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MailTribune.com
  • Smarten up your house

    New technology allows control of home systems from anywhere in the world
  • Did you remember to turn off the coffee maker when you left home this morning? How about the lights? Turn down the thermostat? Arm the security system? Program the digital video recorder for your favorite television show?
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  • Did you remember to turn off the coffee maker when you left home this morning? How about the lights? Turn down the thermostat? Arm the security system? Program the digital video recorder for your favorite television show?
    If not, you could do all of these things and more using your smartphone from wherever you happen to be.
    Home-automation technology has improved so much in the past few years that checking and adjusting home appliances, lighting and temperature is as easy as a few touches on a smartphone screen.
    Technology that allows homeowners to make these changes with a remote — assuming line of sight — has been available for years. What has changed recently is the ability to adjust home electronics remotely, either through a Web browser or a smartphone app.
    "A lot of times, the app will be provided by the manufacturer," says Rico Patterson, an Ashland electrical contractor. "It's basically tied together with the system you've bought."
    Although Patterson has installed a few small systems that control lights or air conditioners, he admits that "smart-house" technology is new enough that it has not yet made inroads in the Rogue Valley.
    "Generally, they're low-voltage systems, and so you have to have a special panel somewhere that's basically your lighting system that's got some modules in there that can talk to each other," explains Patterson.
    Just as computers in a local area network talk to each other, networked home appliances and electrical infrastructure are at the core of smart-house technology, especially in applications where each room is wired for remote access.
    Two of the leading manufacturers of total home solutions that Patterson has investigated are Leviton and Lutron. Their products are high-end and can cost many thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, these tend to be installed during new home construction or major remodels.
    One of the technologies popular with do-it-yourself enthusiasts is INSTEON. Like most smart-house technologies controlled through the Internet, INSTEON uses radio-frequency transmission to talk to all the networked appliances. This technology is sold through the smart-house distributor, www.smarthome.com.
    To embark on a DIY home system, one affordable and modular type is the INSTEON SmartLinc. With SmartLinc, start by plugging one end into any power outlet. The other end has an Ethernet jack, which connects SmartLinc to a router. You've now set up the central controller that transmits a radio frequency to all "smart devices" around the house.
    Next, download the INSTEON app to your smartphone. Free apps are available for both Android and Apple iOS. Follow the app instructions to program devices individually. Among the instructions are entering the home network's Internet Protocol (IP) address. This enables the smartphone app to locate the SmartLinc controller either through a home's Wi-Fi or the Internet.
    As for the price, the SmartLinc controller costs $100. In the category of bare-bones safeguards are "smart" light-emitting diode bulbs that replace conventional bulbs in lamps. This LED bulb costs $29, is dimmable and rated at 52,000 hours of use. If security is an issue, turn it on, off or dim it any time you're on vacation.
    Compatible thermostats start at about $100 and replace most existing home models.
    Whether you're interested in controlling your entire house by smartphone or just want to tinker with a few new toys, you're limited only by imagination.
    Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org
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