Last updated: 2006-05-16

Home Automation using ZWave for Lighting Control

ZWave is a wireless home automation protocol and lines of product developed and owned by Zensys. It competes with the likes of Zigbee, and RadioRA for home automation via wireless connections, i.e. no need to install any wiring which is a cost savings.

I am testing ZWave in my 1300 s.f. loft with some outdoor space. It is not a very large space and we do not have many walls. However it is in a building and subject to neighbors electronics interference and metal studded walls.

ZWave works well in the. I currently have 8 control points installed, and plans for more. The device costs are reasonable. Programming the device and network is not difficult, but I wish there is a software program to do the programming instead of using switches on the devices. I do recommend using this for home lighting automation in an existing house/loft.

Background

I used X10, the grand daddy of home automation for many years. It is not reliable. I have been looking for an, affordable, and reliable, alternative. I started with Insteon, the SmartHome developed system. It is a wired/powerline protocol that also use wireless to link subnetworks together. It did not work well in my loft. Turned out that have a phase issue:

I live in a loft/commercial building. The building has three phase AC power, and each unit ends up with two of the three phases as a "single phase" power source. That means any powerline signals will not pass from one side to the other side of the power network. I thought the Insteon radio portion of the system will take care of it, but turned out that Insteon is simply in-compatible with 3 phase environment.

I then tried UPB, a wired, powerline solution. UPB is a very mature solution. This means it has a lot of choices of devices and vendors, and software support. It also has a 3 phase coupler option. One of the nice thing about UPB is that they have in-wall controller-dimmer module. I.e. I can replace one wall light switch and gets a dimmer to control the existing light, and a controller keypad to control the rest of the system.

I like the system in general, but I find that some of the switches have a poor touch-and-feel. (That is a personal thing, of course). Also, if I install the 3 phase coupler, which requires an electrician, it would have cost me $700 or so. I wanted wireless remote controls, and their remote controls are all very expensive.

I decided to give ZWave a try. They have some new devices coming out. An SDK is also becoming available. The devices are a little cheaper. They have relatively cheap remote controls. In fact, all their main controllers are wireless. So this is the review of my experience so far. All of the devices are from the Intermatic home product line.

Two Way Communication

ZWave is "two way" as advertise in the sense that when a controller sends out a command, it waits to see if the receiving module(s) response with an acknowlegement. I tested it using the Intermatic HA07 Master Controller.

HA07 Master Controller

DSC_10821

I bought the HA07 Master Controller to act as my primary controller. I figure that since it has a LCD display, it is much easier to use it to program the network. There is text feedback on the programming result.

This controller is battery powered, which is important. You need to bring the controller close to modules to be programmed. Otherwise you have to run back and forth and it would be too difficult.

One negative thing about this controller -- the LCD is not backlighted.

Controller Programming Quick Summary

Manuals at Intermatic

Registering/Adding or Excluding/Deleting module to network

  • Step for deleting module from network is the same for including except for using the DELETE button instead of INCLUDE.
  • For the handy controller, messages are replaced with color LED.
    • flash green == transmitting
    • solid green == successful
    • flashing red == unsuccessful
  1. Press and release the INCLUDE (DELETE for excluding module) button.
  2. transmitting will flash
  3. Press and release the PROGRAM button on the module
  4. If successful, SUCCESSFUL will show for 2 seconds.
  5. If not, UNSUCCESSFUL will show. start over.

Associating Modules to Channels

  • Step for removing module from a channel network is the same for including except for using the DELETE button instead of INCLUDE.
  • For the handy controller, messages are replaced with color LED.
    • flashing green and red == learning
    • flashing green = successful
  1. Press the ON and OFF buttons simultanously for the channel.
  2. LEARNING message shown
  3. Press and hold the INCLUDE button
  4. Adjust a module's light level to desired level
  5. Once light level is correct, release INCLUDE button.
  6. module LED turn solid green.
  7. Press and release the PROGRAM button on the module
  8. To add more modules, start from beginning.

Programming

I had a problem adding one of my module to the controller. The controller keeps telling me that the "inclusion" was "not successful". I ended up having to delete the module from the network and re-adding it.

HA06 In Wall Dimmer

DSC_10816 I just installed one of these. The installation is pretty painless. It does not require a neutral wire. I like the phsyical feel of the "paddle" or "toggle" switch. It has a soft click to it, probably because it is hitting a microswitch behind the plate.

HA03 Lamp Module

DSC_10830

HA09 Handy Remote Controller

The handy remote controller is a six channel controller. DSC_10818

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