Now, not only can E.T. phone home, his home can phone him.
"With today’s technology, you can use your cell phone to call your home after you land at Sky Harbor and turn on the air conditioning so it’s nice and cool when you get home," said John Cioe of Newport Custom Homes in Scottsdale.
"Also, if there is a breach in your security system or your wine storage room goes above or below the optimal temperature, your home will immediately call you or e-mail you to let you know."
If you’re one of those people whose VCR is still blinking 12:00 four years after you got it, today’s home technology will blow your mind. From being able to check up on the babysitter while you’re at work through an Internet-connected video camera to heating up the hot tub on the way home through your cell phone, today’s "smart homes" are straight out of "The Jetsons."
Most of the technology is still an executive play thing found in pricey subdivisions. But, those who have access to the latest gadgetry can use a cell phone, PDA or computer to start the lawn watering system from across the country; switch on the Web-enabled dishwasher from the car; tell their digital recorder to start recording from the office; check to see if they forgot to turn off the iron; and start preheating the oven so it will be ready immediately.
How does it work? Each electronic device in the smart home has an IP address on the home’s powerline network. Homeowners can then access each of those automated functions using that IP address, just like they send messages to an individual computer.
"I took advantage of the technology that was available to make things run smoother in business," said retired engineer Ken Carter of Scottsdale, who has invested about $50,000 in home automation. "It’s only natural that I use it in my home to make life at home easier and more fun. Plus, it gives the grandkids more toys to play with when they visit."
Technology makes life so easy that you can control your castle without ever getting up from the recliner. Today’s totally wired home lets you use a touch panel to program your lights to go on, off, or dim to match your moods and security needs. You can have bright lights when you’re eating, dimmed lights for dessert, reading lights when you settle down with a good book and lights that shift to showcase different pieces of art at different times.
"And with motion sensors, you’ll never have to turn on another light," Cioe said. "If you get up in the middle of the night, the lights can be programmed to slowly brighten so you’ll never have to fumble around looking for a light switch in the dark."
You also can use your home network to create a multisource audio and video center that can be controlled with a single touch pad or remote. Family members are able to watch the same DVD or videotape from different rooms and at the same time, too.
The same is true for music. Want to hear a song that you don’t have? You can tell your home computer network to search for the song on the Web and it will download the MP3 to your catalog.
Home networking also allows you to use one highspeed Internet connection to connect multiple computers. Once the computers are networked together, members of your household can share printers and scanners, transfer files between computers, share PC drives, and play multiplayer games between PCs.
"Home technology has focused mostly on the home office and home entertainment, but now it’s moving into the kitchen," said Pamela Colbertson-Krieger, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, a New York City market research firm. "Companies are trying to build a kitchen that links appliances that can communicate with one another."
Samsung Electronics unveiled a refrigerator that sports a large 15-inch LCD panel on the front door, can access the Internet, send and receive e-mail, and keeps barcode inventory for online grocery shopping. General Electric has developed a working model for an oven that surfs the Web for cooking directions. And several companies — including Panasonic, Samsung and Sharp — are selling microwave ovens with Internet connection capabilities. Samsung’s microwave allows a consumer to get a recipe from the Web and view the recipe on a control panel on the microwave.
"A data box transfers the recipe data so you won’t have to load in ‘30 minutes at 300 degrees’ and manually rotate the dish to cook the recipe correctly," Krieger said. The microwave will make sure it’s cooked properly.
The Internet refrigerator is priced at $9,360 and Panasonic’s wired microwave oven costs $1,045.
So how smart can your home be? That depends on your budget.
The average cost of an item from Smarthome, which sells home automation products, is less than $40 and requires no new wires.
But the costs to deck out your home with the latest technology can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To keep up with the changing face of the home, more homebuilders like Cioe are offering "digital" homes that leave the homeowner with icon-driven touch pads to operate their homes. Cioe also wires all the homes he builds now so they can accommodate new technology that will come in the future.
"The technology is about more than just the gadgets," said Cioe, whose teched-out homes start at $605,000. "It’s about adapting the technology to your life-style and gearing it to your needs."
Look into the future
Newport Custom Homes of Scottsdale has a model home at 5700 Canyon Crossings Drive in Carefree that is equipped with much of the latest "smart home" technology. The model is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, call (480) 281-1585 or visit http://www.newporthomesaz.com