- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

When the homeowner of tomorrow steps in her front door after a long day at the office, she’ll be able to enjoy just the right lighting, soft music and seasonally appropriate heat or air conditioning, all primed and ready for her at the touch of a button - a touch she made while still in her car on the way home.

Of course, the roast already will have finished cooking - she will have arranged for that to start while she was at work - and the laundry will have been done during an off-peak period, using less energy and saving her family more money than if she had crammed it all in the washer after dinner.

These days, it’s not enough for your children to get into Harvard or Yale. Now your home has to be smart, too. Soon, potential buyers will be looking for Home IQ scores along with heat pumps and garage door openers.

The notion of a home that can anticipate your needs has been around as long as, say, the Jetsons. Now, however, yesterday’s caricatures are today’s realities. At last month’s 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, for example, South Korea’s LG Electronics displayed its line of Thinq appliances. Touch-screen LED displays in Thinq refrigerators enable homeowners to keep track of where food items have been placed - and when they expire. Imagine standing in front of the dairy case in the supermarket and being able to know whether you have milk in the fridge back home.

Meanwhile, GE showcased its own array of smart-home technologies, including a full suite of energy-efficient smart appliances. GE has long been in the forefront of smart-home technology, touting the well-connected home as the wave of the future for an energy-conscious nation.

“There’s a growing need for consumers to have the tools that will allow them to manage … home-energy consumption,” says Dave McCalpin, general manager of GE’s Home Energy Management Division. “Once you get devices connected, you can offer other convenience benefits to consumers.”

So what exactly is a smart home?

The answer has a lot to do with the needs of the homeowner. Generally speaking, smart homes are connected, meaning you can control your home - and the appliances in it - in ways that weren’t possible just a few years ago. All it takes is a click on a computer icon or a tap on an app.

“It’s about the ability to easily interface with the home and with everyday devices,” says Frank DePew, the owner of Chesapeake Smart Homes, which does high-end custom home installations throughout the Greater Washington area and beyond. “Wireless technology has changed everything. Now you can use your smart phone - or your iPad - to control things. That alone is full of implications for what smart homes will be.”

In tougher times, conserving energy and saving money are big draws.

“We have been in the dark forever about how we conserve electricity,” Mr. McCalpin says. “Having the information about which devices consume the most energy helps people feel empowered and willing to make more informed choices.”

Recent studies have shown that more detailed and regular information about energy consumption can prompt homeowners to curtail electricity use by about 10 percent. Meanwhile, the new smart grid (not yet available everywhere) would allow for energy costs to vary throughout the day, with the highest prices most likely occurring during periods of peak consumption. Appliances that “know” when those peak hours are would help homeowners manage energy consumption and reduce their costs.

But even without the smart grid, smart-home technologies are changing the way homeowners live their lives.

Hate coming into a dark house and having to scramble to find the lights? You’ll never have to face that scenario again in a smart home, which will enable you to program different scenarios, depending upon your needs.

“You can get rid of all those light switches and end up with one keypad,” Mr. DePew says.

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