The smart house

George Schweitzer details his experience with home automation.

George Schweitzer Chief marketing officer, CBS
George Schweitzer's position as chief marketing officer at CBS gives him a unique opportunity not only to observe but also to help shape the ways technology is altering the television industry. A communications major at Boston University who joined CBS after graduation some 30 years ago, George is also an unabashed technology geek who specializes in the latest home automation and entertainment gear.
George Schweitzer
3 min read

I got into the whole "smart house," home automation (HA) thing about 11 years ago when reading about how I could get some of the lights inside and outside my house to be controlled automatically. I did some research, and a friend recommended an installer. The timing was perfect, because we were renovating a 100-year-old house that was badly in need of everything. We stripped it to the bones, which was a real treat when it came to running Cat 5 and video cable throughout the whole place. This was before Wi-Fi, before iPods, before LCD TV screens!

The goal was to have the outside lights respond automatically to sunrise and sunset triggers, and also to integrate with the security alarm system.

The installer programmed a home automation system called Stargate. I found it hard to figure out, but it did its job for about 8 years. Then I had some issues and wanted to reprogram, but I couldn't find the installer. I started looking for a new expert. A lot had changed in that time, so I did a lot of research, evaluation, and conversation.

Eventually, I replaced the Stargate system with one called Homeseer, which is flexible, easy to program, and I can add components and capabilities to it quickly and efficiently. Best of all, it can be accessed via the Web from anywhere in my house or the world. Heaven!

Working with Homeseer and building my system was addictive. Now I know how golfers and fishermen feel: hours and hours of concentration, dedication, frustration, and exhilaration.

Of course, you need a guide, and an expert. Chris Carpentier of Living Automated became mine. As the Homeseer guy in my area, Chris quickly became my "golf buddy." He is skilled and smart. He is always learning, which is also a wonderful part of this process. Best of all, he's neat! His wire runs are the tidiest in the county.

Chris and I embarked on the journey, completely rebuilding my home system, integrating all the lights, the sprinkler system, HVAC, security, and video distribution. The key to home automation is just that: automation. You set up how you want everything to work and it shouldn't need attention beyond the time you want to invest. And it must pass what's known in the field as the "WAF": Wife Acceptance Factor. That's right. It cannot require any heavy lifting from your spouse. The first time something doesn't work and you are not around, you are busted! You never want to hear, "The lights seemed to go on fine when I turned on the switch, so why are we in the dark now?" Or, "The sprinklers have been on for an hour. Is there a problem?" Or, "The police are here responding to an alarm, but nothing is ringing." OK. You get it.

The HA community is supported by an eager and knowledgeable group of enthusiasts who comb the message boards to offer help. You learn the answers to questions quickly when you have any problems, and you are soon offering your own experiences to others.

I see the role of HA growing in the areas of home information and energy management, in terms of integrating systems, ensuring a house is secure, and maximizing efficiency. Energy management, such as organizing and conserving lighting, electricity, hot water, heating, and cooling, is a must nowadays.

More to come on this!