Sight And Sounds

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Burlingame, CA 94010



Sight And Sounds Newsletter

June, 2009: A Practical Automation Project

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My Own Home Project Example

In our last newsletter, I described how your house can be a true “smart home." A control system can do much more than simply operate a theater system. A well designed and implemented control system can save resources, simplify complexities, improve your lifestyle, and provide a unique character to your living environment.

I described several scenarios where implementing affordable solutions can greatly diversify your home to make it truly remarkable. One, in particular, was controlling your garage door with a Control4 system and wireless Card Access products.

You may have little interest in controlling your garage. Granted, not everybody wants to have an automated garage. The larger idea is that smart home technology can be implemented in various ways and in number of different scenarios. This example is just one of many that demonstrates value and practicality of automation in my own home. It has greatly improved my lifestyle while providing substantial energy savings.

This application has me at my three-story town home. During the daytime, the sun warms the local micro climate, and by the end of the day, the temperature in my home has raised considerably. Yes, I have ceiling fans and air conditioning, but I am often away and want to avoid wasting electricity.

Taking Advantage of the Cool Afternoon Breeze

One day, I discovered that if I left my garage door open, the constant rush of cool air from the coast flows through my garage, up my stairwell, and into my main living area. It takes just a couple minutes for the breeze to cool the entire house. This is a great source of fresh air, and I soon adopted the habit of leaving my garage door cracked about three feet off the ground, which supplies clean, cooling atmosphere. I really like how the ionized coastal air cools and freshens my home after a long day.

Adding garage door automation to my system made sense for this purpose. Since my unit is three stories high, schlepping up and down the stairs to either initiate or check on the garage door was tiresome. I wanted the ability to raise and lower my garage door from my house-wide touch screens, while also having the ability to monitor where the garage door resided, in either “opened,” “cracked,” or “closed” state. Additionally, I wanted to ensure the garage door would close each night, in case I forgot to close it before heading to bed. Lastly, I thought it would be nice to have the system notify me by email if the door were opened when the security system was armed.

Just as an aside here: if you intend to automate your garage door, please ensure you continue the use of your safety beam sensor. This beam is important, since it detects garage doorway obstructions and prevents accidental door closures.

Hardware Installation

All of my automation hardware needs were met with strategically-placed Card Access products. Card Access has a $495 Garage Automation Package that consists of garage door roller sensors, wireless relay device, power supply, and 5-button key fob. I happened to have most of these parts already from winning various raffles at trade show events while visiting Card Access. This company is very gracious about giving away demo products to dealers, much like candy to children during Halloween, and I happened to be the lucky recipient several times, so these parts were waiting to be put to good use.

First, I installed the battery-operated Card Access Wireless Contact Switch at my garage door track. This unit is smaller than a pack of cigarettes, and it easily attached to the track with a couple screw clamps. Inside the Contact Switch, I attached the leads from two magnetic sensors. One sensor was mounted just off the ground, and the other at my desired level for the three-foot “crack” opening. I then mounted the sensor magnet onto the garage door, using a very simple L-bracket. I then went to my computer and identified the Card Access device onto my home’s Control4 project.

Card Access and other Control4 compatible products run on a "Zigbee" wireless network, which has very good range and communicates with the Control4 system from various house-wide locations. To help assist in adjusting the sensors, I had my system wirelessly raise and lower the Control4 dimmers in my garage. The garage lights would suddenly jump to life as each contact came within proximity of the door-mounted magnet. After a few minutes’ adjustment time, I had feedback from the contact sensors to the system, showing each contact being triggered as the garage door went up and down.

Second, I broke out my ladder and installed the Card Access Wireless Contact Relay at the garage door motor mechanism. Garage doors use a very simple momentary switch between two terminals that engages the garage door mechanism. For example, your garage door button is simply a small bush-button switch that connects one terminal to another, creating a short circuit that is read by the door mechanism. The Contact Relay is the same size as the Contact Switch, but this piece behaves as a relay or "button."

Where the track sensor had contacts to sense a circuit, this door mechanism device has the ability to create a circuit with its built-in relay. You can even hear it emanate a slight click when the system tells it to close its on-board relays. Since relays require slightly more power to actuate, Card Access suggests using the provided power supply, which is a simple DC transformer you see with most portable electronic chargers. I simply connected a set of wires from the Contact Relay to the garage door mechanism terminals, plugged the power supply into the same electrical outlet that feeds the garage door mechanism, then neatly routed the wires over to the Contact Relay, which I mounted with a wire tie.

Spic-and-span, Mr. Handyman here now had all of his bits and pieces in the right places. Back at my computer, I checked the relay functionality by engaging the relay directly from the Control4 Composer Software, and I could hear the garage door motor drone as it opened and closed several times. Great. Now hardware was functioning perfectly.

Geeking Out With Programming

I went to work, instructing the system whether the garage door is in one of three states, “open,” “cracked,” or “closed.”

Very important: garage doors are not intelligent. Press the button once, and the door goes up; press it again, and the garage door goes down. What happens when you want the garage door to specifically open or close? Logic has to be built into the programming to know whether the door state is either open or closed, causing distinct actions to “open,” “crack,” or “close” with absolute reliability. These states are recognized by the system as “variables”. Each variable is either true or false, and depending on the true/false state, I can actually tell the garage door to open, crack, or close, and it will do it every time. This was the perfect moment to add “close” to my nightly “lights off” scene.

Once I had this programming complete, I added three custom buttons to all of my touch screens. I added “open,” “crack,” and “close” to a custom button list that pops up on my main navigation screen under folder “House.” Testing each, I was able to do all three garage door operations from the kitchen touch screen. I even added a fourth button called "blow," which triggers the garage ceiling fan to turbo charge the cooling effect on those evenings after a hot summer day.

Now that the basic control was complete, I added feedback. Based on variable states “open,” “cracked,” or “closed,” I had my kitchen’s Control4 light switch change LED colors accordingly. This was a simple process of selecting red as the “open” state and green as the “cracked” state. Since the garage would normally remain in a “closed” state, I set this to the default blue LED color. Whenever I want to know garage status, I simply glance over to the kitchen switch. I can duplicate this programming to any other light switch or keypad inside the house, if desired.

Lastly, I added email notification. Like the garage state variable, I have an alarm state variable called “armed.” My programming says, "if armed state is true and the garage door is opened or cracked, send me an email." I even differentiated the email between an “open” email and a “cracked” email.

Web Access

With all of these programming additions, I can now log on to my system from virtually any location in the world with an internet connection and see the status of my garage door. I can also remotely control the door by pressing the “Garage Door” relay button. That would certainly impress the neighbors! Since Control4’s 4Sight Subscription service simply provides a conduit to access your system, most of what you have programmed at home is already available on the net via the 4Sight Service link to your controller.

Later, I intend to add an email notification between the hours of 3:00PM and 4:00PM to verify that my son gets home from school okay. I will also add programming that has my son tap on his bedroom keypad to verify he is home and prepared to start his homework.


Now do you see the value of smart home technology? Again, many of you may not treat your garage the same way I do, but there are a thousand different practical applications that automation technology provides. The garage was simply my latest project. Think about all of the interesting things around your home or business that can be controlled by a small investment of time and our expertise. Think about pet doors, drapes, shades, awnings, skylights, Black And Decker’s Zigbee Front Door Lock System, pool covers, and gates. How about Grandma and Grandpa? Are they getting their meds? These devices work with medicine cabinets too. The list goes on and on. I bet you are thinking of one application right now.

Our Monthly Promotion

For this month's Newsletter promotion, we are offering a free Card Access Wireless Contact Switch or Contact Relay to the most original project idea that would include one of these wireless devices. Just respond to this email with your idea, and if your idea wins, we'll provide the device and programming time to make your idea a reality. That's what this technology is all about, right? Have fun, and improve your life.


We look forward to hearing from you. Here is our contact info:













Cliff Roepke's Personal Page:



My Automated Garage Door

This superimposed set of images shows my garage door in the "closed" and "cracked" state simultaneously. $129 Card Access Zigbee Key Fob is in the foreground. (click image to view product information)


Card Access Contact Switch Sensor

An affordable $119 Wireless Contact Switch Sensor monitors garage state. (click image to view product information)


Card Access Contact Relay

An affordable $139 Wireless Contact Relay actuates the garage mechanism. (click image to view product information)


Programming is Quick and Simple

Since Card Access devices are recognized by Control4's Composer Software, identification and basic programming are quick and simple. (click image to view product information)


User Interfaces for Control & Feedback

This $699 Control4 Mini Touch Screen operates the garage door. The $129 Control4 Wireless Switch displays red, green, or blue, depending on “open,” “cracked,” or “closed” state. (click image to view product information)


Web Control

Control4's 4Sight Service allows me to monitor and control my garage door from anywhere world-wide. (click image to view the show)


Other Ideas

Black & Decker has partnered with Control4 to provide wirelessly-controlled lock systems. (click image to view product information)


Father's Day Item...

Control4 7" Portable Touchscreens are now available! Give us a call, and we can add one to your system. (click image to view product information)