Saturday, January 17, 2009

Home Improvements Deja Vu

I look forward to having a house that we plan to keep indefinitely. Each of our previous two houses we purchased anticipating we would sell the house a few years later when we moved on, not sure where the Navy would send us next. We don't know yet if this will be "that" house. Depending on the results of the next two screening boards for me, this could be our house for a long time to come.

With our first house in San Diego, if you had wanted to know which light fixture or water faucet was in our house, just walk through the aisles of Home Depot and whichever one was the cheapest - THAT's the one that was installed in our house. A lot of my home improvement projects ended up being installation of nicer light fixtures and water faucets.

Fast forward to our second house in Ashburn. Ya know what? If you want to know which light fixture or water faucet was in our house, just walk through the aisles of Home Depot and whichever one was the cheapest - THAT's what was in our house. Deja vu! Once again, I spent a good amount of time and expense installing nicer light fixtures and water faucets.

I embarked on a new series of home improvements at our second house though. Our next door neighbor at our second house introduced me to programmable light switches and home automation. He had his house totally rigged with home automation stuff from roof to foundation and it was pretty darn cool. I followed his lead and started a series of upgrades to our light switches and receptacles.

The place it made the most difference for us was in the basement. Neither my wife nor I really like having to go down the stairs into the basement and walk around turning off all the lights the boys left on, or just walking around down there to verify they were all off. I replaced each of the light switches in the basement with X-10 switches (Aside: X-10 were the older generation, the newer ones are called Insteon). Each switch has an electronic address sort of like an IP address for a computer, and they can send and receive control and status signals over the neutral wires of the house. At the top of the basement stairs, I installed an 8-button keypad that showed the status of each of the lights in the basement (on or off), and allowed me to turn them all off, all on, or individually on or off with the push of a single button.

In addition to the remote control, indication, and programming benefits of these switches, they also slowly ramp-up and ramp-down the power. This has a couple of good benefits.

First, it reduces the strain on your lightbulbs and makes the lightbulbs last longer. We had those recessed lighting big lightbulbs in the basement. It seemed like every other time I turned the lights on, one of the lightbulbs would blink out. I was replacing them ALL the time. After I installed the X-10 light switches, I hardly ever had to replace the bulbs anymore. The slow ramp-up and ramp-down of the lights really did make the bulbs last longer.

Second, it reduces the drop in the voltage on the power lines when you turn the lights on and off, which can degrade the major appliances in your house over time. Think about it, if you have ten 60W bulbs that instantly turn on when you flick the switch, then you're putting a sudden 600W load on your house's power. Major appliances like refrigerators don't generally like the oscilating voltage.

Plus, you could program how fast the lights ramped-up or down and set them to automatically go to a preset level instead of going full-bright all the time.
Okay, end of tangent.

Next, I took it a step further and installed a few motion sensors here and there. You didn't have to turn the lights on to the basement stairs, because they would automatically turn on as you approached the bottom or the top of the stairs, and they would automatically turn off after three minutes of not sensing any motion.

We had a problem with the boys going down cellar to the play room, turning on the lights and the TV in the playroom, and coming back upstairs 5 minutes later while leaving the TV and lights on. So installed another motion sensor in the playroom. It controlled the lights the same way as the lights on the stairs (only with a bit longer time delay), but it also controlled the electrical outlet the TV was plugged into. When you walked into the play room, the motion sensor turned on the electrical outlet and allowed the TV to be turned on. After 30 minutes of no motion in the playroom, it turned the lights and the TV off.

Eventually I upgraded the light switches on the first floor, too, so when we're going to bed at night, the single push of a button would secure all the lights. Likewise, when our alarm system said someone was trying to mess with the sliding glass door, a push of a button turned on all the lights and scared the prowler away.

So what brought all this up?

If you've been reading my blog for long, then you know we just bought our third house. Thankfully, this time around, we found a house that didn't require any upgrades to the water faucets or light fixtures. However, we've encountered the same issues as our last house in terms of wishing we didn't have to do the walking tour of the basement to turn off all the lights before going to bed and wishing the boys wouldn't leave the TV and lights on in general.

Thanks to a Christmas gift certificate from my wonderful MIL, I ordered our first shipment of new light switches for the basement. They aren't cheap, so I can't afford to just do the whole house at once. Our first priority was the basement again.

The box arrived a few days ago, so I spent most of the day today replacing the light switches in the basement and installing and programming the 8-button keypad at the top of the stairs. Now, once again, we can push a single button at the top of the stairs and turn off all the lights in the basement. Ta-da! Well... almost anyway. I didn't replace ALL the switches, but the primary ones the boys are leaving on all the time in the play room and the home theater.

This is the 8-keypad. Each of the keys are backlit, but they light up brighter to tell you the light associated with that button is actually on. All the buttons are programmable to control one or more switches or power outlets. You can pop the buttons out and change the labels, I just haven't done that yet.
Well, I'm pleased with what I got done today. While I'm glad to have the programmable light switches again, I'm also experiencing deja vu. I wonder if we'll be keeping this house or if I'll be doing this again at our next house.


Sagey said...

Somedays I wish I could live in your fantasy world... have you not seen the ugly builder special 8 exposed bulb light fixtures and each of the bathrooms? We are sooo replacing those! :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have three light fixtures still in boxes -- one for each bathroom, bec. they had those horrid blah fixtures -- and I'm scared to touch them.

But YOU -- push buttons and keypads and whole house hook-ups . . . yeah. Wow. Have to say I'm impressed.

Kat said...

We are so envious of you. We haven't owned a house since we lived in Washington State. The housing market is so good right now to buy and we are hoping to get off this island by the end of the year and back to the mainland (fingers and toes crossed that he makes XO in May).

C said...

That's a great idea! We're still a few years away from owning a home, but I'll definitely be keeping that concept in mind.

The Yokoyama's said...

Amazing. Not having to run all over the house turning lights off behind the kids? Genius! My house is one story and I'm just glad when our lights work. I am so impressed.

Kyanite Acres Farm said...

What a small world... Updating my house and was looking to see if there is anyplace in NoVA that has Insteon devices... I google it and the third item in the search says Blunoz... Now I know that name from somewhere...