By Michael D. Murdock
Home Automation means Toys and Gadgets and Buttons…
But that's not how it's products are marketed and that's not how they're
usually sold. Yet that's how most home buyers view them. "Are we really
getting that lazy?", "It's like something from the Jetson's!", "I can't
even program my VCR, I'd never be able to turn on the lights". These are
just a few of the initial reactions I hear when speaking on the possibilities
of Home Automation. Since they are viewed as toys, automation products
are usually put at the bottom of the Options List by the new home buyer.
What Is Automation
Defined, it is the automatic operation or control of a process, equipment,
or a system. Home Automation on the other hand is more than that and should
never be discussed or defined in such dry, unemotional terms.
Home Automation is a lifestyle enhancing process that is based on the
fundamental human elements of safety, control, communication & convenience.
It's based upon, and is as different as, the habits, patterns and lifestyles
of each individual family.
For years we have automated the workplace. We automate any redundant
tasks that might allow us the time to be more productive. Now that it is
affordable, easy to use, and readily available, it is only natural that
we would want that technology in our homes.
Automation & Integration
In most homes today you press one switch and one light or one set of
lights come on. In homes that are automated, pressing that same switch
could control lights throughout the home and set them to different levels
of brightness to create Lighting Scenes. Another automated system may announce
through a kitchen or patio speaker, "there is a car in the drive" as guests
or unexpected company arrives. The trick is to combine them.
Integration is a method of combining automated and non-automated systems
to make them work together. Lets say that you disarm your security system
at 9:00 p.m.. With integration capable systems, such as the "Amp On–Q™",
the security panel would not only disable the security contacts, but could
send out the control signals to turn lights on based on your traffic patterns
as well as turn on the radio or TV to your favorite station. All automatic,
all because you did something you normally do, and all because your builder
wired your home for the future.
The standards set for structured wiring are: 1 Computer, 1 Telephone
and 2 Video Cables run to every major living area within the home. Needless
to say, you don't need to understand all of the technical properties of
these cables, but here are some of the terms of the trade:
Homerun: each cable goes from it's point of use (an outlet) back to
a central location and is not cut and/or spliced.
Cat 3: A category for installing Phone and Data cable capable of supporting
10 Mb per sec / 16 Mhz bandwith.
Cat 5: A category for installing Phone and Data cable capable of supporting
100 Mb per sec / 100 Mhz bandwith.
*NOTE: The categories of cable relate not only to the cable itself,
but to the strict standards to which it is installed.
RG-6 Quad: Quad shielded Video cable capable of supporting 1 Ghz bandwidth.
The Basic Systems
If we operate under the premise that the list of automation and integration
possibilities are limitless, then every piece and part of your home can
be part of your system. But for discussion purposes we'll include the following:
Security, Lighting, HVAC, Audio/ Video, Computer, Telephone and Control
Security: Until such time that your home is broken into, your security
system really doesn't do very much for it's monitoring fee. An automated
system however can use those contacts on the front door to turn on lights
or call you when your children get home from school. It can trigger messages
such as "Garbage Day" or alert you using occupancy sensing i.e. if a motion
detector doesn't sense movement in my mothers kitchen within 14 hours,
call me, because something is wrong.
Lighting: Automated lighting can turn all the lights on at once in
case of emergency or turn lights off to conserve energy. It means never
coming home to a dark house or it can be used to enhance the appearance
of your home and is self-adjusting for sunrise and sunset.
HVAC: From any phone in the world you can change the status of your
thermostat. On the day you stay at home (security system is not in "away
mode") the setting isn't changed. On the day it wasn't supposed to snow,
but did, and you're coming home early, call home and turn the thermostat
up before you leave.
Audio / Video: The key here is "distribution". The video from the VCR,
Baby-Cam or front door camera can be viewed on any TV. You can listen to
your favorite radio station in the study while your children listen to
their CD's on the patio. With a distributed system you only need to own
1 Stereo, 1 VCR, 1 Satellite Receiver, 1 DVD Player, etc.
Computer: With a network in your home you are no longer tied to a specific
room with the printer as your only company. You can work via notebook from
any room and all the computers in the house can share resources such as
a CD-ROM, drive space or printer.
Telephone: The telephone takes on new roles in the Future Ready home.
It becomes a Room-to-Room, Front Door and/or Gate intercom and controller.
It allows for 4 phone jacks per Cat 5 cable and supports high speed internet
access, phone systems that take messages, route calls, faxes and plays
music on hold. Control Systems: The greatest advances in home automation
have come in the form of Human Interfaces. You can control your home systems
with wall switches, touch screens, hand held remotes, RF & IR transmitters/repeaters, via telephone, with the TV or computer and even with your own voice. The controllers of today are much easier to use and can make all the difference when it comes to enhancing your lifestyle.
I'll admit that some of the products on the market may be "toy-like",
but Home Automation truly means more than toys. It means security, peace
of mind, control, savings in energy costs and redundant system purchases,
and it means the one thing we all seem to have so little of today - Time.