After Hours

Move over, George Jetson!

Home automation no longer exists only in a fictional futuristic world. The modern technology offers remote or automatic control over as many electrical features in your home as you desire and can afford.
This guest post was written by TechRepublic member robw2205.

The very first simple home-automation technologies were offered to the public through Radio Shack and Sears & Roebuck in the mid-70s. Since then consumers have been waiting for the day when they could communicate easily and affordably with all the technology in their house.

In the early days, automation was limited to controlling the various audio and lighting components in your home theater systems. It seemed such futuristic homes as The Jetsons' or enormously wealthy celebrities were out of reach for the average homeowner. But when the universal remote control device was introduced in 2006, you may have felt a little closer to what was once a sci-fi dream.

In the last decade, significant advances have been made in home automation technology. Home automation can run your HVAC systems, lighting, security, home theater and multimedia, communication, Jacuzzi and pool operations, outdoor sprinkler, and miscellaneous electrical appliances. Even more exciting is the fact that you can now control all these features from your home, down the street, at the office or across the world. Mobile devices and the Internet allow you to set, change, or monitor what is happening at home, even when you're far away on a business trip or vacation.

The idea of living in a "smart" home is appealing on many levels. Once installation of a home automating system is complete, any electrical device is fair game for your new, convenient management system. The expression "Life's better when everything works together" certainly applies here.

When the complexity of personal or in-home technology is simplified and automated, you are free to focus on other important activities. Remembering to turn off the lights, lock the door, close the drapes, turn down the thermostat, and set the coffee pot can be safely relegated to your new automation system and dismissed from your mental to-do list. And, unlike the human brain and its tendency to forget, your programmed system will never overlook its duties.

The key component of any home automation system is the main controller. While some people choose to use a regular personal computer, a specially designed unit works more effectively and keeps all programming separate and distinct from other computer activities. Interfaces, or equipment that allows you to interact with the system, may include remote control devices, mobile devices like iPhones or iPods, a 4-10" touch panel screen you carry around the house, the Internet, and wall-mounted, numbered keypads. Remote control devices may display on your LCD HDTV or have a small LCD screen on the remote.

Your house will be outfitted with sensors to detect and report changes in temperature, movement, and other variables. Several different control methods or technology ties the entire system together. These wireless protocols include IP/TCP, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, IR (infrared), relays, and serial data. The technology is not restricted to new homes — even older houses can be customized for your automation needs.

There are several practical reasons to automate your home, including saving as much as 30% on utility bills. Other benefits include reducing carbon emissions, protecting your home while you're away and preparing it for your return, and creating your own home theater system (which is high on the list for many homeowners).

Choosing a huge LCD HDTV may get you started, but creating the sound and ambiance for perfect viewing takes more planning. Interior design that includes room size and shape is definitely part of the picture, as is comfortable seating. But a custom home theater installation will also address the positioning and calibration of the sound equipment, the positioning and selection of the proper screen, and the calibration and quality of your projector and your source components and wiring.

Automation programming ties acoustics layout and technology (the key components of a superior home theater system) seamlessly together. You can even include features such as automatically dimming the lights and adjusting the room temperature. All of this is done with one simple pre-programmed control device.

An important feature of today's home automation systems is the ability to expand on an almost limitless platform. You can add multi-media features to other rooms in the house, include home health-care monitoring, and manage your home's energy consumption. Or, you can start small and add features as you are able with over-the-air software upgrades.

You may not be living in George Jetson's futuristic world, but giving your home a "brain" through home automation is definitely a step closer to intelligent control over your electronic household products. The convenience, increased safety features, and savings in personal time and energy are strong considerations for choosing to automate your home.

Are you using any home automation technologies? If so, let us know what you think of the experience.

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