“Multiple apartment buzzer switches with exposed wires on a wall.” by Yung Chang on Unsplash

Building a house with a brain

Home automation, IoT and artificial intelligence have been hot topics of the past few years and the adoption of the technologies will grow more and more in the future. This blog series will be a journey of building a modern house in Finland with a full blown home automation system.

But where do you start? Are you building a new house, doing a renovation or just want some cool stuff in your apartment? There are various of choices for different scenarios, but I will focus on things that suit for a greenfield project. A project where there is not many limitations or restrictions.

When starting a home automation project, the most important thing is to select the brain. First you should build a list of features and requirements for the system and then based on that select the most appropriate solution.

There are many things to consider and here’s a list of few examples that can affect the selection.
- Is internet access required? Is a cloud based solution fine, or should it be a local PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).
- What things it should control? Is only lights fine, or does it handle heating, blinds, doors, alarms, multimedia systems or something else.
- Does it rely on open standards? There are many IoT related standards and protocols that can be used, but many solutions rely on their own proprietary protocols to control the devices.
- How to access the controls? Are there APIs (Application Programming Interface), mobile applications, web frontends or custom display devices that allow access to all the knobs, switches and dashboards.

I had few core requirements that restricted the solution quite a bit. It must be a local PLC that works without internet connection. It must have local APIs (REST preferred) to access statistics and drive the controls. And it should be able to control lighting, heating, power sockets, blinds and receive inputs from various sensors and devices.

I visited some housing fairs, googled a lot and asked questions around. There were few Finnish solutions but their technologies were so much behind the big players that you can forget those already. Apple, Google and Philips are pushing their modern solutions, but they were too lightweight for me. There are some open source projects but I wanted something that actually works. The options grew thin and I could basically find the old de facto automation solution KNX which is supported by many companies and a newer Austrian player Loxone.

KNX has ruled the automation scene for a long time, but it has grown old. The automation companies supporting the standard have a bit outdated systems and they seem to be lagging behind the internet era. The user interfaces are sluggish, APIs are bad or totally missing and it’s quite hard to relate them to the word ‘modern’.

Loxone on the other hand has their own proprietary protocol, but they still do support also KNX devices. Their user interfaces look quite modern, they have APIs and integrations and the price tag can be a bit lower than a full KNX solution. Loxone is not as resilient as KNX because it has a central server where KNX can use distributed I/O within the bus.

So the selection became quite obvious. Loxone miniserver will be the brain of this house.