Steve Lee knows when his mother gets up in the morning, walks into the living room, opens the front door to get the paper and takes her medications in the kitchen. Nothing unusual about that except that he lives an hour and 10 minutes away from her.
Lee’s 80-something mother lives alone in a smart home.
“I put a small system in her house that enables me to keep an eye on her,” said Lee, the director of technical services at Universal Devices in Encino, California. “If I don’t see any motion and she hasn’t opened the refrigerator by 8:30, then I know I need to check on her right away.”
Smart homes are becoming more common as people push the boundaries of digital technology to help them look after their health and security, control their carbon footprint and make living easier.
The Lauterette home in northern Virginia is a textbook example of how to live digitally.
“I have over a hundred switches connected to appliances,” said Jeff Lauterette, director of technology at the National Petroleum Council, who lives with his wife, Cassie, and two children in a three-level, 6,000-square-foot house. They get phone alerts ranging from the playful (the boys are clowning around after bedtime) to the serious (an unknown car or person is on the driveway).
A few weeks ago, a vehicle suspected of being involved in a Leesburg hit-and-run accident ended up behind the Lauterette house, captured on the video camera installed in their backyard.
“It was dark when we got home at night so we didn’t see it,” Jeff Lauterette said. “But in the morning we saw a wrecked and bloodied truck in the back yard. We looked at the footage on our video and called the police. They came, processed the crime and identified the suspect. Because of that, he turned himself in. Our video helped the police catch him.” (The suspect was arrested and charged with a felony hit and run, according to Leesburg police.)
One key to an immersive digital lifestyle is an automation system that resides in your home. Universal Devices makes a black box that looks like a cable box, called the ISY (Intelligent System). It connects to a home network and power lines, and to a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Not all automation systems are black boxes. Some are built into security systems; some are built into a home during construction; some are in the cloud.
About a dozen apps on the market use the ISY, which works with controllable outlets, light switches, multi-button keypad switches, motion detectors, door contacts, ceiling fan controls and many other devices, Lee said.
You log into the ISY website on your computer and create programs to turn things on and off at certain times.
“It’s a simple process. You don’t have to be a programmer,” Lee said.
“The brilliance of the ISY system is the flexibility it offers. This isn’t just turning on and off lights,” Lauterette said.
You can program by the day, season or your vacation schedule. The ISY uses if-then statements to function. Meaning, if this happens, then do this. For example:
If it is raining, then do not turn on the sprinklers.
If it is Monday at 1 p.m., then open the garage door to let the gardener in.
If it is 6:30 p.m., then turn on the air conditioner.
Lauterette said that he programmed dozens of variables across the house to enhance efficiency, save energy and maximize safety.
In the kitchen, he uses the system for convenience. If he puts a chicken in the oven or on the grill, he inserts a meat thermometer, and when the temperature hits 400 degrees, his phone beeps. For safety, the garbage disposal stops after five seconds.
In the garage, he uses the system to prevent waste. If the freezer door is mistakenly left open, he receives a text alert when the temperature reaches 40 degrees.
In the garden, he uses the ISY to save water. If the soil probe detects wet soil or the weather report predicts rain, then the ISY will disable the sprinklers.
In the backyard pool, he uses the ISY to ensure clean water for the boys. He receives alerts on acidity, salt and chlorine content.
In the front yard last winter, he programmed the system to save electricity. When snow reached the garden lights, they automatically turned off.
A smartphone or tablet is a key accessory, which means commands can be accessed remotely via an app or by voice control.
“I’ve opened the garage door from Florida to let in a deliveryman,” said Cassie Lauterette, owner of Mid Atlantic Consulting, which assists with smart home set-ups.
“We watched him drive up. Then we opened the garage door, and he put the package inside,” Jeff Lauterette said.