With advances in technology, controlling your home environment at the touch of a button is not only convenient, but also more affordable than ever.By Rob Duca
It can all be controlled at the touch of a finger. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Home control systems, also called home automation, are no longer reserved for the wealthy. While some of the more extravagant systems that provide remote control access to every device in the home can still be costly, homeowners can choose to wire their house for music, climate, lighting or security without taking out a second mortgage.
“Many people don’t want to spend $20,000 on a system, so maybe they install a Nest Thermostat for $200, hook it up to their WiFi network, drop an app on their phone and they can control the heat from anywhere in the house,” says Tim Jepson of Nantucket Sound in Hyannis.
So-called smart homes are, well, smart because they offer security, efficiency and convenience by allowing homeowners to control various electronic devices and appliances when they are at the office, on vacation or even asleep. Imagine setting your home to awake at the crack of dawn? The heat and lights turn on, the alarm system disables and soothing music plays throughout the house. Think of the peace of mind of being able to monitor what’s happening in and around your property with security cameras that can be viewed on your smart phone.
With home automation, gone are the stressful days of driving to the airport trying to remember if you turned off the lights, armed the security system or locked the door. Instead, you can pull out your smart phone, open an app or two, and make sure everything is okay.
In addition to impressing your friends, you’ll be saving money. Lighting control systems with dimmers can slice 20 percent off your yearly electric bill, while a climate control system will typically save another 15 percent on heating and cooling costs. Lighting can be programmed for different occasions – watching a movie, entertaining, cooking. Using your smart phone, your house can be illuminated from your car as you pull into the driveway. You can even set your oven to preheat on the drive home.
The peace of mind of security cameras that provide live viewing is priceless. Footage from surveillance cameras can be saved for future viewing by combining them with a digital video recorder. Many parents enjoy the fact that surveillance systems can function as “nanny cams” or to make sure their children arrive home at the expected time.
A fully automated home features a centrally wired system with a “main brain” that connects to the Internet and controls audio systems, televisions, surveillance, climate, lighting, shades and irrigation through the use of a smart phone, an iPad or with a universal remote control. It also teams up with a music server so you can listen to your favorite tunes throughout the house. There are even underwater speakers that can be installed in a swimming pool.
“I can be listening to iTunes in the kitchen, someone else can be listening to the radio outside on the deck and a third person can be in the basement with Pandora playing,” Jepson says.
It is less expensive to fully automate a home during the building process so that it can be pre-wired without the need to damage walls. However, homes with attics and unfinished basements can be retrofitted for full control systems without extensive labor costs. And any home can easily be wired for music, lighting and climate control.
Installation requires approximately one month for a full automation system, depending on the size of the house. Homeowners are not required to purchase a service plan, although there are one-time fees for some smart phone applications. Warranties for parts and labor are generally one year.
Many people elect to partially automate their homes, installing a system that controls music, climate, surveillance or lighting. “We do more piecemeal systems than full
systems,” Jepson says. “We install lots of surveillance systems for people with second homes who want to keep an eye on things. Music systems are also really popular and they’re easy to deal with.”
Audio systems distribute music throughout the house. Speakers are discreetly placed in ceilings or walls to blend into the home’s décor. A surround sound system that includes speakers, woofers, flat screen televisions and a screen projector transforms a family room into a home theater. Equipment can be hidden in cabinetry, while flat screens can be covered by mirrors or artwork.
Convenience and efficiency are the main reasons people choose home automation. But the best perk? “It’s the cool factor,” Jepson says. “Everything is at your fingertips.”