Automated Homes Granite Falls NC
Granite Falls, NC
Automating Your Home
These days it's hard to imagine a kitchen without a microwave or a family room without a VCR. Whatever the age or size of a home, technology has become an integral part of a comfortable, enjoyable and convenient household. But your house can be smarter still. New technologies can push a home's IQ off the charts, making it possible for you to control lighting, temperature, entertainment and security automatically - even from remote locations.
Name an area of the home, and you'll probably find a way to automate it. Home security networks can detect smoke, frozen pipes, carbon monoxide leaks, pool accidents and intruders, then notify you and the proper authorities. Audio systems allow you to listen to music from a central source in any room in the house. Better yet, they allow different people to listen to different things - sometimes called a 'marriage saver' system. Video networks enable homeowners to connect every television in the house to a central DVD or satellite source, which can be controlled from any location. There are even systems that control outdoor functions like watering the lawn. It doesn't take an Einstein to incorporate these appointments into a house. Granted, the technology that turns a family room into a movie theater is sophisticated, but manufacturers have built their products to retrofit into the framework and decorating style of any home. 'Home automation' means different things to different people. To some, it is defined as any system that controls a home's operating infrastructure.
Others use a wider definition that encompasses the home's computers as well - technologies such as HomePNA and HomeRF that enable multiple PCs to share files, an Internet connection and peripherals. It might seem as if these capabilities are luxuries at best and unnecessary complications at worst. But proponents of home automation take another view. They say that our homes are growing more technical by the day and that managing and harnessing all that technology has become a challenge for many homeowners. Anything that offers more control and efficiency is a benefit, they say. In fact, home automation has grown increasingly accessible.
Prices of systems designed to manage the lighting, audio and security needs of homes are declining, and household applications are increasing. What's more, systems are becoming more convenient to install and use. An automation system essentially puts your home on autopilot. At prescribed times of the day, the system can adjust the settings of thermostats, lights, audio/video gear and alarms - nearly any device that draws electricity. There are many benefits to this 'smart house' approach: energy savings, greater convenience and better protection. A system that lowers the temperature, draws the drapes and turns off the lights before bedtime, for example, saves energy and time. A system that switches lights and CD players on randomly throughout the day makes an unoccupied home look and sound as if someone is home. A home automation system can also lend a hand during special occasions, preparing the house lights for a dinner party with the press of a single button. An automation system can control as little or as much as you deem necessary, and it can be tailored to suit the schedules and habits of your family. No matter how comprehensive its control, though, the system remains an unimposing member of the household. Most components are hidden in closets or basements, controlled by a keypad on the wall, remote controls or desktop units. At the heart of home automation is a central processing unit, or CPU, that receives instructions and translates them into the desired outcomes. CPUs come in many varieties. They may plug into the family computer or occupy a space in a utility closet or basement. The CPU holds hundreds of commands that can be transmitted automatically at a certain time of day by the system's internal clock, or in response to a signal from a motion sensor, a sunlight sensor, a security panel, a button on a remote control or some other trigger device.
At 6 each morning, for example, the microprocessor might turn on CNN morning news, activate the coffee maker and cue the kitchen lights. Later in the day, if a motion sensor detects someone at the front door, the system can snap on the foyer lights and display a view from the outdoor security camera on the TV screen. Not all functions are pre-programmed. For tasks that require interaction, a homeowner can use a hand-held remote control, a wall-mounted keypad or a telephone to issue commands. After seeing the guest on the TV screen, for example, the security system can be disengaged and the door unlocked by pressing a couple of keys on a nearby phone.
Hardwired vs. Soft There are two basic types of automation systems: those that require special cabling, called hardwired systems, and those that use existing electrical wiring or radio-frequency (RF) signals. Hardwired systems require the running of cable and can be difficult to install in existing homes unless they are being extensively remodeled and the walls are exposed. Wire must be fished behind walls in order to connect light switches, audio/video gear, thermostats and other electronic devices to a system microprocessor. Although hardwired systems may be tougher to install, they are highly reliable and able to perform complicated tasks. They can also be expensive, with most starting at about $5,000 (professional installation included). Double this figure for installing a hardwired system in an existing home. Far easier to install, and far less expensive, are retrofit systems. These transmit commands either by using a home's existing electrical wiring, through a technology called X10, or by RF signals, eliminating the need to fish new wire. A system that automates lights, controls thermostats and runs security can be professionally installed for about $2,000 - sometimes less if you want it to control a limited number of devices. Because these 'soft-wired' automation solutions are less expensive and easy to install, a number of traditional hardwire manufacturers now offer X10 or RF-based systems. Most of these systems are designed to automate lighting. Pressing a 'scene' button on a remote can automatically arrange a group of lights to preset levels - the right setting, for instance, for a romantic dinner. X10 automation is so easy to install that home improvement stores carry a variety of automation components for do-it-yourselfers. You can start by automating the on and off times of a few light switches for about $50, then buy additional components (usually priced under $30) to weave more devices into simple automation routines. The system components typically plug into ordinary electrical outlets. While lights and thermostats are relatively easy to automate using X10, integrating a security system and an extensive array of audio/video gear is a little trickier and therefore requires the handiwork of a professional home systems installer.
Staying in Control Control is everything with home automation, and the devices that allow you to run the various systems come in many styles. In fact, the user interfaces are typically what differentiate home automation systems. A system like Omni from Home Automation Inc., for example, employs a wall-mounted keypad as its primary user interface. Each button on the keypad can be set to handle a certain task. A button labeled 'away,' for example, can simultaneously arm the security system and switch off the lights. Touchpanels, like those from AMX and Crestron Electronics, consist of a screen (either placed on a table or mounted to a wall) that responds to touch. A touchpanel can be designed by a professional home systems installer with any number of menu pages - one, perhaps, that displays functions of a home's security system, another that presents options for operating entertainment gear and lights. In addition to displaying control buttons, a touchpanel can show the current status of all connected devices. By glancing at a screen on the coffee table, you can determine if the lights in the kids' bedrooms are still on after bedtime and make sure their rooms are warm. Without budging from the couch, the thermostat can be turned up by accessing a heating-control screen on the touchpanel. Many systems can also be supervised using a hand-held remote control, the dial pad of a telephone and a home computer. Being able to review automation routines while you're away is particularly useful. Indeed, such capabilities are highly valued by consumers. Almost a third of those surveyed by the Consumer Electronics Association said they'd like to monitor their homes remotely, while 36 percent said it would be helpful if a home automation system could notify them at work about such happenings as deliveries and the comings and goings of kids. Say no more. Nearly every manufacturer of home control systems has added a Web-accessible product to handle such tasks. One of the first was Home Automation Inc. Released in 1999, the company's flagship Web-Link software enables a user to access their home control system from a personal digital assistant, a Web-enabled phone or Internet-connected computer. Using the Web-Link software, homeowners can view pages, from any Web browser in the world, that show the status of a home's lights, thermostats, security devices and other appliances, and it allows a user to adjust their settings remotely. One of the most ingenious ways to control a home is by your own voice. Applied Future Technologies and Home Automated Living manufacture home automation systems that respond to verbal commands. You can keep your hands to yourself and simply utter 'music on' and 'drapes closed' to prepare the house for an evening cocktail party.
Getting a System So, where do you start if you want to install a system? The Internet, of course, has loads of information about home automation. After you've learned a bit more, you can call manufacturers that offer systems appropriate for your needs. You can also find a home automation installer in your area by looking under 'Home Automation' or 'Home Systems' in the Yellow Pages. If none is listed, you can contact the Home Automation and Networking Association (www.homeautomation.org) or the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (www.cedia.org) to find installers. Catalogs can also help by giving you a sense of prices and what the systems look like. Here are three useful websites that contain links to still others: