How often has this happened to you?
You're lying in bed, in that hazy time-has-stopped state just before slipping into blissful unconscious sleep when a sudden realization pokes you like an electric cattle prod. "Honey," you squeal as you shake awake your snoring spouse. "Did you lock the door?!" With eyes half open your better half annoyingly mumbles, "I'll take care of it."
Or, you've just loaded your minivan full of groceries. As you climb behind the wheel for the drive home, you ponder the dark ice box awaiting you – before leaving for work that morning you turned off the lights and turned down the thermostat to 60 degrees while no one was home.
Or, your baggy-pants teenaged son claims to have gotten home right after school, but you suspect he went to the mall to hang out with those ne'er-do-well friends of his.
The solutions to all of these situations is home automation. But you don't have to be Bill and Melinda Gates to build a remote-controlled super smart home – all you need are some inexpensive Z-Wave-enabled products and a smart phone.
Z-Wave, you ask? What's that?
Modular home control
Z-Wave is a wireless control protocol. In English, that means that things like lighting, door locks, heat and cooling systems, thermostats, window shades and security cameras and monitoring, A/V components (TV, DVD player, cable box, et al) can all be meshed together in a cohesive wireless network all controlled via app(s) on your cell phone or computer.
Not only do you get full remote control, but you can save a ton of money on energy costs by programming lights, appliances and thermostat to go on and off on a timer and to monitoring electric use.
All you need are the right inexpensive Z-Wave compatible modules – no more than a couple of hundred bucks, usually much less – sold by home improvement and electronics stores such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Best Buy. And not everything needs tools, although anyone who's installed a light switch – or not – can turn a dumb house into a smart phone. There are more than 500 different Z-Wave compatible products from a host of brand-name companies, all of which can be tied together to be controlled from a single smart phone app.
Start by solving a specific problem – say, turning your lights on or off remotely. In-wall and AC switches (plug your lamp into a module, plug the module into the wall power socket) from GE, Leviton and a half dozen others cost less than $50 and can let you turn lights on or off, dim, set timers – all without being any near the switch.
Build a network
Once you're comfortable with how the light controls work, you can add modules such as Z-Wave door locks from Schlage, Kwikset and Black & Decker, which let you check the locked/unlocked status of the lock, open or lock it remotely, get an email or text or even a phone call when someone unlocks the door, set times when even codes won't open the door, and everyone in the house can get their own code. Then add sub-$100 Z-Wave thermostats, home energy monitoring modules, security modules, etc. Most modules require only the push of a button to add them to your network.
Once you begin to build a network, get yourself a "gateway," a box that aggregates all the varying Z-Wave products into a single wireless network and connect the network to the internet to control everything from a single smart phone app, no matter where in the world you are.
One of the leading "gateway" boxes is Vera ($250) from a company called Mi Casa Verde. Here's a Vera video illustrating how Z-Wave products are installed and controlled:
Theoretically, you could gain complete remote control over nearly every electrically-powered device in your home – and even some that aren't – for around $500.
So if your spouse awakens you with a door lock query, reach for your smart phone. Want to warm up and light up your dark house before you get home? Reach for your smart phone. Want to check to see if your wayward son came home when he said he did? Reach for your smart phone.
And all this control is cheaper and easier than you thought.