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Technology at your fingertips

Want to turn off all your home's lights with the touch of a button? Select a CD or DVD? Monitor security? No problem.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002


TAMPA -- The Jetsons haven't arrived yet, but they may be a light year closer.

The latest home technology makes it possible to adjust lighting, audio-visual, security and climate control equipment on keypads or touch screens throughout the house.

The systems also can be accessed through the Internet, making it possible to view security camera images from most anywhere in the world.

When Jack Thompson expanded his Bayshore home by 2,500 square feet three years ago, he installed wires to network his home's four computers and to integrate his electronics systems.

Touch pads in the kitchen, living room, family room, master bedroom and pool area control the entire system.

"There are 1,000 different things you can do with it. Half I know how to do and half I don't even know how to do yet," Thompson says. "I'm learning."

For now, he can walk in the front door, push the "I'm home" button, and lights leading from the front door to the kitchen come on. Or, push the "I'm going to sleep" button in the master bedroom, and all the lights in the house go off. Other buttons create romantic lighting, or a party atmosphere.

He can program lights inside and outside the house for 30 days at a time.

His CD player holds up to 400 discs. From any of the key pads, he can select a CD, view the cover, and choose tracks that can be played in every room of the house independent of the others.

The setup means a parent can listen to Neil Young in the master bedroom while a teen grooves to Linkin Park in the family room.

Thompson's system was installed by Audio Visions South, which provides custom audio/visual, lighting and security systems.

The company started 20 years ago as a stereo store, but evolved to meet the latest high-tech demands. Today, it supplies everything from remote-controlled hurricane shutters to home theaters.

"We get involved in the very early stages of building if it's possible," owner George Liu says. "The level of systems and sophistication can effect the structure of the architecture, it can effect building materials and of course it effects how the home is wired."

Systems can cost up to $100,000, depending on the size of a home, but a simple system with a handful of lighting options can cost as little as $2,500.

Liu and his wife, Susan, outfitted their Hyde Park home with a system that controls the lights, audio/visual system and security systems.

"We just press the symbol for camera and a scene from the front door will come on, then it will go to the side door, then the walkway. So if at night we hear something we can just look and see what's going on," Susan Liu says.

She also can watch television on the key pad, and eventually will be able to read her e-mail on it.

The wiring for such systems has become de rigueur for custom and production home builders, even if residents choose not to use them to their full capacity. Lennar Homes includes top-of-the-line category five wiring in all of its "Everything's Included" homes.

Scott Shimberg, executive vice president of Hyde Park Builders, says such wiring is as essential as insulation to the home he builds.

"Future-proofing a house is what we like to call it," Shimberg says. "For some customers, you can't totally explain why you need to put the wires in, but I tell them, 'Trust me, five years from now you'll want that.' "

At builder shows, Shimberg sees refrigerators that report grocery needs and appliances that alert owners when parts wear out.

"GE is exploring that right now. Appliances become smart appliances," Shimberg says. "The concepts aren't there today but put the wiring in so you can plan on it for the future."

As Liu notes, "Back in the late 1800s very few homes had plumbing. Just the luxury places had it."

Eventually, though, every home was built with indoor plumbing.

High-tech features will be the same, experts predict.

And, they say, forward-thinking wiring helps with resale.

"Every luxury home has a great kitchen, has a pool. But if I like two homes equally well, if one is wired properly, it becomes a no-brainer," Liu says.

The systems make particular sense for very large homes, says Wayne Fernandez, who heads the residential building division of J.O. DeLotto and Sons.

"It makes for easier management of the home," Fernandez says.

You can be in your bedroom and push a button on the wall to view a DVD without having to walk through a 6,000-square-foot house to find a disc.

Fernandez advises customers to do their research before purchasing a system.

"Some systems can be so overwhelming and complicated customers pull their hair out," he says. "It's important for the homeowner to educate themselves."

He recommends talking to a company's past clients to find out what they like and don't like about their systems.

"There's so much stuff out there you can really over buy," says Thompson, who is CEO of Tamco, a Clearwater telecommunications company.

"Dollar for dollar, some people wouldn't spend the money for it. But I like that kind of stuff. I'm in the field so I figure I should live it."

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