Why I Regret Making My House a Smart-House

If you are a DIY Home Automator you’d probably admit your system needs a little finessing now and then.  You are the sysadmin that reboots the house once in a while and are usually tweaking ,improving and replacing things as you go.

However you probably wouldn’t expect to have the same roll with a professionally installed system costing well into 5 figures.

But that’s just what’s described in a recent article entitled “Why I Regret Making My House a Smart-House”.  It proves even a big budget bespoke setup isn’t immune to ongoing problems like this…

We added a TV, then another, then the Alarm System over 2 years. As things get added there seem to be more and more problems. TV’s would stop working, speakers popping, lights wouldn’t work, touch screens get stuck, remotes don’t work. I have grown accustomed to resetting (pulling the power plug and waiting 3 minutes) the equipment, removing and reinstalling the touch screens, taking the batteries out of the remotes and reinstalling.

The tale of woe continues with incompatibility issues with new modules within the first year and hardware failures…

The hidden Thermostats rely on sensors in the rooms to bring the temperature information to them. 5 of the 7 have failed already. Two that are side my side, one for AC, one for heat measure about 10 degrees different. This means that the heat and AC will slug it out when we are not here – and this we don’t know until we get energy bills greater than the last 3 months combined. Those cost $30 each, and can quickly cause a silent $300 problem……What I would like, is to come in from a long day in my shop and have a house that works. I have grown weary and no longer care how smart it is.

Home Automation incompatibilities can certainly be a major frustration, but a one-make system like this should be much more reliable and rewarding for the owner.  It’s well worth reading the full article for yourself on the link below, and let us know your own experiences in the comments too.

www.finehomebuilding.com

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9 Comments on "Why I Regret Making My House a Smart-House"

  1. A sobering read. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I’ve worked in the tech industry for long enough to realise that the many disparate protocols and solutions available for HA is a route that’s destined for failure, no matter how much expertise you throw at it. All these closed and proprietary solutions, with minimal testing and niche market coverage, and you’re looking at one result – half arsedness.

    I’ve also got first hand experience of professional AMX installs on our properties, and they’re rife with stupid errors. Like in the article, random speaker pops, hardware going out of sync, hard lockups of control surfaces, and our favourite, AMX touch panels not supporting the \ symbol in WPA2 keys. If AMX and professional installers can’t do it right, what hope do we have.

    This is basically why I’m taking my time, using open source tools and hardware, and doing my best to evaluate ideas and devices before I buy any of them. I’m still waiting for The Chosen One :-/

  3. I feel this quite deeply – I spent a couple of years overseas and took out all of the smart home features to make it more “normal” for letting out…

    and since coming back, I have to confess, I have not been inclined to put them back in!

    I found myself loving the promise of automation, but more often than not, completely disenchanted by what it did in practice. reliability needs to be much, much better before we are truly where we want to be..

    Ian.

  4. I have many of these same problems. I have had terrible problems with buzz from low voltage halogen transformers and TRIAC based dimmers. Still not totally fixed.

    His problem with temp sensors is most likely caused by the temp sensor not being installed in an electrical box filled with insulation. When temp sensors are put bare into walls they are susceptible to reading temps from inside the walls – dimmers, recirculating hot water, HVAC leaks, etc. I have about 20 temp sensors in the house and every single one had to be moved after construction was finished.

    Don’t install touch panels in walls. Just use tablets, get some extra cheap Android ones if you need more.

    If you are putting dimmers into plastic electrical boxes drill some holes into the top of them. They are too good of insulators. I’ve lost about 30 dimmers before figuring this one out. Metal boxes are fine, they will radiate the dimmer heat.

    BTW, I tossed Control4 after receiving a $250,000 quote. My system is mostly Insteon based which allows me to do my own programming.

  5. Alas i think it’ll be a long time until we get HA to a near 100% reliability. The system i’ve got at home is intentionally cobbled together from various different providers and technologies using Indigo in the middle to keep a track of it all.. the theory is that if there’s a failure anywhere it’s only going to affect a few small systems, and so far in practice it seems to be working. It’s kinda funny thinking that my cheap, mismatched system is more reliable than a £100k professional system.

  6. I design and write “mission-critical” code and am keenly aware of how fragile and annoying complex systems can be.

    Which is why I’m trying to keep the OpenTRV ‘UI’ as simple as humanly possible!

    Rgds

    Damon

  7. It doesn’t have to be this way! I wrote and built my own smart home automation system and don’t have any of the issues you describe. It’s all about good design and realising that ‘smart’ home control is a mission critical, real-time control system. My system has been running fine for 9 years and still works as I extend it and add new functionality. The trick is to use technology abstraction, avoid wireless as much as possible and use a hybrid system that enables you to use the best technology for each given task.

  8. OK interesting read and oddly enough something I experienced only just the other day! Having had a client in tears saying exactly the same thing. So where do I start with this one? Basically the installation was beyond anything I have seen before and trust me I have seen some poor installs, usual story Lady builds dream house, London company come in spec very high value equipment, company throws system together, company then disappears and Lady looses all faith. Good guy and there are a few of us comes in and says “who on earth put this in?” Good guy then left to sort out massive issues and Lady has spent all she had on the other lot. Sad story.

    I have to be honest yet to see a job and go WOW! I know they exist but not many. However I believe that you can make things better than the normal but not yet can a house be “smart”. To me Smart is never having to turn on a light, never having to pick up a remote, what I think we can however do is relieve the burden of many switches, many remotes and so on. I use Crestron on all my jobs and yes we get issues, the odd failure but in general every job has been successful, yes at a price for the equipment but when you install good gear you treat it with pride and do everything you are told, the right cable, the right enclosures and so on.

    Also KEEP IT SIMPLE! don’t over complicate things. My only wish is the care and attention Crestron put into their software and hardware was shared by those many high end company’s who say they can install it. I am an electrician by trade not a glorified hifi buff and therefore everything is installed as the REGS say and sometimes inspected on my yearly inspection by the NICEIC, my gripe is that there is no institute to protect and inspect smart homes! and if anyone says CEDIA I shall throw something at them. I would like to see a new organisation that understands, inspects, helps and protects those few of us that understand how to do things right. Maybe anyone reading this who feels the same should email me, lets get together and start something?

    OK rant over have printed the article so I can read it.

  9. I put in an X10 system for lighting only in 2002. I put in a patch panel with LD11s and AD10s in 2 cabinets (1 each end of the house -it’s big at ~5000sq ft). The lighting supply is isolated through a filter and has RF receivers strategically placed to pick up the light switch (SS13E) signals.

    It’s worked exactly as planned, and from time to time we take out a new switch and blu-tack it to a wall or item of furniture, or wherever we want a light switch. As it’s predominantly LD11 dimmers, I’ve had to get a 10 year supply of the incandescent light bulbs as they’re deeply sinful.

    The only extension is to open / close / report opening of the 5-bar gate using standard bits, and that works just fine.

    My only problem is that I can’t migrate to dimmable LEDs yet, since there’s no X10 LED dimming module, as far as I know.

    After 40 years of designing critical control systems, I really wouldn’t try anything more complicated than what I already have. My foray into macros was painful, and I remain a KISS fan. If that’s all you want to do, then I reckon a SH system can be reliable over the years (I’ve no computer to reset or program).

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