The long awaited ability to control aspects of your home with a simple touch has finally become a thing of the present. What are the
best and safest ways to utilize it right now?

It started in 1962. That’s when The Jetsons debuted and Americans first began to dream of the “smart home”—a home that could anticipate your needs and automatically do all kinds of things for you. Of course, The Jetsons promised us flying cars, too, and that certainly hasn’t happened yet.

However, home automation has made some significant strides in recent years. Whether you’re interested in security, going green, entertainment, or a combination of all three, there are home automation solutions out there to meet your needs.

HOME SECURITY

security“Cumbersome”—that’s the word Jason Parmely uses to describe what home video surveillance systems used to be. Parmely runs Next Step Communications with his partner, Ryan Brungardt. While he’s quick to admit the limitations and hassles of older systems, he’s an enthusiastic fan of the newest technology, which he describes as both cost effective and user friendly.

Parmely should know. His company has installed video security systems in government offices, schools, libraries, businesses and, of course, homes.

Next Step makes use of DVRs and analog cameras to record surveillance video. As Parmely explained, analogue technology is much more cost effective than digital, and is more than sufficient to meet most needs. In fact, the cameras Next Step recommends are motion sensitive, only recording video when something is happening, and can see in the dark via infrared technology.

A lot of the equipment used to build these kinds of home security systems can be purchased online à la carte, or even at Lowe’s or Home Depot. There are also do-it-yourself (or “DIY”) kits available. When asked if a home owner could install a security system as a DIY project, Parmely was hesitantly optimistic. He said a tech savvy person could, in fact, do a lot of the setup on their own. However, when it comes to installing a truly reliable video surveillance system, he was frank: “There’s no better way than to have a professional company, especially a local company, do it.” And, he warned against using a kit to build a system, explaining that the components included in security system kits are rarely of the highest quality.

Parmely also pointed out that Next Step Communications does more than security systems. They can handle any home project that is audio/video related, from security to entertainment. Their goal is to provide clients with cost-effective, convenient solutions to a wide variety of home automation needs.

GOING GREEN

When it comes to creating a more energy efficient home, there are some exciting new options in the field of home automation. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of one of the more powerful of these tools: a smart thermostat.

Both Nest and Honeywell offer wifi-connected thermostats that can automatically toggle the indoor temperature depending on time of day, outside temperature and other factors. These devices are also accessible remotely. Forget to adjust the thermostat before taking a trip? No worries. You can use your smart phone to set it from anywhere. According to the Nest website, home owners who auto-schedule their climate control using a smart thermostat can “save up to 20% on [their] heating and cooling bills.”

While swapping out a traditional thermostat for a smart thermostat may seem like a daunting DIY project, Parmely says these are actually very easy to install. There are even tutorial videos online to walk you through the process, which shouldn’t take more than about an hour.

Looking for something more robust? Residential Systems Inc, another Colorado based company, may have a solution for you. Their slogan is simple: “Bringing homes to life.” They deliver on that promise.

security2As Travis Leo, CEO of RSI explained, home automation began as home owners demanded a solution for a common problem—too many remote controls. However, today’s home automation does much more than provide a “universal remote” for controlling all entertainment. Now, that same remote can also control lighting, shades, indoor climate and, of course, the home’s security system.

The systems RSI installs are powerful. Driven by either the Savant or Control4 software platform, these systems allow for a seamless mix of manual and automated control. For example, window shades can be programmed so that they raise and lower automatically based on sunlight intensity. The system can automatically toggle external lights on and off based on local sunrise and sunset times. And, the entire home can be programmed to turn off at the push of a button. Imagine using your phone to turn off all lights, TVs, fans and other components when you leave by pressing a single button!

Like Parmely, Leo expressed caution when asked about taking the DYI approach for these kinds of automation.

“There are DIY solutions,” he said, “and for people who are hobbyists and tinkerers, there’s a novelty there.” However, many of the DIY options available, while novel, aren’t terribly effective. Most of Leo’s clients prefer solid, well-integrated solutions. RSI installs only the best technology, and does so in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, hiding wires and providing clients with a seamless interface for controlling everything.

RSI has been providing home automation solutions for 27 years, and, like Next Step Communications, is something of a one-stop shop for home owners. Leo and his team can automate virtually anything, and pride themselves on their long-standing expertise in top-tier solutions.

Home automation can be used to meet a variety of needs—security, lowering your carbon footprint, energy savings, convenience, entertainment and even what Leo simply calls “the wow factor.” As with any major home project, do your homework before you dive in, especially if you plan to do it yourself. If you prefer to go with a pro, be sure to contact one of the well-qualified local experts right here in our area.

By Adam Martin