Top Ten Home Automation Features You Didn’t Know You Needed

If you already have a home control system installed in your house, you’re probably enjoying many of the benefits of automation. But there are lots of little “add-on” features that might have never occurred to you. Listed below are some of the less obvious projects and features that can enhance your automated lifestyle. With a little ingenuity and a few additional sensors and gizmos, there’s almost no limit to the cool things your house can do for you.

1. Garage Door Control: If you have kids, you know how frustrating it can be when they leave the garage door open. Cats are another culprit—they always seem to run in and out right when the door is closing, sending the door right back up. Setting up your system to automatically close the garage door when it’s left open for more than 15 minutes is a relatively easy bit of programming that might not even require any additional equipment. If you really want to get fancy, you can also integrate an IP camera with your remote-access  control system so you can accept deliveries safely at home even when you’re at work. With the deliveryman on the phone you can open the door, watch him put your package inside, then shut the door to keep everything safe until you return home.

2. Device Control for Kids: Control your home theater and video game consoles with a touch screen password so the kids get only the amount of “screen time” you want them to have. Mom or dad enters the password, which enables the media devices and starts the countdown timer. When time is up, the devices shut off until the password is entered again. An announcement agent can let them know they’ve got 10 minutes left—that’s plenty of time to save a game in progress. You can even specify different allotments of time for different kids, for different devices or even for different games, and lock them out entirely during specific days or times or under other conditions. As an added bonus, using device control also helps ensure that your children’s caretakers (nannies and babysitters) don’t over-use videos and video games as a babysitting technique.

3. Fridge Door Sensor: An open fridge leaks money and energy. A poorly positioned container of leftovers can cost you a bundle if it prevents the door from closing all the way, and younger kids somehow manage to forget to close the door when they help themselves to goodies. A simple sensor on the refrigerator door can flash the kitchen lights if the door is left open for 15 seconds, or play a house-wide announcement if the timer ticks up to a minute. With this simple upgrade, you’ll never cry over spoiled milk again.

4. Other Flashing Light Ideas: The “flashing light” trick isn’t just for the kitchen. Simple programming can flash the lights all over the house when the doorbell rings, when a phone call comes in, or when a smoke detector goes off. It’s sometimes hard to hear all of your various bells and buzzers when you’re watching TV or listening to music in another room. But these events are hard to miss when the overhead lights let you know what’s happening.

5. Garage/Outbuilding Monitoring: In addition to monitoring the door of your garage, you can also keep tabs ON the temperature inside. Many of us store items in our garage that can be harmed by extreme heat or cold, so take advantage of the “thermistor” that may already be in your garage or shop and have the system send you a text or e-mail (or play an onscreen announcement) if things get too hot or too cold.

6. Faux Guard Dog: If you’ve installed exterior speakers for outdoor parties, you may want to know that you can also use them as part of your outdoor security setup. One neat trick is to have your exterior motion detectors trigger the sound of a barking rottweiler to “discourage” backyard trespassers. Back this up with a couple of low-tech “Beware of Dog” signs and you end up with a pretty good deterrent to would-be burglars.

7. Vacation Home Alerts: If you own a vacation home, you’ve probably got it wired up with security to keep an eye on things when you’re not around. Two often overlooked possibilities involve the weather. If your vacation house is near a coastline, your system can alert you to a sudden change in barometric pressure—which could indicate the approach of a severe storm. In addition to sending an e-mail or text message, a barometer alert could also trigger automated storm shutters. For vacation homes away from the coast, a “hard freeze” alert can let you know if special measures need to be taken to prevent burst pipes and flooding.

8. Power-saving “Mockupancy”: Speaking of vacations, for less than 40 bucks you can add a “FakeTV” ( to your automation system. This simple device simulates the flashing glow of a television screen when you’re not around. Sure, you could use your actual television instead of a fake one, but the FakeTV creates the same effect while using much less power—about as much as a simple night light. Your home control system can turn the device on and off at random intervals when your house is in “vacation” mode, saving energy while creating the illusion that someone is sitting there channel surfing.

9. Lock Programming: Don’t burden your teenagers with the responsibility of home security. If your teens are old enough to be coming home by themselves late at night, you can integrate your passcode door locks with your security system so the alarms automatically stand down when your son or daughter codes in after hours. The system can then re-arm the house after a reasonable interval so they don’t have to remember to do it. A text message or e-mail notification can also let you know exactly what time your teenager actually arrived home, so you can grill them about it in the morning.

10. Bed Sensor: If you get up in the night, chances are pretty good that you’re heading to the bathroom. Why not use a sofa/bed sensor with time-conditional programming to light your way to the toilet if you have to get up, say, between midnight and 5:00 a.m.? The bathroom light only needs to be ramped up to 20% or so — just enough for you to take care of business and get back to bed. The same sensor that triggered the light can then turn it back off once you’re tucked back under the covers.

If any of these ideas piques your interest, it might be time to meet with your dealer/integrator and discuss the various ways your existing home control system can do more for you. Most of these projects can be implemented with some smart programming and a minimum of additional equipment.

Happy brainstorming!

Control4 Blog

Did You Know Your Choice of Phone Service Could Impact Your Security?

The standard phone line is slowly being replaced by cellular and digital phone services.  This is causing customers to ask about different options to keep their security system connected for monitoring the security, smoke, CO levels and medical devices they have in their home. Some customers are switching to digital phone service and are not aware that the digital phone service goes through a router that, if it locks up, is not able to notify the monitoring station to be able to call the authorities.  The security system has a battery back-up that will power the security system during short power outages but the digital phone provider and network router do not have this power back-up to allow the security panel to notify the monitoring station during an alarm condition.  These two shortcomings of the digital phone service make the cellular monitoring the most reliable and recommended monitoring communications among security providers.

Reasons to use a cellular connection:

1) The cellular communicator sends a test signal to verify system operations.

2) A cellular line can not be tampered with, for example, by cutting a wire at the exterior of the house, at the street or at a local phone hub.

3) Cellular service is not affected by routine line service work.

4) If you switch phone providers, there is no chance of interruption of security service.

5) Cellular service allows you to use your smart phone to remotely control your security system.

Secur-Tek Blog

What You Need To Know About Your TV’s Settings

Your TV comes with four settings that allow adjustments to improve the picture quality of your television.

TV settings from the factory are set for bright retail locations that do not always work in your home environment.

Understand your TV’s Video Settings

Sometimes the labels don’t tell the full story:

  • Tint is almost certainly set correctly already. Don’t mess with it.
  • Sharpness adds false information to make a crisper image. It’s less useful on HD sets than on older analog TVs, so you should probably lower it.
  • Brightness doesn’t actually adjust brightness, but alters black level. So when you turn up the brightness, you’re really just turning down the blackness.
  • Contrast, called “Picture” on some TVs, doesn’t control the contrast, but the brightness.

Secur-Tek, Inc. offers a TV calibration service to fine tune your TV’s settings for your home.  It takes on average one (1) hour for each TV to be calibrated and this appointment can be set up by calling our office at (919) 387-1800.

(Note: HDMI or component video input to TV needs to be accessible if you do not have a DVD player currently connected to the TV to be calibrated.)

Calibration can also be done for your media room projector!!!

Secur-Tek Blog