March 2009 Issue
A Powell couple uses home automation to create a smart house that saves energy, increases security and simplifies their lives.
The kids are playing in the basement, inevitably grow bored with their activity and leave the room in a hurry. Hours later, mom or dad discovers that the basement lights, television and seemingly every other available form of electronics are still on, but the audience has long since disappeared. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it’s only one of the many ways that energy is wasted in the home. Fortunately, it can easily be avoided.
John and Kathy Scott made a decision to eliminate this problem and others like it when they built their home in Powell, northwest of Columbus. By installing a Control4 home automation system, they were able to integrate all the electronics within their house into one manageable, programmable, customizable bundle. Quite simply, they created a “smart” house. In fact, the house is so smart that John and Kathy can push one button and turn off all the lights, adjust the thermostat, shut down the fireplace and arm the alarm system — all from the comfort of their bed.
The decision to install the home automation system was a no-brainer for the family. John’s company, Digital Home Designs, is in the business of helping home-owners customize their home electronics. Interestingly, the green features are often in the highest demand. “The goal is to take all the electronics in your home and integrate them so all the components of your house are talking to each other, making it easy to use,” says John. “And the energy-saving feature is huge.”
Every feature has been customized to meet the needs of John, Kathy and their two daughters, ages 5 and 7. For example, when Kathy leaves the house, she likes to make sure that at least one light is on. John, concerned with saving energy, simply reprogrammed a light so that it stays on when they initially leave the house, but switches off five minutes later. The Scotts also control the amount of light bulb wattage used in their home by setting the dimmers to run at 75 percent of their potential. After sunset, that drops even further to 50 percent.
In addition to their light dimmers, the couple programmed the home’s timers and occupancy sensors to reduce energy waste, a big deal considering that in a typical three-bedroom home, that could mean a savings of more than 850 pounds of CO2 emissions each year. That’s the equivalent of not driving a car for an entire month. And not only is that good for the environment, it’s easy on the wallet as well.
This level of customization is a big selling feature of the home automation system. John’s partner, Matt Toopes, says that after meeting with a homeowner, Digital Home Designs spends about 10 hours designing each system before starting the installation. After that initial installation, they return 30 days later to redesign the system based on what the homeowner is actually using. Sixty days after that, they return again, this time to incorporate any additional needs the homeowner might have.
The Scott’s 5,000-square-foot house, with an additional 2,000 feet in the finished basement, features four bedrooms, an in-law suite and a home theater. The remote-control system starts a movie, dims the lights and adjusts the home’s temperature, creating the perfect atmosphere. Everything is wireless, including the five, wall-mounted, plasma TVs and the stereo sound system that plays throughout the house, and everything is individually programmable, so the girls can listen to Disney tunes in their rooms while mom and dad enjoy classical music in the living room. Best of all, the system is so easy to use that even their young daughters have mastered it.
For most homeowners, peace of mind and safety are also concerns, and here both are closely connected to the convenience factor. Consider the garage doors: If the Scotts leave the house and accidentally forget to close a garage door, the system will close the door automatically — and send John and Kathy an e-mail notifying them that it has been done. For added security, the couple installed motion sensors outside the house to alert them when someone is on the property. That triggers an in-house speaker system that announces that there is activity in the courtyard. Or, when the sensors detect someone in the back yard, the speaker says: “You are trespassing; please leave.”
Outdoor cameras survey the property, and they can be adjusted to access different views. Kathy likes the outdoor cameras for their security and convenience. “Whenever anybody pulls into the driveway, it shows them on the TV screen,” she says. “If I’m in the basement, I can push the intercom button and say that I’ll be up in a second.”
The system has very few limitations. It can be programmed to alert the home-owner via e-mail or text message that the kids have arrived home from school. It’ll even give a heads up if the kids are playing PlayStation when they should be doing their homework. And perhaps best of all, John and Kathy can access the system away from home via their laptops — or from their iPhones. That means they can adjust the heating or air conditioning to a comfortable level long before they pull in the driveway.
Since each system is customized, prices vary, but John insists that home automation prices have dropped in recent years. Today, an average installation typically costs between $15,000 and $20,000, a big improvement from not too long ago, when $50,000 was not uncommon. “You get the controller, or brains, for $1,000,” says John. “Once you have the controller, we integrate it. We give you two light switches, and you can add to that down the road when you’re ready.” Best of all, the systems are suitable for both new construction and existing homes, giving anyone the power to be green.
Both pricing and innovation attracted the attention of the Scott’s builder, Brad Hughes of Romanelli & Hughes. Not only did he install a similar home automation system in his own home, but he’s also making the system available to his clients. Like John and Kathy, he likes having a single button that turns everything off — or on. “Having one remote is the best feature,” says Hughes.”
Hughes and the Scotts are confident that as home automation prices decline and homeowners place a greater emphasis on living green, the demand for smart houses will increase. And if that’s the case, the days of forgetting to turn off the basement lights may be numbered.