Even if your house was built a long time ago, you can still automate numerous home functions with the help of basic computer equipment and great new devices.
While you can't make your kitchen automatically cook dinner (at least not yet), automating various home functions can help you have a more energy efficient and enjoyable home. Here are 6 of the many ways you can automate your home today.
1. Automated Deadbolt Locks
Z-wave is a wireless standard for home automation that allows Z-wave-enabled devices to be controlled remotely or automatically. Z-wave-compatible controllers can control many home devices, but one increasingly popular function is pairing Z-wave with deadbolt locks that can be opened manually or automatically.
Schlage, Kwikset and Black & Decker all make Z-wave-ready deadbolts with keypads for passcode entry, allowing you to program specific codes for regular workers in your home. You can also set those codes for certain times of the day, or can even set it up to email you when certain events occur, such as when your housekeeper arrives.
2. Automatic Thermostat Control with a Smart Thermostat Computer
Nest is a programmable thermostat that “learns” from your living habits so you can optimize home comfort for maximum enjoyment while minimizing utility costs. Nest looks like a wall thermostat, and allows you to control the temperature of your home from an internet- or 3G-connected device.
Nest can adjust thermostat settings remotely, and it can even tell you how long it will take to get the temperature where you want it. Imagine your home thermostat "knowing" to kick on the AC half an hour before you get home from work so that it's nice and cool when you arrive!
3. An Automated Living Room Entertainment Hub
With this new technology, a computer can be used as a media center to automate entertainment downloads and place them in folders on your computer so they can be shared via Wi-Fi with your television. Once you set it up, your media is downloaded and automatically delivered to your media center computer. About.com has some great tips about making your home entertainment system "smart" using an ordinary desktop or laptop computer. Getting it all integrated can take some time, but once it's done, you basically don't have to do anything else except be entertained.
4. Monitored Utility Usage
Knowing when and how you're using power is the first step to managing your utility bills. A device called the eMonitor can be installed in your circuit breaker panel to monitor electricity usage. With your home's Wi-Fi router, data is sent to a remote analytics engine, which in turn sends you information on where you may be wasting electricity and money.
An eMonitor subscription includes internet- and 3G-access to the system, as well as utility data hosting and backup. Proactive monitoring and analysis help you learn how your home uses electricity and identifies areas in which potential savings might be found. It even lets you know if an appliance is drawing more power than it should and can alert you if, for example, you left your stove on. If you terminate your eMonitor subscription, you'll lose your online dashboard, analytics and alerts; however, you can still access your electricity data.
5. Remotely Controlled Lights and Appliances
Automating home lighting is good for your home's security, and now there is a relatively inexpensive gadget called a WeMo, by Belkin, to help you. With a WeMo, you can program lamps (or other devices, such as coffee makers) to run on a schedule. Beyond that, you can remotely control lights from anywhere you have a data connection. If you choose the WeMo bundle that includes a motion sensor, you can create rules for turning lights off, on, or turning some off and others on when movement is detected. Pair WeMo with an online service called IFTTT (which stands for “If This, Then That”) and you gain the ability to control switches through Twitter, or do things such as turning on a heater when the temperature drops.
6. Automated Home Security
Monitored home security systems aren't exactly new, but they continue to grow in popularity due to their effectiveness. Homes without security systems are two times more likely to suffer a break-in than homes that have them, according to a Temple University study.*
Monitored home security systems are moving into the mainstream as the technology matures and homeowners demand easy access to information about their home while they're away. With a monitored home security system in place, homeowners can feel confident their home will be secure while they're at work or on vacation, and they can even use remote monitoring tools to arm and disarm the system or check up on their homes themselves.
Home automation isn't something people can only dream about. Many ordinary homeowners are automating functions around the house right now. Not only is home automation convenient, it can help you keep your home more secure and save on energy costs.
*Burglar Alarms and the Choice Behavior of Burglars: A Suburban Phenomenon; 1993; George F. Rengert; Department of Criminal Justice, Temple University.