Longevity of Home Components

02/12/2014 22:46

One of the premier problems that designers of home automation products will have to deal with is the longevity of the common home.  Unlike the given lifetime of a smartphone, a computer, or any typical overpriced consumer electronic, home components are expected to live the life of the house, or pretty close to it.  This is not something considered by most homeowners when building the house.  And it may not even be considered by the typical designer either.  They are, after all, used to following the 2-3 year operating lifetime.  That doesn't work with, for example, the 40+ switches in a typical home.  

I learned this the hard way, as it goes.  In 2003, I purchased 40 Smarthome X-10 switches for my new house.  These were first generation, without even two way reporting capability.  But they were computer controlled.  Fast forward seven year.  Not one of those switches was fully operations.  All 40 of them had mechanical failure.  While they still responded to computer control, the mechanical switch itself failed.  And this is the problem with matriculating our standard electronic design to the household.  Consumers are not going stand for having to update all of the switches in their house every few years.  

So what is the solution?  Redundancy for one.  Paddle switches should trigger at least two mechanical contacts.  On top of that, house switches cannot use the bubble type contacts that are so prevalent in smart phones and most electronics.  They fail.  Best practice is to go back to the clean contact design of the 70's.  

What about the electronics portion?  It wasn't just the mechanical portions of my Smarthome switches that failed.  Many of them burned out the circuits as well.  That's where a modular design would be smart.  Put the receiver and control chip on a smart card so that the owner can change it out when required.  Intel has the right idea with its Edison design.  Either way, home automation switches must be designed to last 20 years at least.  And even if the computer control fails, the manual portion must pair with at least the $5 cheap rocker switch you can buy at Home Depot.