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Living Smart: Home Automation

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By Angie Hicks

home_automation(MCT)—We live in a world of gadgets. From our smartphones, to our tablets, to our audio/video components, electronic components are — for many of us — a major part of our daily lives.

For the average consumer, integrating these subsystems so they work together — and when, where and how you want them to work — can be a challenge.

“You have all these different pieces coming in at all different angles into the home, but it’s really difficult to tie it all together and make it one seamless application; and it’s getting worse,” says Jeff Janson, owner of Hook-It-Up in Charlotte, N.C. “The average customer is being bombarded by all these cool little gadgets and it’s difficult to make them all work together.”

Janson’s solution is to integrate those various subsystems into a home automation system. With home automation, homeowners can control everything from the temperature and lighting levels in their homes, to their home theater components or their security systems. The systems can be managed within the home, or offsite, all via a simple-to-use interface from their smartphone, computer or a remote control.

Kevin Renfroe with Centex Audio, Inc. in Round Rock, Texas, says he can set up a system that, “basically runs everything from audio and video to the drapes and lighting.”

Renfroe says the most common requests he sees is to integrate home theater systems, so homeowners can, for example, have all of their music accessible from anywhere inside or outside the home.

“You don’t need a music server sitting in the house anymore,” Renfroe says. “You can go somewhere, have it with you and play it pretty much anywhere. You’re not just stuck playing it at home anymore. If you know how to work your phone, you can work your audio. It’s not hard anymore. You don’t have to find the remote and hit five buttons just to make it work.”

Though the convenience home automation systems offer makes them attractive to busy homeowners, added security might be their biggest benefit. Through remote access, you can check if you’ve set your security alarm. You can turn on exterior lights if you’re away from home overnight, or are driving home late and don’t want to pull into a dark driveway. The systems are only limited by how they are programmed. If, for example, a homeowner wanted one event to trigger another event — say if the security alarm goes off, all the lights in the house automatically come on — they can have it programmed to do just that.

“Once the programming is done, it can be transferred to any device, like an iPhone or iPad, and they can use that device to (control all of those components),” Janson says.

Because there are a variety of options, homeowners can pay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars for home automation integration. Both Janson and Renfroe say that they can get homeowners into a basic automation system for around $1,500. Because most of the technology relies on software programming, home automation systems can be updated to account for changes in technology.

As home automation has grown in popularity, more and more companies are offering it as a service, including home security, TV, Internet and phone service providers, so it’s important consumers shop around for a qualified installer who has a good history and stands behind his or her work.

“There’s a lot of turnover in this industry,” Janson says. “It’s important to find an established company. Find somebody in it for the long haul.”

Check that the company is insured, in the event someone is injured or damage is done to your home.

“I’ve had customers that have been burned before (by another company) because someone put their foot through the attic or put holes in the walls and didn’t repair them,” Renfroe says. “Ask to see a copy of (the insurance policy). Get multiple quotes and ask questions about the quote. Is the quote itemized? Do you know what you’re getting? If you get a one-line quote with just a total, you may want to move on. You don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to healthcare.

© 2013, http://www.angieslist.com/
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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