Smart-home tech­nol­ogy takes off

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - By Pa­trick Langston

OT­TAWA — The evening’s colder than a po­lar bear’s toe­nails as you pull into the drive­way, and your home’s been empty all day. Yet the en­trance lights glow, the house is warm, and your mu­sic playlist is al­ready work­ing its sooth­ing magic.

About the only thing you have to do your­self is splash the sin­gle malt over the rocks.

Once the stuff of The Jet­sons, smarthome tech­nol­ogy — which does ev­ery­thing from man­age in­te­rior cli­mate con­trol to send you a cell­phone mes­sage if your teenager misses cur­few — has hit its stride over the past five years.

The sys­tems boast an un­de­ni­able cool fac­tor, an ex­tra­or­di­nary range of ap­pli­ca­tions and a prom­ise to heighten home se­cu­rity while re­duc­ing house­hold op­er­at­ing costs. Above all, say pro­po­nents, the sys­tems are be­guil­ingly con­ve­nient and flex­i­ble thanks to their nifty in­te­gra­tion of home au­to­ma­tion and en­ter­tain­ment func­tions.

“They’re for ev­ery­one,” says Bruce Miller. His Ot­tawa-based com­pany TriVista Smart Homes (www.trivista. ca) in­stalls the sys­tems, and Miller’s own home is decked out to the nines with the tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing a good­night switch. Ac­ti­vate it at bed­time, and it shuts off or dims all the lights in the home, turns off tele­vi­sions and other en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems, ensures the garage door is closed and locked and arms the se­cu­rity sys­tem.

De­spite such raz­zle-daz­zle op­tions, says Miller, “cost isn’t even a fac­tor any­more: peo­ple spend more just on their tele­vi­sions than they would on a ba­sic smart-home sys­tem.”

Those sys­tems start at $2,000 for a bare-bones ver­sion (al­though $5,000 is more re­al­is­tic for any­thing sig­nif­i­cant) and soar all the way to $100,000 and more for ones with all the bells and whis­tles.

And while the lat­ter sounds like a great deal of money, it’s less than a third of what peo­ple were pay­ing just a few years ago for much less so­phis­ti­cated sys­tems, says Tom De­war. whose com­pany has been in­stalling au­dio, home theatre, light­ing con­trol and se­cu­rity sys­tems for years.

“Competition and new tech­nol­ogy have driven the price of in­te­grated sys­tems down.”

De­war’s projects have in­cluded a high-end sys­tem for a client who is the pri­mary care­giver for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. The in­stal­la­tion in­cludes fea­tures like a sen­sor on the wife’s bed that alerts her hus­band if she gets up in the night.

Along with a host of se­cu­rity, light­ing and other ap­pli­ca­tions, there’s also a re­frig­er­a­tor mon­i­tor: if the fridge door hasn’t been opened by late morn­ing, an in­di­ca­tion that the hus­band may be in med­i­cal dif­fi­culty him­self, a mes­sage goes to a re­spon­der’s Black­Berry.

Such smart-home sys­tems con­sist of a cen­tral­ized con­troller or brain usu­ally tucked away in a base­ment cor­ner, sens­ing de­vices like ther­mostats, and a user in­ter­face.

That in­ter­face was tra­di­tion­ally a wire­less, wall-mounted or table­top touch screen with icons to house­hold func­tions. They ran around $1,200 and up. The iPad, how­ever, at $500 to $600 plus $100 or so for the smart home ap­pli­ca­tion, “has rev­o­lu­tion­ized home au­to­ma­tion,” says Miller.

Not only does the iPad pro­vide all its usual good­ies — ac­cess to the web, e-mail, mu­sic and movies — it han­dles ev­ery bit and byte of smart home tech­nol­ogy you can throw at it. Us­ing a Con­trol4 sys­tem that con­trols all of a homeowner’s con­nected home sys­tems, the de­vice lets you do re­ally neat stuff with the touch of a fin­ger. You can ac­ti­vate your home theatre ar­ray so the pro­jec­tion screen de­scends from the ceil­ing, lights dim and the movie fires be­gins. If some­one rings the door­bell, touch the iPad again and the caller shows up in a cor­ner of your pro­jec­tion screen.

De­pend­ing on the size of your home, the age and num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing there, and your life­style, there’s po­ten­tial to save en­ergy as well.

The Builders Man­ual of the Cana­dian Home Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion lists a num­ber of such op­por­tu­ni­ties, from sen­sors that au­to­mat­i­cally shut off lights in an un­oc­cu­pied room (al­though a light switch works well for that, too) to oth­ers that tell the lawn sprin­kler to take a break from its nor­mal ir­ri­ga­tion cy­cle when it’s rain­ing.

Smart-home tech­nol­ogy can also sup­port green­ing ef­forts, says Steve Bark­house, owner of the eco-con­scious Ot­tawa ren­o­va­tion and cus­tom home­build­ing firm Am­sted De­sign-Build.

“We put a sys­tem in our own house. When we’re away in the sum­mer, it runs the pool just enough to keep the wa­ter clean in­stead of all the time. You can also set it so it turns the air con­di­tion­ing back on the day be­fore you get home.”

Bark­house says he’s seen sys­tems in­stalled even in less costly ren­o­va­tions, al­though itFs usu­ally tech-savvy 40-some­things, not grey­ing baby boomers, who opt for them.

The ad­vent of re­li­able wire­less sys­tems, mean­while, al­lows retrofitting for smart home tech­nol­ogy with­out re­sort­ing to a ma­jor rip and tear.

With tech­nol­ogy al­ready do­ing ev­ery­thing from en­forc­ing con­straints on chil­dren’s gam­ing time to mon­i­tor­ing sump pumps in ar­eas prone to sewer back­ups, what does the fu­ture hold for smart homes?

Look for an uptick in smart ap­pli­ances, say the ex­perts. A re­cent study pro­jected the global house­hold mar­ket for smart ap­pli­ances will surge from $3.06 bil­lion to more than $15 bil­lion in the next five years.

What sort of ap­pli­ances? How about a toaster that shrinks its heat out­put dur­ing a pe­riod of peak elec­tric­ity de­mand? Or a re­frig­er­a­tor that warns you if meat is go­ing bad?

Now that’s smart.

— Post­media News

Steve Bark­house smart-wired his home for en­ter­tain­ment and se­cu­rity.

Bruce Miller, seen here re­flected in his iPad, con­trols his home theatre, in­clud­ing light­ing for the theatre and the wine

bar, with a sin­gle app.

Ross Sta­ples and his wife Anita bought a condo and up­graded it to help her deal

with Alzheimer’s.

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