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I read the Scalable, affordable home automation question and answers with great interest. Simply Automated looks pretty cool & so do the ideas behind Z-Wave.

What I'm looking for, I don't seem to find - although it would seem to me like the obvious thing to do.

Is there any reasonably affordable system out there that centralises all power to say a single patch panel?

Get the power from just outside the breaker, through the patch panel to the switches and dimmers just there (really, just a collection of individual switching or dimming devices, within a few feet of the circuit breaker board) and direct to the target device (mostly lights, some dimmed others switched - that one is the wire that runs within walls and things).

Somehow plugged to that 'central' patch panel are all the controls (wall switches, buttons, dials and computer interface). I would imagine that it would be most efficient to use low power wires for the controls, but I actually don't really mind if they have to be regular home power.

Or is it just me not seeing the writing on the wall and that's exactly what some of those systems do?

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That last sentence pretty well sums it up. –  John Gardeniers Dec 24 '10 at 2:11
    
@John :-) thanks. –  asoundmove Dec 24 '10 at 2:19
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1 Answer

Without home aut, one controllable lamp requires a switch, which interrupts the 110V/230V wire between the power source and the lamp. When you need another lamp, you have to find the point, where you can join to the 110V/230V, a switch and a lamp.

In a centralized system, you have to lead 2 wire from the button to the center, and another 2 between the lamp and the center. Switching to home aut. requires complete re-wiring. When you need another lamp, you have to another 2+2 wire for lamp and for button, you have to provide a relay for the lamp, a free slot on the controller for the lamp (sometimes built together with the relay), a free input slot. If your controller device has no free slot, you have to buy another one. Sometimes adding new devices is not a simple task, e.g. if the controller is connected to the computer with RS232 or other point-to-point cabling, you have to expand the computer. So, when the hardware is OK, you have to configure it in your software.

So that's why this part of the home automation is less advertised: you have to completelly re-organize the electrical stuff in your house. It can be quite expensive.

There are other kind of home automation systems, where there're no central panel, but each actuator/sensor is intelligent. These manufacturers say that it's more reliable than centralized systems, but you will forget it as soon as you will see the price of that sysems.

There're solutions avoid cabling: the smart guys say X10 is not the best choice, it's unreliable etc., the future is ZigBee and EnOcean. (I just have to write EnOcean driver for our system.)

So, when you choose system, take care of expandability, ask these questions: what if I double my lamps? How can I add +1 dimmer switch?

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