Smart, high-tech home

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Exterior of smart house

Home automation in action (Remember to click "Zoom" at the top left of the photos to see full view & photo details)
One client of Steve Berrey, managing director of iHomes Atlanta, has gone to the extreme when it comes to automating his home on Lake Lanier. Lewis Miller, senior vice president with Atlanta-based CBRE, a commercial real estate services company, built a home that has won two OBIE Awards from the Atlanta Home Builders Association, as well as Best Green and Best EarthCraft Home from the Georgia Home Builders Association for 2013.

Miller built the home from the ground up to be energy efficient and automated. He can control the thermostats, the lighting, the windows and other areas of his home from his iPad. The home is self-powered by 36 photovoltaic panels, and he can monitor the home’s energy usage, including how much hot water is produced, through a single device. The automation system was developed in part by iHomes Atlanta.

“If I’m at my office in Buckhead and somebody rings my doorbell, it sends an alert to my iPad and iPhone,” Miller says. “Then I can call up one of the security cameras at my home and see what’s going on there. If I am on my way home and want to light my house, I can do it from the road. If I have guests coming who will be there before me, I can unlock the doors for them, let them in and see them from the remote cameras on my phone or tablet.”

With the advent of smartphones and tablets, the ability to take advantage of automation technology has gotten much easier. Companies like Encompass and iHomes Atlanta can provide custom automation packages, and there are a number of different apps available for smartphones and tablets that work in conjunction with different software packages to make automating your home a breeze.

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Remember the days before remote controls when you had to get up to change the channel on the TV? Those days are clearly long past, and now, thanks to advances in technology, you don’t even have to get up (or be at home!) to change the thermostat settings, turn off the lights, open the windows and much more. 

“You’re only limited by your imagination,” says Charles Schuster, president of Encompass Interactive. “If we are able to put an actuator onto something, you are going to be able to automate it.”The technology itself can require various software and hardware installations, such as computer routers that allow the different devices to be operated remotely over a wireless Internet connection. But once these installations are in place, the sky really is the limit to what can be accomplished.

High-tech fun
Schuster says home automation is one area where the United States is lagging behind Europe, and some of the trends that are popular across the pond are just stating to take hold here.

“People are adding things like golf simulators that allow them to play a round of golf in their own homes,” he says.

Prep-time perks
Schuster says that he has seen interest in an innovation that will appeal to women getting ready in the morning. 

“There are these mirrors that can be installed,” he says. “They look like normal, one-way mirrors, but can include screens. You click a button and the screen can show you your itinerary for the day or you can catch up on the news and weather.”

The kicker comes in the form of cameras that can be installed in the wall opposite the mirror. 

“They allow you to use the camera to look at the back of your head in the mirror in front of you so you can do your hair and get ready more easily. You’re talking about a $7,000 item, but people really seem to like it.”

The sound of your voice
Steve Berrey, managing director of iHomes Atlanta, says he has seen homeowners trending towards using voice-activated technology.

“It allows customers to turn on and off lights, appliances and other devices using their voice,” he says. “It is very cool.”

Location, location, location
Another area that is emerging is location-based automation, he says. “Your house tracks your location through your phone, and lights and music come on just when you get close to house.  The thermostat kicks on when you get 5 miles away. The doors unlock with phone in hand.”

What’s the cost?
What can you expect to pay to get these technological advances in your home? Berrey says that a good rule of thumb is to budget about $2,500 per room if there is going to be a significant amount of automation involved. If all you are doing is a lesser project, such as lighting, you can expect it to come in around $500 per room.

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There’s an App for That?
Yep! Here’s a sampling of some of the incredibly cool and useful cutting-edge home-automation apps out there right now. 
HomeZada (www.homezada.com) – This is an app for smartphones you can use to snap and store photos of appliances, furniture, electronics and other gear in your home, as well as upload digital versions of manuals and user guides to create a usable home inventory. The app helps you manage and predict costs and reminds you to perform maintenance tasks such as changing the furnace filter, replacing washer hoses, etc. while providing you with details like what size filter and hoses to buy, right from your phone.
Kohler PowerSync Automatic Paralleling Module (www.kohlergenerators.com) – This enables the paralleling of two Kohler single-phase generator sets to reduce fuel consumption, provide redundant operation, and extend the life of the generator sets. Once installed it can be controlled via a smartphone or tablet device remotely.
Skylink HomeControl (www.homecontrols.com/Skylink-HomeControl-App-for-iPhone-iPad-Android) – This app effectively turns your smartphone, tablet or computer into a remote control to operate just about anything in your home with a virtual keypad. It uses control modules that can be wired out of sight and wireless receivers plugged into wall outlets, lamp sockets, or light switches. 
HSTouch by Homeseer (www.homeseer.com) – This iPhone app is designed to control several home appliances and systems including lighting, thermostats, security systems and web cams. It works in conjunction with the HomeSeer home automation system. The iPhone interface is customizable so you can create your own graphics and buttons and save them within the app. 
Lightswitch (www.melloware.com/lightswitch/) – This is the app for you if you constantly forget to turn off the lights when you leave the house. It works with servers certified for the Lightswitch application and remotely controls lighting from a smartphone or tablet. 
Control4 My House (www.control4.com) – This provides a user-friendly interface to adjust the settings of various home appliances and systems. As with other home-automation apps, this requires a home automation system to work. Once set up, the iPhone can be used to control the lights, HVAC system, and audio and video devices. 
Haiku (www.haikuautomation.com) – This works with HAI’s Ethernet-enabled home-automation controllers. Each area of the house is displayed on the app. The Climate tab displays the temperature and humidity levels, while the Control tab displays the lighting status in each room. The Status tab gives an overview of the alarms, thermostat, additional sensors and messages. 
BeoLink (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/beolink/id359002041?mt=8) – This iPhone home-automation app supports a Bang & Olufsen home automation system remotely. It is accessible through the local wi-fi network. The BeoLink app transforms the iPhone into a central hub for the home, controlling the lighting, audio, video, temperature, security and curtains. 
INSTEON Hub (www.insteon.com/2242-222-insteon-hub.html) – Control INSTEON light bulbs, wall switches, outlets and thermostats from your smartphone or tablet. Receive instant email or text alerts from motion and water leak sensors.
Nest (www.nest.com) – This is an advanced thermostat system that integrates with your current heating and air conditioning and has a mobile app that can be used to connect to the thermostat from anywhere to turn it down or up based on your preferences.  
Philips Hue (www.meethue.com/en-US) – This app allows users to control the Philips Hue lighting system from an iPad, iPhone or Android device. The app allows users to turn the bulbs to any color of the rainbow, and you can even create light settings based on your favorite photos. The accompanying app comes with several different lighting schemes for different moods, and the bulbs can even be used to help you wake up in the morning.

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