It might sound like life in "The Jetsons," but a home automation system can provide safety, security, convenience, energy conservation and peace of mind - all from a single control panel.
How it works
A "smart home" can range from fully automated, with every appliance controlled, to a more basic system controlling lighting or home entertainment equipment.
The technology varies between manufacturers. Larger-scale automation systems operate with computer software, while smaller installations use a single thermostat-like control panel. High-end systems can include voice-control features.
Some of the devices you can control through home automation include your furnace, air conditioner, lighting, security equipment, entertainment systems, fire and carbon monoxide detectors, and even drapes.
For example, your automated morning schedule might be:
Safety and security are the biggest benefits to a home automation system - lighting and sound/motion sensors are connected to a computer program that track activity 24 hours a day, and notifies you and your local police or fire department if anything is wrong.
If your budget allows, you can opt for a web-enabled system that allows you to monitor your home over the Internet while you're at the office or on vacation.
Wireless systems are taking over the market, requiring no complicated wiring or even knowledge of computers. This is an especially good option for existing homes.
The ability to control thermostats and lighting can save energy as well. While any $50 programmable thermostat can raise or lower room temperature automatically, automatic lighting can help reduce energy costs as well.
The cost of home automation ranges from $2,000 for a basic system to more than $100,000 for state-of-the-art equipment. Part of the cost of a basic system can be offset by energy savings, but the payback period is quite lengthy.
And ironically, custom-built high-end systems can negatively affect your home's resale value - complicated equipment and programming might scare off potential buyers.