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Smart Homes

By on Apr 09, 2008

By Heather Dunphy

The idea of an automated "smart home" has been the next great idea for the past decade and has long captured the imagination of homeowners. Today it's doing much more than that?it's on its way to becoming the hardwood flooring and stainless steel for tomorrow's homebuyer.

A smart home is one in which you have remote or automatic control of the things in your home. At its most basic level a smart home would allow you automated lighting or music systems control. A more advanced smart home would allow digital entertainment, information, and communications to be shared among devices throughout the home.

Convenient and fun, yes, but a smart home can also protect you and your home, and save you money. The technology can also empower disabled or older people, improving their quality of life and assisting them with living an independent lifestyle.

Convenience: Turn the temperature up or down from the comfort of your bed or dim your dining room lights from the table. Everyday tasks can also be automated, giving you more time and the option of how to spend it.

Prevention: If a problem arises inside your home receive notification or have the appropriate people notified. Sensors can alert you to changes in your home and this could prevent damage from fire, freezing pipes, plumbing leaks?automatically turning your main water supply off before water damage occurs?and more.

Safety: On dark nights, turn on outside and inside lights on your way home?from anywhere. Use glass break detectors to receive an alarm if a window is broken. Use motion detector technology to let you know if there is motion when there shouldn't be, or if there isn't motion when there should be. The latter is an especially useful warning system in homes where there are elderly or disabled. If there is no motion in the home for a certain amount of time it may mean that someone has fallen and needs assistance.

Energy efficiency: Have a maintenance appointment automatically scheduled if sensors determine your furnace isn?t working as it should. Have your thermostat automatically calibrate to the correct temperature if you're not there.

Stephen Elorst is one of the many early adopters of smart home technology now finding creative ways to make it work for his unique needs. About six months ago when his aging dog suddenly began to have house-training accidents each night, he looked for a solution.

"We had sensors put in at the back door where Toby, our dog, would wait to be let out. At night, when the sensors pick up Toby's presence, our bedroom light comes on, alerting us to let him out, and preventing an accident inside the home." Elorst"s brother Andre uses smart home technology to monitor and manage his children's television viewing.

"In a perfect world I'd be there myself, but the kids get home much earlier than I do. After an hour, the amount of viewing time we've allowed them before dinner, the TV is automatically turned off."

Will the smart home resemble the Jetson's futuristic home? It could, or it could resemble the interior of a log cabin. The smart home is not about style, but about functionality?it's about allowing consumers to enjoy the benefits of enhanced convenience and entertainment, regardless of whether they follow minimalist or Victorian design. It's about enjoying the tech without living with its accompanying clutter.

The smart home is about making your life easier. Perhaps it's not strictly necessary, but then the invention of the washing machine wasn't either?and there's no denying the improved quality of life that came with its introduction. Although the smart home may not yet be mainstream, increased residential broadband uptake has meant that, for forward-thinking homeowners, a digital, networked home is the logical next step.

How does it work?

Connectivity can be achieved many ways: power or telephone lines, multimedia cabling, bluetooth technology, and low-voltage wiring systems connected to a central processing unit. You can choose to go wired or wireless - which means there may be no need to drill holes inyour walls.

Remote or Automatic Control?

Remote Control: Isn't it nice to be able to change the television channel from the comfort of your couch? Why not also control your lighting, audio and video equipment, household appliances, and security systems from the same place, or wherever else you might be.

Automatic Control: Everyday tasks, like closing or opening the blinds, turning the lights on or off and turning the dishwasher on are just a few examples of the types of tasks you can program to perform automatically and then forget about?no further effort necessary.

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