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The WellConnectedHome highlights an average family's journey into building a home with today's technology within a budget an average family can afford.

TheWellConnectedHome was created by homeowners for homeowners. Homeowners are encouraged to write articles to share their experiences with home tech as well.

DIY Home Control is Possible, But is it Worth it?

IMAG2674by Lori Cunningham

 

 

With the iPhone and iPad came an incredible array of home automation apps that suddenly put more power in the hands of the homeowner and opened the market for a flood of DIY products aimed for the homeowner who wanted to dabble in home control.  In the not so distant past, the price of automating your home at a minimum would be $20k with a professional installer.

 

What We Did

With our new home, we had the house wired and wired again ensuring we could have replication, should one wire go bad in some locations.  After much investigation, I selected Z-wave technology, which is a mesh network in which different nodes communicate with each other to carry the signal.  I had installed numerous GE Z-wave dimmer light switches and some Kwikset SmartCode Z-wave locks to be controlled by a micasaverde Vera controller.  Micasaverde Vera is a Z-wave router that controls all Z-wave switches in the house.

With some determination, I have been successfully controlling these Z-wave devices using my iPad, PC’s, and smartphones.  However, every once in a while, the controls stop working and I need to do some troubleshooting, something I actually dread because I never know how long it’s going to take me.  The allure of piecing together different home automation pieces together such as lights, home theater control, video surveillance was fun and exciting and I set out to do my research to see what could be done and how I could save a cool $20k.

 

Home Automation - Control 4 (15)                             Home Automation - Control 4 (21)

For the family room, so far, I have not yet found the right fit for a remote control that controls our TV, DVD player (which is one of our gaming consoles), receiver, Logitech HD Skype camera, and gaming consoles.  I downloaded a number of remote apps and none fit the bill.  Besides, I rarely have my smartphone or iPad readily available when I sit down to watch TV, so apps aren’t the right solution for me.

When I was asked to consider reviewing Control4 for family room, I was taken aback.  Control4 is not DIY and I was still trying to find the right DIY answer.  From doing my research 5 years before, I remember Control4 being very expensive and rather inclusive, meaning it did not work well with other technologies outside of their products.  Just to get started, it would set you back a great deal of money and then you’re locked into their franchise.  Honestly, I originally told my husband, Control4 was not a consideration for our home because it went against my maverick DIY home automation wanderings.

Now, five years later, I’m considering implementing Control4 in my home?  Interesting.  I told Control4 that yes, I would review their family room system, but that they could just send me the unit and I would install it myself.  Of course, I was told that their systems require a professional installer to set it up.  Reluctantly, I agreed.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a well-educated IT technician.  My degrees are in Business Administration and Communications Management.  I consider myself an advanced end-user.  I like to dabble in technology but quite frankly, I’m more apt to mess it up than solve involved technical problems.  Nonetheless, I remain inherently hopeful that I will be able to figure things out on my own.

I plan to go into more details about the Z-wave technology I’ve used in our home, but first wanted to set the stage of my DIY learnings so far before Control4 was installed in our family room to control our home theater devices.  More to come soon about Control4.

 

 

WD My Net N900. A Router for a New Generation

by Mike Bowserwd


 

WD (9)

I bought my first router in 2000 and I remember back then it was quite a feat to get it setup. You had to setup your own passwords and userids for your network but security back then was not as high of a priority as it is today.  If your not familiar with what a router is, it is simply a device that helps to direct and control all the wired/wireless communications in your home or business network (make sure information gets from one computer to another).

When I opened the box for the Western Digital Net N900 I was pleasantly surprised to find very little to unwrap and setup. Just the router, power cord, network cable and a CD.  I can definitely say routers have come leaps and bounds over the past 10 years and this one definitely got me excited when I started going through the setup process.

Features

The Net N900 offers a number of features including:

  • FasTrack Plus technology
  • Simultaneous dual-band – 2.4 and 5 GHz
  • Range-amplifying technology
  • 7 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • 2 USB ports
  • My Net software includes parental controls, Internet security, guest access, and network diagnostics
  • Advanced QoS (WMM)
  • WPA/WPA2, SPI firewall security
  • IPv6, WPS, DLNA, UPnP,
    Wi-Fi certified

Easy Set-Up

Initial setup of the router was very simple, I just had to plug it in to my home network and follow the setup instructions on the cd that fired up right when I inserted it into my computer.

WD (3)                      WD (2)

WD (14)                    WD (18)

One thing I really loved about this router were not only its features but that it setup my wireless password for me automatically so I didn’t have to try and think up of a strong password to secure my network with. There are so many cool features that this router has it will be difficult to squeeze them all into this one post but here we go.

The Net N900 provides you many options to ensure you have the best experience when it comes to streaming HD video across your network. The Net N900 supports both 2.4 GHZ and 5 GHZ Wi-Fi bands. The 5GHZ band is definitely preferred when it comes to wireless in your home mainly because there are a number of devices which use the 2.4GHZ band in your house such as cordless phones, baby monitors, microwave ovens, car alarms all of which create noise on your network and can cause a significant decrease in speed, or sometimes the total blocking of the Wi-Fi signal when a conversation on the phone takes place.

WD (28)

 

Prioritization of Media

The Net N900 also provides FasTrack Plus which instantly analyzes and prioritizes all movies, videos, games and chat sessions delivering faster, smoother, HD streaming with more efficient load times – even when it’s all happening at the same time.

 

WD (26)

 

Shared Network Drive

wd4             wdshared

Probably the coolest feature the Net N900 has is the ability to make your router a shared network drive or what they like to refer to as (personal could storage), the latest buzz phrase you might have heard going around. I hooked up one of my small portable hard drives to one of the two available USB ports on the back and setup the drive on the router via my computer.  After the setup was completed I could see my hard drive available with my other drives on my computer as a network drive. The neat feature with this is I now have the ability to drop files onto this hard drive from any computer that is connected to my home network via this router which also means I can view any of the files on this hard drive from any device that is connected to my home network which makes it very easy to stream movies that I may have on one computer to another or to my tablet or even to my television with the right hardware.

WD (32)

I hooked up my WD TV Live Media player to my television downstairs which connects wirelessly and I was able to see my router and the shared hard drive downstairs on my television which made it very convenient to access our family photos and movies.

 

Access Your Documents/Media from the WD Phone App

wdapps

One of the other perks that Western Digital provides are free apps available on the iPhone and Android. These apps let you connect to your Net N900 or other WD devices directly on your phone giving you the ability to access all your content on your attached network drive directly on your phone including pictures, documents, movies and music. You can also email content to friends and family via the app as well as access or upload content to your dropbox or skydrive accounts. The WD photos app has a number of options to modify your photos, view them in a slide show or email them to friends and family on Facebook.  The apps will only connect to a My Net N900 Central, My Book Live Duo or a My Book Live hard drives, however recently I found an app called NetPortal in the iTunes store that sells for $4.99 and allows you to access your files in cloud storage using a non-WD drive.   

 

Power Included

WD (11)

 

There are 2 USB ports on the back of the router. If you ever want to know why there colored it is usually for power. The colored blue USB port on this router provides power for devices like a portable hard drive that may not have an external power source. The black colored USB port would therefore not provide you power.

 

Networked Printing

WD (19)

Other features I really enjoyed with the WD Net N900 was the shared printing capabilities.  For a very long time I have struggled with printing in my house because I have multiple computers and only one printer. It is a pain to hook up a printer physically to multiple computers and you tend to be limited to the options you have when you want to have multiple computers print to one printer. I originally had to have my printer setup as a shared printer which required my computer to always be turned on if anyone in the house wanted to print to the printer.

Well the Net N900 solved the problem for me because it has shared printing capabilities. I just plugged my printer into the router via the USB connection, setup the connection via the cd software for the router and am now able to have our family printer print from any computer without the hassle of ensuring my own computer was turned on. If your also worried about sharing a multi-function printer that can scan, copy and fax, don’t worry the Net N900 can handle those as well.

 

Guest Access

WD (25)             WD (29)

Other novel features that I think really enhance this router’s offerings is providing guest access. I know many times I have had friends or family over that want to get on my network and they need my wireless network key to access my home network. The Net N900 gives you the option to setup guest access which will give your guests a separate wireless network key so that you can keep your main wireless key separate giving your guests Internet access and preventing them from accessing your entire network including shared drives etc… I like to think of it as the valet car key you would give the valet driver so they can park your car but not have access to your trunk or locked glove box.

 

Parental Control of Web Surfing

WDParent3

For parents that are concerned about controlling access to content on the Internet for their children the Net N900 gives you some options to limit the type of websites your children can view, set access and time limits for their web access and  Internet security to prevent malware and spyware attacks. The router has a nice number of menus that give you password protect parental access so your child can not go in and circumvent your Internet control policies you have implemented. You can setup controls on all devices on your network or selected devices via the menus.

  WDParent2

The Safe Block List is one of my favorite parental controls because I prefer as a parent to safeguard my children’s internet access through inclusion rather then exclusion. There are so many bad sites that we try to protect our children from accessing and there are new ones popping up all the time that we don’t know about. The Safe/Block list gives you the option to prevent your child from accessing specific sites explicitly or the other way around which I prefer is to block everything except for specific sites you list as safe. Whenever my child wants access to a new site they can’t get to, I will check the site out myself and if I’m OK with it, I’ll add it to the safe list. This can be difficult of course if your child is doing research papers and they need access to multiple sites for learning materials.

 

WDParent1

The Time Block option is nice when you have kids that sneak their tablets or phones into bed with them instead of going to sleep. There are a number of options that let you control the level of access your children can have and at what time you want that level of access throughout the day.

All – Blocks all web access regardless of category.
Maximum – Protects against social networks, video, and games. Includes all lower level blocks.
High – Protects against dating and all adult-related content. Includes all lower level blocks.
Medium – Protects against gambling, alcohol, and tobacco content. Includes all lower level blocks.
Moderate – Protects against occult, illegal acts, and advocacy. Includes all lower level blocks.
Low – Protects against pornography and hard core adult content.
None – Does not provide blocking; allows all web access.

WD (27)

Another nice feature is the ability to block MAC addresses. A MAC address is kind of like a unique identifier for any physical device that connects to a network. You can think of it as like a Social Security Number for electronic devices, everyone has one and no two are the same. Blocking a MAC address is nice when you have someone that you added to your wireless network and they have begun to abuse that access and you need to block them completely. You don’t really want to change your wireless key which will affect everyone else on the network so you have the ability with this router to put that device’s mac address specifically on the blocked list and they will no longer be able to access your network.

 

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective

I have to say I LOVE THIS ROUTER! It is by far the Ferrari of home network devices on the market today. I was truly blown away by the options that were available to share my content among a number of devices on my network, sharing my printer for all my computers, controlling my children’s Internet access as well as providing my guests their own access to my Internet. The only constructive feedback I have about this router is that in order to access the parental controls on the router you had to first register the router and it was supposed to email you an authorization code to enable your settings which proved to be a challenge to setup. Western Digital should do away with that feature as I don’t see why it is necessary.

The WD My Net N900 is available on Amazon.com with Free Super Saver Shipping for $$133.99  or Bestbuy.com for $149.99 with free shipping. This is a solid router and is well worth the price you pay!

 

*  I was given the WD My Net N900 in exchange for my honest review.  All expressed opinions are my own.

The Future of Home Technology, circa 2016

by Lori Cunningham

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend the CEDIA Expo, the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association trade show, in Indianapolis.  CEDIA went to great effort and expense to build a model of how a home would function using technology in the year 2016.  Much of the technology is available now, however, some of it is in the testing phases and much of it is pricey.  The prices will decline with more demand and as more manufacturers make the needed parts.  As a blogger and member of the press, I was given a private tour of CEDIA’s Intuitive Home of 2016 before the CEDIA Expo began.  I included some video footage from some of the rooms to give you an idea how your future rooms could function.

Fast Forward 2016  

 

The Workout Room

With the use of sensors, lighting and music can be increased or decreased depending upon your activity.  For example, when you step on a treadmill, the lights dim, change color, and faster music turns on.  

The Home Office

The Home Office will be dramatically improved with motion sensors identifying when you are approaching your desk.  Your monitor turns on with multiple inputs of activity to view all at the same time.  Conference calls will be fast, more integrated into your day, greatly alleviating the need for face-to-face travel.

The Kitchen

In the near future, ceramic/travertine/granite back splashes will be a thing of the past.  Instead we will have splash screens which are touchscreens to access the Internet, show the kids artwork, allow you to watch videos and follow recipes, etc.  For more really cool technology features in the kitchen see Future Home Technology for the Kitchen.

Aging in Place – The Bedroom

Nearly 80% of seniors over 60 years old live on their own.  (1)  Today’s seniors are more independent and want to live in their homes as long as possible.  With the average life expectancy of 74 for men and 80 for women, this independence worries many of their children.  How can you afford your parents’ independence yet ensure they are safe?  There are an amazing array of tools available now…and coming in the near future to give off-site caregivers peace of mind.

There are some exciting things being made available for our homes in the future.  I foresee the splash touchscreens being used throughout the house…in the kids bedrooms, laundry room, even bathrooms.  We’ll probably start seeing them pop up sooner in retail stores as well.
One of CEDIA Expo’s keynote speakers was futurist Dr. Michio Kaku, a famous theoretical scientists with a zest for completing Albert Einstein’s unified filed theory and predicting trends.  He had a lot to say and I will be summarizing his thoughts in a future post.
Which room of your house would you most like to see futurized?

 

(1)  http://wellconnectedmom.com/blog/2011/09/09/worried-about-your-parents-sonamba-gives-you-peace-of-mind/

What is the Home Automation Market?

by Lori Cunningham

 

I just got back into town from a fun 2 1/2 day stint in Indianapolis, IN for the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA)*.  CEDIA is a business-to-business trade show where Dealers, or Integrators/Installers, go to learn about the latest products for home automation and get trained on them. This year, there were over 400 exhibitors covering 121 product categories.

 

Dealers are companies who professionally install technology products in your home, can include:

  • low voltage wiring (cat 5/6)
  • electrical wiring
  • automated lighting
  • security
  • TV’s
  • home theaters
  • audio/speakers
  • control of technologies (remote control)
  • outdoor audio/video
  • surge suppression/power conditioning
  • wireless networks
  • media servers
  • computers
  • and many more technologies

 

There are an estimated number of 20,000-22,500 dealers installing at least one of these products in the US with an estimated $13.5b to $14.5B annual revenue in 2011 for residential installs.

 

source: http://office.microsoft.com

Cost of Home Automation

Today’s consumer can start with one area and build as they see fit.  Here are the average project size in 2011(1):You may be curious, as I was, to find out what the “average” price is of different types of home automation.  I remember hearing about 5 years ago that the initial starting price of any home automation started at $20,000.  But pricing has come down.

 

Home Theater                              $20k

Audio Systems                             $11k

Control Systems                         $11.2k

(mostly for home theaters & audio systems)

 

It is interesting to note that…

  • 90% of dealers integrated a mobile device for controlling the automation
  • 41% of their clients requested mobile access and control
  • The average number of home networking systems increased 40% last year
  • The average projected number of outdoor entertainment systems is projected to be up 40% this year
  • 39% of dealers utilize wireless audio when installing audio systems

 

Whether or not you are ready for home automation, your house will continue to grow with Internet-ready innovations which will make your life easier.  In fact, by 2015, there will be 25 billion Internet-connected devices (2).  Chances are likely, you will need some sort of support by a dealer to integrate, manage, and leverage technology in your home.  Make no mistake, as consumers become more familiar with smartphone and iPad applications, there will be a bigger demand for automating technology in the home.

I am excited to report more from the show.  Stay tuned for pictures from the show as well as my favorite home technologies.

 

 

 

 

 

*  I was hosted by CEDIA to report on the latest on home/theater automation for consumers.  My airfare and lodging were taken care of.  All opinions are my own.

Remote Control Shower?

by Lori Cunningham


 

Yes, it’s true.  Now you can turn on your shower to get it at just the right temperature…from the comfort of your bed!  Moen’s ioDIGITAL Shower System finally puts you in control of  hot water in your shower, rather than vice-versa.  I saw this at a home show for the home builders trade and I was amazed…what will they think of next?

As we were building our new house, I made sure the Moen ioDIGITAL shower was installed.  It’s been a long process since we started the house, but I’m pleased to say, it’s finally done…well, about 98% done.  We just moved into our well connected home 1 1/2 months ago.  Which means, you’ll be hearing from me as I begin using all of the fun technology we put into the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re in Control

The remote control comes with a mount so you can mount it on a wall if desired.  It also comes with a magnet in case you have a metal surface you’d like to attach it to.  The remote has an on/off power button and four preset buttons.  Just press your button and the water will warm up to your desired preset.  The remote control can work up to 30 feet away.

 

 

Preset Your Temp

The Moen ioDIGITAL shower system as a lot of great features…more than just being controllable by remote.  It includes four presets – so up to four members of your family can set a preset with just the right amount of heat and water flow.  This means you no longer have to move the temperature handle back and forth every time time you shower to get the right temperature.  What if you want to adjust it after you’re in?  No problem, you can easily move the digital knob to your desired temperature.

 

Adjust the Flow

Like a strong shower flow when you shower?  You can adjust the water flow to your desired strength.  Just turn the water flow dial and the LED lights will flash to let you know your desired water flow is ready.  The ioDIGITAL  Shower head comes with a nice sized 7″ diameter rain shower.  Moen states they have an advanced, self-pressurizing Immersion rain shower that produces three times more spray than most rain showers.  This is my first rain shower, and I was nervous the flow was going to be weak.  But I can tell you, the flow is very good, I’ve been very impressed.  The Moen ioDIGITAL produces a great spray and with very good coverage.


The Pause Button

Don’t you wish you could put life on pause sometimes?  While that’s not possible, it is with your Moen ioDIGITAL shower.  And for the Green conscientious, press the shower’s pause button and you can shampoo or shave without wasting water.  Press the pause button again when you’re done.  I’ve used this feature to put the shower on pause BEFORE I got into the shower.  After it warmed up to the right temperature, I put it on pause to do something really quick for my kids.  It will stay on pause for a minute or two, then turn off.

 

But Wait, There’s More

Vertical Spa Shower

In case you’re looking for something a little more robust, Moen also created the ioDIGITAL Vertical Spa Shower.  Features include:

  • bright lcd screen that displays exact temperature
  • 7″ diameter rain shower shower head
  • Moen’s advanced, self–pressurizing Immersion™ rain shower technology channels water through the shower head with three times more spray power than most rain showers
  • four–function handheld showerhead provides a superior shower experience with personalized settings hand shower
  •  hand-shower  slide bar

The Vertical Spa Shower includes a LCD screen to give you more information and control over your experience:

 

The ioDIGITAL Vertical Spa Shower screen shows that the 2nd preset is on at a temperature of 101 degrees.

This ioDIGITAL Vertical Spa Shower screen shows that the rain shower head is being used, not the hand shower or body sprays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ioDIGITAL Bath

Yes, believe it or not, there’s actually an ioDIGITAL system available for the bathtub.  This system is a bather’s dream.  The ioDIGITAL control is nearly the same as for the shower except it has three presets and a lock button.  The lock button is a safety feature so when used, kids cannot turn on the tub water.

What I LOVE about the IODIGITAL for the  bathtub is that not only are you presetting the desired water temperature, but also how much water you want in the tub during your bath.  So when you’re ready for a bath, just press your preset number and when the desired water level and temperature is completed, the water turns off automatically!  Isn’t that great?  And wait, it gets better.  If you buy the optional remote control, you can be in the kitchen and press your preset button.  By the time you get to the bathtub, it will be ready, waiting for you.  Love it!

 

How Much?

The MRSP for the Shower with remote is $1,641.90 (ORB oil rubbed bronze, other finishes are less).  The remote retails for 178.60.  The Vertical Spa Shower ORB retails for$2,832.95, including a remote.  The high arc Roman Tub controls sell for $2,433.50 in ORB.

This is what the meat of the ioDIGITAL system looks under the cover.

 

Installation

The ioDIGITAL Shower and Bath systems need electricity, so you will need to have an electrical outlet near the shower/bath.  You will need a professional plumber and electrician to install the system.  You will also need to ensure there is a removable panel so you can get to the controls in case of an issue.  We put a framed picture over our access panel so that it was hidden.

A Homeowner’s Perspective

Excessive?  Well, yes.  Convenient?  YES!  I’m telling you, it’s so nice to lie in bed, click on your remote, and have your shower water warmed up for you before you step into the shower.  Then, once in the shower, you can enjoy just the right temperature because you pressed your preset button on the remote.  Even if you don’t have the remote, you  can still press your preset button to ensure the hot water warms to just the right setting.  I have never had a rain shower shower head before – and certainly never a shower head bigger than 3 inches.  I have really been enjoying the 7 inch shower head.  I feel like my showers are quicker now because my shampoo rinses out much faster than with my previous shower head.

If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury and a ton of convenience, the Moen ioDIGITAL showers and bath controls are a must do.

 

 

*  I was given a Moen ioDIGITAL Shower System with remote in exchange for my honest opinion.  I purchased the ioDIGITAL Vertical Shower system on my own.

Where Do You Put a 50 Foot Central Vacuum Hose?

by Lori Cunningham

Editor’s Note:  I’m pleased to announce that we have finally moved into our house!  Now we are finally using all of the home technology we have spec’d out and installed in our home over the past couple of years.  Expect to see more reviews on theWellConnectedHome.com.  Thanks for reading and we encourage your feedback and even post submissions if you’d like to write about your experiences with different home technology products.
 

I’ve always heard that central vacuum systems are a huge help in your home but the trouble has always been, where do you put the 30-50ft hose?  I’ve seen closets taken over with a 50 ft. hose before.  Seems like such a waste of space.

Several years ago, I attended a home builder tradeshow, in Long Beach, called BIS – The Building Industry Show, which is a smaller type version of the Pacific Coast Builder Convention (PCBC) in San Francisco.  I stopped to look at the central vacuum systems, H-P Products were demoing their Vacuflo products.  But it wasn’t the central vacuums that caught my  eye.  In their booth they had a demonstration of a product called Hide-A-Hose.  Hide-a-Hose is a remarkable product where the 30-50ft. hose is self-contained in the wall.

Yes, you heard me correctly,


the 30-50ft central vacuum hose is self-contained in the central vacuum pipes in the wall and can be pulled out and easily retracted as needed.

Wow, I was amazed.  As we were making plans to build our house, I wasn’t originally thinking of installing a central vacuum, but that one demo changed it all for me.  I couldn’t believe how convenient it could be to have the hose already stored and ready to use.  All you need to do is attach the handle and any accessories and you’re good to go….

No…

….large closet(s) to hold the coiled 30-50 ft. hose(s)

….jammed closet due to the over-sized coiled central vac hose

….need to drag the huge hose all around the house to your central vacuum port

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hide-A-Hose Framework

Although in some cases, the Hide-A-Hose can be retrofitted, it works best for new construction.  The PVC pipes need to be laid out in such a way that there are wide sweeps instead of tight angles.  Tight angles will cause jams in the 30-50 ft. hose.  We have a two story house but had no trouble installing the sweeps of the pipes the way Hide-A-Hose recommends.

 

The Hide-A-Hose Hose Itself

After we decided to get a central vacuum, the Hide-A-Hose had everything in a hose we were looking for – a large span of 50 ft. and a “sock” along the whole hose, so the hose would not mark up our floorboards.

Using a Hide-A-Hose


The Hide-A-Hose is easy to pull out from the wall.  Just pull out what ever amount you need.  When you’re done vacuuming, simply put your hand over the hose while it’s running and the hose will retract nicely back into the wall.  Turn off the hose and you’re done.
How We’ve Used Hide-A-Hose So Far:

  • Glitter – my kids did a project with glitter in one room and of course, it spread out to all of  the rooms.  We have pitted travetine floors.  I was unsure if the suction would be strong enough to get the glitter out of the pits.  The Hide-A-Hose and Vacuflo central vac system did great.  One rollover and the glitter was gone.
  • Laundry Lint – We strategically placed a central vac hose just outside our laundry room.  I take of most of the lent from the dryer trap and throw it away,  but I use the Hide-A-Hose to suck up any leftover lint.
  • Pillow Fuzz – I washed our pillows and throw pillows in the laundry room and one of the throw pillows surprised me with lent all over the other pillows…in the washer.  No problem, I used the Hide-A-Hose to suck up the lent and washer before I put the pillows in the dryer.
  • Kitchen Crumbs – it’s been very handy to use the Hide-A-Hose in the kitchen to clean up the floors.  I have another tool that H-P Products makes called the Vroom I use in the kitchen to clean up the counters.  More on this in another post.
  • Normal Cleaning – the Hide-A-Hose and central vac works great for our travetine, low-pile carpet, and even our thick plush carpet.

 

 

 

 

Electrical vs. Standard


There are two types of power-heads (vacuum cleaner/brush) you can buy, dependent upon whether you have electrical or standard outlets.  If your outlets have power, you will use an electric power-head that powers the belt and forces the brush to roll.  If your outlets are standard, there is no electricity and you will use an air driven (turbine) power-head.  The Hide-A-Hose only works with standard outlets which means power turbines.
After doing some research on electric vs. standard power-heads, I was worried if the suction would be strong enough to pick up everything off our carpet.  My worries were unwarranted, as everything cleans up beautifully, and only after one swipe of the rod, which didn’t always happen with my old regular vacuum cleaner.

A Homeowner’s Perspective

We have a lot of different fun home technology throughout our house, but I’m telling you, the Hide-A-Hose is one of our most favorites to show people.  Friends are always amazed that the hose is built-into the wall and how easily it retracts.  I’ve always hated vacuuming, mostly due to the noise.  There is still noise with a central vacuum, but it is greatly diminished as the main central vacuum unit is in the  garage.  I am very pleased with our central vacuum system and Hide-A-Hoses.  Both products live very well up to their promises.

If you’re thinking about getting a central Vacuum system, read our article, How to Buy a Central Vacuum System.”  I spent a lot of time investigating central vacuums to decipher what are  good systems and what you need to know BEFORE you choose the right central vacuum for you.

 

 

 

*  I requested and was provided with Hide-A-Hoses in exchange for my honest opinion.  All opinions are my own.

DIY Home Security

by Lori Cunningham

When you think of home security, you think of an alarm system where an alarm rings and the police are called if someone tries to break into your house.  But an alarm system is only as good as the last person out the door who remembers to set the alarm.  Alarms can be more of a burden than an advantage sometimes.

Our neighborhood had been burglarized quite a bit in the last two years and it always makes me a little uneasy when I run errands…or even worse…go on vacation.  If only there was a better way to keep an eye on the house without actually being there.

When my children were young, I enjoyed the luxury of having a baby monitor.  I could keep tabs on the baby and hear every murmur.  This is the kind of access I’d like to have with the house, only better and with mobility. Fortunately, home surveillance is not just for businesses or part of an elaborate, expensive alarm package anymore.  Home surveillance has gone DIY!  As a tech enthusiast, DIY tech is right up my alley.  So when I was given the chance to test out Logitech’s Alert system*, I jumped on it!

The Logitech Alert System uses your existing power lines (through your plug outlets) to communicate to your computer.  The steps are simple to set up.  Just insert the Logitech Alert System CD in your computer to load the program, plug in a module to your router, plug in your camera, strategically place it towards your back door, and ensure your computer recognizes it once it’s initialized.

Keeping an Eye on Things

I have enjoyed feeling more secure by using the cameras for surveillance around the house.  My indoor camera points towards our back sliding glass door and windows.  I recently wrote an article called Five Tips to Stop Home Burglaries, and in my research I discovered that 22% of burglars enter through the back door.  The other camera is pointed towards my front door, because, believe it or not, 34% of burglars enter through the front door!  Wow, that’s a higher percentage that I thought.

Vacation

I loved using these cameras during our trip to Disney World.  First, I could keep an eye on the house and be alerted by text if  there was any  movement.  Second, we happened to be having an Open House while we were on our vacation.  I watched the “action” from Florida as we got on and off rides.  I was very disappointed to see how little foot traffic we had.  Seeing it really hit home rather than just hearing about it from our Realtor.

Business Travel

Recently, I traveled to Northern California to visit PlayStation.  I LOVED being able to see the kids in the morning as they prepared and ate their breakfast and knowing when the family got home at night so I could give them a call on Skype.  This was SO handy.  Again, I was notified by e-mail when movement was detected, so I could load access the free Logitech app to see what was going on.

Now, I must note that you do need to pay a monthly subscription to to access your live video content through the smartphone app.  For $79.99 you can purchase a one year subscription to the Logitech Alert Web and Mobile Commander.  I’m telling you, this is worth purchasing, especially if you travel a lot.

Home Office

I can view any of the cameras from my Logitech Alert Commander on my home PC.  Yes, I am occasionally watching my kiddos when they are playing in the family room and I am working in my home office.  I find it especially helpful with play dates.  My son was shocked one day when I came blazing into the room telling him and his friend no jumping on the sofas!  See, moms really do have eyes in the back of their heads!  LOL!

Pricing

You can purchase either Master System for indoors or out.  The Master System includes one camera and the component you need to plug into your router.  You can then include Add-On Cameras for the inside, outside, or both.  Logitech Alert encourages Alert users to upload their video footage to their website to see what they captured with their cameras. Logitech Alert cameras have filmed robberies, a neighbor stealing a delivered package, the UPS man throwing a person’s package across the driveway and it busting open, and much more.  See some great “home” videos on Logitech Alert’s site.

Logitech Alert Systems can be purchased directly from Logitech at these prices:

Master Systems:

Alert™ 750i Indoor Master System $299.99

Alert™ 750e Outdoor Master System $349.99

Add-On Camera’s to the Master System:

Alert™ 700i Indoor Add-On Camera $229.99

Alert™ 700e Outdoor Add-On Camera $279.99

Mobile Access:

Alert™ Web and Mobile Commander $79.99

Of course, I always compare prices against Amazon.com and found the prices to be similar.

A Homeowner’s Perspective

I have never had an alarm or video security system before, this was my first experience.  It has given me such comfort knowing more about what is going on in and around our house.  I feel so much more in control and less worried about break-ins.

Years ago, you would need to hire someone to put in a video surveillance system.  Not so anymore.  The quality is great and the ability to view on a phone, tablet, or PC gives great flexibility.  I should note that these cameras are not wireless.  They still need to be plugged in.  However, the Alert system uses HomePlug 4.4 firmware which means the cameras can network to the router through the house’s electricity circuits.

If you’re interested in trying out home surveillance, the Logitech Alert system is a great way to go.  If you’re expecting and planning on getting a baby monitor, I would recommend getting a Logitech Alert.  It’s much better quality than most baby monitors and you can add onto it and build a home surveillance system that will give you more peace of mind for your growing family.

Tell me your thoughts on surveillance cameras…do you have one?

* I was sent an Alert 750e Outdoor Master System and an Alert 700i Indoor Add-On Camera in exchange for my honest opinions.

Review & Giveaway: Kwikset Signaure Series SmartCode Lever

by Lori Cunningham

This Contest is Closed now.

I am pleased to a member of the Kwikset SmartSquad because I have been a Kwikset SmartCode user before theSmartSquad program even started.  I purchased several of the SmartCode Deadbolts with Home Connect for our home.  I wanted an electronic lock for four reasons:

1. To not have to fumble with my keys to open a door.

2.  To allow my kids entry into the house without having to give them a key they could lose.

3.  To allow contractors working on our home a temporary access code into the house that I could later change.

4.  To lock the doors with my phone or iPad without having to go physically to each door to lock it.

Z-Wave Enabled

In order to be able to control my door locks through my iPad or smartphone, I needed an electronic lock that is Z-Wave capable.  According to Wikipedia,

“Z-Wave is a proprietary wireless communications protocol designed for home automation, specifically to remote control applications in residential and light commercial environments. The technology uses a low-power RF radio embedded or retrofitted into home electronics devices and systems, such as lighting, home access control home entertainment systems and household appliances.”

There are two emerging wireless communication protocols growing in popularity in the home automation business.  Z-Wave is one, Zigbee is the other.  Both are pervasive, so most manufacturers, like Kwikset, offer home automation products that cater to both protocols.

For my home, I chose the Z-Wave protocol.  Although I have not set up the Z-Wave network yet, I have been installing locks and lights that run on the Z-Wave network.  Once I setup the network using the MiCasaVerde Vera controller, I will write about how it works.  Essentially, I will be able to control my all locks and lights with the Z-Wave network in them.  For example, I will be able to automatically turn off all my Z-Wave lights and lock all doors at 11pm.  Or, if I set up a party mode, I can ensure my lights are half-dimmed and all door locks are unlocked.  There are endless possibilities and I am excited to test out different scenarios.

Using SmartCode Deadbolts

So far, I have found  my Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolt to be very helpful in allowing contractors (painters, tile layers) entry to our home.  Most of the deadbolts have the same entry code, which I programmed myself.  Only one door has a different entry code, the one that I gave to our contractors.  When their work is complete, I will only have to change that one code.

No wiring is needed, the SmartCode Lever works with four standard AA batteries which should last a year under normal use.  Both the deadbolt and lever locks also come with keys, so if you prefer using your key or worry that the electronics could fail, you always have a key backup.

Win It!

I am very excited to offer a free Kwikset Signature Series SmartCode Lever (lock and door knob) in your choice of finish.  You’re going to love this door set, you’ll never need a key again!  Note:  This giveaway is not the Home Connect version, so you do not need a Z-wave controller to use.

TO ENTER

  • Fill out the form below.  One entry per person.911 11P SMT
  • Only USA addresses please.
  • The contest ends October 26th, 12am PST.  CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.
  • The winner will be chosen by random.org.
  • Prize will be fulfilled through mail delivery.

GET EXTRA CHANCES TO WIN

  • Get 1 extra entry for following TheWellConnectedHome on Facebook.
  • Get 1 extra entry for following Kwikset Door Hardware on Facebook.
  • Get 1 extra entry for following @wellconnctdhome on Twitter.
  • Get 1 extra entry for tweeting on twitter, “I hope to win a Kwikset SmartCode Door Lever from @KwiksetCorp @wellconnctdhome http://bit.ly/pXcuIO.”
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    *I am a member of the Kwikset-sponsored SmartSquad and occasionally receive incentives to discuss issues related to home safety and security

Why I Waited Until Now to Buy My TV

by Lori Cunningham


I am a mom tech blogger, so electronics are my gig.    We have an old 53 inch TV that we purchased over 10 years ago.

It’s big and bulky and we are plenty ready for the new LED TV’s.  But we waited this long for several reasons:

1.  To see if plasma was on it’s way out or would it remain the best picture….I have seen the prices drop significantly over the years and the prices are now lower than some of the higher end LED’s.  Although plasma offers a superior picture, I predict they will be harder and harder to find.

2. I wanted LED prices to get more competitive to LCD prices.  LED’s are much thinner and use less energy.  LED TV’s are becoming the norm.
3.  To wait for prices to decrease.  We were about to buy a SAMSUNG TV on a coupon from Costco in August but decided to wait to see if the price would come down.  It came down over $300!  Prices will continue to decline as retailers are making room for the 2012 TV’s, which come out towards the end of the first quarter of each year.
4.  Looking for bundles. Last November I read an article about the glut of bigger screen TV’s on the market – retailers had over estimated their supply.  As a result, there was a lot of packaged bundles to incentivize consumers to buy bigger TV’s.  Many of bundles included a free  Blue Ray player or Google TV.  There were many bundle packages for large sized 3D TV’s with a Blue Ray player and glasses.  I’ve already noticed many of these bundled packages again this year.  Although I was greatly tempted to buy one of the 3D TV’s, I decided I really

didn’t need 3D TV, and besides, there will be a day when we watch 3D TV WITHOUT the glasses!  I’ll wait.
5. Wanted a Smarter TV.  At the Consumer Electronics Show I attended in January, I saw that LG offers Smart TV’s (Smart TV’s – by the way, the only kind of TV I would get) with FULL Internet access.   Their magic motion remote offers an onscreen mouse pointer so you can click your way through offerings, similar to the Nintendo Wii remote.  I have been waiting for a TV with complete Internet access for a LONG time.  Google TV offered Internet access but their TV’s do not have very good technical specs.

Nonetheless, I will be buying my TV’s very soon.  I plan on taking advantage of the great price breaks on 40″+ TV’s that I’m already starting to see.
Where will I buy my TV?  That I don’t know yet.  I have been seeing great prices on Amazon.com and TigerDirect.com.  I have been eyeing the Best Buy ads too.  We shall see.
Internet-enabled or “smart” TV’s are here to stay, as stated in my article entitled “Top 6 Product Trends of CES 2011. Smart TV’s are great not only for looking up things on the Internet as a family or at a party, but also because many of them have DLNA capability which allows you to retrieve music, video, and pictures from your computer and play them at your TV.  By adding Smart TV’s around your house, you expand the possibilities of adding customize media to each room.
Interested in more about where today’s TV’s are headed?  I attended a conference in Los Angeles in the Fall last year entitled TV 3.0.  From that conference I wrote “The Top 5 Trends in the Future of TV“.  What features are you most interested in having on your TV?

Kwikset Smart Security Sweeps – Win a Trip to the Races!

by Lori Cunningham

Kwikwet Smart Security Sweepstakes

Are you a fan of the Speedway?  Kwikset is.  They have a powerful souped up NASCAR  No. 9 race car driven by Marcos Ambrose.  The car has been touring the nation giving race fans a chance to peer inside, take their photos with it, and learn about the car’s upcoming races.

OK, it would certainly be cool to see the car up close, but how about actually seeing the car in a race firsthand and meeting Marcos Ambrose…and Richard Petty in person???

Kwikset recently made me aware of their super cool sweepstakes which will give one lucky race fan and their chosen companion the following:

  • A Kwikset Security Home Makeover valued at $1,000.
  • Two tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ AdvoCare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sept. 4 in Atlanta.
  • Round-trip airfare and accommodations for two days and two nights, for two to Atlanta for the AdvoCare 500 race on Sept. 4.
  • A VIP package, including a meet and greet with Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty and Marcos Ambrose autographed memorabilia, etc.

What I like about this sweepstakes is that it only runs from July 25th to August 21st, so the timing is pretty short to gather a lot of entries.  To me, this equates to better odds of winning!

If you’re interested in entering the Kwikset Smart Security Sweepstakes…HURRY! You only have until August 21st! Enter here: Make me a Winner!

Kwikset offers a number of security solutions to help protect your home.  I particularly am found of the SmartCode deadbolt, which I purchased and recently installed in my home.  For other safe tips in protecting your home when you’re away see 10 Tips for Protecting Your Home While You’re Away and Five Tips to Stop Home Burglaries.

*I am a member of the Kwikset-sponsored SmartSquad and occasionally receive incentives to discuss issues related to home safety and security.