Environment / Philadelphia Neighborhoods / Technology

Smart home technology increases automation while lowering energy consumption

"Smart homes are a culmination of products and functionality," says Utz Baldwin

Philadelphia Smart Home's Patrick Griffin explains the control center
In partnership with Temple University's Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, the university's capstone journalism class, students Chelsea Leposa and Jared Pass will cover neighborhood technology issues for Technically Philly and Philadelphia Neighborhoods through May.

The is the first of a two-part series about residential technologies being developed or explored in the region. Read the second on Thursday.
Dinner is in the oven. A grocery list has been generated after surveying the empty pantry. The front door’s been opened for the deliveryman and the authorities have been alerted of a possible intruder on a neighbor’s property.
Sounds like a fairly normal day. Except each one of these tasks has been miles away from the home.
Welcome the convenience of living in a smart home, technology developments for residential properties that are coming fast. While home technology is not yet able to allow all of these tasks, industry experts say we’ll quickly move toward a state of complete home automation and remote user-control.
“Smart homes are a culmination of products and functionality,” says Utz Baldwin, the CEO of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), a trade association for electronic home installations. “What makes a house smart for me will be different than what makes a house smart for you. It comes down to the needs of the homeowner.”

“With technology the sky is the limit as it relates to what you can do” —Utz Baldwin

When it comes to home technology needs, there certainly are plenty of options to fulfill them, says Patrick Griffen, owner of Philadelphia Smart Home, a technology installation company that specializes in smart home technology.
There are many popular features currently available to make houses smarter, like climate control, lighting, security and entertainment. All of these systems could then be controlled remotely through an Internet-ready device.
“The technology is advancing at such a pace that it makes it easier for the consumer to get the information and control the things they want from just about anywhere,” Baldwin says.
Smart homes give homeowners the ability to control and automate their thermostats, for example. According to Baldwin, homeowners can setup a system where the control unit opens or closes the window blinds based on the time of day and position of the sun. Uses like these could reduce that amount of time the air conditioning or heat needs to run, cutting down on electricity use.

Smart home control center

Smart homeowners can also combine many or all of their light switches into one easy to use switch or touchpad. This also allows users to create different lighting presets, like a setting to automatically dim the lights for a movie. The Energy Conservation Enhancement Project found that dimming the lights by 50 percent can save 40 percent of electricity and extends the life of the bulb 20 times. According to Griffin, a smart system can be programmed to turn on the foyer light if the front door is opened at night.
Smart security allows the user to view on the intercom who is at the front door. It also provides 24/7 video surveillance that can be viewed from any computer. Motion sensors can also provide real-time information about the movements in the house. Griffin says a smart house could alert the homeowner when their child enters the house by using individualized security codes.
Simplifying entertainment is another feature of smart homes. Users can control the music throughout the house from a central control panel. For example, a particular playlist can begin to play when a particular person enters their security code upon entering the front door, Griffin says.
“Historically the primary reason for smart home technology has been convenience or simplification of systems,” Baldwin says. Simplifying a system can be combining all your light switches into one unit or taking a complicated TV and DVD remote and putting all of the important features into a simple touch-screen. It is important, then, for smart home technology to be as simple and user-friendly as possible. “Quite often if technology is too difficult for the consumer they end up abandoning it,” he says.

A view from outside a Northern Liberties smart house

While smart homes are not necessarily green and green homes are not necessarily smart, the two concepts have many overlapping features. For instance, energy-use reduction is a primary motivator for both technologies. The biggest innovation on the horizon is smart grid technology and smart meters.
“There is going to be a way to monitor your electrical meter … if you have lights on in your house, you can turn off those lights and watch your usage go down,” Griffin says. Smart grid technology may also allow people to consumer more energy when rates are lower and vice versa.
Smart house technology improves green house technology by giving homeowners more control over the systems in their house. Without smart technology it will be harder to dramatically lessen your carbon emissions, Baldwin says.
“With technology the sky is the limit as it relates to what you can do.”
Watch a video about smart homes below.
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