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Cheat Sheet

Smart Homes For Dummies

From Smart Homes For Dummies, 3rd Edition by Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Turn your house into a smart home and live in a cutting-edge, fully connected home. Your smart home will have the latest trends in home networking, entertainment, automation, and control that will make your life more enjoyable and comfortable — and it doesn't have to break your bank account. Before you start setting up your smart home network, you'll want to get familiar with all the hardware you'll need, and designate a place to put it.

Why Make Your Home a Smart Home?

A smart home is a cutting-edge, fully connected home. Turning your home into a smart home gives you a lot more than the title of techie king of the neighborhood. By networking your home, you can do a bevy of things, including the following:

  • Access the Internet from anywhere in your house: A home network lets everyone share in the broadband wealth, so you can stop fighting over the one computer with the high-speed connection. What's more, by having a communications backbone (wiring infrastructure) in your house, you can let anything — from your TV set to your car — tap in and make use of that connectivity.

  • Remotely control your home: After your home network is connected to other networks, such as the Internet, you can suddenly do amazing things from almost any interconnected spot. The ability to control a device after it is hooked up to the network is limited only by the openness of the device itself. (In other words, the only limit is the degree of controllability of the device — your home's infrastructure won't hold you back.)

    Want to turn on the kitchen lights and fire up the coffeepot from your bed? Click your remote control, and out go the lights. Want to check the babysitter while you're at your neighbor's party? Log into your home's controller from your neighbor's computer (or on your cell phone) and check up on things.

  • Save time: Think about how much time it takes every day to open the shades, turn on the morning news, let the dog out, and so on. Wouldn't you like to do all that (and more) with one command? By programming these chores into task profiles, you can.

  • Save money on electronics: With a true home network, you have to buy fewer devices to outfit your home. Instead of having a VCR hooked to every TV set, for instance, you can centralize this functionality and distribute the signal around the house through remote control as you need it. The same is true of almost any network-connected device, such as a DSS satellite receiver, PVR, and cable box.

  • Save money on communications costs: By centralizing access to certain telecommunications services, you can cut monthly service costs. For instance, with a home-network backbone, both you and your spouse can connect to the Internet on separate computers while sharing one line and one account. What's more, you can share a high-bandwidth option — such as a cable modem, DSL link, or HughesNet-type satellite service — with the entire family.

    You might already have a single broadband link to share with everyone at home. But if your connection is like a lot of peoples', it goes down more often than you prefer. Some people are installing two broadband connections (one as a backup) in their homes. Being able to have the kids do homework and mom and dad do their necessary browsing is starting to become mission-critical. So a home network will help you share this backup line too!

  • Save money on your home expenses: A wired home can turn back those thermostats when you're away on vacation or cuddled under your blankets at night. It can turn lights off automatically, too. Over time, you may save a surprising amount in heating, cooling, and electricity costs.

  • Save money on the future: At different times in your life, you may find yourself changing the way you use certain rooms — a guest room becomes a nursery or the garage becomes an office, for example. Changes like these can be expensive if you try to bring your network along for the ride. Instead, have a flexible home-network design — one that's future-proofed for all sorts of contingencies — and save money down the road.

  • Be more flexible and comfortable with your technological assets: A home network frees you from being tied to one spot for one activity. For instance, when working late at night, you might want to move the laptop to a comfy recliner instead of a damp basement office. And you can with a distributed means to access the Internet — and therefore your centralized e-mail, calendar, and contact database. The latest home networking technology will route your HDTV signals around your house, freeing your TV set to be anywhere a wireless signal can reach!

  • Lose more fat: A smart home won't stop you from eating chocolate cake, but it will spice up the exercise room. You can run Internet access, CNN, or exercise videos over your home network to help you keep pace and pass the time on a treadmill or bicycle. And, with Internet access, you can access many of the neat new software programs that combine with new exercise equipment to provide passing scenery or live competitors as you row, row, row your rowing machine!

The Cost of Networking Your Home

A networked home is a happy home. But how much will it cost to make your home a smart home? Surprisingly little, or surprisingly a lot. It depends on whether you take baby steps or go whole hog.

You can make a home network based on the existing wiring in the walls or use wireless options. No cost for infrastructure there. Is it as powerful as an installed system? No, but for many it will do the trick. Alternatively, you can install a whole system from scratch. The cost varies, just like the cost of building a house. The more you put in, the more it costs.

The following table shows you some of the rough costs for networking your home, with reasonable expectations. These are the costs of the components and the installation — you'll have some additional ongoing costs for services such as Internet and cable TV and for your computing hardware.

Expense Area Low Midrange High Obscene
Wired infrastructure $1,000 $2,500 $4,000 $6,000
Wireless infrastructure $50 $150 $200 $500
Home theater (TV + surround) $1,000 $3,000 $25,000 $200,000
Whole-home audio $1,000 $2,000 $6,000 $30,000
Phone system $150 $500 $1,000 $2,000
Intercom system (standalone) $100 $500 $1,000 $2,000
Data system $50 $150 $500 $1,500
Security system $200 $500 $2,000 $20,000
Home automation $50 $1,000 $10,000 $30,000
Total $3600 $10,300 $49,700 $292,000

Hardware You'll Need to Network Your Smart Home

When you're getting ready to network your home to turn it into a smart home, you might be surprised at how many cables, cords, connectors, jacks, controllers, panels, and other gadgets it takes. The following tables break down the basic hardware you'll need to network your home.

Video Distribution Network
Stuff You Need Quantity You Need
RG-6 coaxial cable with F connectors For a two-way network, two runs from each viewing room to the central distribution point
Wall outlets One per remote viewing room housing two female connectors
Video distribution panel One, located in the central wiring closet
Cable set-top box/satellite receiver One per TV location is typical
Audio Distribution Network (Single Amplifier)
Stuff You Need Quantity You Need
Single-zone or multizone integrated amplifier or receiver One (multizone systems contain one stereo amplifier per zone)
Impedance-matching system One
Speakers Two per room (can be in-wall or free-standing speakers)
In-wall speaker cable (16 AWG minimum) One run between the media room and each remote location
RCA audio patch cords (Usually) one set per audio component
In-wall speaker wire outlets Two per remote area (if in-wall speakers aren't being used)
IR control network (with multizone IR zone distribution block for one multizone system) One
Remote Control Network for A/V Equipment
Stuff You Need Quantity You Need
CAT-5e/6 cabling One run from each remote location to the media room
Wall-mounted IR sensors or remote keypads One sensor or keypad per remote location
CAT-5e/6 A/V control system One installed in wiring closet or media room
IR emitters One per audio source device being controlled in media room
Telephone Network
Stuff You Need Quantity You Need
4-pair CAT-5e UTP cabling One run from wiring closet to each outlet
Modular wall outlets with female RJ-45 jacks One per telephone extension
Telephone patch cords with male RJ-45 plugs One per telephone extension
Telephone patch panel mounted in wiring closet One
CAT-5e UTP cable to connect patch panel     One run per incoming line to incoming lines from telephone company NID
Key Service Unit (KSU) (optional) One
Computer LAN
Stuff You Need Quantity You Need
4-pair CAT-5e/6 UTP cabling One run from wiring closet to each outlet (put extra runs in the home office and home theater/media room)
Modular wall outlets with female RJ-45 jacks One jack per computer or networked device, and one extra for your broadband modem
CAT-5e/6 UTP patch cords with male RJ-45 plugs One patch cord per computer or network printer
CAT-5e/6 rated patch panel mounted in wiring closet One (can be the same one that works with the phone network)
Home router/Ethernet switch Minimum of one router/switch in your wiring closet (additional hubs can be installed at remote outlets to allow connection of several computers to a single outlet)
Wireless LAN access point (optional) One or more in larger homes
Cable modem or DSL modem (optional) One

Where to Put Your Smart Home's Networking Hardware

When you're making a smart home network, it's best to create a dedicated room for your networking equipment — a central wiring closet just like those in modern offices and other commercial buildings. The ideal wiring closet would have the following design features:

  • On the main floor of the house.

  • Near an outside wall for easy interconnection to incoming service feeds.

  • Above an accessible part of the basement (if you have a basement).

  • Adequate lighting, ventilation, and climate protection (not in the garage, in other words).

    Electronic gear generates heat, so if you live south of the Arctic Circle, it's a good idea to have air-conditioning vents in the wiring closet.

  • Adequate AC power-line receptacles to power devices such as video amplifiers, Ethernet hubs, and VoIP phone systems.

Such a closet needn't be too large — something between a standard coat closet and a small walk-in closet. A lot of your gear will go in a wall-mounted structured wiring system — what most manufacturers call the panel. Some, however, might go on shelving or in a rack. A typical rack has a 2-by-2-foot footprint.

Of course, the vast majority of home builders or remodelers don't have the luxury of adding this kind of dedicated space for a network wiring closet. In these cases, some other part of the house has to do double duty as your wiring closet. Here are some locations to consider:

  • The utility room or laundry room: The biggest disadvantage of this location is the potential for high humidity, so make sure your clothes dryer is well ventilated to the outdoors. (And take steps to keep all the dryer lint from building up on your equipment!)

  • A protected garage: The potential for dust and extreme temperatures may make this location less than optimal for some homes.

  • The basement: A basement can be a good location because it's easy to run wires through a drop ceiling, but keep in mind that basements can be both dusty and damp.

  • A weather-protected outdoor closet: This location is a last resort, but it could be acceptable if you live in a mild climate. However, don't put any active electronics, such as Ethernet hubs or phone systems, out here.

The natural enemies of electrical and electronic equipment are moisture, dust, and temperature extremes, so locations that may work for someone in Florida or California may not make sense for those in North Dakota or Arizona.

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