September 01, 2005
| by Lisa Montgomery
Joel Moss was shocked by his first electric bill of the summer—it was just $65! Compared to his neighbors, whose bills were running closer to $100 a month, his was not only shocking, but downright amazing. It’s not that Joel is an extremely frugal person. “I had the air conditioning on almost every day during that billing month,” he says. Plus, he runs an office out of the house and plays his whole-house music system for hours on end.
Joel attributes the remarkable savings to his home’s automation system. “It runs the entire house, from the heating and cooling system to the lights and the lawn sprinklers,” he explains. “When I go to bed, the thermostats roll back, the lights turn off and the security sensors arm.” A similar shutdown scenario occurs when Joel leaves for a business trip or a vacation, but with one exception: The system cycles on the ceiling fans periodically during the day so that the 1,500-square-foot house doesn’t get too stuffy. “Then when I’m on my way home from the airport, I just call the system and it gets the house temperature comfortable for my return,” he continues. The arriving home command also activates the front porch lights and the living room table lamps. “There’s nothing nicer than coming home to the house just the way you like it.”
One Button Does All
Energy savings is one of the reasons Joel decided to put an automation system into his newly constructed split-log house. However, it didn’t take long for him to realize that his HAI OmniPro II system could provide other benefits as well. “This house is so convenient,” he enthuses. “I can push one button to create a lighting scene or to shut off everything while I’m dozing off in bed.” Joel can get the house ready for bed, a dinner party, a vacation and other occasions from several areas in the home. There’s a color HAI control panel in the hallway that leads to his office, another in the master bedroom, or if it’s more convenient, he can pick up any telephone to tell the house what to do.
His Russound whole-house music system can be controlled from the HAI touchpanels as well, but for now Joel uses separate keypads to
activate the CD player and AM/FM tuner. The keypads are mounted to the walls, but Joel doesn’t even need to get up from his seat to
switch to a different station or CD. He just picks up a handheld remote and aims it at the keypad. “That’s a really handy feature when I’m working in my office,” he says. “When the phone rings and I pick up the phone, the music automatically mutes. When I hang up, the music goes back to its original volume level.”
Convenience continues way past the front door. Whether Joel’s relaxing in his woodsy backyard or visiting his Mom hundreds of miles away in Houston, the electronic systems inside his rustic New Buffalo, MI home are only a keystroke away. As long as his laptop
computer has an Internet connection, he can alter any setting just as if he were standing in front of the touchpanel. Joel can even
view the outdoor security cameras from remote locations. “When I’m away, the system rings my cell phone when the doorbell is pressed,
records 20 seconds of the camera image to the PC and transmits the video to my email address,” he explains.
Big Features, Small Budget
Joel figures the estimated $7,000 he spent on the automation, whole-house music and computer networking systems was a small price to pay for all the conveniences they afford him. In fact, based on the energy-saving features alone, Joel says the home automation system should pay for itself in about 10 years. In addition, the systems added six percent to the appraised value of the house. “Building this house and outfitting it with these electronic systems was the best economic decision I’ve ever made,” Joel says. Compared to 650-square-foot condo he used to own in downtown Chicago, this automated country home is spacious, convenient and a money-saver to boot.
Located by itself on the second level, the master bedroom offers Joel the private escape, but technology lets him stay in the thick of the action. A video surveillance system feeds images from outdoor cameras to the bedroom TV, a wireless computer network delivers Web content to his laptop computer and a whole-house music system pumps music to speakers in the room. Photo by Larry Evans.
The 26-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV in the family room can show more than movies. The TV also displays real-time video from a surveillance camera mounted at the front porch. Joel can see who’s knocking at the door before he gets off the couch. Photo by Larry Evans.
A home automation system enhances the comfort and efficiency of Joel’s split-log abode. Pressing one button on a keypad or the handset of a telephone activates select lights and adjusts the thermostats. Photo by Larry Evans.
Joel Moss installed a wired and wireless computer network in his New Buffalo, MI home so that he could answer emails from the kitchen or even surf the Web from the backyard. Photo by Larry Evans.
An OmniTouch touchscreen gives Joel access to every system in his house. Just a press of an icon is all it takes to adjust the lights, temperature and security sensors. Photo by Larry Evans.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.