There’s no rule when it comes to incorporating electronic systems into a home. You can push the project to the limit or restrain yourself to just a few new amenities. You can focus on one room, like the home theater, or fit the entire house with automated lights, speakers, controls and more. You can put in all the bells and whistles or keep it straightforward and simple. You can spend months to outfit every square inch for music or have a killer sound system installed in your den in a matter of hours. There are advantages to both big and small approaches, so think long and hard about your lifestyle, expectations and budget before settling on a design. Otherwise, you might end up wasting your money on features you won’t ever use or kicking yourself because you skimped on certain areas.
“Less is more” may be cliché, but it’s worth remembering when you start to furnish your home with electronic amenities. Loaded with too many systems and features, your home may end up feeling unmanageable, uncomfortable and downright unlivable. Many homeowners, unfortunately, have learned this lesson the hard way. Intrigued by the amazing capabilities of home electronic products, they have packed their abodes with as many devices as they can afford. A TV in the shower? Why not. Music in the walk-in closet? Sounds good. Automate the lights? It’s got to be better than hitting a switch. The concepts all seem so logical on paper, but what many homeowners discover once the systems are in is that there’s a fine line between convenience and chaos when it comes to technology. Using one button to close the shades, set the temperature and dim the lights may sound like an efficient way to prepare the house for bedtime, but after months of following this script, you might actually yearn for a plain old dimmer switch that would let you turn off the lights but still keep the shades open. Bottom line: You miss the spontaneity that every family needs in order to feel in charge of their homes.
You can also overdo it by putting devices in too many areas. Few people have time to watch a movie in the shower, for example, so unless you’ve got a really big water heater, putting a TV there may end up being a waste. The same idea applies to other forms of technology. Having a keypad that’s blanketed with rows of buttons that can control everything but the kitchen sink may sound cool, but it may be difficult to learn how to use. Similarly, you might initially like the idea of having music on the front porch, but will you ever really sit out there long enough to enjoy the system? Simply put, when there are too many features and systems in your home, they often end up going unused.
For these reasons, it’s best to keep things simple when outfitting your home with electronics. Incorporate only the items you know for certain you’ll use, and put them in areas that make sense for your family. A security system is a good place to start. It’ll provide the protection that every home and family needs, and it can serve as a great building block for other features. For example, many security systems have the ability to also control the lights and thermostats. These three areas of control—lighting, thermostats and security—can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle. Most families shut off the lights, lock the doors and lower the thermostats before going to bed or leaving for work and school. A couple of buttons on your security keypad labeled night and away could handle these daily tasks for you. As you live with the system and discover ways it can help you, your home systems installer can incorporate more features and controls.
Think of other routines that demand interaction with electronic systems. Maybe you always turn on CNN when you get up in the morning. Your home systems installer could design a command that switches on the TV as well as the bathroom lights and floor-heating system. Perhaps your family prefers to watch movies in a dark room. Another command could switch off the family room lights and close the drapes while also turning on the TV and DVD player.
Music from your CD player and satellite box can drift into every single room of your house. All the lights can be managed by a control system. Every TV can tap into a single DVD player in the family room. Electronic systems are robust enough to do just about anything you want. However, as most home systems installers will tell you, just because a system can do something doesn’t always mean it always should. Take whole-house music. Many systems can distribute different songs to various rooms simultaneously. That’s great for some families and homes. Mom can listen to classics in the kitchen while the kids rock out in the rec room. However, if your family enjoys the same type of music or if the home has an open floorplan, having two or more tunes playing at the same time might not make sense. In those cases, a system that spreads that same song throughout the entire house might be a better (and more affordable) choice. What’s more, you may not even want some rooms, like the nursery, on the system.
Lighting control is another area where it’s easy to push the envelope. While it’s certainly possible for a lighting control system to manage every switch and table lamp in your home, you may not want that right away. Particularly in a new home, you’ll need some time to figure out how you use the lights before you put a system in charge of them. For example, after a few months in your new home, you might realize that you’ve rarely used your dining room. So an ordinary dimmer switch might suffice as a means of control rather than a more expensive keypad. Should you ever start hosting fancy dinner parties, your installer can always design a more elaborate lighting scheme for the room.
Again, it’s not always necessary to outfit your entire house with devices and controls. Most systems can be easily upgraded, so it’s fairly easy to add features and products to a system later as you become more comfortable with the technology and more aware of your own needs.
By Lisa Montgomery, senior editor for Electronic House magazine. To see more articles from the editors of Electronic House magazine about the connected home visit www.electronichouse.com.
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