If you have trouble getting a DVD to play or can only use the power, volume, and channel controls on your remote control, you may be amazed and/or terrified at the level of sophistication technology has reached relative to the home you live in.
In fact, anything in your home that uses electricity can be put on a home network and function at commands issue by your voice, remote control, smart phone or computer.
Most applications currently relate to lighting, home security, home theater and entertainment, and thermostat regulation.
Most of us have the beginnings of such a system in our programmable thermostats. These conveniently tell the furnace to begin to heat up the house just before we get up in the morning, and similarly control its function to coordinate with our comings and goings.
If you have successfully conquered this function, perhaps you are ready to move on to bigger and better things.
The basic concept is that all the appliances and devices in your home are receivers, and whatever option you choose to control the system (your voice, remote control, smart phone or computer) is the transmitter.
The transmitter alerts the system that it is issuing a command, sends an identifying unit number to select the intended device, and transmits a code with the actual command (such as “turn off”).
Some of the functions for the home include controlling cameras that will track your home’s exterior, even when it is dark, motion sensors that can tell the difference between a person and a pet moving around your house, door handles that will open with scanned fingerprints, and audio systems that distribute music throughout the house.
The system can provide peace of mind when you are on vacation and want to check out what is going on at home. It can also provide invaluable help in an emergency; not only will you be awakened in case of fire, but the system can also unlock the doors, alert the fire department and light the most direct path of escape.
Smart homes can even help you manage your pets. You can include devices that will emit ultrasonic tones to stop barking, feeders that will dispense a preset amount of food at predetermined times, and pet carriers that will heat or cool your pet, depending on changes in the ambient temperature.
Smart appliances are also beginning to appear on the scene. These include trash cans that monitor what you throw out and generate orders for replacements, refrigerators that create menus based on what food is stored inside, and washers and dryers that will send you a text message when their cycles have ended.
Perhaps a less frivolous application would be for the care and peace of mind of an aging parent.
A system could be created that would remind a resident when it is time to take medication, alert authorities if the resident fell, or track how much food is being eaten.
The system could be programmed to turn off the water before a tub overflows, or turn off the stove if the owner fails to do so.
One estimate of the cost of such a sophisticated system is about $20,000. Though this seems hefty, this amount is far less than full-time nursing care.
The cost of general smart home systems varies widely depending on the size of the home and the number of devices being controlled.
A general range would be between $10,000 and $25,000. Of course, if you start small, a basic lighting system may only cost a few hundred dollars.
Drawbacks — besides cost — include the possibility of hackers gaining entry into more of your personal life and the fact that this new technology is changing so quickly.
If you want to begin small and work your way up, your first installations may become obsolete before you finish your system.
Still, the possibilities are intriguing and probably here to stay. We are all apparently going to live like the Jetsons whether we like it or not.
Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects with Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local firm specializing in home remodels. The information in this column is based on an article on the TLC website called “How Smart Homes Work” by Molly Edmonds. To read more about this, please visit tlc.howstuffworks.com and search for smart homes.