Smart homes become common as technology develops – Tribune-Review

Steve Lee knows when his mother gets up in the morning, walks into the living room, opens the front door to get the paper and takes her medications in the kitchen.

There’s nothing unusual about that — except that he lives more than an hour away from her.

Lee’s 80-something-year-old mother lives alone in a smart home.

“I put a small system in her house that enables me to keep an eye on her,� said Lee, director of technical services at Universal Devices in Encino, Calif. “If I don’t see any motion and she hasn’t opened the refrigerator by 8:30, then I know I need to check on her right away.�

Smart homes are becoming more common as people push the boundaries of technology to help them track their health and security, control their carbon footprint and make living easier.

The Lauterettes’ home in Northern Virginia is a textbook example of how to live digitally.

“I have over a hundred switches connected to appliances,� said Jeff Lauterette, director of technology at the National Petroleum Council, who lives with his wife, Cassie, and two children in a three-level, 6,000-square-foot house. They get phone alerts ranging from the playful (the boys are clowning around after bedtime) to the serious (an unknown car or person is on the driveway).

One key to an immersive digital lifestyle is an automation system in your home. Universal Devices makes a black box that looks like a cable box, called the ISY (Intelligent System). It connects to a home network and power lines, and to a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Not all automation systems are black boxes. Some are built into security systems; some are built into a home during construction; some are in the cloud.

About a dozen apps on the market use the ISY, which works with controllable outlets, light switches, multi-button keypad switches, motion detectors, door contacts, ceiling fan controls and many other devices, Lee said.

You log into the ISY website on your computer and set up programs to turn things on and off at certain times.

“It’s a simple process. You don’t have to be a programmer,� Lee said.

“The brilliance of the ISY system is the flexibility it offers. This isn’t just turning on and off lights,� said Lauterette, who programmed dozens of variables in his house to enhance efficiency, save energy and maximize safety.

In the garage, he uses the system to prevent waste. If the freezer door is mistakenly left open, he receives a text alert when the temperature reaches 40 degrees. He receives alerts on the pool’s acidity, salt and chlorine content. In the front yard last winter, he programmed the system to save electricity. When snow reached the garden lights, they automatically turned off.

A smartphone or tablet is a key accessory so commands can be accessed remotely using an app or by voice control.

Even without a dedicated automation system, you can still have remote capabilities, because many companies make Smart appliances that have their own app.

Chukwuma Ebi, a Nest Labs training representative, said that he pointed a Dropcam out the second-floor window of his home in Upper Marlboro, Md., to monitor his car.

The camera, connected to his phone via an app, is triggered by motion and sound. If there’s a disturbance, he receives a text alert.

The company’s Nest Protect product will send a text message, voice alert and color display if it detects smoke or a carbon monoxide problem. “If a piece of toast burns, you can turn off the alarm from your phone,� Ebi said. “If there’s a carbon monoxide leak, the app will alert the thermostat, and the whole system will automatically shut down.�


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