DIY: Smart Homes

Written by amanda ash
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Homeowners Are Turning to Smart Technology to Streamline Their Lives and Reduce Energy Use

DIY: Smart Homes
Digitally outfitting your home--creating a "smart home"--isn't the wave of the future; it's the wave of now. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Smart homes can right away squeeze out most, if not all, wastage by automatically controlling your devices.

— Bruce Miller, president, TriVista Smart Homes

Long gone are the days when we read by candlelight and cooked dinner on a wood-burning stove. And for many North American homes as of 2011, the acts of flipping light switches and manually controlling thermostats are going the way of the dinosaurs. The Green Revolution, coupled with incredible technological advances, has spawned tech-savvy "smart homes": digitally outfitted dwellings that may be programmed to do just about anything you can think of, except maybe clean your room. Harry Saini, who owns Digital Smart Homes of Canada and has wired his Vancouver condominium to the hilt, believes that automating your home not only simplifies your life but also reduces energy consumption. Home automation technology is becoming more accessible every day, allowing the average person to transform a home into something straight out of "Star Trek." "If you were looking at home automation five years ago, you'd easily be looking at 10 times the cost compared to now," Saini said. "And the number of dealers and retailers that are able to support that technology compared to five, six years ago has doubled---tripled, even. "People used to think home automation is for lazy people, but that's not what it is. Essentially, everything talks to one another. Your lights talk to your stereo. Your alarm knows what your garage is doing. All your devices know what's going on."

Saving Money, Saving Energy

Bruce Miller, president of TriVista Smart Homes of Canada, also has outfitted his home with a wealth of cool gadgets and gizmos. They're great conversation starters, but for Miller, having an intelligent home is all about saving money and reducing energy consumption.

Automating your lighting and heating and controlling them remotely from your iPhone, iPad or even by calling your house can save you the money you spend on installation in five to six years, he said.

"Smart homes can right away squeeze out most, if not all, wastage by automatically controlling your devices," Miller said. "I have a heated garage, and I used to have a bad habit of driving away for the weekend in the winter and leaving the door open all weekend long. My giant electric heater would be trying to heat the whole town.

"Now, my house can automatically close the garage door after 15 minutes if the outdoor temperature is below 10 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Celsius). That way, in the summer, when it's 20 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Celsius), it doesn't close the door because I'm mowing the lawn or something and I want it open."

Both Saini and Miller have put their lights on dimmers so that they reach only 80 per cent brightness, which consumes less energy and makes light bulbs last longer. Miller also has programmed different brightness settings for the lights in his home---welcome home, entertainment, romance and "letting the dog out"---and he can control them with the touch of a button.

"When we're watching a movie, we've programmed the lights to dim in the kitchen and living room about 10 per cent," Saini said.

As for heating, Miller said everything from swimming pools---a "massive consumer of energy"---to water heaters to air-conditioning systems may be programmed to automatically reduce energy consumption, depending on the time of day when they're not in use.

Your House Is on Duty

Not only can you program your house to control many of its functions; your house also can contact you if there's a problem it can't handle.

"(My house) can call me---and this has happened," Miller said. "I'm driving down the street and I get a call from the house saying, 'The living room window is open, but you've got the air conditioning on and it's 33 degrees (32.8 degrees Celsius) out. What do you want to do?' I can say, 'All right, I'll be back and I'll close it.' Or I can say, 'I'm too far away. I cannot go back. Just turn off the air conditioning.' "

Other interesting money-saving updates include motorised---or automated---blinds, which are especially helpful if you live in a home with lots of windows, and a device that may save money otherwise spent to keep water hot.

When a room heats to a certain temperature, an automated system will close the motorised blinds instead of turning on the air conditioning, saving your home from the punishing thermal heat of the sun.

If you have a standard water heater that keeps the tank full of hot water, you may purchase a simple adaptor that shuts it off at night.


Energy-saving benefits aside, Saini and Miller say home technology can offer convenience in many other aspects of your home life, including monitoring your children.

"In my house here, we had an 18-year-old girl who got a new boyfriend, a new car and a driver's license all in the same month---danger with a capital D," Miller said with a laugh. "We had the house set up so that anytime she came home after curfew, the house will call me on my phone and let me know."

Saini said technology can offer other help with the family. "I have a 2½-year-old, and if he gets out of bed, there's a motion sensor below his bed that if it detects any motion, the lights will turn up to 30 per cent because he can't reach the light switch. It's so he doesn't bang into any walls or anything like that.

"We can also play music in our kid's bedroom from our iPhone, so if we hear him get up or crying a bit, we can put the music on in his room."

Big Brother Is Watching

One of Saini's clients has a smart-home update that borders on Big Brother but is nonetheless fascinating.

"We can program your front door lock, give it up to 35 different user codes. Say you have a house cleaner that comes in on Mondays and Thursdays. We can have that code only work on those days.

"And when they enter the code, we can have the cleaning lighting come on immediately. You can also track where the house cleaner has gone by motion sensors. It'll print out a list of which rooms motion was activated in by the housekeeper, to see if they actually went into certain rooms to clean."

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