Home automation standards

By Paul Stathis, Editor
Wednesday, 23 January, 2008

With demand for home automation rising, more and more electrical contractors are being asked to install it. But virtually every home automation brand has its own protocol and specification - there's no local standard. So, in how many different systems will you need training to service this market demand? Or will you have to limit yourself to just one or two brands and forego other opportunities?

Home automation has recently caught the attention of low- and mid-range home owners because it's becoming more affordable - it's no longer the domain of just luxury homes and specialist integrators. This places demand on electrical contractors to provide and install them. Strangely, there's no Australian standard for home automation. Do a search for 'home automation' on Standards Australia's website and you'll get zero results.

This creates doubt in clients' minds, especially in larger multi-unit residential projects, where standards are always in specifications. This is exacerbated by the fact that automation often includes AV elements, again with no Australian standards.

"Having no AV and automation standards is detrimental to our industry," comments Warwick Maver from AV and automation distributors, IDT. "There's nothing to qualify someone installing AV or automation systems for say, BHP Billiton, let alone much smaller residential installations. It's not regulated enough to keep the quality to specific standards."

Maver has many years' experience in home automation and sees the lack of standards as a hurdle for contractors: "This is a real problem in regional areas where there aren't specialist AV companies for projects in local schools, businesses or homes, so the local electrician is expected to tackle automation and AV as part of their electrical works. It might simply be installing and automating a projector and screen, but if he has to deal with several different operating systems, he'll struggle; so the job is at risk of not being done properly. Because of this complexity, the AV/automation market is often seen as someone else's responsibility, which impedes its potential."

Bruno Carbone, director of Omnicon Automation expresses similar concerns: "Home automation is stifled by uncertainty brought on by proprietary systems. Many interested consumers are overwhelmed by all the different incompatible systems. Fearing they may be wasting money on technology that's not future-proof and becomes outdated, some decide not to install it at all."

Carbone sees a lot of end user sentiment as he's an automation specialist providing programming services for contractors in commercial and domestic applications. He poses an interesting direction for home automation: "We need to do what industrial automation did decades ago. As soon as they developed standards for open systems, the 'best-of-breed' suppliers of products like actuators, sensors and controllers could be brought together by installers, to satisfy exactly what their clients wanted. Home automation is 30 years behind industrial automation and it's only when we develop a global standard that the market will grow."

In my research, I discovered an international standard for home automation and that it has representation in Australia. Assuming it takes off here, this may prove to be the solution for contractors to tackle automation projects without having to be educated and certified in many different systems. The standard is KNX, formed in 2002 by a merger of three European home and building automation systems - BatiBUS, EIB and EHS - as the specification of the Konnex Association, an industry group with 100 members made up of manufacturers of home and building control, HVAC equipment, alarm/intrusion systems and household appliances including Siemens, ABB, Miele, TridonicAtco, Legrand, Hager and Schneider Electric, along with energy distributors and telcos.

KNX is represented in Australia by home automation distributor i-Lifestyle. According to director David Chung: "KNX is defined in the international standard ISO/IEC 14543-3 and European standards Cenelec EN50090 and CEN EN 13321-1. It's a fieldbus technology with data and power transmission characteristics that can be deployed over twisted pair, power line or RF media. As an 'associated standard', KNX will serve as a basis for future implementations. KNX has unified solutions for ethernet, Wi-Fi/Wireless, Bluetooth, BacNET, M-Bus, RS232 and IR."

"Because of substantial interest in KNX outside of Europe, the standard became approved at international level. Companies from all over the world who join KNX benefit from knowledge transfer, licensing, inclusion of their products in the manufacturer and product independent design and commissioning tools and participation in Konnex's partnerships and research programs."

Konnex has almost 7000 certified product groups and partnership agreements with over 21,000 installer companies in 70 countries. All manufacturers must be ISO 9001 compliant to receive KNX product certification, whilst all products must comply with EN50090-2-2. Applications include lighting, HVAC, shutter and water control, security, energy management, household appliances and audio.

KNX has three configuration modes: S(ystem), A(utomatic) and E(asy). S-mode is for KNX-trained integrators to design, commission and troubleshoot sophisticated KNX installations; while E-mode enables unqualified contractors with basic KNX knowledge to install smaller scale KNX systems. A-mode is intended for end users to configure domestic appliances such as ovens and fridges.

Sue Flavin, i-Lifestyle customer relations manager comments on the commercial implications of a global home automation standard: "Installing an open standard automation system means the infrastructure will still be viable for years to come. The building owner can add innovations from various vendors without being constrained to just one vendor's products. And because many manufacturers support KNX, contractors and consumers aren't at the mercy of just one company, so competition keeps prices reasonable, enabling a mix of products to achieve the best value. Locally, several large manufacturers of KNX components have recently applied to have KNX recognised by Standards Australia."

"I recently saw a great example of this interoperability - electrical items like ovens and washing machines, along with HVAC, security, lighting and blinds all controlled and monitored through web browsers on PCs and mobiles. It's possible because the KNX protocol is adopted by major manufacturers who develop products that work together."

"Right now electrical contractors in Australia have a choice: install proprietary systems that leave consumers and contractors solely committed to the one manufacturer or install an infrastructure which is manufacturer independent giving them more flexibility, cost savings and more freedom of choice. How many contractors realise this? It's probably the best kept secret in Australia."

Carbone provides some excellent advice to contractors considering home automation: "Sparkies should be telling their clients to think 10 years ahead in terms of technology and resale. They should say to them: 'We can wire up your home standard, but do you really want to miss out on home automation?' Once we have a standard, sparkies can confidently offer it to their clients."

International and US home automation standards


Standard/Association Activity
ISO/IEC 14543-3 International home automation standard.
Cenelec EN50090 European home automation standard.
CEBus (Consumer Electronics Bus) Electronic Industries Association (EIA) specification for interoperation and interconnection of consumer products.
HPnP (Home Plug-and-Play) Interoperability standard for products with multiple transport protocols.
HomePlug Alliance Specification for power-line networking.
EIA776 CEBus/EIB Router communications standard.
ETI (Extend the Internet Alliance) Promotes EMIT technology as de-facto home automation standard.
HAVI (Home Audio Visual Interoperability) CE standard for interoperability between digital AV devices of different brands over home networks.
HBS (Home Bus System) Japanese specification for home automation equipment and communications.
HomePNA (Home Phone-line Networking Alliance) Phone-line networking standard and interoperable home networking solution.
LonMark Interoperability Association Promotes integration of multi-vendor systems based on LonWorks networks.
X-10 Power-line home automation protocol for control of household devices over electrical wiring.
Z-Wave Promotes wireless control and communications between lighting, HVAC and appliances.
ZigBee Alliance Promotes open wireless standard to network monitoring and control products.
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