Not so long ago, it was commonplace for parents to nag their children with silly statements about closing the front door, lowering the thermostat and turning off the lights when leaving a room. Do you think we live in a barn? they would ask rhetorically. Put a sweater on, and, Does energy grow on trees? were other parental favorites. Smarter and wiser, children today know there are few barns left on Long Island, sweaters are out (hoodies are in),and that energy most certainly doesn’t grow on trees.
Yet homeowners still face the same problems as their parents generation: How to lower their utility bill? On Long Island, where electricity rates are among the highest in the nation, there is an even greater call for urgency. Enter household automation, a forward-thinking trend in green remodeling and a high-tech solution that can help lower energy consumption. Using a combination of hardware and software, these systems bridge the gap between energy conservation and green living, are fun to use, and prove that it’s possible to save energy and increase homeowner comfort and convenience at the same time, without making sacrifices.
Until recently, household automation was limited to the highest-end of new residential construction. One factor was cost; an installation two years ago at a new home in Water Mill pushed the electrician’s bill into six-figures. The electrician, who asked to not be identified to respect his clients privacy, explained how that particular automation system required, home run, wiring, meaning that every switch and outlet has a corresponding copper wire run all the way back to a main control box. It can be argued that the increase in materials and labor costs possibly out-weighed any green benefit. Luckily, a drastically cheaper and easier solution is now available for renovations, one which doesn’t require opening walls or even running new wires.
So much of this is wireless today, notes James Macri, president of Oakwood Automation Systems in Huntington Station. And the control panels can be anything from 23- inch touch screen panels installed at the house to an iPad or iPhone. Indeed, one attraction of home automation is the ease of control from anywhere you can access the Internet, and home automation manufacturers have developed apps for the Apple and Android smart phone markets. With the proverbial touch of a button, home lights can be dimmed, or an entire power-saving sequence activated. In fact, as major manufactures of appliances and heating systems begin to adopt wireless technology and utilities begin to roll out smart models, the number of possible interconnected and automated devices makes total household automation a real possibility.
The first step, however, is consulting with a professional. Our value is that we sit with customers and then go room by room to determine what they want and what they really need, said Macri. There is no such thing right now as a turn-key system from one manufacturer. Everything we do is custom, and we can work around or integrate existing systems, an ADT alarmthat’s already installed, for example. Controlling alarm systems, viewing your home’s security cameras on vacation and adjusting music levels throughout the house are an added benefit of an integrated home automation package.
But real energy savings comes when used to control lights, thermostats and power-hungry appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes dryers. Although the nature of these appliances is energy-intensive, home automation systems can delay their energy consumption until off-peak hours, periods of time when energy charges are at their lowest. With plans to build one million smart dryers equipped with wireless technology in 2011, industry giant Whirlpool expects household automation to hit the mainstream by 2012.
Until then, even old appliances can be made smart with the installation of wireless equipped outlets that communicate with a central control point. The same technology is used for light switches and dimmers, and companies like Lutron Electronics and Honeywell have introduced models that not only save money, but have a sleek, modern design which is a real win-win for renovation projects.