Solving Imperfections with Home Automation


Pool safety is one area where a CE pro’s automation programming can come in handy. Credit: Simon Berlyn

Sometimes extra measures must be taken to make your system operate the way you want it to, and CE pros can come to the rescue.

May. 21, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

It’s tough, particularly in a new house, to envision how an automation system will fit into your everyday routine. Should the kitchen lights turn on every time the garage door opens, or would it be better to put them on a timer? Does it make sense to let a temperature sensor trigger the opening and closing of the living room drapes?

Setups that might seem like good ideas on paper can wind up being totally wrong in real life. Don’t fret too much over it, though. A qualified custom electronics (CE) pro is an expert at thinking through all the possible scenarios that could impact the functionality of your system. Check out these examples of good thinking.

Drifted Shut
Snow melting systems can keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of the white stuff. But as Ryan Downing of Integrated Home Systems, Reno, Nev., explains, the sensor that trips the warming mechanism is typically installed somewhere near the middle of the driveway—completely ineffective if all the snow has drifted against your garage doors. Also, if the house happens to be a weekend retreat, you may not even care if snow has piled up during the week. Having it run automatically while the house was unoccupied would be a complete waste of electricity.

For these reasons, the CE pros at Integrated Home Systems designed a client’s snowmelt system so that it could only be activated from their iPhone. Using an iPhone application for their Crestron automation system, the owners can access real-time video from outdoor surveillance cameras to see if the driveway is covered. If it is, they simply go to their Crestron control app and turn on the snow melting system.

Water Works
The owners of a hilltop house weren’t able to drill deep enough to find enough water for their household, so instead they had a sophisticated rainwater collection system installed. Five 1,500-gallon cisterns buried beneath the ground collect rainwater which is cycled through a filtration system then pumped to the house as the family’s main source of water. The amount of water that’s available is completely dependent on the amount of rainfall the area has received, and even then, it’s just a guess as to how much water is actually stored in the cisterns.

For this reason, the CE pros at Futureview TV Services, Elysburg, Pa., plan to install a system that would allow the family to monitor the current water supply. Placed on a PVC pipe, three water sensors will be lowered into the main cistern. These sensors will alert the homeowners via an email message when the cistern is 90, 50 and 10 percent full. When nearly all the supply has been depleted (10 percent full) the owners can arrange to have water delivered to their house.

Sending Out an SOS
SonarGuard makes a great alarm system for swimming pools. Using an invisible detection beams, it senses when a child has fallen into the water and sounds a siren. The system can be turned on and off via its own control station, which is usually located near the rest of the pool systems. For most families, the siren is an effective mode of notification and the control station a convenient means of operating the system. However, if the pool is located far away from the house, a secondary means of notification and control might be necessary.

Such was the case for one particular client of the pros at DSI Entertainment Systems, Los Angeles. The solution, says systems designer Patrick Martinez, was to have a digital siren broadcast through the owner’s whole-house audio system at a preset volume level. In addition, all the Crestron touchpanels in the house play a wave file of a female voice announcing that there’s an “emergency at the pool.” The owners can check out the situation then disarm the SonarGuard system from any touchpanel. The connection between the SonarGuard system and the Crestron automation system also allows the family to schedule times for the pool detection system to turn on and off automatically.

Credit: Simon Berlyn

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