Smart-home systems now more affordable


April 11, 1993|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

Want to wake up to a warm home with the coffee maker perking? Or change the temperature in your home from your car phone? Electronic systems that perform such functions still are pricey, but they're getting less expensive.

TotalHome by Honeywell Inc., for example, is attracting buyers whocould only dream of the wizardry of more expensive systems. TotalHome costs $4,000 for a basic package that includes installation. But it's much less expensive than systems such as the highly touted Smart House.

Smart House, considered the ultimate in home electronics, is loaded with gadgetry, including a computer that can control curtains, lighting and lawn sprinklers. The system starts at about $15,000 and can cost more than $40,000 with all the extras.

The more modest Honeywell system provides some programmable features -- and it can be installed in existing homes without extensive rewiring.

But even that takes some getting used to, say Arnold residents Marie and Anthony Ciotola, who moved into their home in Jamestown on the Magothy in early February.

"You can call [the system] from a phone, but I haven't tried that yet," Mrs. Ciotola said. She once tested the system by calling from a telephonein her home, but hasn't ventured much further yet.

Still, she likes being able to control heating, lighting and appliances from one source.

Her previous home had a standard thermostat timer, but it was much less precise. TotalHome, by contrast, is self-regulating so it reaches that temperature at the appointed hour.

TotalHome is attached to a single control panel in the home. The basic system includes wiring for 10 electrical outlets, a programmable thermostat, a security system with wiring for two doors and eight windows, and a siren.

The system can be set for several operating modes: morning, work, home, night or vacation.

For instance, in the morning mode, the thermostat can be programmed for a comfortable temperature at a designated wake-up time and can turn on a coffee maker. In the vacation mode, the temperature can be set lower, the lights timed to turn on and off, and the security system activated.

Honeywell also offers security monitoring for a $29 monthly fee, which includes programming changes.

Homeowners can expand the system at any time. They often add fire and smoke detectors, or extra electrical outlets so more appliances can be connected to the system.

By adding another thermostat, buyers can create two distinct temperature zones in the home to reduce energy costs.

TotalHome has been on the market in this area for just more than a year, and three area homebuilders recently signed up to offer the system in their developments.

Mandrin Construction Co. Inc. in Pasadena is installing it in 66 homes at Jamestown on the Magothy.

Lexington Homes Inc. is offering it as an option at Beaver Creek Estates in Finksburg and has installed it in the model home in the Constant Friendship development in Abingdon.

Talles Homes of Pikesville is including TotalHome for a limited time in the new section of its College Hills Development in Catonsville.

The homebuilders say they are impressed by the speed and ease of installing the system.

Francis Schindler of Lexington Homes, for example, installed the system in an existing house in less than six hours and didn't need special wiring. He predicts that the system will be popular in area homes priced at $200,000 and more.

And for those who are wary of new technology, he points out that TotalHome is easy to use.

Homeowners who want even more sophistication might prefer Smart House. The system has special electrical and cable wiring, and computerized fixtures that coordinate communications, lighting, energy, entertainment and security.

The computer at the heart of Smart House runs many more functions than Honeywell's TotalHome. For example, some Smart House systems have computerized appliances that signal when service is needed.

Water heaters can be programmed to heat up only when needed. And motorized blinds and drapes can be programmed to open and close to maximize energy efficiency, says Patty Montague, director of communications for Smart House, an Upper Marlboro-based consortium of 55 manufacturers and trade organizations.

Smart House also can connect a single VCR to all the televisions in the home via interior cable wiring.

But the complexity of that wiring makes the system impractical for existing homes, and adds thousands of dollars to the cost.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.