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Are you smarter than your house?

Discussion in 'Real Estate' started by Billv, 26th Sep, 2008.

  1. Billv

    Billv Getting there

    15th Jul, 2007
    Sydney, NSW
    Flick a switch and everything works, but is it all too much?

    Most us still have to scrabble for our keys to get in the front door at home and turn lights on manually when we get inside. But increasingly houses and apartments are being designed with smart systems that respond automatically to the press of a button or to changes in climate and light levels - and can even be tailored to individual preferences.

    For Frank Guarnacci, the experience of having lights fade on and off automatically as he walks through the rooms of his new Kensington home has made the expense of installing his home automation system worthwhile. "I love the fact that the house anticipates my needs," he says, "I've forgotten what it's like to have to switch lights on or off."

    Guarnacci and his wife Sophie use a keypad to enter their home, which also activates the lighting and climate-control systems. It's also possible to text-message the house to open the front door remotely. The house has a completely automated lighting system controlled by passive infra-red sensors, a home-audio system that pipes music to every room, an automated water-sprinkling system, and a video intercom and security system. Everything in his three-storey house can be controlled from a touch-screen in the living room.

    It was easy to get caught up in the possibilities once he started researching home automation options, Guarnacci says. "I started looking at just lighting. But the more I learned about what you could do the more interested I became."

    He ended up spending $100,000 on the system installed for him by Brendan Rogers of Melbourne home-automation company Clever Home. (Guarnacci drew the line at automating the blinds on the 25 windows in the house, something he now regrets a little, "but you've got to stop somewhere," he says.)

    Guarnacci is one of few Australians prepared to embrace the smart-home revolution. A 2007 survey by Connections Research found that just 2% of Australians had adopted some form of home automation. It seems that while we're happy enough to collect electronic devices, networking our entire home is another level again.

    And while for years it's been possible to unlock your car with a remote control, simultaneously turning on the lights, the heating or cooling and even adjusting the seat position, it has taken a while for the same level of automation to be standard in anything but the newest high-tech apartment buildings or houses.

    That's partly because, as Rogers explains it, cars are built as an integrated system from the ground up - making it relatively easy to set up an automated system. Houses, on the other hand, are as variable as the people who live in them, and installing the network required to enable home automation is expensive and tricky if you're not building from scratch.

    Integrated wiring is central to home automation. Not just your old-fashioned electric wires that connect a switch to a light or power outlet, but intelligent wiring such as the C-Bus, developed by Clipsal, that connects every device to a mini-computer that is the brains trust of the smart home.

    That's something that Andrew Herbert, a software development manager, was mindful of when he renovated his inner-northern home five years ago. Along with the smart new open-plan living area, he had the entire house wired with an Ethernet network, a TV network and a C-Bus system that meant every electrical device in the house could be centrally programmed.

    The brains of the system, with its dozens of winking lights and multi-coloured cables, is in a cupboard in the front room along with a computer server. It's in an unfinished state, Herbert says, and plenty of the wires lead nowhere, but it means that, theoretically, everything that moves or opens and shuts is programmable in the future.

    "You want to go for overkill with the wiring even if you don't use it all at once," he says, "because cabling is cheap, but laying it is expensive once you've done the plastering."

    Every room in Herbert's house has a switch panel with six to 12 buttons - each of which corresponds not to a particular light, but to a programmable configuration of lights, or "scenes" that Herbert designed. One button activates the "breakfast scene" lighting, another dims the living room lights for the "movie watching scene". Other buttons open or close blinds or turn on exhaust fans.

    The system is infinitely programmable. Down the line, Herbert wants to program the alarm system so that the house knows when someone is home and automatically adjusts lights and climate control accordingly.

    "The great thing is that once you've got the wiring in, you can get it to do anything."

    Herbert is well aware that his programming expertise is what makes the system viable. "You probably need to be that kind of person," he says, "It's more complex than a lot of people might want to deal with."

    Can a house get too smart for its human occupants' comfort? The idea of the computer in the front room going haywire and sending the home's lighting, heating and door-locking functions into a spin sounds like a good plot for a horror movie. But if you don't have the nous to change the settings easily, you can be held hostage to someone else's idea of how things should work.

    more here you smarter than your house?
  2. Jacque

    Jacque Team InvestEd

    16th Jun, 2005
    Smart housing- is it making us lazier or what?!

    Don't get me wrong- I love some of these smart homes. The wired sound systems impress me the most (then again I'm a music aficionada and appreciate sound quality!) but I have to wonder if some of them haven't taken it too far when you can light, warm/cool and cook all before you walk in the keyless front door. Are we getting to the stage when our reliance on technology is so strong that a power blackout would send us back to the Dark Ages?! ;)
  3. Thudd

    Thudd Well-Known Member

    5th May, 2008
    Perth, W.A.
    A guy I knew installed biometric door locks (integrated fingerprint scanner) on the entrance to his home cinema room, just for ****s and giggles. Unfortunately they used to regularly go on the fritz, denying him access....