Category Archives: Home Automation News


SONOS: Should we still be building music libraries?

In keeping with my recent run of posts relating to the Sonos multiroom audio system I thought I would tackle the decisions made by many digital music enthusiasts. Namely, should I build a music library and if so, how and where should I store it?

In today’s world of digital content, deciding what to do with it all can become a bit of a nightmare, especially when the digital content is media. Collections of both music and video can very quickly become very large and difficult to manage, to top it off, access to the data must be easy and fast.

Options if you decide to build and store a music library.
Local network storage

With this option you could store the data on a computer which is connected to the local network, we don’t recommend this option as it is very much reliant upon your computer being switched on and available over the network. A much more reliable option would be to purchase a simple NAS (network attached storage) drive which connects directly to your network (via an ethernet port on your router). These are available fairly inexpensively from PC accessories stores with sizes ranging from about 1 to 4 terra bytes.

Google Play Music

Google provide free online storage of up to (at the time of writing) 20,000 songs. The music is available via the internet 24/7 without any storage device required in your home. Sonos has full support for Google Play Music and browsing your online library is quick, simple and intuitive.

When creating your own music library a point to note is that Sonos does not support every file format available. For example it will play MP3 and M4A files without any issue, however a format quite often used by iTunes, M4P, is not supported. We have had recent experience where a customer with their own iTunes library was missing about 1/3 of the tracks. After investigation, it turned out that these tracks were in M4P format and hence would not play.

Options for not building a music library
Subscription services

Assuming you have a reliable and fast broadband connection, there are a number of streaming services available. For a small monthly charge, these services allow immediate playing of a huge collection of music. Examples of these services are Napster and Spotify.

Subscription radio services

These services can be thought of as personal radio stations. For a small monthly fee you can start a radio station playing based on an artist or genre. The radio station will play track after track of music and provides you with the option of rating a song up or down. Over time, such a service will begin to ‘learn’ your listening tastes and tailor future radio stations to your preferences. Examples of these services are Last FM and Rdio.

The conclusion

In our experience, personal music libraries can become quite messy and therefore a managed streaming service is often the best route to take. The latest addition to Sonos is Google Play Music and we believe that this is a good combination of both a Subscription service and a Subscription Radio Service. I have written a post on our experiences which can be found by clicking here.

Of course with Sonos there is inbuilt support for a wide variety of different services leaving you to decide which will best suit your needs.



SONOS: Now with Google Play Music

In our last post we talked about the latest offerings from the Sonos Multiroom Audio System. Since then Sonos have announced their latest addition to the already fantastic music services lineup. The new arrival is Google Play Music.

Google Play Music was launched in late 2011 and it allows users to upload their own music for streaming anywhere along with a subscription service named ‘All Access’ which allows any of their 18 million songs to be streamed.

  • I’m feeling lucky radio: Your own personal radio station – tailored based on your listening history.
  • I’m feeling lucky mix: Your music collection mixed based on your listening history.
  • My Library: Upload up to 20,000 of your own tracks for streaming.
  • Playlist: Access your playlists directly through the Sonos app.
  • Radio: Create a new station based on any artist, album or song. Customize the station and skip ahead if you don’t like a particular song.
  • Explore: Browse by Genres, Featured and Recommended content.
  • Instant Mixes: Make endless mixes based on your favourite artists or songs in your Google Play Music library.

Possibly the best feature is ‘smart’ suggestions. Sometimes, despite Sonos’s ease of use, you just want to have something to listen to without having to find an album and queue it up. Well, with Google Play Music All Access you can do just that… It’s called I’m feeling lucky radio and will setup a queue of tracks based on your listening history.

Another great feature is the free storage of 20,000 tracks of your own music collection. Perfect if you have any music that you want to stream to Sonos without the expense of network storage.

‘I have just installed our first Google Play Music linked Sonos system and was really impressed with it’s features and ease of use. The customer seemed very keen on the idea of not having to manage and maintain a music library!’ Chris – Automation Engineer

If you already have Sonos then upgrade to version 4.3 or above to enjoy Google Play Music.

If you are considering a Sonos installation of any size then please contact us and we will be more than happy to advise.


Multiroom Audio: SONOS

Household Automation has been specifying and installing the Sonos multi-room audio range since it was introduced to the UK.

Why multiroom audio?
  • Choose from many different audio sources.
  • Play something different in every room or link rooms together.
  • Ease of control – using smartphones, tablets or PC’s

As a multi-room audio system Sonos has achieved amazing market penetration. The product provides complete flexibility and is competatively priced. The reliability of Sonos is exceptional due to its use of ‘mesh’ networking technologies. Expanding the system is a very easy process with a step-by-step guide.

One of the biggest features is the free Sonos app, which is available on an impressive range of devices such as iPhone/iPad, Android, Mac and Windows. It gives total control of the system via a user friendly, graphical display.

What can I play?
  • Internet Radio – Whether you want your favourite local station or one of 1000’s of radio stations from all over the world, Sonos has teamed up with tunein radio to offer an exceptional choice of radio stations.
  • Network Music – We can install a networked hard drive and link it to your Sonos system, for you to store your personal music collection. Upload your music and browse through and play it straight from the Sonos app.
  • Napster – With a catalogue of over 8 million songs – pop, hip-hop, rock, country, jazz, classical, and more – you’ll have unlimited music on demand. Ideal if you don’t want to upload all of your music or simply don’t have much (if anything) of a music collection!
  • Spotify – Instantly access a world of music – starting with an ever-expanding library, incredible playlists and unlimited music at your fingertips. Because Sonos connects directly to Spotify via the Internet, you can play it all without docking or turning on your computer.
  • Last.FM – is a global music service that lets you play, share and discover new music. You can also create personal radio stations based on your musical tastes. Just pick up your Sonos Controller and enter the name of your favourite artist or genre and will play radio customised just for you. The more you listen, the more learns what you like so it can continually recommend new tracks and stations.

Household Automation has many Sonos installations completed and in progress and would welcome the chance to provide more information on Sonos equipment. We design and install Sonos on many scales – from systems containing just a couple of zones through to whole house solutions incorporating home cinema.


Home Automation – Security Alarm / Fire Alarm – How Can They Work Together?

Household Automation explores how British Standards allow for a security alarm to act as a fire alarm.

Most security and home automation systems are able to connect to smoke, heat and CO detectors to provide warnings of fire, Household Automation explores the viable possibilities using British Standard BS 5839-6:2004.

Most of the major fire detection equipment manufacturers such as AICO and Hockiki offer a range of detector heads that can be connected using 9-24V power from a home automation or alarm panel and provide NC or NO contacts to enable an alarm. In practice this may be very easy to physically achieve but under what circumstances is this allowable?

The details of what is allowable is defined in British Standard BS 5839-6:2004 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings.

A home automation or security system that is used as a fire alarm is classed as Grade C.

  • A Grade C system is allowable in a three storey or less single family dwelling and shared house with no floor greater in area than 200m/sq (2,152 sq/ft).
  • A Grade C system is allowable in a bungalow, flat or other single storey family dwelling or shared house with one floor greater than 200m/sq (2,152 sq/ft).

Key points

So now that we have established where the home automation or security alarm can be used as a fire alarm what are the key points that we need to know in order to comply with a grade C system?

  • The fire alarm system has to be defined by category and grade and documentation (sample certificates provided at the back of the standard) provided upon commissioning.
  • Battery life – section 15.4 specifically has notes relating to extended standby battery life of 72h (which is a greater requirement than a standard security system).
  • Sounders should comply with section 13 – notably 75 dB(A) at the bed head.
  • Control and indication – the standard suggests that grade C systems may have more sophisticated means of control comparable with grade A and B systems, its indicates that there is a need to ensure that the system is not compromised as a result of casual tampering with the control and indicating equipment (section 17.1). Further section 17.4 provides greater details of illuminated indicators and audible warnings.

In reality if you are using a home automation system as a fire alarm you need to read and comply with the whole of BS 5839-6:2004. As with any standard there are sections that are very clear and precise and others that are open for interpretation. BS 5839-6: 2004 does however clearly allow the use of systems other than fire alarms to act as fire alarms. This article is by no means comprehensive; we have provided an overview of what is possible. We strongly recommend that anybody looking at installing smoke / fire alarms using a home automation or security system as the main control and interface panel should obtain and comply with the recommendations of BS 5839-6:2004.

Household Automation Ltd has ongoing projects involving the installation of a variety of home automation equipment. We have used the Comfort home automation system as a fire alarm and can provide details of the types of system that would be appropriate for your home. The use of the Comfort system allowed the customer to set up dial out to his mobile (or tel number of his choice) as well as overall control from iPhone or iPad.


Slimline smoke sensors

Home automation experts Household Automation Ltd have recently fitted recessed smoke sensors to a home in Surrey. The clients were very specific about the need to provide smoke sensors that were as flush to the ceiling as possible, they did not want to see the conventional large ugly smoke sensors that have become common place in most homes.

Household Automation Ltd designed the fire alarm around the Cytech Comfort home controller and used Hochiki smoke detectors with non-latching recessed mounting bases. The recessed mounting bases have a footprint similar in diameter to many conventional residential smoke sensors and use the standard Hochiki bases and heads. The recessed mounting bases are fitted by cutting a hole in the ceiling, when the smoke sensor is fitted it protrudes from the ceiling by no more than 10mm. We believe that this solution  offers one of the best aesthetic solutions to the problem of visible fire alarm detectors.

The main Comfort alarm panel is operated from the security keypad. Individual smoke heads are identified by name e.g. “Garage smoke”, “Kitchen heat”. Because of the flexibility of the Comfort controller the fire alarm signal is automatically sent to the auto dialer which contacts the telephone numbers programmed into it.

Access can also be gained over the ethernet via browser or mobile app. If required the Comfort controller can be directly connected to a monitoring station.

Part numbers:

  • Bases – YBO-R/6RN
  • Smoke sensor  – SLR-E3N
  • Heat sensor – DCD-AE3
  • Recessed kit – YBN-UA


Home Automation – Heating Controls Reduced Rate VAT To 5%

The importance of saving energy has never been greater and where better a place to start than with your heating control. If you can reduce your domestic energy consumption by introducing more sophisticated heating controls then now is the time to act. HMRC have reduced the rate of VAT down to 5% for the supply and installaton of heating controls. Depending upon what type of heating you have there are a number of measures you can take to ensure that your home has the correct level of heat throughout when you need it. By putting in place proper heating controls you can ensure that you have a more evenly spread heat throughout the house when it is occupied.

HMRC Energy saving materials Notice 708/6 is where you can find the detail of what can be 5%VAT rated. New buildings of course have their own VAT rating rules (explained in Notice 708 buildings and construction), here we are focusing on what can be 5% rated under energy saving. Heating systems (including heating and hot water systems) used in residential accomodation such as a houses, blocks of flats or other dwellings that include such items as electronic timers, thermostats, mechanical or electrical valves are covered by the 5% VAT notice. HMRC go further than this and explain that the installation (material and labour) is 5% rated and also that ‘acilliary (paragraph 2.3.2) supplies’ may be included. “An ancillary supply is a supply of goods or services that is a better means of enjoying the principal supply.” Not covered under notice 708/6 – replacement boilers, complete heating systems either replacement or new, adjustment of existing controls (paragraph 2.2 “Installation, in this context, means putting in place energy saving materials. This involves some process by which materials are permanently fixed in place”).

Getting back to plain English then – If at the residence you live in (there is a list (paragraph 2.16) it includes elderley care homes, hospices, monasteries, nunneries, student accommodation, self catering holiday accommodation, caravan homes, house boats) you are looking to make energy saving by introducing enhanced means of heating and hot water control then the likelyhood is that any work undertaken by your installer will be rated at 5% – a 15% saving to the customer!

We must point out that this article is based on our experiences to date and is in no way definitive ( you could make a career out of interpreting VAT documents). Of course every case is unique and we would recommend that if you are unsure weather a particular item can or cannot be zero rated then it is always best to contact the HMRC written referrals team direct.

How can heating controls save money?

Heating controls ensure that you have heating and hot water when you need it. Conversely they are also in place to ensure that your heating and hot water systems are NOT wasting energy when no one is in the property (or in a particular part of the property).

Most domestic heating control systems ‘call for heat’ i.e they switch the boiler on which heats the water. The heating control manages how often and when the boiler is being called for heat. Once it has the hot water in the system then it also manages how the hot water is distributed to the radiators or U/F heating. With electric heating the scenario is simplified because there is no heat store when you call for heat, you are basically switching the mains electricity on.

Your heating system will have time clocks that operate the boiler and hot water demand. It will also have (at least) a single thermostat that regulates the overall temperature of the house. In most cases the home owner can readily adjust these parameters. Heating control may also encompass heating modes, typically home, night, away and frost protect. These modes usually relate to a reduction in temperature from a set point value. So you have your set point at say 18 deg C, when you leave the house the heating is set to away mode and the actual temperature value that the heating system is trying to achieve is dropped by (say) 10 deg C.

Further savings can be made by providing zoned areas for heating. Where radiators are present this is best achieved by replacing conventional manual radiator valves with thermostatic radiator valves (TRV’s), this in effect provides each radiator with an element of individual temperature control. Where U/F heating or more sophisticated systems are required a separate room thermostat can be introduced.

Of course further saving can be achieved by having a central control system that allows access to all of the system components and thus the ability to control individual modes, timers and zones centrally.

Still further and potentially greater savings can be made if we know WHEN the home is occupied – what better way to tell than when the security system is set (or unset). This is where the benefits of a home automation system come into play as it is usually relatively simple to have your security system tell your heating system that the security has been armed – i.e that the house is unoccupied and that the heating temperature can be dropped down by 10 deg C. Similar results can be achieved with night modes and holiday (frost protect) modes.

With the advent of complementary new energy producing items such as solar power, heat pumps, wind turbines, the question of control becomes ever more important (and complex). Currently most energy solutions are installed with their own seperate controller. If the heating / energy management control can be treated as a single entity then the possibility exist for far greater savings to be made.