Home gizmos put you in control
Apr 06, 2012 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Having a technology-infused home full of automated features controlled by virtual buttons, remotes, sensors and voice control was once the kind of luxury we either didn't take seriously or required megamillions to acquire.
David Young, president of the Sound Room, a haven for electronic wizardry in Chesterfield, said those types of sci-fi scenarios are now available at mainstream prices.
And what better time than spring when you're decluttering for efficiency, sprucing up the house and working in the garden to also streamline your technology. In fact your technology wish list might provide you with even more incentive to have that garage sale.
Some of the basic new technology is available for less than $100, but if you have $5,000 you could deck out a modest home quite nicely.
Of course, there's plenty of room in between. But if you have a smartphone and a wireless network, you're already closer to mimicking the Jetsons than you think.
Home Automation Inc.
There was much ado about home automation in the 1980s. The ridiculously expensive systems could be customized to respond to verbal commands, and you could train it to do all sorts of technological gymnastics such as turning on certain lights, playing your favorite piano concerto or gangsta rap tune, adjusting the indoor air temperature to your desired preferences and unlocking your front door as you approach. But Home Automation Inc. is no longer for multimillionaires building megamansions.
The basic systems aren't voice operated and you have to use multiple apps on a smartphone, iPad or computer, but for around $5,000 you could equip a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot home with an alarm system, cameras, power door locks, thermostat, wireless sounds and smart light switches that can all be manipulated by a few clicks from the palm of your hand.
And some of that will be recouped in savings from reduced energy costs. But we should warn you that modernizing is infectious. Once you realize that you'll never have to run downstairs to make sure the front door is locked or circle the block because you don't remember setting the alarm or walk around the house turning off lights before you leave for work, you'll crave even more control. Young explains that anything with an on and off switch is up for grabs, and people are even craving control of things that don't always have switches, most notably window shades.
Talking fire alarm
It's always a good time to address fire safety. According to the makers of the KidSmart Vocal Smoke Detector ($65 at amazon.com), studies show that children respond better and more quickly to their parents' voice than a bleeping alarm. Yes, they really do listen to you. Some studies show that children can sleep through the sound of a regular smoke alarm. And considering that kids can sleep in strollers pushed on gravel at outdoor festivals, we're inclined to believe them. So instead of the typical alarm, the KidSmart detector uses a voice alert. You record a personalized wakeup command for your child including instructions on escape routes from the house.
But, of course, there are a few caveats. You still have to be mindful to coach the kids on escape routes in advance, and you shouldn't toss your old fire detectors; two methods may be better than one. The KidSmart detector uses less common photoelectric sensors that are best at detecting slow, smoldering fires, while ionization sensors, in typical detectors, are better at reacting to fast flames.
Heating and Cooling With a Ceiling Fan
If you're thinking about replacing or adding a ceiling fan to combat the sweltering heat to come and take some pressure off your air conditioning unit, this is an option for the long haul. You don't have to worry about clockwise or counterclockwise spinning. The Reiker Room Conditioner (starting $319-$349 at fanheatlight.com) operates and installs like a ceiling fan, but it contains four ceramic heating elements housed in the fan unit. A computer-controlled transmitter senses room temperature and adjusts, so you don't have to worry about doing anything special if we get a cold snap one night. Reiker says that the room conditioner can heat a 20-by-20-foot room using less energy than typical portable heaters.
LED Solar Address Panel
It's not the most high-tech option but for ($49.99 at skymall.com or $59.99 at sharperimage.com), the pizza guy will never miss your house again.
Solar-powered lights illuminate your house address so that it's clearly visible. After storing up some of the sun's energy, the solar lights turn on at dusk and off at dawn. The units can accommodate four to six numbers.
Wireless Remote Control Power Outlets
These outlets start around $14.99 at amazon.com for single units. Stanley has a set of three for $20.98, but one of the best options is a set of five wireless controlled electrical switch socket outlets controlled by one remote (battery included), $32.96 from YZ shop at amazon.com.
The remote-controlled switch sockets allow you to remotely control whatever is plugged in. There are a variety of options for indoor or outdoor outlets. It's a low-tech way to get a technologically advanced wireless remote system.
The remotes can control virtually anything you plug in from up to 100 feet away, even through walls and car doors. However, you will have to carry a remote. No smartphone app for these inexpensive units.
The receiver plugs directly into a three-prong outlet, and the remote fits on a key chain and is small enough to fit into most pockets. It's like a small garage door opener. It could be used to operate indoor or outdoor lights if you didn't want to walk up a dark path or into a dark home. Or it's a cheap way to control your coffee machine in the morning or your kid's television at night. And it's ideal for hard-to-reach plug-ins like holiday lights.
This gizmo is available at sharperimage.com for $99.99. You place a pair of shoes on the ultraviolet shoe sanitizer and the germ-killing lights turn on from the weight. Not only does it address most odor-causing germs, the manufacturers say it works wonders on the culprits that aggravate athlete's foot and staph bacteria. It works in about an hour and fits most shoe shapes and sizes. It's listed as beneficial for diabetics, athletes and construction workers.
Lighted, energy-conscious shower head
No, not those annoying conservation brands that send out water in a trickle. Mary Joyce Mathis of MJM Design Co. in St. Charles recommended an easy mix of technology and common sense. The Memowell Magic Showerhead ($49.95 to $119.95) at magicshowerhead.com has LED lights embedded in the shower head. The lights are powered by water pressure, so there is no wasted energy and you don't have to worry about turning them on and off. But the lights aren't just there to help you get extra clean, there is a two-minute color rotation from red to green to blue that helps you monitor the length of your shower. It passively encourages you to take shorter showers, and it installs just like a regular shower head. And bonus: It will make dancing and singing in the shower feel more like a disco.
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