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Home Automation Basics: What’s Possible

Today nearly any electronic or mechanical system in a home can be enhanced to work better through home automation.  For years, home-of-future demonstrations have impressed upon people the idea that technology will someday make all the aspects of their lives easier, that our homes will talk to us, that computers and machines will do all our work, and that we can eat anything we want without gaining weight.

Of course, at least some of those things haven’t come true yet, but today’s technologies do allow for an incredible amount of control over the electronic systems in our homes. Home automation is a broad category that includes many of the electronic products you may already one. The difference between a home filled with electronics and an automated home (also called a smart home or TechHome) is how the electronics work together. In a standard home, there are lights, audio and video components, security monitors, heating and cooling systems and communications products. In an automated home, those products and systems will work together. They may be accessible from various locations in the home, and they may even “know” what each other are up to and respond accordingly. Some automated homes can be controlled remotely from a Web site or cell phone. Home automation is all about integration. A well-integrated home allows you greater control over your environment and your entertainment.

Imagine that you’re coming home from a long business trip and you’re looking forward to relaxing in front of a baseball game that started while you were still on the runway or in the airport. Using your smart phone you can tell your DVR to record the game, let your home know that you’re on the way so it turns up the heat (or the AC) and tells you that the security system is up-to-date. As you walk in the door and enter your security code, the lights turn to their proper setting, the home theater system turns on, and all you have to do is grab a drink and sit down.

Say you’ve invited guests over for a backyard party. A few taps on a wall-mounted LCD pad turns on the patio lights, starts satellite radio playing from poolside speakers and revs up the hot tub jets.

How does an automated or integrated home work? You know how a universal remote control can turn on a TV, DVD player and audio/video receiver at the same time? A universal remote control works because all the entertainment components have been integrated into one control system, and all the components speak the same language. An integrated home works much the same way, except the components and the language are usually more complex.

Automation can range from basic lighting controls or multi-room audio systems that most consumers can install and set up themselves, to complex systems requiring custom programming and professional installation.