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Friday, December 22, 2000
The home of the future - now
Pitfalls to avoid on your way to home automation
by Jesse Berst
My neighbors think my house is possessed. Thatís because I just spent six hours programming my newly automated lighting system. The lights were flashing from top to bottom. Payoff: Now I barely have to touch the light switches.
As part of our ongoing Jesse Jetson series, Iíve taken the next step into the digital lifestyle and home automation. The digital lifestyle truly is the Next Big Thing, and our Jesse Jetson series is dedicated to pointing the way and helping you avoid the pitfalls.
Home automation is a catchall for some technologies that are here now - such as automated lights - and some that are still coming - like the refrigerator that calls the store when youíre low on milk.
The good news: You donít have to buy a new home to have an automated one. Today Iíll tell you about my Jesse Jetson home-automation system. Iíll tell you what it does, why I chose X10 and where its weak spots are.
MY AUTOMATED HOME
I jumped into home-automated lights completely (41 switches, 56 devices total). I live in a six-level house, so turning lights on and off could be exercise in itself. Not any more. Now I can turn on the lights in my loft office from the basement if I want. This works by sending a signal through the power lines to the lights I want to turn on or off. I can do this with my PC, from an automated interface or from a series of remote controls I have scattered around the house.
Hereís how Iíve got it set up:
For security. My wife carries a keychain remote that will turn on all the exterior lights in the house, including a path to the front door, and from there to the kitchen and master suite.
For peace. It gets dark shortly after 4 p.m. this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. And itís dark until at least 7 a.m. I have my bedroom lights set up to come on slowly to wake me up and then light the path to the kitchen for coffee and to my exercise room so I can feel guilty about not working out.
For mood. We have several "scenes" programmed into our automated lights: one for parties, one for watching TV (low lights but a clear path to the fridge).
For the end of the day. With six levels, I no longer have to worry about whether I turned off the lights in the office before I turn in. Now one button turns all the house lights off.
X10 isnít the only home-automation equipment maker and not even the most advanced. But it is the closest anyone is going to get to a standard. What does that mean?
- Easy setup
- Easy expansion
- Professional installers that will put it in for you if you want to take the lazy way out. Click for more.
Although X10 provided me with this system for free for review, a similar system would cost about $3,000, including the cost of the installation. But you donít have to spend that much. Do-it-yourselfers can start as low as $50 for a starter kit. Click for more.
X10íS WEAK SPOTS
There are problems with being the venerable home-automation company:
Aging standard. The X10 standard isnít as robust or as flexible as some of the newer efforts. Click for more.
Size and flexibility. My house is big, which meant that I had to install ďrepeatersĒ to urge the signal along to its destination. There are also limits to what any given remote can control.
Software. The software that lets you control your lighting preferences is adequate, but not state of the art.
Startup. After I had the system professionally installed, I still had to spend six hours programming it. It was fun for me. But it wonít be for everyone.
System conflicts. I had to forego a wireless security camera because of fear it would conflict with my wireless home network.
These arenít fatal problems, however. Overall, my home-automation experience has been the most fun, most useful Jesse Jetson experiment since I got my wireless home network. Click for more.
And since I can still turn all the lights in the house on and off at the same time, my neighbors will still think my house is possessed. Keeps the neighborhood kids wondering.