Story by Ed Carroll
By Ed Carroll
Twenty years ago this past summer, Disney Channel released “Smart House,” a movie in which a widowed father and his two children win a contest for a technology-enhanced home that helps take care of basic chores – until, that is, the house itself gets jealous and begins to take on a personality of its own. The film is decidedly science fiction (and somewhat sappy), but technologies that seemed completely crazy in 1999 have become more and more common in 2019, like smart home technologies completing tasks that previously needed a human’s touch. With that in mind, experts from Smart Home Innovations in Cleveland, K+ Integration Systems in Chagrin Falls and evoDOMUS in Cleveland Heights shared what customers are requesting from them when they want to add technology to their homes.
Systems for senses
Despite the warnings given to us by “Smart House” and other fiction (“2001: A Space Odyssey” springs to mind), Mike Kolomsy, owner of Smart Home Innovations, says the big thing for his customers right now are voice recognition, house analytics and artificial intelligence for their homes.
“With our company and the type of home automation systems we work with, we can tell Alexa certain commands to do certain things,” he says, referring to Amazon’s virtual assistant. “For instance, I can tell Alexa to turn on the lights, turn down the shades, turn on the TV.
“With the analytics features, at least in the home audio/video world, they have touch screens now that recognize who you are and will adjust the touch screen accordingly to control the home. So, if you just like using music in certain rooms, well, it will pop up that way,” Kolomsy says. “That’s kind of what’s big right now, at least with the systems I’m working with here. We’re hitting that hard.”
He says a frequent byproduct of these smart home technologies is the improved energy efficiency, however most people aren’t coming in to his company specifically requesting more efficiency.
“They want the control aspect, too,” Kolomsy says. “They want to be able to, with one touch of the button, be able to turn on or off the lights. With new homes out there now, all the lighting is low-voltage lighting, so it really doesn’t take much power. That saves a ton of money on your energy bills.”
Time to upgrade
Rob Myers, president of K+ Integration Systems, agrees most people aren’t looking to improve energy efficiency when they want to put smart technology in their homes.
“Most of the time, the technology is part of the overall experience of sound and video,” he says. “We don’t often get requests for people to specifically automate lighting, for example. Mostly, it’s coupled with they’ve got some technology in the house, it’s kind of outdated, they’ve heard a lot about integrating sound, video, control of thermostats and lighting and things like that. So, they’re curious about that (and) they’re coming because it’s time to upgrade parts of the house that they interact with more.”
Frequently, Myers’ customers come to him looking to upgrade the sound system in their homes.
“A lot of people still have CD players,” he says. “Everything’s moving to internet streaming. I’ve got a CD player, it’s part of my system and it’s been part of my system for 20 years – (with) drawers full of CDs – and I can’t tell you when the last time was that I opened one of those boxes and put a CD in the CD player.”
Myers says it’s actually remarkably easy for people to update from CD player systems to internet streaming systems, often for no more than what a nice TV used to cost. And for most of the systems on the market, sound quality isn’t an issue.
“Most of the equipment we sell, the sound quality is really, really good right out of the gate,” he says. “For most people, that’s good enough. … It used to be if you were a real audiophile, you had to spend a ton of money. Today, you can get great, great, great sound for not a huge investment.”
Alexander Kolbe, owner of evoDOMUS, says most people come to his company looking to automate things around the house.
“What I see is that people tend to request more home automation,” he says. “The catchphrase is ‘smart homes.’ What that means is it can be anything from a smart doorbell to a whole-house system that can be controlled by your … phone. It allows you to have certain scenarios, so actually you can program moods. You can say, ‘I want to throw a party’ (or) ‘I want certain lights on,’ and you can do all that just by pressing one button.”
He says in order to accomplish this, the house needs a bus system, which would connect every electric fixture in the house to an IP address, allowing computers to access each fixture. But those options are on the higher end, he says, and people usually like technologies, such as the ability to control the temperature in their houses before they get home.
Kolbe’s company specializes in making green homes, often combining efficient heat and cooling systems with a high-performance thermal envelope, providing more insulation in the walls and windows and an air-tight home.
He also says changes in technology have made some once common features obsolete.
“What has changed is the nature of certain technology,” Kolbe says. “Nobody in their right mind would use incandescent light sources any more – it’s all LEDs, it’s all lower energy. I think LEDs have come so far in terms of the light color and they’re dimmable. You can just do anything with them, they just don’t need a lot of electrical energy. That has changed, but there are people who are uncomfortable and want the same things they needed 20 years ago. It’s just we have more to offer now. Smart home technology was almost unheard of 20 years ago. … We can do more now than back in the day.”