A lot of people think they need a big space to fit in technology. Stop making excuses and take a peek at what Zac Adams has accomplished in his apartment.
Yes, it’s an apartment. Zac has lived here for five years, 4.5 of which have been complete with some type of high-tech assistence. Currently, the 1,180-square-foot living space houses six touchscreens, whole-house music, temperature control, automated lighting, security, and several sensors. Even the dishwasher and washing machine have automated features built in. And guess what? Zac’s landlord absolutely loves it.
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“They’ve actually taken pictures to use in their brochures because they said that nobody has ever done an apartment like this,” Zac says of his landlord at The Columns at Cypress Point in Tampa, Florida.
The reason most people don’t outfit an apartment with high-tech gear is that an apartment seems very temporary. Well, not to Zac. He really has no interest in moving his home automation to well… an actual home. “I’ve done the big house thing,” he says. “Maintenance was horrible. I’ve got better things to spend my money on then to keep a big house up.”
Instead, he started replacing his apartment’s old light switches with Z-Wave switches made by GE. The wireless technology was perfect for this application. It’s inexpensive, easy to retrofit, and reliable. About 18 months after the very first switch went in, Zac found himself with a completely automated apartment.
Despite all of the high-tech features, the wiring in Zac’s apartment is minimal. He’s drilled a few holes and ran a few wires. That said, most of the cables are run under the carpets and most of the equipment is hidden inside a utility closet, which also houses his hot water heater, an AC unit, and a shelf for his computer. That computer is actually the brain behind this entire setup. It runs HomeSeer software, which is tied into everything in the home.
“I like HomeSeer because it gives you the ease of basic setup, but you can go in and write your own scripts,” Zac says. A script is an automated activity run by the program. “You also have a web-based interface, plus it has the amazing ability to pull information from the Internet and act on it.” For example, Zac has a “CNN Breaking News” script. If breaking news happens, Zac will get an alert through his speakers, as well as touchscreens. If he touches one of the touchpads, it will turn on the TV and set it to CNN. He also uses the script to monitor the weather.
Overall, the apartment relies on a mixture of Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and X10 devices — for some of the motion and door sensors. “They’re reliable and pretty cheap,” Zac says.
However, the automated features start at the entrance of Zac’s home, where you’ll find the Yale Real Living lock, which can be opened using a key or a touchpad. He can also send commands from his system or his iPhone 5 to unlock the door, as well as find out the status of the lock. Upon entry, Zac is greeted by his system, which is an upgraded part of HomeSeer. It’s text-to-speech, so it can basically say anything he types in.
The lighting portion has options from both Z-Wave and Philips Hue. However, in the living room, Zac has put Z-Wave and Hue bulbs into every fixture. That way, he can opt for automated lighting or automated lighting with a bit of color.
All of the apartment’s music is routed through a Squeezebox player, can will play tracks off a hard drive or via Rhapsody. That is tied into Autopatch software and HomeSeer. This setup allows Zac to play the Squeezebox through any of the 10 speakers set up around the apartment. There’s even a “follow me” feature, which is also part of HomeSeer.
HomeSeer is literally everywhere — or at least on all of the Android tablets used as control panels sprinkled throughout the apartment. These aren’t fancy screens, but they can get the job done when coupled with the HomeSeer HSTouch app. At last count, Zac had a total of six Android touchscreens, including one in the shower.
Zac also has HomeSeer tied into his HDTVs, which include a 65-inch rear-projection unit in the living room and a 55-inch LG flat screen in the bedroom. Both screens are also connected to a wake-up program, which will turn the TV on first thing in the morning.
HomeSeer is even connected to everyday appliances. For instance, if HomeSeer detects motion after 6:30 a.m., it will trigger the coffee maker. It’s also connected to chore-related items, such as a washing machine and dishwasher. The control system can measure power being used by any of these items and when the cycle is complete, it sends a text message and/or makes an announcement over the apartment’s speakers.
“There’s a motion sensor that I modified with the magnetic switch mounted to the side of the dishwasher. When the dishwasher door is open, it knows that this is the first time it’s been open since it ran and it reminds that person,” says Zac. “My roommate was very bad about not emptying the dishwasher, so this has the intelligence to know that the stuff in the dishwasher is clean and that you shouldn’t put dirty dishes in.”
This setup is very similar to a sensor that Zac has on his closet door. If the doors are left open for more than five minutes, the system will send out a reminder every minute until it’s closed.
“It’s a great training tool for kids,” says Zac. “It’s very good if you have a family, because HomeSeer becomes the bad guy — and computers do not give up.”
Another piece of automation that effects Zac’s senses has nothing to do with sight, sound or doors. When Zac leaves work, he can hit the “Heading Home” button on his phone, which will adjust the temperature and turn the “scent system” on. Yes, Zac even has automated scents. This comes from a module that’s connected to candle warmers. He has a few hidden throughout the house that smell like cinnamon and apple pie — and each one is connected to the HomeSeer system.
“All HomeSeer is doing is turning power onto them,” says Zac. “By the time I get home, the temperature is down to a normal level, and it smells better.”
Other automated features around the apartment include fountains and lighting on the patio, a video camera that can track motion and send pictures to Zac’s iPhone, and an “Away” mode for the lighting, temperature and AV equipment.
It’s not the ultimate Electronic House, but Zac’s apartment is certainly cool. Also, he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out, by not having the extra space. “Obviously, I don’t have a garden of my own, so I can’t do an irrigation system or something like that,” he says. He does, however, have fountains out of this patio, complete with motion sensors. He says that the system’s software could use a little tweaking, but he’s pretty happy with what he’s got. “I don’t think that there’s much more that I can possibly do.”
If you want to see more of Zac’s apartment, check out the video below and our “Apartment is Automated All the Way Down to the Dishwasher” slideshow.