Options and services available

There are a number of different home automation options available including remote operation and total automation. Recent technological advancements in home automation systems has brought the price down in recent years.

Remote appliance control

You don't necessarily have to rewire your entire home to indulge in a little automation. Many people link their appliances together with fairly simple wireless components.

One popular example is the automated stove. With an automated stove, you can program it to start preheating at a certain time of day so it's ready for use when you get home from work.

Another popular option is remote control lighting, which allows homeowners to control household lighting from anywhere and boost home security.

Total automation

This can refer to either the total automation of a room or the total automation of your whole house. Of course, total automation of an entire house can be extremely costly. Unless you're building new construction and can incorporate the automation into the initial design plans (which can help lessen the overall cost), most homeowners will just automate a specific room or set of rooms. The extent to which you can automate a room will depend entirely on your budget.

For example, there are extremely advanced systems that utilize voice-recognition software. The analysis is then gauged against a preset list of stored voices so the system can tell who is in the room. The system then uses this information to adjust the room's heat and light settings to match the presets of user.

There are also home automation systems that allow you to control these settings with dedicated voice commands. This gives you more control over the system and provides additional customization options.

Latest automation trends

Many people are turning to home automation for home security. Home automation systems offer a unique way to monitor your property while you're not home using Internet protocol cameras stationed throughout the home. These cameras can send and receive date over the Internet and be controlled remotely through a smartphone or your computer.

As the cost of energy continues to go up, people are also becoming more conscious of the amount of electricity they use. As a result, there has been a growing demand for components that remotely monitor energy usage of specific appliances. The technology can automatically shut off appliances when they aren’t in use to conserve energy.

Home automation systems can help you control all your electronics from a single device. In addition to electronics, things like temperature, lighting and security systems can also be included in a single control. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Abbe R.)

Integrating home systems

There are several options for integrating your automation systems with your home. The two most common methods include wireless and hardwired integration.

Wireless integration

Wireless integration of automated home systems uses a set of routers that are similar to the wireless router that you may use for home Internet. Instead of website information, these routers relay information from remotes to various appliances around your home. This is a convenient option for people who don't want a full automation of their home. It will require you to purchase new appliances that can couple with the routers and can be executed very easily with little to no technical assistance.

Hardwired integration

Homeowners generally spring for a hardwired integration of their automation system if they are interested in larger-scale automation. It can become very expensive to automate an entire house full of appliances with wireless technology. Hardwired integration allows users to connect all of the systems in their home in a more permanent way. This type of integration will generally require the assistance of a qualified home automation professional.

Hiring for home automation installation

It’s fairly easy to automate a few of the appliances in your home, or to set up a mild security system of cameras. For systems like this, you really just need to get the equipment and follow the instructions for installation. However, more advanced systems will require the assistance of a home automation contractor.

Home automation contractors should have an Installer I or II certification from the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association or a CompTIA HTI+ certification from the Computing Technology Industry Association. They will be able to do all of the wiring for you and set up your entire automation system. It's important to hire a professional for the wiring of an automation system like this because they’re extraordinarily complex and improper installation could result in a fire.

As with any other service provider, be sure to get at least three estimates and check consumer reviews on Angie’s List before making a hiring decision

Home theater rooms are becoming a popular addition to basements. (Photo courtesy of Moss Building & Design)

What's in a home theater system?

When it comes to home entertainment systems, the sheer volume of choices at all price points can be overwhelming. If you find that's the case for you, consider hiring a professional to help choose, arrange and install your components. But regardless of whether you hire a pro or DIY, it's a good idea to know the basics of a home theater system.

The main components are the display, receiver and speakers. These items set the tone for the entire experience and prices can vary, so it's important to know your budget and what you want out of your system.

Video display: The display may be as basic as a regular TV or as elaborate as a motorized drop-down projector screens with a theater-quality projector. In addition to the budget, keep in mind the desired image quality and expected longevity when selecting your display option. A flat-panel screen display is a flexible choice. The large screen is ideal for playing movies and games, and is fine for watching sports and other television shows. On the other hand, a drop-down or fixed projector screen can offer a more cinematic experience because of the larger image.

Receiver: Choices abound, so it's important to know what features you want and how much you can pay. Be sure the component you consider can support the other parts of your system and be sure it has the right inputs. When choosing a DVD player, a Blu-ray or high-definition DVD player can be a good choice, as they can convert and play high-definition discs.

Speakers: Surround-sound is a hallmark of a true home theater experience. Systems come in many sizes and with varying functions. A basic home theater will not need all the available features, but many systems can be augmented as needs change. Speaker choice definitely affects the home theater experience. It's important to test speakers before buying, as there are differences in power and clarity. In addition, you'll need to decide what style of speaker to use. There are tower or bookshelf speakers, as well as wall- or shelf-mounted satellite speakers. Consider adding a subwoofer to the mix to help produce a fuller sound.

Another option is to buy a "home-theater-in-a-box," or HTiB, unit. But keep in mind that what seems to be the easiest or cheapest option may not provide the best value in the long run.

Setting up a home theater system

Before deciding where to place your home theater components, including at what height and distance to place the display and speakers, be clear about your goals. Will your system be just for watching movies and TV, or will you also use it for music and gaming?

Also consider the room that will house your home theater system. Will you be using a room that has other uses, or will you dedicate the space to the home theater? Take into account the natural and added lighting in the room, as well as features that affect sound quality, such as flooring, window treatments and wall coverings. Consider other details, such as special insulation, that can contribute to a better media experience.

A professional can design and install a system to meet your goals, but if you DIY, make sure the speakers are well-placed. Proper placement of the center speaker, left and right speakers, surround speakers and subwoofer will go far in creating that theater-like experience.

Home theater suggestions

Home entertainment systems can be costly investments. Before buying, be sure to do your homework, including seeing and hearing components or complete systems in action. If you hire an installer, check the company's or individual's experience and credentials. Get everything in writing.

Here are other consumer tips, from the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, a trade group that provides certification for qualified installers:

Plan ahead. If you're building or remodeling, plan for future wiring needs. Wire is necessary to support wireless applications. Have your architect, builder, remodeler and interior designer work with an electronic systems contractor from the start of the planning process.

Insist on integration. Be sure the equipment you buy can be hooked up together and operated with one, easy-to-use control system.

Simplify controls. All-in-one remote controls are available for any system and can even be custom-programmed. New technologies offer control from other devices and even through Internet browsers anywhere in the world.

Think value, not just price. Quality and long-term dependability can be worth extra cost.

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