Consider This. Home Automation

You may not have realized it, but we began this discussion more than a year ago when I introduced many of you for the first time to WiFi or wireless computer and peripheral technology. You may recall that WiFi technology allowed you to connect your computer or other peripherals or compatible devices to your home-based network via an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless adapter. This allowed you to communicate wirelessly through a router gateway connected to your DSL or cable modem. You could roam the home at will and never loose your connection to the Internet or other devices in the home network system, like printers and faxes. With that brief reminder and the June 16, 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that new home starts were higher by 12.5 percent over the May 2003 starts of 1,846,000 it seems clear to me that you might be ready to expand, integrate or supplement the WiFi technology into a complete home automation system.

A term most generally associated with home automation is the Structured Media System (SMS). Leviton, one of the manufacturers of the Essential and Enhanced SMS or hard-wired configuration, includes three basic component groups. These systems provide up to 12 telephone or data connections and six coaxial video locations. They handle four incoming lines and support home office and multimedia entertainment applications. Options include 10 base-T Ethernet hub for home networking, and all are Category 5 compliant. Check with your certified installer about this designation or call Leviton at 800-323-8920. With SMS you'll get system modules, media centers and quick-port wall plates in all configurations.

System modules include devices to receive and share intra-home Internet services from a cable or DSL source, media distribution technology for TV, video, sound distribution from a DVD or MP3 player and control features for your home environment, like security, automated blinds, HVAC, powered skylights, lawn sprinkler systems and lighting. All system controls coexist in this SMS together with interchangeable connectivity devices at many points throughout the residence or home-office environment. The system is devised so that you can have direct digital or remote control over your home office, home theater, home networking, home security and home technology.

As you might imagine a general search on the Internet at of home automation reveals more sources that you might have time to review and analyze. The sites I have listed here can help you quickly make sense of the topic and get you into the planning, purchasing and installation.

I also found many instructional articles that define and illustrate systems like,,, and These sites share general information, but some like and can have open source code programs that can be built and programmed to respond to vocal commands and respond audibly in several different languages. Mechanical devices, like remote wireless cameras, lights, weather stations and mailbox alerts, can be purchased separately at local sites like or At the time of this writing,, one of the larger purveyors of the home automation hardware was filing for bankruptcy. The site appeared unaffected by that event announcement.

There are again many sites that sell technology, equipment and installation services, but the Vantage Company at summed up the home automation process quite nicely. "Elegance, functionality and convenience combine to form a harmonious atmosphere for any home or office. Truly amazing automation activates custom-tailored lighting scenes at the touch of a button. Turning on a DVD player could set in action a chain of events including lowering the blinds and turning on all the audio/video equipment for a relaxing night at the movies." Vantage also states that the intelligent control and coordination of almost anything and its power and convenience are only limited by the imagination.

Like the growth of SUV sales and related fuel consumption at six miles per gallon, homes have gotten bigger and more complex with multiple zone HVAC systems demanding more and more electrical consumption. I would presume that when it comes to a new home many of us overlook what the kilowatt per hour costs. Quick, can you tell me how much electricity your refrigerator, range or water heater uses in a year?

Here is the perfect opportunity for you to measure home energy pigs and related savings. Absolute control 24 hours a day over heating, cooling and lighting yields results in real energy savings not just fewer light bulbs used. I don't have hard data, but most technicians will relate your savings to hundreds of dollars per year. With energy fuel costs at near record levels your savings can be remarkable.

Of course all this technology does have a cost and, like all consumer items, that range can be staggering. The Vantage Company estimates a total home automation system starts at about $3 per foot for new construction, but each project is unique and must be reviewed individually before a proper assessment can be made. If a new house is not in your immediate future, don't overlook automating an older home. You might be surprised how cost effective limited modifications and partial systems can be. Never underestimate the savings that partial automation may have or the value that such devices may add to your home.

Still thinking? Check out Smart Home for Dummies, now out of print, but available on for under $20, or the Structured Wiring Design Manual at for under $40. Come to think of it, maybe we should all start there.

If you have comments or suggestions, or have an idea for a future computer or business topic, e-mail me at


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