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Putting your home on automatic.


Waking to music and the smell of freshly brewed coffee is nothing new, but a home-automation system can make you think you're still dreaming. In addition to the music and the coffee, it can also turn up your thermostat, warm your bathwater, light your way to the bathroom and the kitchen, heat your breakfast in the microwave, warm up your hair curlers, and turn on the iron--all while you are still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes.

The technology for such a Jetsonslike home has actually been available for many years, though at a price that kept most homeowners from considering it seriously. Gradually, however, such respected names as Radio Shack, Sears, Stanley, Honeywell, and Schlage have entered the market, which has made home automation more affordable. "You can construct a primitve system for well under a hundred dollars and build up from there," says Roger Dooley, the publisher of Electronic House magazine.

For example, for under $50, you can be buy a programmable timer to control eight different lights and appliances from your bedside. Also for under $50, there are remote transmitters for the car--or the backyard or the house--to manually control lights and appliances the same way. One of Honeywell's modules actually calculates the time of sunset and turns on the light plugged into it at dusk year-round.

A simple home-automation system consists of receptor modules and a console that controls up to 16 modules. The messages you program into the console are setn to the receptor modules through your house's electrical wiring. Some receptor moduels plug into wall sockets, and the lamps and appliances plug into them; others replace the wall sockets. Modules to control wall-switch lights replace the wall switches. You can purchase special modules to control your thermostat, telephone, and heavy-duty appliances.

If it's not convenient for you to control the light and appliances from your bedside, kitchen, or back door, the answer could be a mobile console that sends yoru commands via radio signals. Such units can be useful to have in your car to turn light on as you arrive home or off as you leave, to activate or deactivate the alarm system, and to open or close the garage door.

Have you ever gotten the sinking feeling during your coffee break that you left the coffee maker, the iron, or another appliance on? A console that connects to your telephone enables you to call your home and find out. If you have left appliances running, you can turn them off over the phone. You can also phone before leaving the office and turn on the heat or the air conditioning, a few lights, and the Crockpot, or you can call from your vacation condo and turn on the television or radio and a few lights to fool burglars.

Home automation has obvious benefits for the homebound, the elderly, and the handicapped. In addition, Schlage offers a central monitoring service for $15 a month. It responds to signals from the burglar, fire, and medical-alert devices that tie in with its Keepsafer system. A Chicago newspaper columnist concluded that Schlage's "fully loaded" wireless (and thus easily installed) alert system has more benefits than a $1,200 wired system that requires professional installation and servicing. Schlage has even hired a former burglar to help promote the system around the country.

For everyone but wizards, lighting one's castle used to require elbow grease and a good bit of time. Home-automation technology has made wizards of us all--now we all can command light with the mere wave of a hand over a motion-detector wall switch. Honeywell's model features a nozzle, so the beam can be directed down for children, and a narrow beam with adjustable sensitivity, so the light is not turned on or off accidentally.

Do you have a light switch in your house placed several steps from the door that requires you to feel your way in the dark" Have you ever dropped an armload when trying to turn on a light with your elbow? Honeywell also offers motion-activated light controls with wide-angle sensor beams to detect any movement in a room. When the movement stops, a timer you set for anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes counts down and shuts the light off.

Some might argue that the conveniences offered by home-automation products actually go over the line into superfluity. But it hasn't been all that long since the same argument was applied to the first incandescent bubls that dimmed the flickering light of kerosene lamps.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hayes, Jack
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1988
Previous Article:Romancing the seed.
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