Skip to main content

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- The 21st century house doesn't have a Star Trek food replicator or George Jetson's robot maid just yet, but "smart-home" technology available today can text you if there's a break-in or scold toddlers who get too close to the hot tub.

"It's generally not techie people that are buying this stuff -- that's maybe 10% to 15% of the market," says Peter Shipp, a Winter Park, Fla., smart-home installer and board member of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. "Buyers are usually people who have the money and are willing to spend it to simplify their lives."

Smart-home systems start at around $2,000 and top out above $1 million, offering homeowners remote-controlled lighting, window shades, swimming pools, door locks, thermostats and security cameras -- not to mention cutting-edge sound systems and home theaters.

"You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on big lighting systems or motorized shades," Shipp says. "And when you add in an entertainment system, the sky's the limit."

The latest trend involves tying your smart home into an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or other smart device, letting you unlock the door for the plumber or check security cameras from halfway around the globe.

"The Apple iPhone has singlehandedly raised the bar for smart homes' ease of use and aesthetic quality," Shipp says. "You used to just control systems with touch panels, and the client's reaction was 'This is adequate' or 'This is good.' Now it's: 'Wow -- this is great!'"

(AAPL) Today's smart homes typically include:

  • One central system that allows you to press a single button and get lights in multiple rooms to dim, brighten or turn on or off for supper, movie night or other daily activities. You can even program in your home's longitude and latitude so the system knows exactly when sunrise and sunset occur throughout the year, turning lights on or off accordingly.
  • Computerized thermostats that let you turn the heat or air conditioning on when you're heading home from the office or an out-of-town trip. These systems can also shut off the heat or air if someone accidentally leaves a door to the outside open.
  • Pool and spa controls that let you crank up the water temperature via your iPhone when you're out for the evening, allowing you to swim comfortably when you return.
  • Burglar alarms that call your smartphone if there's an intruder, allowing you to view remotely whatever your security cameras are seeing.

Customers can also augment basic systems with everything from 20-foot video screens to in-home discos that turn on with the touch of a single button.

"You can relatively easily put a pressure sensor in your refrigerator to find how much milk you have left, sending you an email when you need to buy more," says Dave Pedigo, CEDIA's senior technology director. "And in the next five or 10 years, you'll be able to monitor pretty much everything in the house. You'll know when a light bulb is about to burn out, or when your daughter is watching TV when she's supposed to be grounded."

Click below for a look at what smart-home technologies you can buy at various price points, from $2,500 to nearly $2 million.

Image placeholder title

Bare-bones system
Project: Orlando, Fla., 2,200-square-foot single-family home
System designer: Architectural Electronics, Winter Park, Fla.
Price: $2,500

This entry-level installation tied a 2,200-square-foot home's existing burglar alarm, four outdoor lights, single-zone thermostat and back door's lock into a system accessible via an iPhone or other mobile device.

The homeowners pay about $50 a month for iPhone apps that allow them to adjust the air conditioning and heat, turn exterior lighting on or off, arm or disarm the security system and lock or unlock the back door -- from anywhere.

There are no security cameras, nor any of the wall-mounted touchpads costlier smart-home systems typically include. The customers must use the iPhone to run the system even when home.

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends

"You get very basic functionality at this price point, but you're limited in the number and quality of devices that you can include," Architectural Electronics' Peter Shipp says. "Still, this system can work well if you're willing to pay $50 or $60 a month and all you want to do is control your security system, a few lights and maybe a thermostat or two."

Image placeholder title

Modest system
Project: Orlando, Fla., 3,200-square-foot home
System designer: Architectural Electronics
Price: $11,000

This home has a dozen zones of lighting, a programmable thermostat, swimming-pool controls and a security system with three video cameras -- all tied in to a single smart-device app.

Using an iPad, the home's owner can arm or disarm the security system, turn lights on or off, view the security cameras or adjust the heating or air conditioning from anywhere in the world.

"In a modest-sized house like this, you can get away with an installation for about $10,000," Shipp says. "Each of the main systems costs about $1,000 to install, plus a couple of thousand more to add security cams."

Image placeholder title

High-end system
Project: Bearspaw Estate, Bearspaw, Canada
System designer: Home Concepts, Calgary, Canada
Price: $133,000 (U.S.)

Pull into this newly built estate after a hard day's work and the system will light up the footpath, put music you like on the home stereo and automatically turn on the TV when your favorite show comes on.

If you have small kids, a motion detector in the hot-tub room will recognize little ones who approach, setting of an alarm and playing a recording of your voice saying: "You're not supposed to be in here."

All told, the system -- which won a CEDIA silver medal last year -- has 18 audio zones, six security cameras and 11 high-definition video displays. There's even a 106-inch drop-down TV in the master bedroom and a 119-inch projection screen in the estate's home theater.

The home's major rooms have touchscreens, keypads, video displays and speakers, allowing you to control the lighting, climate and security systems while enjoying cable TV, Blu-ray, AM/FM radio or songs from your Apple iPod. And when you're away from home, you can use a PC or an Apple iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone to view the security cams, unlock the front gate or control the home's other systems from anywhere in the world.

If you like what you see, this 3.1-acre estate outside of Calgary is for sale at $5.3 million (in U.S. dollars).

Image placeholder title

Super-premium system
Project: In-home disco
System designer: Engineered Environments, Alameda, Calif.
Price: $300,000

Press a button in this penthouse pied-a-terre and the home's living and dining rooms automatically transform into a 2,000-square-foot professional-caliber disco, complete with laser lights, plasma video screens and a 110-decibel sound system.

Blackout shades cover the windows, video projectors drop from the ceiling and a backlit waterfall pop ups behind the bar as high-end Genelec speakers and Velodyne subwoofers hidden behind "acoustically transparent" fabric crank out the beat.

The system also includes a high-tech version of a real disco's velvet rope line.

Guests coming to the party must enter through a foyer that includes an LCD display and a flip-down mouse and keyboard visitors use to sign in as a video camera snaps a photo of them.

To keep your neighbors happy, the system -- which won a CEDIA gold medal for special projects last year -- also includes floating acoustical ceiling treatments and special floors and walls designed to minimize sound transmission to other units.

If all of that isn't enough for you, the penthouse hosts a 50-inch pop-up plasma TV in the master bedroom, as well as TV screens set into both bathrooms' mirrors.

Image placeholder title

Top-of-the-line system
Project: Tech financier's vacation home
System designer: Engineered Environments
Price: $1.8 million

A 2010 CEDIA bronze-medal winner for $1 million-and-up projects, this system was built for a businessman who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering, makes his living investing in tech companies and wanted cutting-edge technology. But he also insisted on equipment easy enough for his wife, kids and visitors to use.

The system boasts a professional-quality home theater, a recording studio/karaoke room, 21 climate zones, 17 audio zones, 13 HEMI video zones, built-in Wi-Fi and 16 closed-circuit TVs. The home's pool, spa, lights and motorized window treatments are also linked in.

But perhaps the most unique feature is the home's one-of-a-kind baby-monitoring system.

Special microphones and day/night cameras allow the home's owner, using any of the house's touchscreen displays -- or even by logging onto the Internet while away from the house -- to monitor little ones at play. Users can customize the system by choosing up to three combinations of specific cameras and microphones to monitor at any given time.