Updated July 2, 2007 01:00 PDST
So You Installed a Z-Wave Network, Now What?
By Vivek Bhargava
If your situation is anything like mine, once you get the
whole Z-Wave setup working reliably and show it to your
spouse, they'll say something like: "That's nice, but
what was wrong with using the light switches and the $5
automatic timers with the floor lamps?" I know the
various Z-Wave manufacturers have been putting more intelligence
into their controllers lately, but there are limits to what
you'll be able to do.
That is, unless you consider moving more into true Home
Automation (HA). By Home Automation, I mean integration
with non-Z-Wave systems to accomplish functionality that
your spouse will appreciate including being able to:
- Automatically turn off all appropriate lights and turn
off the heat (or AC) when you arm your security system.
- Use the motion detectors and door sensors you already
use for your security system to turn lights on and off based
- Use your cell phone to adjust the heat or lighting in
your house when you're on your way home.
- Implement an inexpensive RFID system (less than $200)
so that you can automatically turn on the appropriate lights
and adjust the thermostat when the system sees you walk
up to the house. You can even have it set the lights to
different levels based on which person is walking up, or
what time of day it is.
- When you select a DVD on your home theatre PC (HTPC),
have it automatically set up the stereo and dim the lights
Hooked? Well before you get into it, you've got a decision
to make up front, and that is whether you want to go with
a hardware based HA controller, software based, or a hybrid.
Here are some examples of what I'm talking about.
Hardware Based Controller: You could use something
like an Elk
Automation Panel, which is basically a security system
and HA controller in one. It's got a Z-Wave module that
connects to your Z-Wave network. It does all the regular
security stuff like theft/fire/safety controls, plus some
interesting extras, such as irrigation, HVAC, and a newly
released Russound audio control module. It's controllable
via either a keypad, a keychain "keyfob," your
Windows Smartphone, landline, or your PC, so you've got
lots of great options there. Plus it's very low power consumption,
typically around 40watts or so.
Software based controller: You could use something
like CQC by Charmed
Quark Systems, which is a software package that runs
on a PC. In this case, you'd connect something like the
USB stick to your PC to control your Z-Wave network. It
can control anything that has a PC interface. At this point,
that list is quite huge, and covers basically everything
that can be done. There are things like whole house audio
receivers, DVD changers, RFID, and many more. CQC can be
controlled via a PC, or a Windows Smartphone. Plus, if you
have something like a USB
UIRT IR receiver on your PC, you can even use a regular
remote control to control everything. The downside is that
you need to leave a PC running 24x7, but it doesn't have
to be a powerful PC.
Hybrid Control: You could use both a hardware panel
and a software package. In this case you can connect your
Z-Wave controller to either the Elk panel or the PC. As
long as your Elk is also connected to your PC, you can get
the best of both worlds and use any Elk or PC-supported
device to perform any action or series of actions you'd
like. You can use any mechanism you want to monitor the
My personal preference (and recommendation) is to go with
the hybrid control system, with Z-Wave controlled by your
PC. As new Z-Wave devices and enhancements come out, it
will be easier to upgrade software than firmware, plus you'll
have access to the super-set of devices that can be controlled.
At this point, there's a long list of software packages
that claim Z-Wave support that run the gamut price wise,
feature wise, and techie-knowledge wise. Prices range from
$35 for an entry level package like HomeZix
where you'll need to use C# or Visual Basic, to $700 for
a "professional quality" system like CQC where
you use mostly point and click to set up your system. At
the upper end, software packages will also have extras like
secure and network distributed architecture, robust automation
rules engines, easy custom GUI creation capabilities, integrated
media management, and support for dozens of different hardware
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