With the touch of a button on a wall-mounted keypad, Frank Vander Wiede activates the features of his Intella-Home system at the home of a client. The system controls everything from the security system to lights and music.
High Technology Makes Living Easy
By BRIAN BIXLER
|And you thought The Clapper was a
nifty little gadget.
Get a load of some of the most advanced automation systems for homes on the market and you'll discover that they make the once revolutionary electric garage door opener seem as rudimentary as stone implements used by cave people. Home automation is no longer a thing of the future. It's in the present. A very simple, basic system - one that will run as many as 16 appliances from the same kind of remote control as your TV can be had for less than $500. "The field is changing a lot," said Frank Vander Wiede "The big companies are starting to get their fingers into it and it's going to get much more popular, much quicker."
Vander Wiede is owner of a small Sebastian firm, Intella-Home Inc., which outfits homes with integrated electronic systems that will control security, ap-pliances, lighting and just about any-thing else that runs On electric current. The possibilities for home automation today are boundless.
"There hasn't been anything that I had a request for that I haven't been able to do - yet," he said.
Today with an automation unit, home-owners can conceivably care for a household without even being home. Turn off a forgotten iron from the car phone. Allow a plumber or TV repair tech-nician to enter the house and then mon-itor the rooms they enter. Unlock the door for friends when a homeowner is running late and allow them to come inside to wait. Lghts and music can be turned on for them. Allow window shades to adjust themselves automatically, according to the sun's movement across the sky. Run your bath water so it's waiting when you get home from a tiring day at work.
Take, for example, an oceanfront house on North Orchid Island that has been fitted with Intella-Home's sophisti-cated gadgetry. The owner merely opens the door as usual after being away and, suddenly, the house begins to talk.
"Welcome home," is the greeting from a soft, woman's voice that sounds throughout the home. "She" then in-forms you that the lights are being turned on, the air conditioning is being adjusted, the ceiling fans are working and - once the owner punches a secret code into a wall-mounted keypad - a man's voice announces that the security system has been disengaged.
The system also switches the CD player on automatically, so the owner is greeted with pleasant music.
This particular house, whose owners wish not to be identified, has been wired with a $25,000 system that literally has hundreds of functions. The "smart house," as Vander Wiede calls it, knows at what longitude and latitude it is lo-cated to keep track of sunrise and sun-set times and adjust the outdoor lights and mood lighting in the home accord-ingly. That way, night lights in the bath-rooms come on at sundown and turn themselves off when the sun comes up.
Perhaps even more amazing is that owners need not be home to activate their systems. Modern technology allows access to most systems through the telephone, computer or some form of remote keypad.
For example, someone expecting guests at their home after work can call ahead to make sure the house is set at "entertainment mode," which means the mood lighting is adjusted, perhaps the lights to the bar are turned on, a Frank Sinatra CD is playing, the air conditioning is at a comfortable tem-perature and the fountains by the pool or the hot tub have been activated. "Automation to me is everything that plugs into my house. I want my VCR to talk to my toaster. And that's coming," Vander Wiede says, half jokingly. But aside from the luxury and convenience of home automation, few people stop to consider the aspects of security and savings such a system can supply. "I think one of the features I like as a woman is the ability to come into the house with the lights on," said Jane Rameau, a partner in Home and Business Automation.\par The company, recently founded by Rameau's brother, Michael Wilson, is marketing basic systems for under $500 that operate only from within the home, as well as more capable systems that could cost thousands of dollars. Wilson and Vander Wiede said that an average system costs anywhere from $3,500 to $5000, depending on what the homeowner wants it to do.
As part of their security features, some systems can act as a glorified timer, allowing lights, stereos, television or sprinkler systems to come on at random times every day to give the ap-pearance of someone being home when they are on vacation. Most systems also can be integrated to include cameras and infrared or sonic motion sensors that will turn on the lights and film areas of a property to reveal any intruders. Vander Wiede markets a system that will announce to inhabitants when someone has entered the property's periphery and authorities are notified when an alarm is tripped by an actual breakin.
As another deterrent, the system includes weight sensors mounted to the home's dune crossover. When someone from the beach steps past a certain point on the boardwalk, a male voice emanates, seemingly from the bushes below. "Waning. You have entered private property. Proceeding further will activate an alarm. Please return to the beach." If sensors indicate a fire, the fire department is called, air con-ditioning is turned off to keep smoke from blowing throughout the house and escape routes, such as hallway and stairways, are illuminated and outside lights are turned on. Cameras mounted in a nursery or bedroom of a small child could allow parents to quickly check on their children right from the cable television in their own bedroom.
"It's kind of a little bit like Big Brother watching you, but the technology is there if you want it," said Leonard Rameau, another partner in Home and Business Automation. Finally, there is the cost savings. By some calculations, home automation can save as much as 40 percent on energy and utility costs because it regulates so precisely. Wilson, president of Home and Business Automation, points to a system programmed not only to water the lawn, but to know whether the lawn needs it. Moisture sensors will eliminate unnecessary activation after a rainstorm and even will limit wa-tering only to zones in the yard that are dry. Lights and ceiling fans can be programmed to come on when someone enters a room and then switch themselves off when not needed. Most homeowners will want to regulate their air conditioning, water heaters, lights and even pool filtration system if their home calls for it, Vander Wiede said. He has more than 100 clients for his systems in Indian River County. One advantage is that each scenario can be tailored to the specific needs of individual homeowners according to the amenities each house has.
"If you're handicapped, it's the greatest thing in the world," Rameau said. But it's nice to know in this fast-paced world that if you want to go over to the sofa and switch on a lamp by reaching up underneath the shade and turning it on that's still possible. Manual operation overrides most systems. "It's not something that en-slaves you, it sets you free," said Vander Wiede about automation. "You're never stuck with some-thing you can't control."