“Conjunction Junction, that’s my function! And, But, and Or, they’ll get you pretty far!” Schoolhouse Rocks
Growing up, I *loved* Schoolhouse Rock. In fact, I still like to unpack my adjectives and talk about Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla. If they were to make a Schoolhouse Rock today about automation systems, they’d no doubt have a catchy jingle about “If this, Then that, Else the other,” because when it comes to automation events, those three guys are the bomb.
Whether it’s Crestron, ELAN, Savant, or URC, you probably have your preferred automation system of choice, but in my house I have Control4 running most things. One of the things that I love about the Control4 system is the Composer programming software. This interface is so simple and intuitive yet incredibly powerful and flexible at the same time that it invites you to jump in and try some different and cool things with automation.
I recently had two minor lifestyle changes that I wanted to make to my home, and I thought I’d share how I used some very simple programming to enhance living in the Sciacca house, and maybe give you some ideas for your projects.
Problem 1: Entering a Dark House
We don’t generally leave lights on inside our house, so that normally means entering a dark home at night. Sure, I could pull out my phone and open either the Control4 or Lutron app and turn the lights on, but, meh. I could also install a motion detector in the hallway that would kick the lights on as soon as we open the door—something that we use in our bathrooms and love—but instead I decided to program a simple event based around our Control4-enabled Kwikset doorlock.
First, I created a programming event around the lock being unlocked. Because I don’t care about the light coming on during the day and only want it to happen at night, a simple variable under the Scheduler section of Actions sets the parameter. I could have also specified whether it was between certain times of the day or after a specific time, but “night time” is simple and works. So when the door is unlocked, Control4 looks at this line of programming; “IF it is night time, THEN it will perform all of the actions nested under the ?, ELSE it does nothing.”
Once the light is on, I don’t want to leave it on, so I start a timer that begins running as soon as the lights come on. When the timer expires, the system shuts the shut off. It’s a totally simple solution to a small lifestyle inconvenience. Total amount of programming: About 10 minutes.
Problem 2: Lights Coming on During Movie
Our kitchen is located in the center of the house, and for a while I’ve had the kitchen lights come on at midnight at about 15 percent to serve as a nightlight. It’s one of those automatic things that just happens whether we’re home or not that we don’t even have to think about. But my wife and I start movies quite late at night, and often the kitchen lights will slowly fade up, totally taking us out of the film and killing the contrast on our projector. I finally got sick of this happening and decided to open Composer and fix it.
First I took the lighting scene out of my Lutron system and created a Good Night scene in Control4.
Next, I created a schedule. Essentially every day at 12:01 a.m. perform the Night Lights command. Also, lock my door every day at 8:00 p.m., if it isn’t locked already. Thanks, C4!
Timers are an amazingly simper, yet really terrific thing, in programming that let you trigger events for a specific amount of time after something else happens. Creating a timer was also the easiest way I could think of to make sure this lighting scene would go into a repeating holding pattern if it turns out that we are up later than usual. Say we do something ridiculous like start Lawrence of Arabia at like 11 or something.
Then I created some IF/THEN in programming when the scheduled event happens. Essentially, if we are watching the projector or the plasma TV, take a beat on turning the lights off and start the Night Light timer. If we’re not, get on with your bad self, and activate that lighting scene!
The final step of the process was telling the system what to do when the timer expires from the event above, which kicks off this bit of programming. First up, it resets the timer and then stops it so it is ready to go again. Then it checks the time to see if it is between 12 and 2:00 a.m. This is probably an unnecessary bit of programming since the Night Light timer would only be initiated after midnight, but… IF it is in this timeframe, and IF either the plasma or projector is still on, then it restarts the timer and begins this process all over again when the timer expires in 10 minutes. Otherwise, when we finally decide to go to bed, it turns the lights on. Total amount of programming: About 20 minutes.
Admittedly, neither of these bits of programming are changing the world, but they definitely enhance living in our house, which is the essence of automation. If you’ve used some cool programming tricks to solve a lifestyle issue, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.