Wednesday, April 13, 2011


For anyone who knows, please excuse my techno-nerdiness. For everyone else, please allow me to describe the planned electrical system. I've mentioned it before, but now it is coming together piece by piece, and as every piece arrives, I get more and more excited about the system.

It all started when Tasha read something about those lucky people in Asia who can open and close their apartments with their iPhone or Android device. She asked the first question that came to her mind, "Why don't I have that?" Thus began the long search for a system that would allow us to do that, and, as it turns out, a whole lot more.

Although there seems to be a proliferation of devices that are dollar-store quality and allow you to gain entrance to your house using biometrics, iPhone (by way of dialing a number to activate a controlled entry) or other seemingly neat devices, few seem to have the reliability and integrated solution that Crestron has. When exploring home automation, a lot of companies seem to specialize in one specific part of home automation: whole home audio/visual, home monitoring using CCTV, or clunky RF activated devices that plug in between whatever lamp you want to turn on and the power to the device. None of these seemed to have just what we wanted, a clean and streamlined system. When I initially read about Crestron, I thought "that's really nice, too bad I can't afford it!" Their consumer website lists case study after case study of these ridiculous 7-10,000 square foot homes, where the owners decided that they wanted the utmost luxury and blew 200k on a home theater as big as my apartment. While that is awesome, it is a little overwhelming compared to a humble 1600 square foot house in Hayward!

I started looking on Ebay for used Crestron devices, and found that when they did come up, they could often be had for reasonable prices. To summarize the system, basically you have a single "brain" which is connected by a four-wire network to small interfaces around the house. These interfaces range from a simple two-button "on/off" actuator to a complex LCD touchpanel. After receiving a signal from the interface, the main brain then activates the motor/dimmer pack that corresponds with the action requested. The actuator packs can be purchased in a variety of configurations, and come as straight-up actuators (relay driven, on/off toggle), dimmer packs for dimmable lighting and motor actuators for things like garage doors, motorized shades/blinds, etc. There is also a series of 24v contacts which allow you to activate things like door entry latches and heating/cooling zone actuators. Furthermore, most of the interfaces (mounted in rooms, hallways, etc) also have a built-in temperature sensor. This little bonus feature fixes so many of the problems that we encountered on our last house with radiant floor heat. In the last house we had several non-communicating thermostats which at times would compete for heated water and cause system inefficiency. With the level of integration that Crestron affords us, we can now program the entire system to automatically activate heating zones based on the temperature which is sensed in that room. Furthermore, we can set a upper and lower threshold, so that the boiler is not activated until two or more zones reach the lower limit of their threshold, therefore increasing the system efficiency.

PAC2 brain
Dimmer pack

12 button actuator

To date, our system consists of a PAC2 controller, eight slave modules, two 12" LCD touchpanels, a multitude of 8, 10 and 12 button interfaces and will eventually incorporate audio and visual controls to send video and audio signal to various zones of the house.

The next challenge was how to arrange all the various items into a neat and tidy enclosure. Crestron sells a NEMA1 enclosure which is specifically geared to their products. It's beautiful, and I found one on Ebay for $2900. That's about what I've paid for the whole system so far, so I wasn't about to blow that amount of money on the enclosure. I shopped a few local places and ended up finding a Square D NEMA1 enclosure on Ebay for $125. I've placed the modules into the enclosure to give a rough idea of what it will look like when it is assembled. I'm going to have to purchase a second enclosure because I still have three dimmer packs and a few A/V related components.

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