Category Archives: Projects

Home automation, improvements and other large scale projects around the house.

Custom Home Automation

The summer 2013 was a eventful period in my personal tech world. We have decided to renovate two bathrooms that are in dire need of attention. While my dad focused on the renovations, I decided to slowly automate electrical and electronic household equipments. This article will be the first of many posts on Home Automation.

Home Automation

There are many aspects to automating a house. If I have to be general, I would say it is the process in which advanced remote control devices were installed in place of traditional equipment in order to manage, control and expand from a centralized location. A light switch that can be programmed and managed using a computer or a smart phone is an example of a automation of a traditional switch. Yes, it cost a lot of money to replace items in a house to newer “smart” technologies. If you are looking for a rough figure, I would say an average Calgarian would have to spend around $6000 CAD to automate the entire house.

It is NOT a need, it is a want

If properly maintained, the traditional electrical fixtures could last for decades. There is no need to replace them. The automating a house is entirely a personal choice. While it may replace the older fixtures, the benefits can be far less compared to the cost associated with it. I am highlighting the cost because even after you installed the equipments, you may have to end up upgrading them every now and then. Added to that; since there are more complex circuity involved, the failure rate may be higher than that of the traditional units.

Where to start

I would recommended replacing your light switches that controls outdoor lighting. You will most likely have to replace one to three traditional switches with automated units. But before we you start installing, let’s look at the configuration options.

If you want to keep the costs to a minimum and you are not interested in advanced management, then companies like Belkin have developed units that will work with your existing wireless LAN without the added controllers. Their wemo products comes with free online access control from your smartphone or tablet. However, it lacks the online PC control component. This is geared towards the home users who are not technically inclined.

Then there are advanced systems which allow connecting several different units from wide range of manufactures to a central system. This allow the homeowner to control almost anything in the house from light switches to dog food dispensers. Similar to standards in WiFi (b/g/n/ac), the home automation also have few different standards. INSTEON, UPD, X10, Z-Wave, ZigBee and general purpose WiFi connected systems are examples of these. After doing an extensive research, I found the general purpose WiFi and Z-Wave compatible devices are the most easiest to find in the current market.

Infrastructure

All smart homes (homes with extensive automation) should have the following

  • High speed LAN Network with wireless broadcast in b/g/n/ac (the router should be able to broadcast a strong single to all corners of the house)
  • High speed Internet connection; if you want to control the house over the Internet
  • A suitable location for controller(s); if you are installing an advanced centralized system
  • UPS (battery) power backups for all possible units (you cannot provide backup power to a single power switch, but you can to IP Cameras, routers, modems, etc)
  • Money, money and money…

After that, it is all about choosing which traditional units will be replaced. I will introduced you to WiFi and Z-wave connected products within next few weeks. A good place to start on buying products would be, SmartHome.

Problems with SharkBites

Homes in Asia is mostly fitted with PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) tubes, the homes in North America mostly fitted with either copper pipes and/or ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) tubes. Copper is a great solution for water. Copper tubes are build to last. They also have unique properties limiting chemical reactions between minerals in the water supply and the copper itself. It also does not corrode and the connections between the pipes and other copper fittings are very strong.

Of course with professional help, you can do anything. But I am not writing this article for those who always depend on professionals to get the work done. If you stand in front of stores like HomeDepot or Lowes in Calgary, you will realized there is a large number of homeowners fix issues without anyone’s help. That’s where the downside of using a metal for distribution of water is the the installation and future management of the system comes into play.

Soldering Copper

It is not hard to solder copper piping. All you need is the right tools and knowledge to do it. What you need for small repairs and construction jobs is the following;

  • Lead free solder
  • A propane or other gas touch
  • Safety equipments; glasses, gloves, etc

You can research on how to do the job on the Internet. I am not going to tech you that because my ultimate point is that you cannot solder copper pipe when there is a major leak. Well… not any leak, but a leak which you cannot stop for at least for five minutes so that you can fix the pipe. It is almost impossible to heat up a tube and apply the adhesive solder when there is water inside the pipe.

Solutions for the water flow

The obvious one would be shut off the main water value to the house. But if the main value itself is leaking or there is still too much ice or water inside the pipes that you cannot drain it?

SharkBite 3/4 X 3/4 slip coupling.
SharkBite 3/4 X 3/4 slip coupling.

Then the most popular solution in Calgary is to use something called SharkBite fittings. They are “O-ring type” clamping fittings. They do come in variety of configurations and sizes. Although the packaging itself reads “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”, it is legal to be sold to the consumer in Canada. You do not hear much about this because often the front end staff at building material stores are unaware of the the warning. But still most customers have been advised to use the product only in exposed areas (not behind walls) only. The reason behind this is this type of fittings creates weak point on your water distribution system. I found some unverified claims that the O-Ring and the plastic inside the SharkBite clip can degrade over time. Unlike copper to copper contact with solder, this clips create weak point in the tubes. Then you should ask yourselves, why install them at all?

Since there are two factors already against this product, I would advice using against it. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional plumber or a contractor. This is only my educated opinion. There are other solutions to fixing constantly leaking pipes. One is to use all mental construction crimping fittings. They may not be available for every size and configuration. So the next best thing to do is find a way to drain the tubes to keep the work area as dry as possible. Finally, the next option is to hire a professional plumber. But then, it will take the pride and fun out of fixing your own house.