Smart Homes Save Time and Energy

Control sound, heating, cooling, and lighting systems using the Internet


Odds are each night you check to make sure the doors are locked, lights turned off, and windows closed. If you had a smart home, however, you’d be able to get into bed a few minutes earlier, and sleep knowing not only that your home is secure but that there is no phantom electricity being wasted by items that should be turned off.

Smart homes use a mix of hard-wired and wireless computer and network technology to automate the home. A central computer becomes the house’s hub. Want to watch a movie from your DVD collection? No need to search a dusty entertainment center for it. All televisions and stereos have access to your entire media collection, including movies as well as recorded TV shows. Or, if you’re crazy about having the proper lighting, you can program the perfect wattage for dinnertime conversation, or set up a “vacation” setting that makes the house look occupied in the evening even when it’s not.

Smart homes are complicated setups that require advanced computing skills to fully automate, so for most people these wouldn’t be do-it-yourself projects. But your home need only be as “smart” as you want it to be. You can have an entire home system where every outlet can be controlled from a master touchscreen or remote control or you can simply have a smart keyless door lock or set up a wireless full-house stereo system.

The Fully Automated Smart Home
When designing a true smart home, the options are limited only by your imagination, says Jeff Singer, marketing communications director for smart home industry leader Crestron Electronics, Inc. of Rockleigh, N.J. “At night, you can hit a button and all the lights go out, the shades come down, TVs and radios are turned off and the house alarm set,” Singer says. “We have a family that has a house in the Gulf Coast that’s susceptible to hurricanes. We automated their hurricane shutters so that when wind speed crosses a certain threshold, the shutters cover the windows and doors. We design a system to do whatever you want.”

All these functions are controlled by a color touch panel screen, a remote control, or a customized keypad. You can have these control units in any room of your house, or get portable units to carry around with you. While traveling, you can use a remote computer or a smart phone such as a Blackberry to access your Crestron unit and adjust the thermostat, view security cameras, or turn off forgotten lights. “You can also get e-mail alerts based on preset conditions, such as when your kids get home from school,” says Singer.

Rutherford and Laura Seydel went “smart” when building their Atlanta home not just for the convenience, but for one of the other perks of smart living: energy savings. “My goal is to get my utility bill get down to where it is as close to zero as possible,” says Seydel of his LEED-certified home nicknamed EcoManor. “If I do that, then I think [the smart home] has been a prudent investment.”

Seydel’s Crestron system powers down the entire house each night with the touch of a button. Electricity to items he doesn’t use during the middle of the night, such as computers and televisions, is completely shut off, meaning that they no longer sit in “standby” mode, slowly sipping in electricity. Indoor temperature is monitored regularly, turning the heat on only as necessary.

Media is often the first upgrade homeowners make, but installing a full-home media system is easiest in new construction because all the components can be hard-wired. Wireless units do exist, but hard-wired ones are much more reliable. Components include a multi-channel amplifier, a central server that stores all your media and, if you’re interested, a gaming system such as Xbox 360. All these components are usually kept out of sight, such as in a basement or dedicated, well-ventilated closet. Music, videos, and games can then be accessed in any room that has speakers or a television.

Systems for controlling appliances and utilities are also available.  Miele’s refrigerators feature a RemoteVision system that uses the home’s wireless network to alert homeowners if a door was left unopened or a malfunction is compromising food quality.

Home utility usage can be constantly monitored with the Agilewaves system, which works on the Crestron platform and delivers real-time utility consumption information. You can set an energy usage target, such as $100 a month for electricity, and Agilewaves can alert you when you near that threshold. Its Resource Monitor can then make adjustments that will keep you on budget, such as dimming the lights by 20 percent.

Energy savings, convenience, the “Wow!” you’ll hear from friends — all are reason enough to consider making your home a smart home.