Smart homes becoming more affordable

September 29, 2008 8:10:26 AM PDT
It's getting cheaper and easier to turn your home into a smart home. That means controlling lights, appliances, heating and cooling from a central location. And improvements in technology now mean that central location can be thousands of miles from home. Not only that, users can save big bucks on their energy bills.

"Because of controlling the climate, our PG&E bill last month was $42," said Carol Turner, lives in smart home.

That energy savings was in a Danville neighborhood in the middle of summer -- when temperatures often top 100 degrees. Carol and John Turner live in a smart home -- wired to allow them to control the thermostat and almost anything else electronic from almost anywhere.

"The system can control the home - it can control your lighting, you can control music, heating; it has the ability to do water outside," said Carol Turner.

The controller is programmed inside their cellphones. Anywhere you can get cell service, the phone can control things like home security cameras to spot intruders, and keep track of what the kids are up to, even if seems like "big brother" to the teenagers.

"Somewhat, but I have to live with it," said Kelly Turner, daughter.

The technology for this is contained in a chip much smaller than a dime. The chip is made by a Fremont company called Zensys.

"We fit this into hundreds of household devices - it has a radio in it and allows it to talk to each other - so they can control various things in your home," said Lew Brown, Zensys Inc.

160 manufacturers are now making products that include the chips -- from door locks to interior lights. And automation that used to cost anywhere from $10,000 to a $250,000 - can now be installed by do-it-your-selfers starting at about $2,000.

"You can get light switches for $30, you can get a thermostat for $99. And again because it's modular, I don't have to do my whole home and create all of these products all at once, I can solve a problem when I want," said Brown.

Those tiny computer chips take the place of what used to be costly and time consuming wiring throughout the house. The chips are getting smaller and easier to install, and more companies are gearing their products towards devices that make it easier for the elderly and disabled to modify their systems and get around the house.


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