Build your awareness of what universal design features should be incorporated into homes.
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The Wired Home
By Rosemarie Rossetti
Copyright © 2007 Rosemarie Rossetti
Publication copyright © 2007 United Spinal Association
My husband and I are in the final design phase of our new home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory (www.udll.com). As I look at our plans, I see that miles of wires will be concealed within our walls, ceilings, and floors. These will enable us to integrate the home’s various electrical technologies to make the house “smarter.”
More and more these days, homes are including integration technology, allowing the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system (HVAC), lighting, security and home entertainment to be interconnected, thus communicating with each other. When the many systems at work in the home act as one, the result is simplification and energy efficiency.
Take, for example, home safety. With integrated technology, a home’s lighting can be coordinated with the alarm system. In the event of an alarm, exterior lights can be tripped to flash automatically, making it easier for a responding emergency rescue team to find your home. You can also position home security cameras at your doors and monitor them on a computer desktop or tablet-type screens inside your home.
With the aid of integration, repetitive tasks are done automatically. Lighting controls can be synchronized within the house so that a series of lights go on or off with the touch of one control button instead of multiple switches throughout your home. You can create lighting effects throughout the house based on the mood you want to achieve. In addition, you can coordinate the HVAC system with the lighting so that when you come home, the whole environment is tuned to your comfort levels.
Sensors help to monitor the environment and control various systems in your home, thus saving energy when you are home as well as when you are away. The HVAC system can be integrated with the lighting system to make it easy for you to set all controls when you leave for a vacation. Motorized window treatments can be integrated with the HVAC system to shield the sun’s rays from your home and lower the need for the air conditioner.
These integrated systems make seamless control happen based on the program that you have pre-set or the controls that you touch remotely on a keypad, touch panel or computer. Remotes can be simplified so that you don’t need multiple controls for the entertainment system and lighting.
To ensure that there is power on demand, standby or portable generators are handy in the event of a power outage. These backup generators use solar energy, natural gas, liquid propane, gasoline, or diesel fuel as their source of power. Plan to install a power generator when you build or remodel. A continual power supply may be critical for medical equipment or your food and water supply in the event of a blackout. Power outages can also suspend your business operations. Generators keep the HVAC, lights and computers running and you in business.
It is important to install whole-house surge protectors at the building entrance so that appliances and the HVAC are not damaged from power surges and voltage spikes. I would also suggest that plug-in surge protectors be used with computers, fax machines, and audio-visual equipment.
Remember to locate the electric service panel box where you can reach it. Since I use a wheelchair for mobility, we plan to install the box in the garage at my eye level. This will enable me to reach the panel to troubleshoot problems when an electrical outlet doesn’t work because the circuit breaker was tripped.
Obviously, home entertainment systems and a fully integrated home must be installed by experts. You can locate certified design and installation professionals based on their location through the Web site of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), www.cedia.org.
When you are wiring your house, wire it with a plan for your future. Decide what you can afford now and what you would like to do as funds become available. With the wiring in place you will be further ahead when you buy electronics in the days ahead.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is building a national model universal design home in metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. To learn more about the Universal Design Living Laboratory go to www.UDLL.com.