Smart homes employ intelligent design

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Smart-home market growing in Colorado Springs

Imagine you get up to make popcorn and the movie you’re watching automatically pauses. You walk into the kitchen and, sensing your presence, the lights adjust to your preferences. The movie starts where it left off on a screen in the kitchen.

That’s the kind of technology Mario Ciabarra is installing in his new “smart home” in High Forest Ranch on the far north end of Colorado Springs.

His home is among the first smart homes in the area, but the technology is making its way into neighborhoods everywhere.

The concept is gaining popularity as technology has become simpler and easier to use and as costs have decreased, said custom homebuilder Claude Comito.

He’s including some smart-home technology in most of the houses he’s building these days. The most common are audio-visual capabilities that allow owners to listen to music in every room of their homes and control the television and DVD player using a smart phone. Common additions also include the ability to control and program lighting, thermostats and security measures remotely.

Those are the elements his daughter, Lauren and her husband incorporated into their home in the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood.

“We entertain a lot,” Lauren said. “And we like to have music playing in here and outside on the patio.”

The family went on a trip last week and was able to monitor the security system and thermostats from their iPad and could program lights for their absence.

Smart home technology isn’t new, said Mike Fawllert, manager at The Sound Shop. It has just evolved.

“Distributed audio has been around since back to the 1950s in one form or another,” Fawllert said. “Those early generation intercoms were the first.”

But today’s technology is more accessible, he said. Every so often a client comes in and knows exactly what he or she is looking to do and will include hundreds of thousands of dollars of home automations. But most of the time, those who ask about it are looking for something simple like integrated audio in a basement they’re finishing.

“We probably put some level of integration into three to six homes a month,” he said.

That’s not a lot. Only about 10 percent of Sound Shop clients come in looking for smart home integrations. Most are still looking for simple straight-forward audio-visual solutions.

On average, customers can retrofit their homes with some integrated smart home technology for $3,000 to $4,000.

David Wilson, manager at Home Run Electronics on the north end of town, typically works with clients who are having a new home built. His business works primarily with builders who contract with the company to install cable and telecommunications lines. He meets directly with the clients to find out what kinds of telecommunications they want installed before the home is completed.

“I would say 95 percent of our clients don’t know who we are before we meet with them for the first time,” Wilson said.

But many decide to upgrade their systems and include some technology integration.

“The iPad instantly and completely changed our industry, our world,” he said.

Gadgets like iPads and smart phones have driven new demand for businesses like Home Run, Wilson said.

And people are still just learning about the opportunities. He expects demand to continue growing.

Most people who end up adding smart elements to their homes start with questions about security systems, Wilson said.

“Everybody seems a little more concerned with security these days,” he said.

Those systems have also become more affordable in recent years and they’re not hard to integrate with lighting, thermostats and audio-visual equipment once they’re installed.

Wilson has been surprised by the popularity of security cameras. Clients tend to ask about them and many install them.

Cameras used to be a completely impractical addition to security systems other than those for the wealthiest clients who had someone to monitor closed-circuit televisions.

Now, clients are intrigued by the ability to pull up different camera views on their smart phones and monitor the goings-on at their homes. Front door cameras have become popular, Wilson said.

“They’re like expensive peepholes,” he said.

Homeowners can see who is at the door on their phones after the doorbell rings. It’s a lot more practical than going to the TV and turning it on, flipping to the right input and then deciding whether or not to open the door.

While most of Home Run’s clients are looking for a few bells and whistles here and there, some are out to fully automate their homes. One client has humidity sensors in the swimming pool room that pops open skylights when the level is high. Rain sensors automatically close the skylight.

Those are the kinds of sophisticated technologies Ciabarra is including in his new home. The software engineer and entrepreneur is developing a low-cost, turn-key system he hopes a builder might buy from him and try to build as a separate business.

“I want to build this system to prove the value and show the bottom line,” he said.

He is integrating multiple affordable technologies with minimal hard wiring in order to keep costs down.

He will install finger print readers on outside entrances to the home and on the swimming pool entrance so their children won’t be able to enter unattended. Wall-mounted iPads in each room will use the recorded voices of Ciabarra and his wife to guide the children out of the house in the event of a fire. A warning will sound if the kids are playing too close to an outdoor pond.

An iPad at the front door will serve as the doorbell and will instantly send a picture of the visitor to Ciabarra’s cell phone. Music will follow him through the house and the lights will adjust to the preferences of whoever is in the room.

“None of this is very expensive,” Ciabarra said. “A finger print reader is $40. The switches I’m using for the lights are $40.”

He started and sold a business that develops iPhone applications and is in the midst of developing a new software company in Monument, Quantum Metric.

He doesn’t have time to take this on as a separate business, he said. But he suspects it’s a growing industry and what he develops could have mainstream appeal.