Home & Design August 31, 2015
Life at the Jetsons
Smart Homes Come of Age

The Internet of Things may still be a ways into the future, but there’s no doubt that connectivity within our environment is increasing every day. With seemingly every pedestrian, coffee shop customer and driver (scarily) sporting a smartphone or tablet, our ability to instantaneously pass information, whether texts, photos, financial information or funny cat videos, is speeding up at a pace that most of us can barely keep up with. 

However, for those on the cutting edge—the early adopters, as they say in the tech industry—life is inching ever closer to the world envisioned by the creators of the Jetsons. We’re not quite talking about robot butlers, but it’s becoming increasingly common to use technology to control more and more functions throughout households everywhere, and the Wood River Valley is no exception.

Homeowners, architects, contractors and technology specialists are all teaming up to bring integrated systems that control temperature, lights, blinds and audio/visual equipment in a manner that’s simpler than ever. 

“The last chapter was five remotes put into one,” said Gary Leeds, owner of Leeds High Fidelity and the new Leeds Look & Listen studio in Ketchum. “The new chapter is no remotes, controlling more, with updates able to be downloaded instantaneously.”

Leeds, like a number of audio/visual companies throughout the Valley, has seen an increase in the number of projects in which their services are becoming an integrated part of the building process, rather than a tacked-on, rigid part of the construction budget.

In addition to the removal of multiple remotes to run a system, smart homes are also becoming marked by a noticeable absence of wires, with multiple functions operated over WiFi, Ethernet and “the cloud.”

Beyond the aesthetic advantages, using wireless systems also gives homeowners control through a mobile device, such as an iPad or smartphone. This could mean using a sensor in the driveway so that your lights turn on when you pull up to your house, controlling the house temperature from anywhere in the world, or being alerted to any smoke issues without the need to hire a third-party provider, such as a traditional security company.

 

“All the growth in technology over the past 10 years means people are used to having this kind of information and control right at their fingertips.” –Kyle Baysinger, Maestro

 

This latter point is surely an attractive feature of the smart home—namely, negating the need to make a service call in the evening and waiting for someone to show up to get everything back online.

The increasing trend in smart home technology is not only seen with homeowners, but is also evidenced throughout the technology industry, as with Google purchasing Nest, a remote thermostat (along with carbon monoxide and smoke alarms) company, for $3.2 billion. That acquisition is a fairly clear indication that some of the most progressive companies in the world think this market is only going to grow.

For Leeds, one of the most significant improvements is the scalability of the new systems. By using high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) over the Internet, homeowners can make upgrades much easier as new technologies are introduced—which they surely will be—as opposed to “legacy” equipment—those pieces that, once installed, make it difficult to change without a major overhaul of the entire system.

“For homeowners in this area, a lot of whom are part-time residents, they want the opportunity to have remote management,” said Kyle Baysinger, owner of Maestro Technology Solutions. “This can mean video cameras (both for security or just to see how much snow is in the backyard for an upcoming ski trip), thermostat regulation and more, all integrated with their security and lighting control.”

As well as convenience and increasing simplicity, there are other real benefits, notes Baysinger. By operating temperature and shading remotely, homeowners can maximize efficiency in their houses, lowering both electricity and heating bills.

“All the growth in technology over the past 10 years means people are used to having this kind of information and control right at their fingertips,” Baysinger said. “They want to be able to use a tablet or phone to do all of this.”

However, this type of system and technology is still in its relative infancy, with the contractors, electricians and audio/visual specialists all working together to accomplish the homeowner’s goals. According to Adam Elias, owner of Ketchum-based Elias Construction, these systems require that different members of the building team coordinate much earlier in the process than they would on a more conventional home.

While current local smart homes mostly work the low-voltage systems—again, the audio/visual, shading, heat and lighting—Elias said that the future systems would likely not only manage all of this, but also make significant strides toward temperature management and efficiency. In this case, the home’s system would know to increase the solar gain or shading according to a clock and the home’s sun exposure, automatically adjusting the interior temperature to minimize cost and energy output.

Although these kinds of systems will more likely find early adoption in hotter, desert climates, the trend heavily suggests that as new construction regains momentum here, wireless mobile devices will provide more and more control of residential systems. And once the robot butlers become available, we’ll definitely let you know about it. 

This article appears in the Fall 2015 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.