Chris Burford is the co-owner and in-house technical expert at Central Valley Entertainment Systems. He has researched, designed and installed smart home automation systems, custom home theaters, restaurant sound systems and business conference room systems throughout Fresno, Clovis, and the Central Valley for years.
We sat down with him to interview him on the best smart home automation investment and upgrades for 2018. He shared with us his vision of what is possible right now with high-tech home systems as well as what he thinks future home automation systems will do.
The interview is fascinating for anyone who wants to know how to upgrade a smart home system or use home automation to save time and effort.
Watch it on video here or read the transcript below. It’s great information for anyone who is interested in today’s technology and wants to know what it means for the average homeowner.
But if you’re short on time and you just want to know what we can do for YOU, give Chris a call right now at (559) 432-8600.
Chris Burford, Co-Owner, Central Valley Entertainment Systems and Smart Home Automation Expert
** BEGIN INTERVIEW **
I was having a conversation with some friends the other day—it was actually online, on some voice chat, and we were talking about what I do.
I started talking about the possibilities. So they asked me, “Oh, you program?”
“Kind of, but it’s more home automation-type stuff,” I said.
For example, let’s say you’re at home and it’s the middle of a summer afternoon, and you’ve got the lights set in the family room to 40% (because you’re reading a book or something). You’ve got the shades integrated with the system—and the lighting and the thermostat all together.
This could be on a timer. It could just natively work that way. So you can walk into the room and it’s this particular time of day. The system knows that you’re in the room because we have a sensor in there that picks up motion and occupancy. Basically it’ll check constantly to see whether there’s someone in there—and if there isn’t, then this program will never operate.
How Smart Home Automation Saves Electricity
So let’s say you’re in there and you’re reading a book. You’ve got the lights set to 40%, but the smart home automation system knows you’re in there and it’s not actually going to set the lights for 40%–it’s going to know what the lighting level is (when you want it) at 40%.
So you push the button for the lights to be at 40%, and it doesn’t actually turn the lights on. What it does is opens the shades up to a specific level that the lighting would be as if the lights were on at 40%.
It’s saving you electricity and making the comfort level just the same as it would have been if you had the lights on themselves. Now, as the sun starts to go down later in the day, if there is still someone in that room, the shades can raise as the day goes on further, to maintain that same lighting level. Now you up the lighting level a little bit, then it will lower the shades maybe, or raise them even more—just depending on what the lighting level is supposed to be, but basically it maintains that balance while keeping the electricity use as little as possible.
And then, say you leave the room. Now it will close the shades all the way. That way, because it’s a summer afternoon, we’re not letting all that heat in through the windows, which is saving you more energy through HVAC.
Automatically Play Your Favorite Music and TV Stations
So even with basic things like lighting and music, where we’re not doing things like that last example, we can do things like you come home at 5:00 and no one else is home, so we’re going to turn on classic rock because that’s what you like to listen to.
We’ll have your smart home automation kick over to your favorite Pandora station automatically when you walk in the front door or enter your key code to get in the front door—and then set the lighting to certain things or turn the TV straight on to a news channel that you watch all the time—or baseball, or whatever it is that you happen to like.
And that can all be done automatically.
But say your spouse is home already, and they were already watching TV. It’s not going to take that over and screw up whatever they were watching. It just won’t react—there will be no change, so you’re not going to disturb whatever their current activity was.
But say the TV wasn’t on at all, and you always go home and you always watch news at 6:00 or whatever time it is you happen to get home. Then that can automatically trigger when you enter your property.
We can even do things like have doors lock automatically when you get a quarter mile from your house—things like that. Geofencing comes in with that, which uses basically a perimeter marker through a map. It will use your phone as a trigger—so that when you leave this area that we’ve drawn on basically a Google map, more or less, when you leave this area, the macro or the automation will trigger automatically, based on the event that occurred—because you’ve left the perimeter.
If there’s no one else home, or whatever variables we happen to set for this, if it meets all that criteria, then we’ll trigger this to happen.
Smart Home Automation and Home Security
So no one else is home, everyone has left, and you forgot to lock the front door. We can have it automatically lock or, say you have the dog walker or someone out, and you know they’re going to come right back, then we can say, send you a message on your phone that says, “Hey, you forgot to unlock the door or you forgot to lock the door; do you want to lock it now?”
Say yes and the door locks. And that’s all automated. You don’t have to do it. It will send reminders and things like that, or you just have it do it automatically. That choice is yours.
The Key Component for Your Smart Home System
In order to do this sort of system, you need some sort of central processor, so that would be your smart home controller. This isn’t your basic over-the-counter Iris, or whatever you get at Home Depot—like that little Z-Wave lighting thing.
I mean, that can be part of it, but you need something that can actually trigger multiple systems together. So that would be a URC type total control system, or Control4 or Savant, or Crestron, or any of those home automation smart home systems.
It’s a lot more robust than your typical do-it-yourself over-the-counter type of system.
So to start a home automation system like that, the first thing you really need is a central processor—something that can tie in these multiple systems to all work as one and then give you that end result.
Smart Home Automation and Alexa
This actually leads us into Alexa—Alexa and voice control in general, so [this includes] Google Home and Alexa. Those are really the two main players right now, but in order to do a lot of this stuff with them, we can do individual bits and pieces. We can do lighting without a central processor, or we could do thermostat without a central processor, and we could do music without a central processor.
But to get those to still work together, let’s say we say, “Alexa, turn on Away Mode” because we’re leaving, or “Alexa, goodbye!” or whatever it happens to be, then we could have that trigger multiple systems at once.
You can’t do that without some sort of central hub. We would have to say, “Alexa, turn off the lights, Alexa, turn off the music, Alexa, turn off whatever else it happens to be, like set the Nest to Away Mode.”
We could do all that individually, but that’s three separate commands, and it would actually be faster just to click all the buttons rather than saying that process and waiting for the response and her to say “Okay” three different times. [Editor’s Note: She’ll probably say “Okay, turning off lights” because Alexa is notoriously verbose unless you’ve turned on the brand new Alexa brief mode].
When I could say, “Alexa, turn off house.” And now all those things are going to happen simultaneously at once with one single command, and you’re going to get one single “Okay” back to say that this has been done.
** END INTERVIEW **
Sounds simple, right? Program your smart home and it’s one click. But as Chris said at the beginning, it does take experience. And it’s tricky unless you have the patience and fascination with technology like he does.