5 Unusual Home Automation Requests
One homeowner requested the ability to flush a toilet as he pulled into his driveway.
From a remote controlled toilet to a mailbox sensor, home systems installers share some of their strangest client requests.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with a custom electronics pro (CE Pro) about a project that involved automating a platform containing several disco lights and speakers to drop down from the ceiling. It was a first for his company, an outfit that has been around for more than 20 years, and he expects it to probably be their last. Not that devising the rigging was exceptionally difficult; it’s just unlikely that any future clients will ask for a drop-from-the-ceiling disco system ever again.
I decided to probe other CE Pros for stories about some of their more unusual automation requests. Most had plenty to share.
You’ve Got Mail (Eric Thies, DSI Entertainment Systems, West Hollywood, CA)
A client asked us to have a “You’ve Got Mail” message appear on all their touchpanels after the mail had been delivered. This was a little tricky to set up since a mail shipment could be as small as a single envelope or as big as a thick pile of catalogs. We had initially thought of using some sort of laser beam that would trigger a contact when broken. This worked fine with the pile of catalogs, but not so well with a single envelope. We also considered attaching some sort of sensor to the mailbox door. We figured this wouldn’t work either because sometimes the door can be accidentally left open by the mailman even the homeowner. The last idea, conceived by my genius partner Roy Glasner, was to put a floating plate on the bottom of the mailbox that would trip a contact any time something over 2 ounces was placed on it.
Shabbat (Eric Thies, DSI Entertainment Systems)
One of our clients observes Shabbat, which means he cannot operate anything electronic from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. We created a “Shabbat” mode for his lighting system. When he pressed the Shabbat button on Friday before sundown, the system would illuminate the house automatically based on the time of day. Engaging that mode would also run a pre-programmed series of events to light up common areas of the house so he and his family could eat, read or play without tripping in the dark or having to leave the lights on continuously for 24 hours. When Shabbat ends, the homeowner simply turns off the mode and the house goes back to normal.
Raccoon Deterrent (Brad Bergoine, Boca Theater & Automation, Boca Raton, FL)
For one of our clients we automated their lighting and music system to scare away the raccoons from the backyard.
It’s a Jungle Out There (Lee Howell, Audio Video Design Group, Centerville, OH)
To evoke the feeling of a rainforest in the backyard of a client, we used a Crestron automation system to activate natural gas tiki torches, a misting machine and a gas firepit. The homeowner just presses one button to change the atmosphere.
Toilet Troubles (Scott Fuelling, Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment, Memphis, TN)
During the course of the design for a new home, we covered the usual lighting, HVAC, security and audio/video needs. Towards the end of our meeting, I asked if there was anything else he wanted to discuss. He said “yes,” and with a completely straight face, informed me that he wanted to have a specific toilet flush whenever his car pulled into the driveway. Not really knowing what to say, I collected my thoughts and replied, “Just your car and not any other one?” Again with a straight face, he told me he couldn’t imagine why he would want this to happen for any car but his own.
Still somewhat at a loss, I asked, “Is that the only unit you want to flush?” He responded by saying that he really hadn’t thought about the other commodes, but would like to have the option to do so in the future. I told him no problem, and we moved on.
We worked with a commercial plumbing supply company to install the appropriate flushing mechanism and gave the client a special key fob that he could use to activate the flush from his car. Come to find out, he has asked for the system because someone in his house never flushed a specific toilet and it frustrated him to no end. His wife thanked me for providing the service.
After hearing these stories, I started thinking about slightly unconventional automation setups I’d like for my own house.
Party-Perfect Pictures: I think I’d get a lot more use and enjoyment out of my digital photo frame if it was automated. The same party button that activates the lights and sets the music could turn on the frame and start a slideshow.
Stormy Weather: In Michigan, the weather can turn on a dime, and every year we lose a patio umbrella to the wind because we didn’t close it up in time. If the umbrella could be automated to close whenever it got too windy, we’d save a bundle of money.
Morning Announcements: I admit it, I’m a nag. I don’t like to do it, my kids don’t like to hear it and frankly, it’s completely counterproductive. Maybe if an automation system could remind my kids to pack their backpacks, grab their band instruments and tie their shoes before bolting out the door for school they’d actually listen. I’d like the announcement (in a voice other than my own, of course) to come through an in-ceiling speaker planted right above the service door.
Custom Cushioning: Some car seats are smart enough to adjust to the driver, so why can’t the recliner in my home? I’d like a home theater command on my remote to not only start the A/V system and dim the lights, but also set the adjust the recliner exactly how I like it.
Have some ideas of your own? We’d love to hear about them.
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