Sunday, October 24, 2010


The camera system is up and running.
Like most things with this house, though, it was a bit of a process to get to this point.

We knew we wanted some sort of home automation and monitoring.  Down the street in Osterville we discovered Savant Systems.  They can do exactly what we want and much more.  Savant president Jim Carroll demonstrated some of the amazing systems they can put together.  I was quite impressed, but they're much more high end than what we were looking for.

We did the typical web searches and ended up looking at what Smarthome has to offer.  They have many DIY systems and the Z-Wave system looked quite compelling.  Many different manufacturers make compatible components such as controls for security, alarm, lighting, doors, HVAC and such, with more being added all the time.

Even though Z-Wave is relatively user friendly, I tried to find someone who could help us with an installation and get us over the learning curve.  No luck there, though.  We ended up buying the Vera 2 controller from Smarthome, along with one camera.  Since I wasn't familiar with any of this, I perused their web site, called to get some information, then reviewed the products on their site and then finally placed an order with their guidance.  We sat down to start installing things and I have to say I was a little stumped when I finally looked at the camera output and the Vera input.  I didn't see any way to connect them together.  The Vera online installation info was no help, other than saying that if you buy an IP camera from them it will be configured to work with the Vera.  This was just a conventional camera, though.

I called Smarthome back and they told me something that the other advisors failed to mention.  I would need a networkable DVR.  After looking at the DVR, hard drive, additional cameras and accessories I would need to buy, it seemed that a complete security camera system with DVR would be more prudent.
I settled on a four camera system from SVAT.  It comes with a DVR with 500 GB of memory, cameras, adapters, cables and all.  It is viewable from the internet and smart phones, and they have free 24/7 lifetime tech support.  It is motion sensing and can be set to record only when it senses motion withing defined areas.  At less than $400, I thought it was a good deal.  It comes with bullet cameras and I still needed the dome camera I had bought from Smarthome, so at least that wasn't a loss.

I had installed smurf tube so that, in theory, running the wiring would be easy.  I had trouble getting my electrician's snake through some of the bends so I thought I'd try the vacuum cleaner instead.  I wrapped a bit of tape on the end of a piece of twine, stuck it in the smurf tube and hooked the vacuum to the other end.  I thought it was a long shot, but it worked like a charm.  Then I couldn't find the end of a smurf tube that I knew I had installed.  I looked through the photos I had taken during construction but unfortunately none of them showed it.  I had a real good idea where it should be though and spent some quality time in the basement digging through insulation and finally found it.

I hooked the cameras to the DVR and started recording.  That was easy.  Connecting to our network was a bit more difficult, though.  SVAT tried to help us get it going without success.  Although we have Windows computers, we have an Apple router.  After tech support calls to Apple, Comcast and the modem manufacturer, I tried some things and then called SVAT back.  Like many computer problems, there are so many pieces to the puzzle and no one person has the answer.  We finally discovered the problem and let SVAT know the answer.  It sure wasn't easy to get to the bottom of things.

Many of the DVR camera systems have black cameras, but this system has silver cameras which work better on a house with white trim.  We have two noticeable cameras and two which aren't so apparent, which is a good combination.  From a distance they're not so noticeable.
  But they're more apparent up close.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HERS rating

It's probably not what you think.  HERS is the acronym for Home Energy Rating System.  We scored 45.  That doesn't sound so good, but we were quite happy with it.
A score of 100 means that a home meets the requirement of the energy code.  Every one point decrease represents a one percent decrease in projected energy usage. Our score of 45 indicates that we are projected to use 55% less energy than a baseline house designed to meet the 2006 IECC energy code.

The HERS rating takes into account many factors including insulation levels, HVAC equipment efficiency, window efficiency, the blower door test and water heater efficiency.  This is not a superinsulated house and we didn't take extreme measures.  The house, though, is well insulated and the HVAC equipment is efficient, but we couldn't even use the some of the new highly efficient windows because we had to use impact resistant windows.  We did have an ace in the hole, though.
The PV solar system provides about half of our electricity.  I don't know how much this adds, but seemed to really help with the HERS rating.  The HERS rating also factors into our final LEED rating.