Smart Homes Are Finally Moving In
Leave the shopping list to your trash can with technology that's raising the I.Q. of contemporary homes.
By Noela Hueso 09/06/2012
Just imagine it: You’ve come home after a long day of work and all you want to do is relax. You walk into your media room and push a single button---the lights fade, the curtains draw closed, the temperature adjusts, the TV turns on (at the perfect volume, no less) and, just as you’re sitting down, your DVD player begins playing the film of your choice.
The stuff of fantasy? Not if you’ve installed “smart home” technology, a network that enables electrical items and appliances to communicate with one another, all controlled by wireless keypads, wall or wireless touch panels, voice command, remote control, tablet, smartphone or computer. While certainly nothing new---smart home technology has been in existence since 1975, with lighting automation one of its early hallmarks---the idea of customizing one’s home to make life simpler is growing increasingly popular and more sophisticated. Indeed, these days, almost anything is possible, whether we’re talking about individual smart appliances or the efficiency of a larger network. Consider:
• Hallway lights that spontaneously turn on as you walk by;
• Window treatments that adjust at preset times to reduce glare and protect
delicate fabrics and fine art;
• Door handles that unlock with scanned fingerprints;
• Refrigerators that craft dinner recipes using the ingredients stored inside;
• Washers and dryers that alert you with text messages when their
cycles have ended;
• Trash cans that monitor what you throw away and generate online orders
The fun factor in having such amenities is obvious, but having smart home technology in place also makes practical sense. First, there’s the convenience, which is universally appealing. “I put a system in my own home,” says David Lavi, owner of Studio City--based Lavitech, which installs smart home networks throughout Los Angeles and Pasadena. “My wife isn’t technology-savvy, but she knows that one button on the keypad turns everything on and off in the house and another lights up our detached garage even before she walks back there.”
For the security-conscious, a smart home provides welcome protection.
“The safekeeping of your home is critical,” says Josh Topaz, home-automation specialist at Monrovia-based Czar Home Theater Construction, which installs smart home systems throughout the San Gabriel Valley. “With smart home security cameras, you can check on the status of your property even if you’re in another country. Our customers appreciate the ability to pan, tilt and zoom to different areas of their home and to check in on their pets as well. We have a client who even has a camera positioned on his fish tank.”
In an automated home, property owners have the ability to program lights and thermostats to turn on and off at specific times. Doing so increases energy efficiency, which, in turn, reduces costs. That’s good news, since installing an extensive smart home system doesn’t come cheap. In 2007, Bill Gates’ $113 million home outside Seattle made news when it was revealed that he spent more than $100 million on smart home technology. That’s an extreme example, certainly, and you don’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy the perks of home automation---but a comprehensive starter system can cost about $5,000 and run into tens of thousands of dollars. On the bright side, experts say, technology prices continue to come down as smart homes’ popularity increases. “You can get the same amount of home automation for probably a third less than what was paid five years ago,” says Czar home-automation specialist Dave Fernandez. And installations can be as simple or elaborate as your budget (and imagination) will allow. If you’re starting small, “you can also pre-wire infrastructure, so it’s easy to do yearly upgrades and add more toward a bigger system,” he adds. “They’re always very scalable.”
Websites such as smarthome.com, automatedoutlet.com, smartenit.com and orchestratedhome.com cater to do-it-yourselfers, though Topaz warns, “Anyone who thinks of installing a smart home system themselves should be completely computer-savvy and be willing to have a learning curve.” (According to TechNewsWorld, about 60 percent of homebuilders who have installed home-automation devices hired professional help.)
Smart home technology was on display in Arroyoland last spring when the Pasadena Showcase House of Design featured a Crestron smart home network in the 1930s-era Cravens Mansion. Crestron is bills itself as the leading manufacturer of home entertainment and control systems, which counts (in addition to its residential customers) Lockheed Martin, the Ritz-Carlton at L.A. Live, Ivy League universities such as Columbia and Yale, the 2012 Olympic Stadium in London, the Pentagon and the White House among its many worldwide clients.
“We had thousands of people pass through this room, ranging from the general public to architects and professional decorators—and I think every one of them was shocked when we turned on the audio/video system. They just didn’t realize it was there,” says Wilshire Media Systems’ John Sporney, referring to the system, hidden from view when not in use, that his Thousand Oaks–based company installed in the Cravens family room. “We had a gorgeous wall-mounted 52-inch LED mirrored TV. We also had a 46-inch flat-screen rising out of a cabinet. More people had seen this type of device, but they still were impressed by the beautiful piece of furniture we enclosed it in.” A set of
in-ceiling surround loudspeakers and a subwoofer were almost invisible, even while in use. The installation also included an automated lighting and shading system.
So what’s next? After all, like all technology, the world of smart home automation is constantly evolving. At January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the annual convention that showcases the latest and greatest in the world of high tech, Samsung
announced that it plans to include smart-interaction technology in some of its high-end TVs, which means that speaking, yelling, waving or otherwise gesturing will control the functions of the set.
Now if only someone can come up with devices that will do our taxes, wash our windows, or go to the dentist for us…