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.

Take it Outside

Entertaining alfresco is hot, and with the weather finally warming up, it’s a great time to incorporate a few high-tech amenities to the outdoor spaces of your home. Here are a few electronics additions you’ll want to consider for your outdoor project, and as always, you’ll get the best results by leaving the installation to a professional.

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.

Choosing The Right Equipment For Your House

A realtor wouldn’t dream of selling you a house without understanding your needs and wants. The same goes for the professional who designs and installs A/V and automation systems into homes. In order to provide you with the types of technology that will truly enhance the convenience, comfort and entertainment value of your house, he needs to learn about how you live in your house now, what you’d like to improve, and how you envision life in an automated residence, among other tidbits.

So what specific information should you plan on sharing with a home systems installer? Here are pieces of information that can prove helpful to a home systems installer when choosing the right equipment for your house.

The House Itself

Certainly, a home systems installer will need to know whether you plan to automate an existing house, will be remodeling or would like to put the system into a house that’s on the drawing boards. If he’ll be working in an existing home, he’ll need to see if there’s an attic, basement or through which to fish cabling. He’ll need to ascertain if there are any materials like concrete and stucco that could make the project more difficult. Also, he’ll probably ask you about current technologies your home might already have: built-in speakers, a computer network, a security system? With a clear understanding of your home’s makeup, a home systems installer will be able to determine the types of tools and manpower he will need to get the job done, and what types of products and systems—for example, wireless or hardwired—will work best.

Inconvenient Truths

Everybody can rattle off a few items they find annoying or inconvenient about their home. Maybe it’s the closet and bathroom lights that nobody bothers to turn off, or the tedium of locking up and shutting things off before bedtime. A home systems installer wants to hear your pet peeves you so he can design a system that remedies those trouble spots.

Comfort Zone

How do you use technology in your home now? For example, are you a fan streaming music and video services? Are you a PC or Mac user? Do your kids do much of their homework online? What about mobile devices? Are they loaded with apps? A home systems installer can tell a lot by your current use of and familiarity with technology. For example, if everyone in family is an avid user of an iPad, your CE pro may design a system that lets you use this device to manage and monitor your home systems. If you have thousands of CDs, then those might be prioritized within a whole-house audio system over streaming services, for example (or perhaps you’d rather pare down the collection and simplify to the streaming route).

Speak to Me!

On any given day, the speakers in your living room, kitchen, patio and other areas are busy playing beautiful music. If you’ve had a whole-house music system installed, you can cue the tunes with a quick tap of a button on your smartphone or tablet, and hear your favorite songs throughout your entire home. While music delivery will always be a speaker’s core capability, they can serve many other useful purposes. All it takes is a few extra pieces of hardware and programming of software, and your home’s loudspeakers can perform duties above and beyond audio entertainment.

1. Make your empty house sound occupied. It’s a common practice among custom electronics professionals to program the lights and motorized shading to adjust randomly to give your vacant house the appearance of someone living there. Add audio to the effect by having the stereo system turn on for 30 minutes or so at random intervals during the day. It works best if you live in a neighborhood of tightly cloistered homes.

2. Wake you up in the morning. Instead of waking to blaring alarm every morning, the speakers in your bedroom (and your kids’ bedrooms) can start your day with whatever music you like, and bring up the volume gradually (or blare it if you’re a heavy sleeper). You’ll be able to “hit the snooze” by touching a button on a remote control, keypad or your iPad.

3. Remind you of important events. Every home automation system includes some type of electronic scheduling feature. It’s mainly used to signal the lights, motorized draperies, and thermostats when it’s time to adjust, like for bedtime. But you can also use the scheduler to remind you of important and not so important events, like trash day, your anniversary or the dog’s vet appointment.

4. Alert you to visitors. Depending on how loudly you like to listen to your music, you may not be able to hear the doorbell ring. Rigged up by a CE pro, the speakers can automatically mute and broadcast the ring of the doorbell.

5. Keep an eye on the kids. In the same fashion that the speakers broadcast the sound of the doorbell, they can also alert you to other things happening around the house. Especially helpful for parents of young children, the speakers can play a prerecorded announcement that a child has left his/her bedroom, opening the patio door, or walked into the sauna, for example.