Th­ese days, any home can be smart

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES -

BREAK­THROUGHS in tech­nol­ogy mean home­own­ers in older houses can now en­joy the same ad­van­tages in home au­to­ma­tion for­merly avail­able only in new homes.

The heart of home au­to­ma­tion is the abil­ity for a home­owner to con­trol or mon­i­tor, some­times re­motely, elec­tri­cal de­vices in a home. Prac­ti­cal applications in­clude con­trol of lighting, draperies, au­dio sys­tems, the mon­i­tor­ing of home se­cu­rity and the ad­just­ment of heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion and air con­di­tion­ing.

It used to be that only new homes were con­nected dig­i­tal homes, some­times re­ferred to as smart homes. The sys­tems were typ­i­cally con­trolled and in­ter­con­nected by wire; in­stal­la­tion was easy to do only be­fore the dry­wall was put up in new homes. Retrofitting an ex­ist­ing house was the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble, but the added labour drove up costs.

The avail­abil­ity of wireless sys­tems has made a big dif­fer­ence when up­dat­ing and retrofitting older, fre­quently her­itage, struc­tures. Jobs that now cost $10,000 used to be in the six dig­its.

Home au­to­ma­tion sys­tems are pop­u­lar with se­cu­rity-minded peo­ple. Own­ers have the abil­ity to mon­i­tor and con­trol their home sys­tem or view im­ages from video cam­eras from any­where in the world via a per­sonal com­puter or iPhone over the In­ter­net.

With th­ese sys­tems, you can turn off your house lights from be­side your bed or from any­where in the world. Sys­tems can be pro­grammed to do just about any­thing. Sen­sors can warn of fire, wa­ter leaks and sud­den tem­per­a­ture drops.

Twenty-five years ago, you had to get out of the car to open the garage door. Now there is a greater ex­pec­ta­tion that pretty much any­thing can be au­to­mated. Cur­tains, win­dow blinds and shades all can be tied into smart homes. With a touch of a but­ton, cur­tains close, lights dim, the TV turns on and a DVD loads in a home-the­atre sys­tem. Win­dow cov­er­ings are the lat­est items to join pro­gram­mable in­door and out­door lights to give a house a lived-in look, even if own­ers are away.

A re­motely con­trolled 10-foot mo­tor­ized track for a cur­tain, wired into a home au­to­ma­tion sys­tem, can cost $1,000 to $1,500. Smaller blinds and shades in dif­fi­cult-to-reach spots with no ex­ist­ing wiring can be pow­ered by bat­ter­ies. Sun sen­sors let you pro­gram drapes to close ei­ther at night or in strong sun­light.

Smart-home sys­tems are ideal for video and mu­sic lovers. By con­nect­ing an iPod dock to the sys­tem by hard­wire, tunes can be played in any room of the house or even out­side.

A cen­tral hard-drive and sig­nal dis­tri­bu­tion al­lows video to be viewed on mul­ti­ple tele­vi­sions. If some­body comes to the door while a tele­vi­sion pro­gram is in progress, an im­age from the front-door cam­era can be dis­played on the tele­vi­sion.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

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