Consumer E-Newsletter - 12/12/2006 (Plain Text Version)
In this issue:
The Final Frontier: Home Automation
The idea of home automation has been around since the turn of the 20th century. Charlie Chaplin and the Jetsons predicted we would one day let robots and machines do all our menial tasks. While we are not there yet, we have witnessed great leaps in technology over the past few years that have helped families get the most out of their homes.
Home automation got its first big boost in the media room, where more and more families now enjoy the freedom of using one remote control to operate several pieces of equipment. Now, “wi-fi,”or wireless internet, is allowing homeowners in some circumstances to side-step the need for costly wiring. Smart home technology is poised to become the norm rather than the exception.
Some people think that home automation or ‘smart homes’ means investing thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in central computers, miles of wiring and expensive user interfaces, like touch screens and control panels. But the vast majority of home automation projects begin much more modestly.
Getting your feet wet
The easiest way to see if home automation is for you is by looking into starter kits. Most begin with do-it-yourself, plug-and-play solutions using existing electrical wiring or wi-fi connections. These kits can let you control several lighting fixtures and small appliances. And buying them won’t break the bank: packages start at $150-$200. You can later add different functions as needed using products that use universal standards, like X10 technology. Or, one’s first foray into home automation could be as simple as bathroom fixtures that sense water temperature and won’t go past a predetermined maximum, avoiding accidental burns. This is especially useful for the elderly or those with small children.
Going to the next level
Mid-range automation solutions can may include upgrades such as zoned climate control (heat, A/C), programmable touch-screens, “anywhere” Web-based automated controls, keyless and voice-activated entry, and irrigation and landscape features and can cost anywhere from $500-$5,000. The adventurous can use cell phone technology to turn on lights and monitor home security when away. Smart appliances that connect to your computer, like those offered by Samsung and LG, are now being sold with remote access to appliance controls and “self-help” technology that allows the unit to diagnose and repair itself.
If you’re looking into buying a new home or building a custom home, some builders are pre-wiring homes with built-in Ethernet and Cat-5 wires for video and data distribution. This used to be available in exclusive, million-dollar homes. Keep in mind that it is far cheaper to install wiring when a house is being built than it is to retrofit an existing structure, so think about how smart you want your home to be while it’s under construction, if possible.
Taking it to the extreme
If cost is no object, the sky’s the limit in home automation technology, including voice recognition, remote access with a cell phone/PDA, and even PIN cards that keep track of your location in the home, turning lights and climate controls on and off as you move through the home. Amenities at this level almost exclusively require full home cabling/Cat-5 wiring with various sensors and controls panels placed around the home. Companies like Honeywell, Leviton and Lutron are the biggest players on the market and can custom-design “must-have” features today’s tech-savvy homeowners want.
Before starting any of the above projects, make sure to develop a good plan. Think about not only what your needs are today, but what capabilities you may want in the future. Once you have chosen a certain base system, it can be difficult — and expensive — to start over.
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