Build Your Own Smart Home
Posted: 30-Jan-2005

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: Osborne/McGraw-Hill


Reviewer: Bill Catambay $29.99

Build Your Own Smart Home
By: Anthony Velte 
ISBN: 0072230134
Pub Date: September 19, 2003
$29.99 US

What the Book is About
From piping audio and video through the home to automatically watering the lawn, if you've got the inclination, there isn't anything that cannot be automated in your home. This books shows you how to plan and install Smart Home systems using step-by-step instructions and illustrations. It includes projects for automating entertainment systems, home security systems, utilities, and more. It also includes some cost-saving tips and advice on outsourcing.

Target Audience
I had an expectation that this might be a "MacGyver" style improvement book, providing inexpensive and free techniques to use ordinary items to do extraordinary things. It is not. You will not learn how to use a paper clip to network your computers. The book is more about specific controllers and sensors to make your home "smart", and installation is required.

This book is intended for do-it-yourself gadget-loving home owners. Some of the installations require purchasing some costly equipment, such as the Omni II security system, so if you don't have the money to spend, not everything in this book will interest you. However, there are some small tips and tricks scattered throughout the book that require inexpensive parts, such as sprinkler rain sensors. Still, a lot of the sensors discussed are ultimately controlled by the main system you install, so an upfront investment is needed. Even if you don't have the money to invest in these projects, I think most home owners will find many of these projects interesting.

Due to the do-it-yourself nature of the book, those wanting to implement some of the ideas of the book will need to have some decent project building skills. Skills required range from wiring, to drilling, to basic installation of electronic devices.

What to Expect
Several sections are dedicated to designing, installing, and programming a home security system. This not only includes installing motion detectors, but also configuring your heating and cooling system to be remotely programmed, as well as your lights. Additional chapters cover projects for your garage and outside, kitchen and bathroom. Some items of interest include a stove that shuts itself automatically when you forget, or a toilet that is smart enough not to overflow.

The book is broken down in four parts, with four chapters per part.

Part One is "Meet the Smart Home", and discusses Smart Home foundations, Smart Home design, the costs associated with building a Smart Home, and designing and building a Smart Home Local Area Network (LAN).

Part Two is "Smart Home Safety Systems", and discusses security basics, designing and building a security system, programming the security system, and information about Smart Home garage and lawn ideas.

Part Three is "Smart Home Utility Systems", and discusses lighting the Smart Home, Smart Home kitchen and barthroom projects, Smart Home utilities, and Smart Home communications system.s

Finally, Part Four is "Smart Home Entertainment and Integration", and discusses audio/video systems, audio and video distribution, working and playing together (using an X10 controller to integrate everything), and Smart Home controls.

The book also includes an Appendix on Smart Home resources, as well as an index to look up specific word references.

The reading level is relatively simple, and the author does a good job of introducing terms and providing decent step-by-step instructions for some of the projects. There were some sections that were over filled with technical jargon, but for the most part, it's a smooth read. The amount of pictures and diagrams to illustrate some of the instructions was just about right.

I love gadgets, I enjoy do-it-yourself home projects, and I always have imagined that computers can do a lot to integrate the home environment (beyond just the typical computer components). This book clearly addresses this smart integration of gadgets, home functions, and computer technology, and that is its biggest appeal to me. As an avid Mac user, I was a little disappointed that when it came time to discuss computers and software, the book focused on products that were mostly PC only products. For example, in the section on X10 controllers, the book discussed the HomeSeer system which only runs on the Windows platform.

The highlight of the book for me was learning about using the X10 controller to automate just about anything within your home. You can automate your lights, have things turn off and turn on, open or close, all based upon a sensor reading from a number of places. The sky really is the limit on what you can do with this kind of setup. I was even fascinated to learn about home security systems. I was never interested in security systems before, but now I might consider investing in one.

One of the sections I was looking forward to was the chapter on audio and video systems. This chapter discussed various aspects of distributing audio and video throughout your house. It discussed speakers, costly amplifiers, video modulators, filters and more. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable in this subject area, but there was a lot to learn in this chapter that I didn't know. On the other hand, I ended up not implementing any of these projects, either because they were too costly, or simply not necessary. This section may be more appropriate for those with much bigger houses than mine. In my house, I have everything integrated in my living room stereo system, and there is no need to extend it anywhere else. What surprised me is that there was no mention of using the computer for an audio library. I have my entire CD collection in my iTunes library on my Mac, and I have the Mac connected to my surround sound stereo system. That provides me an incredible amount of control over my entire CD collection, including smart playlists, that years ago I would not have even imagined. By not considering Mac systems, the author completely passes over some of the smartest ways to manage your audio library.

Mac Guild Grade
B (Very Good)

Final Words
If you're a gadget-loving geek who likes to work on home projects, and are interested in automating functions around the house as well as integrating your computer with your home, there's a lot in this book that will be of interest to you. It goes into great detail on setting up home networks, home security systems, and integrating everything with X10 controllers. It provides good step-by-step instructions for many of the discussed installations. The book has a PC-centric feel to it, and it completely overlooks some of the cool things you can do with your Apple software to make your home "smart" (such as cataloging your entire CD collection in iTunes). A lot of the projects discussed are going to cost some money up front, as well as some decent know-how with home project skills. Whether you're ready to invest in a Smart Home now or later, there's definitely enough cool ideas in this book to hold the interest of PC and Mac users alike.