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How smart is your house? Does it “listen” to you? Does it make your life easier and save you money? Does it help keep you safe? Does it provide you with entertainment options with a mere verbal request? Does it clean itself?

Okay, so that last idea of a self-cleaning house is still only a dream, but with a relatively small investment, the rest can be a reality.

Just ask Don Marquardt. A computer consultant, ham radio aficionado, and self-described tinkerer, Marquardt has automated his home just outside of Shepherdsville himself. For less than $15,000, he has installed an array of devices all controlled by a computer software program called HAL2000 that he purchased from the manufacturer (although he says the software can now be purchased at hardware stores for about $17). Marquardt named the program Jeannie, after the television show I Dream of Jeannie. Now, all he has to do is make a verbal request, and Jeannie says “yes, master” before completing his request.

When Marquardt walks into a room, he says, “turn on light.” Jeannie responds, “yes, master,” and turns the light on. Five minutes later if there is no motion in the room, the light automatically goes off. When Marquardt enters a bathroom between midnight and dawn, the light comes on at 20 percent intensity so he is not blinded. Same story in the hallway.

When a car enters the driveway, a chime rings inside the house and when the car reaches the front door, the outside lights automatically come on. One of eight video cameras also kicks on, just in case the visitor is not an invited guest. In fact, cameras automatically come on with any motion outside, capturing mostly deer and squirrels, but should there be a problem, Marquardt would have a video record of it. Marquardt can view what each camera records on his television.

When Marquardt is away from home for extended periods, he tells Jeannie to go into “away mode.” The thermostat goes down to 64 degrees and the water heater stops cycling. Lights come on in certain rooms at certain times to give the impression that someone is home. Before he returns, Marquardt can phone his house so it is comfortable inside when he arrives and the water heater is working again. He says he has saved 20 percent on his energy bills thanks to the home automation.

When he is ready to relax, Marquardt simply requests one of 300 videos or a DVS (digital video system), and it loads and begins playing on his 6 x 8-foot front projection screen.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” says Marquardt of the home automation system. “The most fun is when I have company. I set it up so it goes through a little introduction. When I first set it up, I had it welcome my 13- and 8-year-old grandsons. When I said, ‘John and Cody are here,’ the Star Trek soundtrack started playing the battle alert and saying ‘warning, warning.’ They got a big kick out of it.”

Marquardt admits to going a little overboard on his current house. It is the third house he has automated but the first one where he was able to install the proper wiring and devices as it was being built.

“I figured that this would be the last home that I would automate so I really went overboard when running the wires,” he says. “When the walls finally went up, I had installed over 1-1/2 miles of Cat5 wire for the computer and phone connections, 3/4 mile of RG6 cable for the whole-house video distribution, another 3/4 mile of wire for the security and motion detectors, and almost 1/2 mile of wire just for speakers and microphones in every room. The builder just laughed every time I showed up with one or two more reels of wire.”

Installing the wiring and devices as a home is being built is the ideal.

Brian and Teresa Evans did just that when they built a new home in Barbourville recently. Teresa’s father had a friend, Robert Tolliver, who owns Advanced Technology Systems LLC, and he knew about structured wiring, an essential in home automation. Tolliver, who also works at Cumberland Valley Electric Cooperative, helped the Evanses design a home automation system that meets their particular needs.

For example, the Evanses have three children, one an infant. They installed a camera in the baby’s second-story bedroom so they can look in on her from downstairs via the television. They did likewise with the basement playroom. An intercom system lets them listen in on their children at night to make sure they are sleeping soundly. The security system also allows them to phone in when they are out of town, check the temperature of the house, and adjust it according to when they will be returning.

In addition to the security features, the entertainment extras have been one of the nicest benefits of the home automation, according to Teresa.

“The reception for our cable and satellite television is so much better,” she says. “When I think of the capability the structured wiring has, it doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. I don’t think a lot of people are doing it yet, mainly because they don’t know about it. I would never have known had it not been for Robert.”

Evans is also pleased with the ease of using the system, a concern she had initially.

“So far everything has been really user-friendly,” she says. “I thought I would never get the time to learn it, but it’s not that hard. The control panel tells you exactly what to do. It has a menu that tells you which buttons to push. It is very easy to use.”

The Evanses are also pleased with the unobtrusiveness of the system.

“The cameras aren’t noticeable at all,” Teresa says. “We have two in the house–one in the baby’s room and one in the playroom in the basement. We also have one at the back door and one at the front door. You really don’t even notice them. The control panels took a little bit to get used to, but now I don’t think anything about them. There is one in the garage, one in the master bedroom, one in the foyer, and one in the basement, but the only one that is even noticeable is the one in the foyer.”

Convenience. Energy efficiency. Security. Comfort. Those are the major benefits of home automation. And it doesn’t hurt that the coffee maker has the coffee waiting for you when you get up each morning and the heater in the bathroom has warmed up the tile floor.

4 BASICS TO HOME AUTOMATION

Robert Tolliver says there are four basics to a sound home automation system:

Structured wiring

Connectivity is the key to home automation, and structured wiring is how this is achieved. A central hub lets you do everything from sharing Internet service and printers among various computers in the house, to seeing what is happening in another room on your television.

Security

This includes motion sensors that automatically kick on lights, notification devices that let you know when someone is approaching the house, and monitoring equipment that tells you if a door or window has been disturbed. A good security system can be modified for your individual needs. For example, you can have a system that automatically calls when your child returns home from school and enters his or her access code. Expect to pay as little as $1-$2 per square foot for a good system, including labor.

Energy efficiency

This includes lighting control, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) control, as well as control of the water heaters. Expect savings in the neighborhood of 15 percent with a good system.

Entertainment

The key here is controllability. Everything works together, and you can control it all with one button. The price is going down on the hottest items, including flat screen TVs and HDTV (high definition television).

HOME AUTOMATION WEB SITES

nextgenhome.ishow.com


Travel to Las Vegas (via the Internet) to see a “NextGen” house currently on display in Las Vegas, Nevada. The site includes house plans, videos about the products used in the house, and a wealth of information.

www.homeauto.com


Look here for more technical information of some systems in a smart home from one of the leading companies. For an overview of a whole house automation plan, click on “Products,” click “Find out what HAI can do for you,” and then click “Overview of HAI Whole House Control.”

www.homeautomationmag.com


www.electronichouse.com

These are two of the leading magazines in home automation.

www.hometoys.com


This site has endless information on every imaginable topic related to smart home technologies. Click on “Home Technology Demo Project” for a blow-by-blow description of a home automation project done by Home Toys.

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