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[Discuss] Home security & automation

Matt Shields wrote:
> I'm considering setting up my own home security system, video surveillance
> and home automation.

We talk about these topics on the BLU Hardware Hacking list:

Some recent threads:

Z-Wave door locks vulnerable to replay attack at

Home Automation Startups in Boston at

z-wave products at Monoprice at

Buying a good outdoor security camera at

> I'd rather not go with a provider based system (like Comcast, ADT,
> Vivint, etc) since I want to control everything and not have to rely
> on a company for service or pay a monthly fee.

On the security side of things, you'll want to consider whether using a
home-brew or self-monitored solution will meet the requirements of your
home insurance provider, many of which will offer discounts to systems
that meet their criteria.

If that isn't a concern, or the provider has flexible rules (for
example, not requiring commercial monitoring, but requiring a UL-listed
alarm panel), then you have some choices. If you care a lot about the
reliability, particularly if you are monitoring the system remotely, you
probably want to go with a purpose built alarm panel, rather than adding
on security sensors to a home automation platform.

I haven't surveyed the market lately, but several years back when I was
in the market for an alarm panel, I was rather disappointed with the
proprietary offerings. They're generally designed to only allow
dealer/installers to access programming features remotely (which you may
not care about) and they require you pay a monthly fee to the vendor's
authorized partner (usually if you want to monitor the system
over the Internet. (I'm hoping this isn't still the case with at least
some current panels.)

There is a similar limitation on the cellular backup systems used by the
panels. The GE panels use a cell service that's again tied to
So in addition to buying the cell module for several hundred, you have
to pay a monthly fee. No option to drop in your own SIM. (It actually
uses GPRS data transmission, I believe, and is hard wired to talk to servers.)

At least the GE panels and some of the others can be configured to dial
out to phone numbers of your choosing, so it is possible to use them in
a self-monitoring configuration. (Up to you to figure out a backup
channel in the event your phone line is cut.)

Several alarm panel vendors have tried getting into the home automation
space as an add-on to their panels. Some GE panels and 2GIG, for
example, will work with Z-Wave devices to control lights, electronic
locks, and whatnot. These capabilities generally are only usable if you
again have a monthly subscription to (That's true for the GE
panels. Not sure about the 2GIG.)

Do you spot the pattern? Basically anything that requires connectivity
outside the home they either assume no home owner would be sophisticated
enough to handle setting that up on their own, or they simply want to
lock you into using a service where they get a cut of the monthly revenue.

If you're really more interested in home automation, and security is
just a nice-to-have add-on, then you could instead build the system
around a home automation controller and get security sensors that talk
home automation protocols. The controller could be something from a
turn-key solution like Vera ( or SmartThings
( hub (which offer some limited form of
openness) to a fully D-I-Y solution running on a Raspberry Pi or the like.

Often times the wireless sensors available for the commercial alarm
panels will be cheaper and offer better choices (smaller door sensors,
smoke alarms, etc.) than what you can get for home automation sensors.
An ideal solution might blend the two. Use a D-I-Y hub with a software
defined radio to talk to alarm panel sensors.

the insecurity of wireless alarm systems at

> Ideally I would like it to have all three things (security, video &
> automation) all work together in the same system and I'd like to have it
> network based and even have a mobile app.

If you don't want to do much integration work, one of the turn key
offerings are going to be your best bet.


Tom Metro
The Perl Shop, Newton, MA, USA
"Predictable On-demand Perl Consulting."

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