Don’t worry. I’m not proposing an overhaul of your home into some futuristic reproduction of the Starship Enterprise. An electrical engineer, I am not. But I have done a bit of research on the topic of digital trends, and here’s what I know about the high-tech home.
Home Automation is a generic term you’ll see when you start to check into this. It can be understood as an efficient control of many home functions and activities. Think lighting, heating, a/c, security, communications, entertainment and appliances. Automating the control and use of these can return certain pay-offs, like convenience, safety and energy efficiency. Here are a few basic ideas that make sense to me, and more importantly, that your local Lowes or Radio Shack can tell you all about.
- Lighting sensors and motion detectors can reduce HOURS of energy use, LOWER electrical costs, and provide added security with protective lighting. Something about infrared energy, signals and electrical relays. Don’t ask me about the mechanics and metaphysics. I just understand it’s a great safety measure when I get home late at night and it’s proven to lower your electrical bill. (Cha-ching. Enough said.)
- I work late and sometimes travel. So this one interests me. Remote home monitoring through a smart phone or web browser can provide assurance while away from home. Imagine hitting a “Vacation” or “Working Late” button and a simple app will recall the inside of your home or a view of your front porch in an instant. Niiiice.
- Automated HVAC control can implement energy-saving settings based on a custom heating/AC schedule for time of the day and day of the week. For example, you can choose to turn temps down at 1 a.m. and sleep with your head under three down comforters to save on heating costs, and then automatically restore indoor temps fit for human occupancy in the a.m. The schedule is as flexible as you need it to be and completed automated. I have one of these and yes, I save money.
- Same concept as above for your sprinklers, lighting, entertainment and alarm systems. Based on a custom schedule, you can implement day/time settings and even motion sensors for the on/off activation of all of these home functions. Pretty cool.
These electronic devices can also be connected together, react with one another and fed to a single interface in your home to produce a sort-of “command station.” Is this necessary, you ask. For example: do you NEED a Twitter-enabled fridge panel? Do you NEED your smart phone to remote control your iBot vacuum or change your washer’s rinse cycle? Likely not. (Trust me, they exist.) But the convenience of controlling multiple, practical systems and devices from a single source is enough for even Spock to raise an eyebrow.
But again, I am no engineer. So I rely on really intellectual-techie-type people over at c|net to tell me “how it is.” Don’t know them? Go read about them and their handy DIY Digital Home animation on Home Automation.
To do all of this, you need a network to distribute data throughout the home. Then, you need a control point; a type of interface which brings it all together. I do know enough to tell you there’s some fascinating software on the market that will allow home owners this kind of control over home functions from a computer or tv screen and even your smart phone. Yes. It is true.
Home Automation takes a more vital form for people with assistive needs like the elderly or disabled, who may find benefits in such functions as voice-activation, automated lifts and control points for air control, lighting, curtains, faucets, windows and doors. These can be advantageous ways to maintain levels of safety and quality to their lives – where otherwise they might need a caregiver. There are many turn-key solutions you can find with a quick Google search.
Here are some common functions related to home entertainment that won’t break the bank. Price points as low as $500 can get you going and you can piece-meal more solutions to create some awesomeness inside your home.
- Music everywhere. I’ll speak from an Apple perspective because a headache-free configuration is my preference. But there are many options. Using iTunes, you can use an iPhone or iPod Touch remote app to send music throughout your entire home with volume control, play/pause, shuffle, repeat. Apple AirPlay wirelessly distributes the music (and other audio) to speaker docking stations anywhere where you want it. And since you asked, yes, even while streaming music you can still use your iPhone as… wait for it…. a phone too!
- TV too? Yes, tv too. HD tv too. Apple AirPlay only sends audio. You’ll need AppleTV for video streaming, but same concept. This is how they make money, people. But still pretty affordable compared to custom Home Theater solutions. Read this for a really good breakdown on how it works from “How Stuff Works.com.” Genius.
- Other good stuff. I’ve gone on long enough. So I’ll just summarize other cool things you can do in your home to assist in a full-on, high-tech home experience: Wireless headphones. Mood lighting. Room to room digital intercoms. Digital backup systems. DVR/Tivo Recording. PCTV (for non-Macs). Digitize (rip) your music and photos libraries to your PC or AppleTV. Archive your home movies to CD or digital format. Setup surround sound. Setup video chat from your pc, mac or smart phone.
Whatever the solution, remember that the high-tech experience in your home should also be balanced with some old-fashioned, healthy, outdoor family fun.