For some, talk of electronic gadgets and so-called connected homes may be a source of confusion. But for others, the "smart" home -- which integrates everything from home entertainment to security to the home office -- is evolving into a way of life.
"With the number of home networking technologies on the rise, consumers are demanding more products interconnecting throughout the home to fit both their workstyle and lifestyle routines," said Karen Chupka, vice president of events and conferences for the Consumer Electronics Association, which will highlight the relationship between technology and the home at its upcoming January meeting.
Home builders are catching on to this trend. In fact, the National Association of Home Builders reports that 34 percent of builders offer structured wiring packaging -- a method of wiring homes in which telephone, video (high definition television), and Internet connections originate from a centralized location, allowing for flexibility and optimal distribution of communication throughout the house.
The CEA says the technology home is made up of five basic components, which can be integrated to work together and be controlled from other sources.
The five basic components are:
- Lighting and window treatments
- Security and access control
- Voice and data communication
- Environmental control and energy management
- Audio/video entertainment
Lighting And Window Treatments
Various lighting controls have been available for many years, but products continue to improve. Are you ready to roll that movie? Just touch a button on your home theater system and the lights will dim.
You can also program your outdoor systems to go on and off when you like. You can set front door and driveway lights to turn on at about the time you arrive home from work. Some windows and skylight systems can sense when rain is coming, and will close accordingly.
Window treatments can also benefit from integrated home systems. Rugs and furniture fade as they are exposed to the sun. Devices that open and close shades and drapes can be retrofitted to almost any window treatment. You can use timers to open and close shades according to your schedule (or the sun's schedule). This feature, when integrated with a security system, the sign of a break-in can trigger the drapes to open, all the lights to go on, and flash all the outdoor lights, aiming to draw attention to the house.
Security And Access Control
Today's security system isn't just to thwart would-be burglars. Modern sensors detect smoke, carbon monoxide, moisture, daylight, wind, power outages and can even sense the unique sounds of a tornado.
With an integrated system, arming your alarm on your way out the door means not just setting the traditional alarm, but also closing all the windows, locking the doors, setting the thermostat, and closing the shades.
And the security system is indeed smart. For example, if a window is left open, the system will take notice and shut off the heat register in that room. Or, as motion sensors detect people entering a room, your system could be programmed to automatically turn on lights or music.
Voice And Data Communication
Perhaps the most popular of all of these components is the communication factor - access to the Internet, and of course, the old-fashioned telephone.
An integrated system lets you watch your baby's room or see who's at the front door from your computer monitor or television screen.
As home offices, modems, fax lines, and gabbing children continue to horde the family's phone lines, multi-line systems are becoming increasingly popular. These systems support several extensions on just a few phone lines.
Environmental Control And Energy Management
Today's HVAC system will close the vents in a room if motion isn't detected in a given period of time. A bedtime directive could arm the alarm system, turn off the water heater and lights, and close all the bedroom vents.
Your system can also manage your water. For instance, your water heater can be turned on only when needed, and spa and pool pumps can be set on schedules. A temperature sensor can shut off water to external faucets during freezes. And when setting your sprinklers, your smart system will take temperature and weather forecast information into account, in determining when to water.
Audio And Video
Home theaters, DVD, talking appliances and other goodies are now available to homeowners. In many cases, advanced systems require custom installations and specialized wiring -- options which are increasingly attractive at a time when many people prefer to "cocoon" rather than travel.