Home, Home on the Range

My response to a potential Home Automation installer who wanted to share Z-Wave with some outbuildings on a customer’s property:

I have a customer who needs to control some lighting in a barn that is 300 feet approximately from their home as well as other lighting in a garage that is in line between the barn and home at about 100 feet. Will Z -Wave transmit a sufficient signal to each building to control these lights.

It is hard for me to determine exactly the setup, so I will give you some details, and you can help me understand more, or come to a conclusion for your own install.

The average outdoor range for the Z-Wave signal from gateway to device is about 300 feet, if the signal is not interrupted.

Walls, doors, appliances, and electrical boxes can decrease this signal. I would cut it in half to be conservative for the average residential structure. I would cut it in 1/3 to be conservative for a commercial/concrete structure. (check out Z-Wave.com for charts on transmission through different media).

The good news is, Z-Wave is a mesh protocol, so that you can install intermediary devices that will bounce the signal to the next device, should the range come up short.

So, 300 feet from house to barn? I would say no.

100 feet from house to garage, then another 200 feet to the barn? I would say this is possible. The gateway should be on the garage side of the house, on a desk or similar (or a device that will bounce the signal should be). Multiple devices will help create a mesh. If using different devices to increase your network, try to keep them separate to expand the network where possible.

Plug in modules to control lights can work as well as plug in repeaters, and both can be use to 'test' the system before you install it. Battery-operated devices will not repeat the signal or act as repeaters.

And also think that if your customer is looking for additional ways of controlling his/her home; thermostats, bulbs (that stay on all the time), receptacles can also add to the network, and allow you to make your signal better.

Use plastic boxes where approved by code (because metal deadens the signal).  Use Z-Wave Plus devices (or 500 series chips) where possible. If looking for light switches, dimmers, or bulbs, consider Dragontech, Domitech, or Z-Wave Plus devices. Coupled with an inexpensive Vera Edge (not 500 series, but versatile) you'll be in good shape.

Some people have put devices in the yard, but as you know, running wires and devices outside have their own challenges, both with safety and the protection of the devices from the elements (I have to say this, because people mount switches and locks to gates and walls, then try to return them a few months later).

If you do a lot of these, consider purchasing some inexpensive plug in modules and a gateway to test the setup before you give your client a quote. 

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