Falls, NC
Wireless Home Automation
Home automation has been making inroads in the residential market for quite some time, and it continues to evolve as new products and technologies are introduced. The latest, greatest twist is the incorporation of wireless into the mix.
Wireless technologies have been showing up in all sorts of places, including the home. Most homeowners are familiar with wireless home computer networking, and many have started using their cell phones as primary phone lines. But wireless home automation is the new kid on the block, and it brings a whole new list of terms and technologies.
Part of the trick of wireless home automation, as with any wireless network, is getting all the devices on the network to communicate with each other. That's where standards-based devices come in. By following the same set of manufacturing guidelines, companies ensure that their wireless devices will communicate with devices from other companies, creating a seamless wireless network.
Two to Tango
Thanks to Z-Wave and ZigBee, wireless home automation networks are easy to install, set up and program using simple remote controllers.
When it comes to standards for wireless home automation, there are two major players
Z-Wave and ZigBee. The goal of each standard is to simplify home automation. However, these two standards are competitors, so they don't interoperate. In other words, you can't mix Z-Wave devices with those that conform to ZigBee. Rather, you
or more likely, your contractor or installer
have to choose one.
The good news is that both standards have a lot of muscle behind them and are supported by major manufacturers that offer widely available wireless home automation devices designed to operate with other products using that same standard.
The biggest benefit to homeowners is that wireless home automation networks are becoming easier to install and use because of these standards, which means you now have some control over how you control your home. But which standard do you choose?
To make an informed decision, or at least have some voice in what types of devices are installed in your home, you should know the capabilities and options offered by each standard and its related devices, and what those capabilities and options mean in the real world.
The most noticeable difference between the two standards is the manufacturers that support each technology. The ZigBee Alliance is led by what are known as eight promoter companies Honeywell, Mitsubishi, Motorola, Philips, Samsung, Chipcon, Ember and Freescale. The Z-Wave Alliance is led by six companies
Zensys, Leviton, Intermatic, Wayne Dalton, Danfoss and UEI.
There are other differences as well. ZigBee took its commercial applications and made them easier to operate for the home market, while Z-Wave promotes itself as a technology aimed solely at the home market. The Z-Wave Alliance is quite adept at marketing its products to homeowners, which makes some more comfortable with that standard. But proponents say ZigBee is just as easy to implement and use.
As for similarities, both standards are mesh technologies. In a mesh network, devices communicate with one another rather than with a single central hub. This has two benefits. It enables the building of fairly large networks that can be expanded easily. And the devices on those networks don't have to send out signals to great distances, since a signal that is sent out by one device say, a remote controller can hop around the house from device to device until its intended recipient
a light switch, for instance is located.
This mesh-networking capability has another benefit: Since the devices send very little data for short distances, they consume little power. Low power consumption means the batteries housed within each device have a relatively long life span.
Here are some specifics about these two wireless standards.
Z-Wave Zensys, a wireless technology company based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., is the premier player when it comes to Z-Wave, because it developed the Z-Wave technology. Raoul Wijgergangs, vice president of business development and marketing at Zensys, explains that Z-Wave allows different brands of products to talk the same language. One can control all Z-Wave-enabled devices with one control point.
He goes on to provide a real-world example that illustrates how Z-Wave can automate your home wirelessly. Let's say you're rushing out the door and you set the alarm on the control panel. The panel notices that the lights and air conditioner are still on. The alarm panel is smart enough to know that if it's being armed, people are leaving the home, so it triggers other devices. The lights turn off and the temperature setting changes to 60 degrees, or whatever you have preset Ëœaway mode to be.
Proponents of Z-Wave focus on such scenarios, or scenes. According to the Z-Wave Alliance, Scenes are a preset combination of actions that occur at the touch of a single button. Lighting scenes have gained in popularity in recent years, but Z-Wave goes well beyond that. For example, you can create a scene for sunset that closes the blinds, adjusts the temperature, turns on inside lights to a preset level, activates an outdoor motion sensor and locks the doors.
ZigBee Not to be outdone, ZigBee can do some pretty powerful and amazing things as well, says Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance. For example, he notes, the devices in a ZigBee network are self-healing and are smart enough to know when a new device is added to the network or an old one is removed. Recognizing the preconception that many wireless networks are difficult to set up or don't always work properly, he adds, You really don't need to do anything except turn it on, and it works.
In addition, ZigBee is fairly scalable, meaning it is easy to expand and add devices to the network. In fact, a ZigBee network can accommodate a few devices or a few thousand. Though a few thousand devices might be overkill for the residential market, it is not unheard of for a home to have a few hundred devices connected to the same wireless network. Start adding up the lights, thermostats, smoke detectors, alarms, windows, doors, blinds, garage doors, water heater, stove and so forth, and you can see how quickly the number of devices can rise.
So, again, which one is right for you? The choice may prove simply to be one of manufacturer preference. Some manufacturers understand that and are beginning to offer products that are both ZigBee- and Z-Wave-compliant.
Z-Wave and ZigBee are dual-band technologies, meaning they send signals on two different radio frequency bands, which improves the reliability of the network. Insteon also is considered a dual-band technology, although it sends signals on a single radio frequency as well as over your home's existing electrical wires, much like X-10, which is considered the granddaddy of home automation technology.
The benefit of combining wired and wireless bands is that signals are less likely to be disrupted by the interference and noise usually found in a home, according to the company.
In addition, the wired or powerline band makes Insteon devices backward-compatible with devices that use the 30-year-old X-10 technology. And like Z-Wave and ZigBee, Insteon has mesh-networking capability. For homeowners with an existing X-10 network who want to upgrade to wireless devices, Insteon ( http://www.insteon.net ) may be a good fit.
As Z-Wave's Wijgergangs explains, wireless home automation devices are now affordable for most homeowners. For example, Wijgergangs notes, the cost of a Z-Wave switch hovers around the $20 to $30 mark somewhat more than a basic switch would cost, but not so expensive that it would scare away someone interested in the technology. The devices also are increasingly available at stores like Home Depot, LoweÃ.‚¬'s and RadioShack.
Both ZigBee and Z-Wave have evolved to be easy to install and set up, and that is perhaps the biggest boon to homeowners. Computers are not required to operate either system, though that is an option for the computer-savvy. And both offer options for advanced controls. For instance, Heile explains that ZigBee offers the potential of using a television screen to set up and monitor the home automation network.
Of the three wireless automation standards, ZigBee stands out, as it is not a proprietary protocol owned by a single company but rather is an open standard that was developed and is supported by its eight promoter companies. As a result, it is more readily available to developers who want to make their products compatible with other wireless home automation products.
Still, all three standards are successful and growing. According to ABI Research, an Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based technology market research firm, more than 80 million ZigBee-enabled devices will ship by the end of 2006, and there are more than 85 Z-Wave-enabled devices available on store shelves. For homeowners interested in creating a wireless home automation network, thereÃ.‚¬'s never been a better time to get started.
A freelance writer based in
Middletown, Pa., Jennifer Stong is a columnist for Electrical Contractor Magazine and writes frequently about technology, business and