Home Automation: Control Your Home With Your iPhone

Get all the info you'll need on how to control your home with your iPhone, and prepare to create an economical and efficient network you can manage from the palm of your hand.
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By: Sean McEvoy

One of the most appealing aspects of the current era of home automation is the ability to control your home with your iPhone or other smart mobile device. Many of a home's systems can now be controlled using smartphones, laptops or other mobile-enabled devices. This makes home automation an extremely appealing feature for any homeowner with a desire to regularly control a home's components from anywhere, at any time. Most remote or mobile control of home automation from a smart device requires the installation of a home automation system that offers this type of control as a feature, although there are plentiful options for DIY enthusiasts to set up their own in-home network of smartphone/device controlled systems.

The Smart Home of the Future

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Housing: What the Future Holds

Flash forward 50 years: The “millennial generation” is reaching retirement age (which is now 78, thanks to ever-increasing life expectancy). That’s right, they are the mature members of society, no doubt complaining about the slacker youth of the day and living in a technologically advanced world we can only imagine. As we begin coverage of the HGTV Smart Home 2014 construction project, let’s take a look at how our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will live.

Planned Communities

Let’s start with the big picture: What neighborhoods will look like. “Over the past 50 years, the biggest trend has been out of compact urban dwellings into sprawling suburban ones,” says Roger Platt, senior vice president at the US Green Building Council. “Over the next 50, the opposite is likely going to happen.” People will want a walkable lifestyle with an urban cool vibe. That means parks, bodegas and entertainment venues nearby and — thanks to population growth — extremely compact houses with multifunction rooms; for example, a single space might triple as living room, dining room and kitchen.

Water-Top Homes

Rising water levels and massive coastal storms may change our methods of building along the shore, says architect Maureen Guttman of the Alliance to Save Energy. Instead of buttressing homes on ever higher, deeper and beefier pilings in the sand, she envisions houses being built on floating barges that can simply be relocated out of harm’s way when hurricanes or nor’easters approach.

Building Materials

Forget 2x4s and wallboard, the house of the future may be built of a material that’s something like concrete but could be manufactured on site using a giant 3D computer printer, says physicist Max Sherman, who leads the Energy Performance in Buildings Group at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. He predicts that this substance will be able to literally change itself from a super-insulating and draft-blocking barrier one minute into a breathable and free-flowing one the next, all depending on the conditions inside and outside.

Heating and Cooling

Thanks to this efficient building material, houses may need only tiny heating systems. Just a bit of added warmth will maintain comfortable indoor temperatures. Large-scale cooling, on the other hand, will still be needed because on hot days, no amount of insulation will keep the ambient temperature down. But air conditioners and even geothermal heat pumps will be things of the past. Physicist Max Sherman predicts that both cooling and heating will be provided by the walls themselves — possibly that newfangled concrete-like material or the paint on its surface — which will contain electronic devices that simply warm or cool on demand, in much the same way that an LED (light emitting diode) bulb produces illumination today.

Self-Sufficiency

The roofs and exterior walls of houses will also double as solar energy collectors, using far more effective technologies than today’s photovoltaic cells. “The solar energy that hits the earth in one hour is enough to power all of humanity's energy needs for a year,” says Mark LaLiberte of Construction Instruction, a building efficiency and technology consultancy. “We just don’t know how best to capture it yet.” In the world’s increasingly urban settings 50 years from now, houses will likely be interconnected in “micro-grids” so that those that get the most sun, and therefore create more power than they need, will help to supply nearby units that can’t generate all of their own power. New technologies — and global food shortages — may also make backyard and rooftop gardening feasible as a significant food source for feeding the family, though busy homeowners will likely hire help to tend their mini-farms.

Appliances

Bob Martin, director of industrial design at Electrolux Major Appliance, predicts the end of dishwashers. “New surface technologies will mean dishes and cookware hardly need any cleaning at all,” he says. Meanwhile, tiny robots could keep houses clean, not by randomly circling the floors to vacuum and mop, but by identifying the moment soil appears on any surface of the house and dispatching a team of smartphone-sized machines to clean it. Rather than a gas or electric cooktop, kitchen countertops themselves may heat pots on command, using induction technology that boils water in seconds yet won’t cause a burn when touched. Ovens will cook to perfect doneness automatically without probe thermometers or human intervention.

Smart Controls

Today’s touch screens, remote controls and dashboard apps will seem like quaint relics of the past. Our experts predict that houses will automatically respond to outside weather conditions, to their residents' eminent arrival home, and to commands provided with just a thought.

If you're interested in setting up a new home automation system or upgrading an existing one, consider including the ability to use an iPhone or other smart device as a controller or remote hub for controlling multiple system features. You'll first want to explore the range of hardware and software options that offer this as a feature of their overall package. There are various home automation systems in the marketplace, offering everything from premium, whole-home automation to simple installs for smaller homes or even single rooms. One requirement you'll definitely need for a system to pair with your iPhone or other wireless device is the ability for the system to connect to your home's wireless network. This is a feature of most modern home automation systems. Whereas older home automation systems were hard-wired into the home's electrical grid or operated via radio signals, the newest systems all rely on wireless technology to enable communication between devices and appliances, the home's electrical grid, and even energy providers.

Assuming the system you've chosen offers connection with a wireless network, you'll need to decide from a range of apps offered by various home automation companies. Many of these apps will work directly with the home automation system you've installed, allowing you to use your iPhone or other smart device as a remote control from inside the home, or as a "mission control" style dashboard from inside or outside the home, controlling and manipulating everything from the home's temperature to the time the lights come on in the evening. Each system offers its own selection of apps, so be sure to investigate these before you decide on the system that's right for you.

For DIY enthusiasts, there's a wide range of independent home automation apps that can be utilized via an iPhone or other smart device. These may allow you to control a smaller-scale home automation network you've set up in your home, controlling things like lighting and entertainment systems remotely from within the home or via a mobile dashboard from anywhere with a wireless or cellular data connection. DIY iPhone or smartphone control of home automation is a widely adopted feature in the home automation enthusiast community, and there are multiple resources available online for tinkerers or experts with a desire to set up their own smart home.

Home Technology of the Future

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