Over my next couple of articles, we’re going to take a look at home automation. This is a fascinating area that is, for some, a reality, but for many, something that borders on science fiction. The truth is, there are all sorts of products out there to help you automate elements of your home, ranging from those that the average Joe can afford and implement to those that cost as much as the house itself.
Today, we’re going to find out why home automation is worth bothering with (or not, depending on the conclusions you draw from this article). Automation, in all areas of life, will usually do one of two things for you: save you time you can use productively, or provide you with convenience. It’s up to you to draw those sort of conclusions for yourself in this case.
Lighting has, by far, been the most popular and common use of home automation since it was a technically and financially viable option. It’s no wonder; the most annoying thing that has ever happened to most people, throughout all the terrible experiences in life, is getting into bed only to realize that a light has been left on.
You can rig up your home to control your lights from a remote control panel inside the home, for when you hop into bed, or remotely, when you get to work only to realize you left everything on. And of course you can just as easily turn them all back on once you get home or before a bunch of guests arrive.
Most lighting automation systems give you control over light dimming. This is no breakthrough in itself, as dimming is a pretty commonplace thing, but combine that fact with the ability to create intricate profiles with different lights set at different levels through the house. You can have a preset for every mood!
Of course, lighting control can’t stop at bulbs. There’s natural light to consider as well, and there are products available to help you control curtains, blinds and shades.
2. Home Theater
If you’ve ever bought one of those programmable, all-in-one remotes, you’ve taken part in a small part of home automation. A lot of home automation hobbyists will have the most intricate remote programmings you’ve seen, and I don’t blame them; it takes a lot of waiting and a fair few clicks for me to get my television on and switched over to the Apple TV or DVD player.
But there’s also multi-zone audio to consider – the ability to select various speakers around the house through which to play audio from any given source, or even the ability to play from them all at once (or any combination thereof). If you’ve used AirTunes at home, you’re familiar with multi-zone audio, and as far as I’ve seen AirTunes provides one of the smoothest integration and operation experiences.
Intercom technology often falls into the home automation field. Hobbyists often like to have an intercom system right through the house, in every room. I remember the first time I spoke to someone via instant messaging when they were in the next room; I imagine the intercom provides a similar feeling of redundancy.
Intercom systems can be made accessible to your PDA or smartphone via wifi, and practically any device via the Internet. They can also assist in transmitting alarms right throughout the house; if you have trouble hearing the smoke alarm from your bedroom, this may just be what you need to keep alive for the rest of the year!
Us productivity types like to have one source to go to for everything – take the old one inbox rule, for instance. If you’re like that, you can have your intercom system routed into your phone so that you only have to speak into the one mouthpiece, safely avoiding the germs Aunty Glenda left on the other cordless last time she was over. I imagine this works best when there’s an intercom at the front gate; there’s not much use for intercom over the phone when it comes to in-house intercom.
You’re sitting at work in the air conditioning and you know it’s going to be a hot drive home. The last thing you want to do is get out of the hot car and into a hot house. With home automation you can get your air conditioner and a couple of fans going just as you take off for the day. Of course, the same thing applies to heating and ventilation, too.
Air conditioners are expensive beasts. If you’ve routinely caught someone in your home forgetting to turn the thing off and running up the electricity bill, use an automation system to shut your air conditioner off after a half hour’s use.
5. Security and Surveillance
An automated security system in your home provides a far more protective and much safer experience than traditional methods. With cameras you can view over the Internet, you can ensure nobody is taking off with your HDTV (or even keep an eye on the kids). You can have a motion sensor that sends you a text message if it notices movement when nobody is meant to be home, or if sensors on your windows sense the glass breaking.
If your system includes intercom, you can have alarms played through all those speakers around the house, ensuring that everyone in the house is aware of danger. And remember when we talked about lighting automation so you could have all the bulbs in your house switch off when you leave home? Advanced systems even allow you to lock up all the doors and windows as you’re leaving at the same time.
Of course, there’s the old simulation of presence trick. If you’re going on holidays, get your system to randomly play with your blinds, play music and flick lights on or off; you can sleep a little sounder knowing that your home is a little less likely to be broken into.
There’s much more to home automation. There are systems for getting your pets fed on time, in case you’ve killed a rat or two due to negligence, and irrigation automation, in case you’re guilty of the same when it comes to plants. You can even have your percolator or espresso machine brewing fifteen minutes before your alarm goes off.
Needless to say, we can all live without this stuff. We have been for thousands of years. But these things can make life easier and more enjoyable, so they’re certainly worth considering if you’ve got the interest and the budget.
Next time, we’ll be coming back to the topic of home automation and looking at how one can get started with their own home, and what sort of equipment is available for various prices.