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OCTOBER 21, 2010
It's a nightly routine many are familiar with. Just before going to bed you turn off the TV, check the locks, turn on the alarm system, lower the thermostats, roll down the shades and then turn off the lights one by one as you slowly make your way to the bedroom. Now, here's the twist: What if you could do all that from a single keypad?

It's called the smart home and it lets you control just about everything in your house automatically. With just one centralized control panel or remote, you can regulate your lighting, heating, music, TV, DVD player, blinds, security cameras, and door locks.
So say you were going to bed; you would simply select the "goodnight" key on your control panel and that would trigger a domino effect of electronic commands to various areas of the house. In short order, all of the same nightly rituals that you would normally perform: TV, alarm, lights, thermostats, locks, shades, etc., would take place -only now your house is doing all the work instead of you.

Also known as the connected home or the digital home, the smart home is all about convenience and simplifying your life -and it's literally changing the way people live. "People's daily habits are completely changing; they no longer have to do all of those time-consuming tasks they did before," said Christian Dion, a technology specialist at Cable & Son Telecom, a home automation company in Greenfield Park whose clients include former Formula One champ Jacques Villeneuve and Mathieu Dandenault, a former player with the Montreal Canadiens. Besides convenience, a smart home also offers security and energy efficiency. And, of course, there's always the "cool factor."

"When you want to watch a movie, you just press one button and the lights go down, the projector comes up, the curtain in front of the screen opens up and the movie starts. It really impresses your guests!" said Paul Biron, who installed a home automation system from Cable & Son Telecom when building his house in Boucherville in 2007.

But what Biron really appreciates about his smart home is the convenience it brings him and his wife.
"It's made things easier," he said, citing as an example that he can record a television program in one room and watch it in another. He's installed motion detectors so that the lights automatically come on when someone enters a room. He also no longer has to worry about lowering his window shades in the evening; they automatically lower at sunset every day.
"All of these things are really convenient," he said.
There is virtually no limit to what you can teach your house to do. You can program your heating and lighting systems to go on and off at different times of the day or when you're on vacation, saving energy and money. You can stream music to any room in the house from your iPod, computer database, Napster, radio, etc. You can set your lighting fixtures to what are called "scenes" -for example, if you choose the "movie" scene on your control panel, the lights will automatically dim and the automated shades will roll down. It's almost as if the house is reading your mind.
The security aspect is also a big benefit. With a smart home, you never have to enter a dark house again. As soon as you open your front door, the lights will come on and the alarm system will shut off. You can even program your garage door opener so that, before you step out of your car, your outdoor lights will turn on. Security cameras can be linked to an intercom system so that if someone shows up at your house, you not only can see them but also speak to them, and even let them in -all without ever actually going to the front door! You don't even have to be home; it can all be done remotely, too.

And the beauty of it is that you don't have to be tech-savvy to use all this advanced technology.

According to Christopher Porteous, owner of La Boutique Electronique in Dollard des Ormeaux, what's really changed about the technology since the introduction of smart homes in the 1990s is that it's become much more affordable and easy to use.
"I think people have slowly come around to our point of view, which is that your cleaning lady should be able to walk in and use it. It should not require owner-operated experience or complex instructions," Porteous said.
Cost is also an issue for many. But here, too, there have been positive changes. Thanks to the proliferation of home automation vendors, particularly over the last decade, prices keep coming down. For example, one leading vendor has just come out with an in-wall iPad docking station that converts your iPad into a touch panel.

"You can pull it out, play with it and then put it back in the docking station," Porteous explained. And the best part? "With just a $100 application, you can convert your iPad into a touch panel that five years ago would have cost you thousands of dollars."

Typically, though, setting up a smart home can cost anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $250,000, depending on the complexity.
But the big question is: Can your smart home make your coffee in the morning?

"Well," Christian Dion said with a laugh, "we're not quite there yet, but if it's something the client really wants, we can probably figure out a way to do it."

Consider the preferences of everyone in your household before programming your smart home. A home is your sanctuary and if one person is primariy driving all the decisions, it might cause friction.

If you have a guest room, perhaps consider not automating that room or keeping it very simple. You don't want your guests to have to undergo a training class if they're staying overnight.
Start out simple to see how you like living with home automation and build your way up, rather than going for the George Jetson version right out of the gate.

Choose features that will have value for everyone in the house, like automated lights that come on at night.Choose equipment that will work for you in the future, too, if you decide to expand your features down the road. But keep in mind that smart-home technology is changing all the time, so what seems a good investment today could be outdated in a few years.

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