What we need, and what we want

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple of articles I randomly read online first introduced the idea of home networking and automation, and as I stumbled into researching how to implement the best system/s for my own new house my thoughts became somewhat disorganised and long-winded. Thanks to some insightful feedback on various forums, I decided to create a simple list of  Needs and Wants – which broke down what I wanted to achieve, both short and long term.

Part-finished tiled floor in the kitchen/diner

Nearly have a kitchen floor...

Like most ‘non-geek’ people, the only thing  I thought I knew about home automation was that it was expensive – only affordable for the mega-rich, with huge houses and money to burn. In fact, that’s not the case. Of course there is investment required, particularly when you start, but just how much depends on which technologies you pick and how far you want to run with them.

For example, a fairly common component of home automation (hereafter referred to as ‘HA’) is the idea of motorising curtains – i.e. they shut and open, without effort from you, either on a schedule, in response to an event, or on a command from you. In my little 3-bed semi there really is no need for this – in about 3 seconds I can move from any one room to another, and I’m not that lazy – yet! (That said, from a security standpoint, it would be useful for when no-one is home – it’s just a step too far for me at the moment)

So, here is what I want, right from when we move in:

  • Sky TV downstairs, preferably HD, with great reception
  • Ability to stream that Sky TV up to the bedroom, and control from up there also
  • Low-level lighting automation – ability to control from around the house via remotes/remote switches/PIRs, plus ability to control from outside the house with keyfob/iPhone, plus use of timers/schedules
  • Some way of viewing TV/web content in the kitchen
  • Fast connectivity in living room, kitchen/diner, main bedroom, office
  • Ability to access web content on downstairs TV
  • Wi-fi coverage throughout the house

Looking further ahead, I would like to have:

  • Music in the bathroom, to be controlled from either iPhone or some kind of remote
  • Ability to stream music around the house – both simultaneous (listening to one source in multiple rooms) and separate (listening to separate sources in different rooms), with access to music library from anywhere in the house / outside the house eventually
  • HD tv both in lounge and bedroom, able to view different sources at same time
  • Ability to watch movies (stored on central hard drive/PC or streamed via the net) in any room in the house, preferably in HD, with full sync capabilities – i.e. if we stop watching a movie part way through in the lounge, I would like to be able to pick up viewing in the bedroom the next day from the same point
  • As with the music, ability to watch either the same tv/movie content in multiple rooms, or watch different channels/movies/recorded shows in different rooms at the same time.
  • More sophisticated lighting control – from anywhere in the world via web/iPhone
  • Integrated security, with the ability to watch camera feeds live from anywhere if sensors triggered
  • Heating control, with a view to being energy efficient and convenient

Plenty to work on then…………

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Categories: Uncategorized

Story so far…

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Fireplace part knocked downWe’ve had the house 3 months now, and probably not done a terrible job steaming through the necessary works. In the 1st weekend, with some fab helpers, we stripped wallpaper (up to 4 layers deep) from the whole house, tiles out of kitchen & bathroom (up to 3 layers deep!), ripped the kitchen, bath & shower out, and a million other jobs. Tiring but satisfying!

Since then, we’ve done some major works – including removal of 2 chimney breasts upstairs & down, as well as knocking down the brick wall between the tiny kitchen & large dining room, to create one great open space with a glazed door & 3 other windows. We also had to remove the block wall immediately above, between bathroom & main bedroom, and replace with a lightweight timber stud version.

We’ve ripped the plaster off in most rooms, replaced fair bit of the floors, and are in the process of changing the downstairs windows (upstairs to happen later, when we’re not so skint!) When I say “we”, of course most of the tough physical work has fallen to my gorgeous fella, his builder best mate & our dads… On my side, though I ‘ve removed miles of wallpaper, cleaned & hoovered more than I’d have believed was possible,  sanded til my eyes run, painted, gardened, chopped trees down, and passed & fetched for the boys for many an hour, my real ‘baby’ has been, and still is, the technology side.

Initially all I knew was that I wanted to run some networking cables to provide wired internet access around the house, as I hate wi-fi. A big part of my marketing management job is graphic design, and I work with biiiig files – so my PC is high-spec, and with a lot of Internet-based image management & file sharing, slow & unreliable wireless just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention, even if I’m just surfing on a laptop, patience isn’t a virtue I possess in any great quantity!

So, as we were waiting to complete the legal process of buying the house (annoyingly lengthy), I did a little bit of research into wiring the house up for Internet. I also had an idea I wanted to be able to stream HD tv to the bedroom upstairs from the lounge, and thought it would be nice to have music in the bathroom.

Dining room chimney breast demolished

GONE!!

Technology has always been a major interest, and since I got my 1st iPhone a year ago and downloaded a fantastic RSS app to centralise updates & features from all my favourite websites (Reeder – try it! It’s hugely better than any alternative, and I’ve tried a few), my reading material has widened in scope – because it’s now so much easier to keep up to date with things I’m interested in, and learn about other concepts that are totally new to me. I’ve discovered fantastic sites, such as http://www.lifehacker.com, which have introduced more advanced & quirky technology subjects almost overnight. The idea of ‘hacking’ electronics is so fascinating, and I love a challenge! I’ve built several PC’s but that’s really quite simple – almost like putting a jigsaw together.

No, this was completely different. I was excited, inspired! I drank it in, with a real thirst for knowledge – intrigued by ideas such as modding parts, hacking them so they work together, mixing hardware, software and/or coding to make things do exactly what you need. Now that’s looks like a real challenge! Even just moving away from ‘mainstream’ software and towards less well known (outside of ‘geek’ circles), but more useful alternatives – such as shelving Adobe PDF Reader for Foxit, Internet Explorer for Chrome, and so on – even this gives me a little buzz.

Anyway, I’m wandering off point, but this is basically how I stumbled across the idea of more advanced networking, alternatives to basics such as a Freeview box or Sky Multiroom, Home Automation, and so on. So I kept Googling, kept reading, kept asking questions, and eventually stumbled across either the technologies that do what I’m looking for, or the forums full of people who can advise. The feedback so far on these forums has been invaluable – and led me to realise I was going about this a little bit backwards. I needed to decide exactly what I wanted to be able to do with any technology, and how I would use it – and then work from there in terms of finding solutions to meet those aims.

So, my next post will look at what those aims are, and where I’m at in terms of heading towards them.

(Thanks if you’ve stuck through this far – other posts won’t be so long and waffly, but I just wanted to cover where I’m at, and how I got here. The interesting stuff starts now!)

The internet is an amazing place, and there are so many great resources available and fantastically knowledgeable people kicking about in niche forums. I’ve learnt so much, but in ‘geek’ terms, I’m still very much a beginner, and so in planning what I’d like to do in the house technology-wise I’ve relied very much on advice and suggestions from those who’ve already been there and done it.

And it was based on this constructive feedback on several forums

Categories: House, Wiring

Got to start somewhere!

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I still feel like someone is going to turn up when we’re up at the house, knock on the door, and announce that we can’t possibly own a house, and we must hand the keys over immediately. After all, we’re not proper grown ups… Crazy that at nearly 28 years old I still think like that, but I can’t help it. I genuinely can’t get my head around the fact that we’ve been trusted with an actual house, bricks & mortar, that we now own! (God knows how I’ll feel if we have kids at some point)

But, believe or not, it’s true. Me and the fella now own what will one day become our home, and hopefully remain so for a good long time. It’s a 1950s semi on a nice part of Sheffield, where my other half grew up – so we’re surrounded by people we know. It belonged to a little old lady with alzheimers before us, bless her, and needed a huge amount of work. It has great potential though, and now we’ve knocked a few walls down, built a couple of others, and generally ripped it to bits, as we’re starting to put it back together it’s beginning to look a *bit* like a house again.

Day 1: Changing the locks

The 1st Job: Fella changes the locks... (Check out the dark green flowery & stripy wallpaper!)

So, now the fun bit starts (not that the demolition wasn’t fun!) – as a tech freak, and a closet geek (ssshhh, don’t tell), it’s time to start putting some technology in the house. I’ve built & tuned many a PC, am the ‘go-to’ person for all my friends & family when things stop working, and spend a lot of time reading and dreaming about all sorts of tech.

But, when it comes to wiring up houses, home automation, AV and the like, I know (or knew) zilch. So for the past few months I’ve hit the web, and learnt a lot – but nowhere near enough, so I thought I’d start to document where I go from here, as I think about what I want to do, and how best to do it…on a shoestring!

That means anyone who’s remotely interested can read what we’re doing – and maybe my screw-ups will be useful for another beginner one day… 😉

Categories: House