Cheap Home Automation

My son is a new homeowner, so we naturally have a boatload of homeowner-ly things to talk about now.  One of them was home automation.

I’ve been automating lights and timers for many years now, going back to the X.10 days.  For the past ten years I’ve pretty much used Insteon equipment, form SmartHome, because it’s pretty cheap, pretty broad in terms of kinds of switches and sensors and controllers, and because, although it’s proprietary, you can get the APIs and hack at it.

So I told him about Insteon, and got as far as, “well, smart lightswitches and smart outlets in Insteon cost about $30 each…”  He said, “Whoa.  That’s not cheap.  How can I get home automation cheap?”

So we both started looking, and found a boatload of open-source work on home automation.  Most of it involves someone writing controller-side code — or even a whole controller-side platform — to command “various” peripherals.

OK, that’s great.  If you wrote your own controller and put it on an old computer — or a new cheap Pi-class computer — you could save the cost of a controller and its software.  These run about $150 for Insteon, and seem similar for other protocols.  The Zonoff hub (full disclosure: my firm Valhalla Partners is an investor in Zonoff), found in Staples Connect home automation sets, retails for maybe $50, but you get the idea.  That’s not chump change, but if you have 20 peripherals at $30 a pop, the total system cost is (20*$30)+$150= $750, so by doing your own controller you’re only saving 20%.

The main question seems to be: can you get down the price of the peripherals from $30 to something more Earth-bound?

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