This is the second of our three-part series on building a Home Automation System using your Mac mini. You probably should read the first installment before continuing here. So where were we? Before you start buying home automation equipment, sit down and figure out what you want to automate and what you don’t. You also need to familiarize yourself with what’s available in the home automation marketplace and decide which components you want now and which ones you’ll defer until later. Lamps and overhead lights on a single switch are very easy to automate, and I’d recommend you start simple. $49 will get you a great starter set to control nine separate lights and appliances in your home. Add a $12.99 wireless transceiver with your order, and all of these devices also can be controlled from the included remote. Motion controlled outdoor floodlights are also easy to implement if you want to tackle something else initially. This week you can get two sets of dual, motion-controlled X10 floodlights for $50. Not bad if you’ve compared pricing at your favorite hardware store lately. As a last purchase in Round 1, I recommend you acquire a couple motion detectors which can be used outside for porch lights or inside to illuminate rooms with difficult to reach light switches. These are half price for the remainder of this week, but they go on sale often at X10.com as well. Once you get all of these components installed and working reliably, then you can place another order for more exotic components: three-way (or more) switches, thermostats, sprinkler systems, swimming pool lights, and virtually anything else that has a plug. A good rule of thumb is that the more sophisticated a control device becomes, the more expensive it is to automate. Remember, too, that after you install a couple of new X10 components, check for reliability using some of the tests we outlined in the first installment. It’s much easier to isolate problems when you do some checking after every few additions. If there are unreliable devices, order a signal booster and resolve the problem before adding more devices.

It’s also worth mentioning that X10 equipment is available from a variety of sources including SmartHome.com, X10.com, and a number of eBay stores. Use your favorite search engine to find matches for "X10 equipment." For some items such as socket rocket lamp modules (a device that screws into a regular lamp socket to control a light bulb or flood light), it pays to watch the X10.com web site for several weeks. Many items are offered at 3-for-1 pricing at least once or twice a month, and the savings are significant. If a couple of overhead lights in your kitchen are controlled by four wall switches, you have two choices. You can replace all the wall switches with an X10 four-way switch system (about $150), or you can install a socket rocket for each light in the ceiling at a cost of $10 per socket (when they’re on sale!). You can do the math. If you watch the X10.com web site sale page for a few weeks, you will get an idea about what goes on sale and how often. Moral: Don’t get in a big hurry to buy this stuff all at once, or you will pay about triple what you’ll pay by being patient. SmartHome.com has the broadest array of home automation equipment, and they also have the highest prices. Some things like repeaters and noise filters you will just have to buy at market price and probably from SmartHome.com. But, again, spend a little time on their web site and their auction site to get a feel for what things should cost and how often they go on sale. It will save you hundreds of dollars. A final word of caution is in order. X10.com is an aggressive marketer to put it charitably. These are the folks that introduced pop-under web page ads among other things. Once you get on their mailing list, your grandchildren will probably still be getting your X10 emails long after you have moved on. It’s probably worth opening a new Yahoo email account just to handle X10.com mailings.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap this series up and review some of the things you can do with your Indigo control software. And we’ll take a look at other great software applications that will further enhance your Home Automation System.

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