Automation for Insomniacs

Restless, sleepless nights: they happen to everyone. Whether you can’t wind down, relax your mind or simply get comfortable, insomnia is bound to strike. If you suffer from occasional sleep deprivation, there are home technologies that can help. Their effectiveness might not be scientifically proven, but the when they’re set up correctly they’ll at least create an atmosphere that’s conducive to catching a few zzzzzs.

Sweet Lullaby. Soft, gentle music can ease you into sleep, and there’s no better way to do this than with a whole-house music system that can be programmed to play sleep-inducing music over the bedroom speakers. A home systems installer can set up the system to send tunes to the bedroom every night at 11 p.m., for example. Conversely, the upbeat, loud music can go to the room promptly at 6 a.m. every weekday morning as your automated wake-up call.

Fade to Black. As the music plays, a lighting system can gradually lower the intensity of the lights over whatever time period you specify. It’s a nice feature for anyone in the family, especially kids who may be afraid of the dark. Like the music, the adjustments of the lights can happen automatically, or you can activate the features by tapping a button on a keypad, touchpanel, your smartphone or tablet.

Curtain Calls. If your bedroom has motorized draperies or shades, add them to the bedtime routine. Per a predetermined schedule, they can close to block out the sun and provide the privacy you need for peaceful slumber.

Pathway Lights. Nothing sabotages sleep like bright lights do, so rather than have the bedroom (and bathroom) fixtures go to full brightness when you turn them on for a midnight trip to the bathroom, a lighting control system can keep them at a level that’s easier on the eyes, from the hours of 11 p.m. until 6 a.m., for example.

If you suffer from insomnia, ask your home systems installer about these and other routines he can set up put you on a path to a better night’s sleep.


Get Your Motor Running

It’s okay to put motors in your home theater or media space. Really, it is. There will be no grease or exhaust fumes to contend with–just pure ease and enjoyment when you incorporate them into the space wisely. Over the years, manufacturers have developed a variety of clever motorized electronics products; they’ll not only appeal to your tech-savvy side, but will provide plenty of  practical benefits, too, like helping maintain a clean room aesthetic and enhancing the performance of an A/V system.

In a dedicated theater you may not mind leaving a huge projection screen and video projector out in the open for all to admire. But if your media space doubles as a family room, you, or at least someone in your family, may want to keep the technology under wraps until it’s time to watch a movie. A 120-inch piece of white synthetic material might look magnificent when it’s displaying a bright, vivid picture, but it adds nothing to the décor when it’s blank. So, if you’d rather let a room’s design and architecture be the eye candy during non-viewing times, motorized lifts can be a multipurpose media room’s saving grace.

Like the equipment they’ll be moving, lifts come in a variety of styles, differing in how much weight they can move, how far they can travel, how quietly they can operate, and how they’re intended to be installed. Consequently, you’ll need to gather the crucial equipment specs before buying a lift (your CE pro can handle all of this for you). Just as important, you’ll need to determine if your theater has the proper structural support. Combined, the lift and the projector can add up to a heavy load for the joists in the ceiling to bear. Moreover, there needs to be enough clearance within the ceiling for the projector and mount to rest, as well as ample air ventilation. Ceiling clearance can also be an issue for a retractable screen. And both lifts will need access to electrical power. Finally, there’s the throw distance to consider. Projectors vary in how far they can “throw” an image across the room and onto the screen. The length of the room, the size of the screen and the capabilities of the projector will all impact its ideal location. It’s quite possible that this spot isn’t up to snuff structurally—just one more reason to hire a pro for this potentially complicated installation.

Smart Doorlocks: the Darlings of Automation

Electronic door locks hit the home electronics market a few years ago, and since then have skyrocketed in popularity. Over the years they’ve also gotten smarter, and easier to integrate into a complete home automation package. Naturally, they offer a new level of home protection, but when tied to a home automation system they can also be the “trigger” point for many interesting automation scenarios.

One of the most common features that a home systems integrator can unlock (pardon the pun) is having the smart lock text an alert to you whenever someone disengages it. Since smart locks can be programmed open only when certain preset codes are entered, the text can tell you specifically which code was used to open the door. This way, you’ll be able to confirm if it was the kids, the babysitter, the housekeeper, your mother-in-law or someone else.

Through proper integration of the lock and programming of the automation system, an unlock signal can also trigger certain lights in the house to turn on, motorized draperies to open … anything at all that makes your house feel more welcoming. When you leave and engage the lock, the opposite can happen: all lights off, drapes closed, etc.

Embedded with wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Z-Wave, electronic locks are able to communicate easily with any other device on these networks, making them a fairly easy addition to your home. They don’t look too shabby, either. New models feature built-in touchscreens and illuminated keypads for aesthetic appeal and improved usability.

Of course, locks will always be a mainstay of a well-secured home, but with new technology built-in, they’re capable of so much more. Be sure to discuss all the options with your home systems integrator.


Think Outside the Box

At its very basic, a home automation system can operate the lights, thermostats, audio/video equipment and security devices. These core functions are always a great starting point when automating your home, offering some very practical benefits. However, there are so many other parts of your home that can also be managed by an automation system. They may not be as conventional as the core elements, but feel free to think outside the box. Automation systems have the processing power to handle almost anything you throw at them. Here are a few “out of the box” ideas to consider:

  • Lawn irrigation systems. These systems come with their own timers for creating an automatic watering schedule, but they can be complicated to set up. By putting a sprinkling system under the command of a home automation system, you can use a touchpanel, smartphone or tablet to set up watering schedules. These devices are much easier to use and understand than most timers. Plus, the sprinklers can be programmed to turn on and off according to other conditions. For instance, when a motion sensor notices a car pull into the driveway the automation system can temporarily turn off the sprinklers.
  • Gas fireplaces. The handheld remote that comes with a gas fireplace is easy enough to use, but by letting a home automation system control it, the fireplace becomes a more integral part of your home’s ambiance. When you engage a Welcome Home scene on the touchpanel of your home automation system, for instance, the family room lights can dim, the whole-house music system can activate … and the fireplace can start. Instant romance.
  • Towel warmers. A typical Good Morning command launched by a home automation system would open the bedroom window shades, gradually bring up the lights and play the morning news over the room’s built-in speakers. Also consider throwing in the towels … or rather, a towel warmer into this automation scenario. You towels will be warm and when you’re done showering.

Taming Unruly Audio

Poor room acoustics can turn a good audio system into something so bad you’ll want to turn it off—and leave it off. How do you know if you are the owner of an acoustically challenged room? Stand in the middle and clap your hands. If you hear an echo, that’s bad acoustics. Also, if you’ve ever strained to hear the dialog of a movie or gotten a headache from the din of noise produced by the conversations of just a few people, you might have a problem that needs addressing – particularly if you’d like that space to function as a home theater.

The problem is likely caused by too many hard surfaces in the room. Items like hardwood floors, glass and metal tables, leather couches and lots of windows can cause sound to bounce, or reflect, harshly around the area. As a result, the audio produced by the speakers of a home theater system doesn’t reach your ears in an organized, intelligible manner. Fortunately, there are many solutions. For starters, you can add throw pillows, plush draperies, throw rugs and other soft, absorptive materials to the room. But for the best results, contact a home systems installer for his advice. If he’ll be installing a theater system into the room, you can bet he’ll be analyzing its acoustics to ensure that the room will allow the equipment to achieve its top performance potential. Likely a home systems installer’s bag of tricks will include specially manufactured acoustical treatments. One of the most commonly used is acoustical wall panels. Made of fiberglass and covered in fabric, these large panels effectively absorb unwanted reflections. Available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and fabric colors and designs, they attach directly to wall surfaces. And although they can be fairly large (4×8 feet sometimes) to do their job, they can be designed to blend in or complement the architecture and décor of a room. Check out some of the beautiful and functional acoustically treated rooms designed by the pros at CytexOne Technology.

Automation on the Go

You’ve hit the road with the family for the annual summer vacation. You can help but feel apprehensive about the well-being of your house and property while you’re away. Thanks to innovative home technology, your worries can be over. Equipped with Internet-friendly surveillance cameras and control systems, your house can keep you apprised of everything from a busted pipe in the basement and trespassers in the backyard, to the status of the thermostats and light switches. All you need with you is your smartphone and a Web connection, and you can monitor and manage your home from miles away as easily as if you were there.

An automation system and surveillance cameras can be set up to alert you to certain conditions via a text or email message. From your phone you can log into the system to confirm the validity of the alert, and better yet respond appropriately to it. For example, if your system has texted you of motion at the front door, you can access the outdoor surveillance camera view the scene remotely on the screen of your smartphone. If you see that it’s a friend who’s stopped by to pick up your mail, you can unlock the door remotely to let him/her in, the lock it back up after they leave. Should see the weather back home has become outrageously hot and dry, you can tap into your home control system remotely to adjust the thermostats to protect that housecat you left behind and activate the sprinkler system to keep the grass healthy and green during your absence.

With remote access to the electronic systems in your house, you’ll have the peace of mind to truly relax during your well-deserved vacation.

Home Theater: The Prime Location

In the early days of home theater, it was a common practice to create a room dedicated to the sole purpose of movie viewing. Whether this involved closing off and finishing a portion of the basement or building a completely new addition, a dedicated theater was the way to go. Although dedicated theaters are still en vogue, there are many other existing areas in your house that can function just as admirably as a home theater. In fact, they may even be a better choice than building a theater from scratch, depending on your viewing habits and budget. Considering materials and furnishings alone, it will probably be significantly less expensive to convert a room that’s already finished, like a den, into a theater than it would be to construct something completely new. Also, when a room also doubles as a casual family room or a library, for example, your theater will likely be used more frequently than one that requires a trip downstairs every time you want to see a show.

Whole-House Video: Why It’s Such a Good Idea

Everyone can envision that one place in your house that you’d like to turn into a home theater. Maybe it’s the family room where everyone seems to gather after dinner, or perhaps it’s the guest bedroom that never gets used or the unfinished basement that currently serves as a storage space. Whichever area your home theater now or will eventually occupy, you can get more video bang for your buck by asking your home systems installer to configure a system that will allow content from this one main viewing location to be distributed to all other TVs in the house. Depending on the size and layout of your house and the sophistication of your home theater, sharing video sources among multiple TVs may not be less expensive than giving each TV its own Blu-ray player, for example, but there are other benefits that make it an appealing solution.

One of the biggest advantages of having a whole-house video system is how effectively it can clear away the “clutter.” If you covet rooms free of players, amps, receivers and other A/V gear, a video distribution system can single-handedly rid the area of all black boxes. Instead, these A/V components can be stored in a closet, utility room or in a cabinet in the home theater, and their content transmitted over high-speed cabling to each display in your house.

In addition enhanced aesthetics, a video distribution system can offer greater choice of video content. Whichever components have been tucked into that main equipment rack, you’ll be able to freely access—satellite receivers, Blu-ray players, media streamers, you name it. It’s all available with just a few taps of a fingertip on a handheld remote, tablet or other control device.

Finally, a video distribution system affords greater flexibility in how and where you watch movies, TV programs and other content. For example, you can start a movie in the theater, pause it, push it to the TV in the bedroom and resume watching right where you left off.  Your home theater may have the biggest screen, but you’ll be able to enjoy all the same great entertainment in whichever room you prefer.

The Baby Steps Approach to Home Technology

Having a smart house needn’t be an all of nothing proposition. There’s no need to drain your bank account to buy all the bells and whistles or to hand over the keys for a week as custom electronics professionals overhaul every nook and cranny of your house.

These days, even the bigger, more expensive systems can be installed in a modular fashion, which means you can start with just a few basic features then add more later as your tastes demand or your budget allows. You’ll still be able to have the sophisticated, super-smart home you’ve always envisioned; it just may take you a little longer to get there. For many homeowners, taking slower, smaller doses of technology offers many benefits. Beyond the obvious financial reasons of being able stretch your budget, you’ll have the chance to get acclimated with some of the more basic features of an automation system before moving into more sophisticated setups. If you’re at all apprehensive about new technology, this is a great way to test the waters, get comfortable, and move on with confidence.

There are two basic approaches to modular integration of home technology. You can incorporate a few basic types of technology, such as automated lighting, motorized shading and A/V equipment, into just a few rooms, like the family room and the master bedroom; or select one feature, like distributed music and video, which will impact the entire house. You can then either add rooms or add features, as you see fit. Just make sure you discuss your plans for eventual upgrades with your custom electronics professional up front. He’ll be able to install the infrastructure to support additional products and features right away, which is always easier and less expensive than doing it later.

More Revealing Facts

Lifestyle is a big buzzword in the home technology industry, and for good reason. A candid discussion of your way of life will likely reveal the most important pieces of information a home systems integreator needs to design and implement a system so in sync with you and your family that you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. At the very least, expect to divulge your household status (single, married, kids, elderly parents), your family’s schedule (work, school, travel), your social life (do you entertain frequently) and your hobbies (sports, exercise, photography, art collecting, etc.). If your daily routine involves a half hour on the treadmill, perhaps you’d like to have some music piped in over in-ceiling speakers rather than be tethered to an iPod; or maybe create the proper lighting environment for displaying artwork.

Aesthetic Preferences

Do you want to show off your home electronics investment or keep it under wraps? Your preference will help a home systems integrator decide whether he should install speakers that recess into the walls or models that stand out in the open, for example. If you like the idea of having all of the A/V components (amplifiers, processors, Blu-ray players, etc.) hidden completely from view, by all means tell your him. There are lots of clever ways to hide technology.

On the Clock

Prepare to have an idea of when you’d like the project started and finished. Do you want everything installed by the holidays? Is special event by which you’d like the project buttoned up? Based on answers to earlier questions, a home systems integrator is probably visualizing a system, but when you say you want it done in six weeks, he may have to rethink the plan, or may even bow out if you’re firm on the deadline. Be clear with your timeframe; be flexible if you can.