Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Home Automation, the second attempt…

Well, it's that time year again. Winter is coming… For me, as with most people with ALS dealing with the cold and snow can be quite a problem.Aside from the obvious problems of actually dealing with the snow, tripping, falling and of course cabin fever from being stuck in the house, I still actually do have to get out from time to time for various appointments and occasionally reasons of sanity.

I'm to the point now where I cannot get a coat on or off by myself and there are times during the day where I still need to go out. This usually means a quick run from the house to my Jeep. Spending as little time outside as possible. The Jeep fortunately has a remote starter so it'll be nice and warm by the time I get there. Fortunately, handicap parking also means I'm usually quite close to the entrance of wherever I'm going. So usually I'm only outside for about a minute, before I'm back inside again. Not enough time to really affect me.

Hey dude! Found your keys!
However, when I get home I do need to get back into the house rather quickly. Because if my hands get cold, I lose all the remaining function I have in my hands…and this can be a problem, as it usually means fumbling for my keys to unlock the door. Keys being small items, this is usually a problem and last year I was almost locked out of my house on more than one occasion.

This winter, I've lost significant dexterity in my hands since then…

So I set out on a quest trying to figure out if there were remote options to get into my house. The first item that came to mind was using an RFID card which I would simply need to hold near the lock. We had these for security reasons at work, and they work quite well. With the help of the social worker we contacted a local locksmith, he looked into it and came back with a quote of over $3000!

You said how much!?
Needless to say this quote was insane.

I figured my next bet would be to look into home automation options. I did some research around the Internet, but got little bit concerned about the set up. So I contacted a local installer. I explained to him my needs and he suggested a zigbee set up which would've cost upwards of $1000 for just a controller (the controller alone is over $500) and the door lock. This zigbee system also required licensing fees…

Needless to say, this book was also insanely over budget.

So I settled on building my own Zwave set up which I purchased from http://www.aartech.ca/. I called up the staff and spoke to a fellow by the name of Michael. He was extremely helpful and actually help you modify a little bit of my order. So, with his help I went about purchasing a controller lock combo for $400 and just for kicks I added a couple light controllers. I don't really need the light controllers yet, but I have one in the basement by my computer and it sure is handy to be able to turn the light on from upstairs so I don't have to navigate the stairs in the dark. The switch at this top of the stairs is starting to become a little bit difficult for me to reach, and I have concern for falling…okay, I guess this does qualify is a need ;-)

Set up of the controller was a little bit trickier than I thought it would be. Mostly because it we made the mistake of getting a little over excited and plugging in one of the light modules first. So what happened was, the instant we powered up the controller it immediately tried to connect to flight module. Blocking us from configuring it.
You can also can read more about the controller here: http://micasaverde.com/

So word of advice if you buy one of these, plug-in and set up the controller before you do anything else ;-)

Installation of the lock unfortunately cost me an additional hundred an additional $150 because the hole for my old deadbolt was a bit too small and we didn't have the tools to do it ourselves. So had to hire a locksmith. Kind of annoying, because if my hands were working this is something I could've done myself… But then again I wouldn't need the remote control if I could… I guess, the good old catch 22.

Once the lock was installed configuring it was really quite easy, once I got the master code in (my hands weren't cooperating). And now that everything is set up it works really quite well. I'm very happy with it.

On nice days, I can simply use the keypad. Or if I so choose, I can unlock the door or turn on any of the lights through any web browser, or smart phone. This means I can actually be sitting in the warmth and comfort of my Jeep or taxi  pull out my iPhone/iPad, unlocked the door and run into the house. And once in the house I can remotely lock both the Jeep (from its remote starter) and the door via iPhone or iPad using one of the mobile apps or the web interface.

One of the really fun things about the controller is I can set up to provide me with notifications. Meaning that it will either send me a text message or an e-mail, whichever I choose on certain events. For example, it can send me a message if the door is unlocked or if a certain key code is entered. I think this is pretty handy if you have kids who are due home at a certain time… This system can also be integrated to many of the others the waste product's.

At the moment I'm using the Vera mobile app. It's free and works quite well. There are several on the iTunes store, and some of them are ridiculously expensive for what they are, especially considering that there are free alternatives. Such as this one…

So, all told I got my house set up with the home automation system for a little less than $700. It would have been less if I didn't have to hire a locksmith. It really didn't take long to set up but I did need the help of somebody with functioning hands for simply plugging in the devices and the controller.

  • relatively easy to set up
  • much cheaper than many of the alternatives
  • very easily accessible through the web, smart phones and tablets (I have both an iPad and iPhone)
  • can relatively easily be tied together with other automation through your PC…I'm working on something, more on that later ;-)
  • shipping from http://www.aartech.ca/ was blindingly fast
  • $400 is still a pretty hefty hit in the pocketbook.
  • I've had a few synchronization issues over the Internet with the door lock. it works fine but does not always report the correct state. This does not seem to be an issue when I'm on Wi-Fi
Cost breakdown:
  • $400 for the Vera 2 controller and they Yale lock
  • $80 for two light control units
  • $150 for the locksmith to modify the door and installed the lock.

if you're looking for some environmental controls and need a less expensive set up, this is a great way to do it and the guys at http://www.aartech.ca/ were really helpful.


  1. I know what you feel, I'm dying in dreaming to have a car operated by an automation system too.

  2. well, at least the self driving car is not that far into the future. Google already has one ;-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Atmk07Otu9U

  3. Nice blog.....Awesome that video is...... Definitely Automation turning your needs and find home automation services provider in Bangalore...Thanks for Awesome post...
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