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.

Hi-Tech Curb Appeal

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so this spring, focus on the entry of your house to create the right vibe for what’s inside. Sure, new shrubs and fresh mulch can go a long way toward establishing excellent curb appeal, but also consider adding a few electronic amenities to make a long, lasting impression that’ll have the whole neighborhood buzzing.

Exterior lighting is a good place to start an electronics spruce-up. Like the fixtures inside your house, landscape lighting can be tied to a home automation system. Sure, you can stick with basic plug-in timers that will turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn, at the same time every day. A connection to a home automation system, though, adds an element of convenience and elegance day that no timer can match. For example, as a car pulls into the driveway (you’ll need to install a driveway sensor) the system can trigger a pathway of lights to the front door. The system could also activate the light in preset groups based on a button you press on a keypad inside the house, or remotely from your smartphone or tablet. For example, a button labeled “Welcome” could instruct only the lights lining the walk and around the front door to activate, while “Entertain” adds fixtures to showcase the garden, pergola and other eye-appealing parts of the yard.  Another benefit of tying the exterior lights to an automation system: They will be able to operate in synch with outdoor speakers (yes, these are a good addition, too). Now, when you touch a button on a smartphone, tablet or a keypad, the lights can set themselves in a way that accentuates the architecture of your home and the beautiful music can travel to speakers tucked within the landscape. Fountains can join in, too, making the entry of your house elegant and inviting.

5 Effortless Ways to Save Energy

Conserving energy at home shouldn’t sacrifice your comfort or make you feel deprived. It shouldn’t require a change of routine or lifestyle or create a lot of extra work. With an automation system at the helm of your house, you’ll never have to worry about being uncomfortable or inconvenienced, as the system is able to operate the lights, thermostats, and other power-hungry devices with the utmost efficiency. All you do is sit back and watch the system shave money off your monthly utility bill. Here are five ways an automation system can foster energy efficiency:

  1. All Off.  No longer will you leave a light on, a curling iron heating up, or the music playing as you leave the house for work, vacation or to run a few errands. An All Off command, which can be issued from a touchpanel, tablet or your smartphone can tell an automation system to sweep through the house to turn off and adjust as needed. The closing of the front door, the arming of a security system or a signal from a motion sensor can also trigger the housewide All Off edict.
  2. Curtain Call. Sunlight can quickly heat up a room, causing your AC system to go into overdrive. Motorized shades, when automated, can close at certain times of the day or when a sensor notices a heavy amount of sunshine.
  3. Stat Patrol. Thermostats can be finicky pieces of technology. But with an automation system in charge, their built-in schedulers become easier to manipulate. Plus, you’ll be able to sync the stats with the operation of other electronic devices; for instance, when the automation system tells the lights to turn off; the stats can set back too.
  4. Spin Cycle. Ceiling fans help circulate warm and cool air, making your heating and cooling system work more efficiently. By automating the fans, they can turn on and off at certain predetermined times of the day.
  5. Knowledge is Power. When you understand where your energy dollar is going, you can make better decisions on how and when you use the electronic systems in your house. With the right technology integrated, a home automation system can provide a real-time report of your household energy use, even breaking it down circuit by circuit if you want.

Top 5 Features of a Home Automation System

Usually when you buy a home automation system, you’ll want to go with the recommendation of a professional home systems installer. He’ll know, based on the structure of your home, the routines of your family, your comfort level with technology and your budget the most suitable system. However, it never hurts to understand the features most important to a quality home automation system. Here are five that you’ll want to discuss with your home systems integrator to ensure that you get the what you bargained for:

  1. Interoperability. The beauty of a home automation system is its ability to tie diverse electronic devices together so that they operate as one unified system. This is what enables you to press one button on a keypad, remote, touchpanel or smartphone and have the lights, thermostats, A/V equipment and more react. The more “open” a home automation system is, the easier it will be for a wide variety of devices to work as one.
  2. Expandability. Often, it’s difficult to know for certain what types of electronic features to add to your home. Or maybe your budget is tight right now. A home automation system that’s easily expandable let you start small and build on gradually as you find the need or the cash.
  3. Upgradability. The true power of a home automation system comes from its software, more specifically, how well the software has been programmed by a home systems installer. When this software can be easily upgraded to support new technologies, you’ll be assured that your system is always fresh and relevant.
  4. Time-Tested. No one, except for serious early-adopters, likes to be a guinea pig, so choose an automation system with a proven track record.
  5. Reliability. What happens to an automated house with the power goes out? Does the system forget how to operate the lights when the power is restored? Be sure your system has the appropriate back-up protection.

Earth Day 2014: Mixing Music and the Great Outdoors

In honor of Earth Day, go outside and relish the natural surroundings of your own back yard. Are you enjoying it? Are you having fun? After you’ve gazed at the trees and clouds for a while and have wandered barefoot in the grass, are you craving something else? Something, well, more entertaining?

Although electronic systems may seem like the last thing to advocate on Earth Day, when designed and installed appropriately, they can become a natural part of your home’s outdoor environment, enhance your enjoyment there, and inspire you to spend more time in the fresh air than you ordinarily would.

Music can complement just about any outdoor activity, whether you’re relaxing in a lawn chair or grilling burgers. Sure, you could cart out a wireless streaming music player, but a more elegant and effective solution is to pepper the property with several outdoor-rated speakers. This will blanket the entire area with nice, even sound; you can keep it at a reasonable volume level and hear the music as clearly in your garden at the far corner of the yard as you can from the patio connected to your house. Your neighbors will love you for not blaring the music.

An audio/video receiver with dual-zone capability can support the back yard speakers as its second zone (the first being your media room inside), so you can play different music inside and outside … at the same time. Many manufacturers of AVRs offer downloadable apps so you can control the volume, switch stations or skip to a new track from a menu on your smartphone.

Of course, you’ll also need outdoor speakers, and these come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. There are those that can be mounted to the exterior of your house, models that can be tucked within the landscape, and others that can masquerade as decorative rocks or functional planters. If you’re super serious about outdoor audio, you can beef up the bass by having subwoofers planted beneath the ground.  They’ll raise no issue with the landscape so you can feel good about preserving the natural beauty of your yard adding audio that’s easy to control and enjoy.

Banish the “Black Hole”

Is there a black hole floating in your living room? In other words, is that flat-panel TV that’s mounted to the wall creating a visual eyesore when it’s off? While flat-panel TVs have accomplished to provide a sleek, modern, space-saving viewing option, they only really look pretty when displaying movies or TV programs. Otherwise, they’re just a black hole … well, rectangle dangling above the fireplace mantel.

Thankfully, there are several remedies for this problem. With the help of a qualified custom electronics (CE) professional and the addition of certain products, your flat-panel TV can become a beautiful piece of artwork or mirror, display family portraits or completely disappear. There are a handful of companies that offer canvas artwork that can roll over the screen of the TV on command from remote control. The canvas is housed in a decorative frame that installs around the perimeter of the TV. You pick the image that gets transferred to the canvas. If a mirror is more appropriate for the living room décor, it can be placed on a motorized slider that pulls the mirror away from the screen when you’re ready to watch TV and slides it back over the screen when you’re done.

Another option is to hide the TV completely by placing it on a motorized mechanism that moves it away from view. You might have the TV tuck up into the ceiling or even lower below the floor. Naturally, this technique can be very labor intensive and expensive, and depending on the construction of your home, could be impossible to pull off. Still, it’s one of the best ways to keep your living room looking like a living room.

Come to your Senses

Motion sensors, when used in the traditional way, can detect when someone steps into an area, be it your yard, the kitchen or the hallway leading to the bedrooms. When they sense movement they trigger a security system to sound an alarm, flash the lights or send a text message to your smartphone. While this home security feature is helpful to any household, motion sensors can do so much more than keep a watchful eye over the property.

When positioned and programmed appropriately by a home systems integrator, motion sensors can provide handsfree control over a home’s lights. This is particularly helpful for spaces like closets, powder rooms and kids’ bedrooms, and the concept is simple: When someone enters the room, the lights turn on, when they leave the lights turn off. In addition to curbing electricity use, motion triggered lights can provide safe passageways down hallways to the bathroom for young children and down stairways to the kitchen for a midnight snack.

With the help of an automation system, motion sensors are also good trigger devices for motorized window shades, and even complete home theater systems. Imagine walking into your home theater and being welcomed with perfectly dim
med lights, music as a prelude to the movie and the A/V equipment ready to go. It’s a surefire way to impress your friends and family, not to mention extremely convenient. Of course, your home systems installer will need to set up the motion sensors and automation system so that movement after you’ve walked into a space won’t keep triggering the electronics.

And even if the motion sensors are still being used monitor for movement in the house, they needn’t always be cause for alarm. They can simply help keep a record of daily activity in and around your house. For example, a motion sensor could signal a security system to send a text to your smartphone when it notices movement on the front porch (likely an indication of a delivery) or in the kitchen during the afternoon (a sign that the kids made it home from school safely).

So think of the sensors in your house as more than just signals of break-ins. They can help curb energy use, foster convenience, set the mood, and help you monitor what’s happening at home while you’re away.

A Nice Rack

Having a smart house requires a lot of equipment. Thankfully, most of the processors and other black boxes manage the flow of content and commands throughout a home can be hidden from sight (Of course, there’s also the option of keeping the goods out in the open for all to admire). Regardless of whether you choose to conceal or reveal the gear, you’re going to want to stow each piece of gear in a sturdy, specially manufactured equipment rack.

Equipment racks are designed specifically for holding sensitive A/V gear and control equipment, making them a much better option that simply stuffing the equipment inside a cabinet or on shelves in a closet. First and foremost, the “open” design of an equipment rack ensures adequate ventilation to prevent the gear from overheating. It also enables your home systems installer (or you) to easy access the backs of the equipment to make cabling connections. Even if your rack pushed up against a wall or tucked into a cabinet, integrated rollers and sliders allow it to be pulled out for better equipment access. For extra cooling, most rack manufacturers offer optional cooling fans that can be installed within the rack

Another common feature found in electronics equipment racks is a “cable management system.” Made up of lacing bars and grids, it enables a home systems installer to keep the cabling neat and tidy. It not looks better, but because it’s well organized the cabling will be easier for a home systems installer to alter should modifications to your system be necessary.

Lastly, with the addition of decorative faceplates and LED lighting, equipment racks can actually be a thing of beauty. With nothing more than the face of the equipment visible, they frame your electronics investment in a modern, sleek design that’s looks fantastic, whether they’re built into a wall in a media room, tucked into a closet or stowed in a utility room.