You’ve seen the ads showing people turning off their lights from their smartphones, but it’s not the phone that switches the lights. You have to install the right components before you can switch lights on and off remotely in your automated home.
Automated home suppliers have modules that let you control lights, plugs and thermostats from anywhere. Systems with features that let you know when there’s a problem add home security functions. Once you have set up a monitoring system, you can get the modules you want initially and expand the system when you want added convenience.
Automated Home Monitoring
The first step is to choose a monitoring system that links the individual modules to a central unit that can connect to a computer. The computer connection lets you access the system remotely via a smart phone and switch items like lights and heating on and off. Older systems sent the signals through the house wiring, but new systems connect everything wirelessly.
The most flexible ones link the modules and the central unit through your home WiFi network and let you access all the functions through your High Speed Internet connection. PCWorld has an overview of the various technologies and the advantages of each one. Choose a supplier that has a wide variety of automation modules available and one that makes adding modules easy.
One of the most promising functions of the automated home, and one that can save you money, is automated control of heating and air conditioning. When you install thermostats that you can access via the Internet, you can turn down the heating or air conditioning when you leave the house and turn the systems up again just before you get home. This is especially useful when you work on a flexible schedule that doesn’t allow you to use timers. Instead, you control the heating and air conditioning to match your schedule as it develops.
When you integrate your security devices into the automated home, the system can let you know when something goes wrong. It can still alert the authorities in case of a fire or burglary, but it will notify you at the same time, no matter where you are, usually by sending you an email. You can then follow up with friends, neighbors or the authorities to find out what happened and give additional instructions.
More sophisticated systems with cameras will attach photographs or short video clips to the email, showing you the scene from the camera at the time of the alarm. You can also program the system for non-emergency events, such as having a motion detector trigger the camera when your kids get home from school and sending you a picture of the children entering the house.
The most expensive camera systems can show live video of your house on demand from a website you can access from anywhere. They can store the images continuously, so you have a record of what happened, and you can take action remotely or call someone to fix any problems the system shows you.
Key parts of any home automation system are smart switches that you can switch remotely. For some applications, like lighting, you can control how much power they deliver. With smart switches and plugs, you can control anything that runs off electric power. Some modules install in standard switch boxes, where they replace the mechanical switches, while others plug into standard sockets and deliver controlled output to the loads you plug into the module.
You can set up timing functions to control electric devices while you are away, change the timing remotely when your plans change, and switch on devices from a central control unit when you need them. This last automated home feature is especially useful when you have to go down to the basement and the light switches are not near the entrance, or for turning on outside lights for visitors and when you get home at night. You can control music systems, coffee machines, and even open taps to run a bath for you when you want one.
While the automated home systems allow you to access many devices remotely and switch items on and off as you need them, the eventual goal of home automation is to program the home so it accommodates you without your having to switch everything. Sensors play a big part in this scheme.
For example, motion or heat sensors may detect your presence when you enter a room and switch on the lights. If you switch on the television, the system may dim the lights to a level you chose previously. When you leave the room, everything may switch off. When you leave the house, the lights switch off except for a few to give a lived-in look. If you have left the stove or kettle on, it switches off. Your heating or air conditioning turn themselves down.
The technology for complete home automation already exists, but is expensive and complex. You can start by getting a monitoring system and a few switches or smart plugs. Then you can expand the system as you get comfortable with the concept and think of new functions that will help you save time and money.