When I was growing up, I rigged up a string and "pulley" system in my room so that I could turn off my light at night without getting out of bed. The string was anchored to a nail in the cieling above my light switch, then strung across the room to my bed. When I gave the string a tug, it would pull the switch into the "up" position and the light would turn off. I never could figure out how to rig the system to be able to pull the switch to the "down" position, so it was always a one way trip: once it was off, I had to crawl out of bed to turn it back on again.
Perhaps my early days of lazyness inspired me seek out a way to do the same in my modern home. Although I admit that some of it may be lazyness, most of it is for convenience (Editor's Note: Isn't convenience the same as being lazy?) Not only can I turn my lights on and off using the smart phone sitting next to me on my night stand, but I can automate many tasks to save energy and add a little bit of security to my home.
With z-wave, I've got the ability to easily convert my existing light system into something I can automate without much hassle. I'll explain how z-wave works and how easy it is for you to get started on it as well.
You don't need to run new wires to get started with z-wave since it uses radio signals to communicate. When you tell a light to turn on using your smart phone, radio waves are really being sent to the switch with the command. Z-wave requires a master controller and a z-wave device. The most useful type of master controller is a USB stick, as it will allow you to control your devices using your smart phone or computer.
A z-wave device can be a light switch, a light dimmer, an outlet -- for controlling things like TV's, DVD's and plugin-lamps -- a motion sensor, a thermostat, or even a deadbolt lock. There's no end to what you can find that is z-wave enabled.
The master controller is what helps your z-wave devices know to communicate with each other. It not only "builds" your z-wave network, but it can also be used to send commands (like "dim" & "turn off") to your z-wave devices.
I mentioned network - don't let that term scare you off. It's quite simple to build your network once everything is installed. Simply use the master controller to recognize your device. This typically involves pushing the "include" button and then standing near your z-wave device and turning it on.
I've used two USB Sticks. One from ControlThink, and the other from Aeon Labs. USB sticks can double as Master Controllers so you can eliminate the purchase of an item when you get a USB stick. The Aeon Labs USB stick has a button on it that let's you "include" your devices simply with the USB stick. ControlThink requires you to walk around with a laptop to include devices.
The Aeon Labs stick is more convenient (read: for the lazy), but costs ~$60 as compared to $30 for ControlThink.
Dimmer switches range from cheap $20 to the expensive $100+ range. I've found that both work equally well and that it often comes down to your personal preference for how fancy you want the switch to look.
The Shopping List
If you are ready to get started, here's what I'd recommend you purchase. This is enough to get you setup and controlling at least one light with your smart phone:
You can also purchase the Z-Wave Starter Kit, which includes home automation software, the master controller and 2 dimmable light switches.
It's easy to add-on products as your budget allows, so there's no need to blow the budget on your first go-around.