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Total control at your fingertips

As many as 200 devices - garage door openers, lights, televisions - can be controlled by a single system.

Published December 13, 2005

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Mike Einstein demonstrates a remote control that operates a pool pump, heater and lights. Einstein is vice president of Intermatic Inc., an Illinois company that makes products for the home, including lighting and remote controls.
Mike Einstein closes blinds by remote control in a St. Petersburg house picked for automation. Wireless technology allows all the electronic products to work together.

ST. PETERSBURG - The 32-year-old, 2,200-square-foot house needed work, including painting, redoing worn-out flooring and tending to an overgrown garden.

But for Mike Einstein and the Z-Wave Alliance, it was just perfect for a touch of tech.

With the push of a button, Einstein and the home automation trade group could control almost everything electric: from the garage door to the pool to lights - indoor and outside - to curtains and shutters, to the entertainment system, about 50 items in all.

Home automation, the group says, is not just for brand-spanking-new homes.

"The refurb market to us is probably 20 times bigger than new construction," said Einstein, a spokesman for the alliance ( and vice president of Intermatic Inc., an Illinois company that makes a variety of home products, including lighting and remote controls for the house.

The 16-month-old alliance has 125 members, many competing against one another. But they have agreed to use a wireless technology called Z Wave in their products.

That means all the electronic products will work together, regardless of manufacturer. If someone buys a remote from one company and a light dimmer from another and a garage door opener from a third, the consumer will not have any problems with them meshing.

The alliance says it is devoted to simple installation and operation. Homeowners can start with a few devices and add on as they wish. Microwaves won't work, but the coffee pot is okay.

Up to 200 devices can be controlled with one system, but others can be added.

Member companies emphasize that it's affordable technology. An automated curtain opener that might have cost $1,000 years ago would run about $250. Installing everything in the demo house costs about $5,000.

How did this high-tech demo end up in a waterfront house in northwest St. Petersburg? Einstein, 53, grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Dixie Hollins High and still has family here. Intermatic bought his surge protector company in 1989, and he moved to a suburb of Chicago.

Einstein thought the house would be ideal for a first demo. So he bought it, the alliance refurbished it and then last week member companies swooped in to set up their technology.

In less than two days, all was installed and ready to show off to potential customers. Most of the products are either on the market or will be soon.

The St. Petersburg home will be used for a few months for viewing by business customers only, then sold. The next location has not been determined.

"They all said, "When are we doing the next one?"' Einstein said.

--Dave Gussow can be reached at or 727 445-4165.

[Last modified December 13, 2005, 01:30:24]

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