When Your Smart Home Outsmarts You!

Prepare to have your brain explode. At least, that’s the warning I’m giving my family. Unless you are currently in sixth grade or younger, you soon will not be able to perform basic life functions in your own home. I’m serious! Want to make a pot of coffee? Well, forget about it. Because if you misplaced your phone or have 20/65 vision and can’t quite see your mobile touch-screen device, you are out of luck.

Light switches just aren’t good enough for people these days. Nope. Apparently, we require access to the International Space Station in order to turn on the fan in the bathroom. “Attention: Cosmonauts! How ’bout a little help down here!”

That’s what we have to look forward to in tomorrow’s Android-powered home. The techies may read this column and scoff at my future frustration. But they do not suffer the same aggravations that normal people encounter on a regular basis. For example, my dad recently built his “dream home.”

Yeah, mom and dad were going to retire in comfort in a state-of-the-art custom home. It was beyond beautiful. The views were amazing. The woodwork and masonry beyond compare. And the electronics! The home boasted a fully functional integrated system — the top of the line.

Each room had its own light settings for morning, afternoon and evening, played preprogrammed musical selections, and had a remote-access security system. The blinds (among other things) were also on a timed system. In theory, you would arrive home from vacation (or a long day at work) to a warm home, comfortably lit, with soft music playing and a tub filling with lavender-scented bath water. Hmmm. That sounds nice.

In reality, mom would be cooking dinner and watching a movie when all of a sudden all the lights in the house would turn off, the drapes would go up and instead of Robert De Niro on-screen she’d be watching static in an eerily dark house.

She’d shout something unrepeatable about the automated system, and stumble her way across the room to pound on the in-wall panel. Dad would be in the other room trying to read a book: “Doggonit, Charlotte! Why did you turn all the lights out again?”

Eventually, the two of them tired of reprogramming their home and longed for the days when one light switch turned on one light and a simple VCR turned the tape inside a simple VHS cassette. The future was too complicated.

But today, just a few short years later, everyone has smartphones, and we use them incessantly. It’s hard to have a conversation at a restaurant without also surfing the Web and playing Jewels.

And if you can do that, you can have a smart home, right? So in this era of the App, problems like the ones my parents bumped into presumably won’t occur again because it will be unnecessary to learn complex programs; all we will have to do is download an application, and we do that every day, anyway.

Back to those techies: They have a lot of great things to look forward to. They will whip out their phone at a restaurant and show their friends how they can start the dishwasher, get the dryer going, and set their coffeemaker on auto-drip — all from Applebee’s.

Of course, first they had to call an actual person to go over to their place and put dishes in the dishwasher, load the dryer with the wet clothes, and make sure a carafe sits safely under the coffee grounds.

As for my family, as much as we love our smartphones, we’ll probably all stick with the good ol’ fashioned, labor-intensive light switches. That being said, I am thinking of installing The Clapper (remember those “Clap on! Clap off!” ads?) in my bedroom. Getting up to turn off the light is such a drag.

By Alisha Alway Braatz, broker for Coldwell Banker Advantage One Properties in Eugene, Ore., and a real estate humorist.

Winterizing Your Home

We are enjoying the glory days of autumn with picture perfect days and starry nights. But as the temperatures are sure to cool soon (you think?!), we will be  reminded that Old Man Winter will be settling in for a long chilly season. Autumn is invariably a prelude to falling winter temperatures, regardless of where you live. It might rain or snow or, as David Letterman says, “Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.” Did you know there is only one state in the United States where the temperatures have never dipped below zero? Give up? It’s Hawaii.Before the temperatures dip too far south, follow these simple guidelines to winterize your home and save money on utilities.

Inside Your Home:

  • Have your furnace system serviced to ensure its working efficiently and not emitting carbon monoxide.
  • Clean permanent furnace filters and replace paper or disposable filters.
  • Replace the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • If you have a wood stove or fireplace, have your chimney swept thoroughly. It should be cleaned before the soot build up reaches one-fourth inch thickness inside the chimney flue.
  • Check your hot water heater for leaks and maintain proper temperature setting (120 degrees recommended by Department of Energy). On older water heaters with less insulation, for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit you lower the temperature, you save 6 percent of your water heating energy.
  • Check the attic to see if insulation needs to be added or replaced. This is the most significant area of heat loss in many homes, so it is also important to see that it has proper ventilation. Inadequate ventilation could lead to premature deterioration of the insulation materials. You may also need to check insulation in exterior walls, crawl spaces and along foundation walls.
  • Check all windows and doors for air leaks. Install storm windows and putty, caulk or add weather stripping as needed.
  • Check basement and cellars for seal cracks or leaks in walls and floor.
  • Make sure all vents are clean and operating properly. Clean and vacuum baseboard heaters, heating ducts and vents.

Outside Your Home:

  • Store or cover outdoor furniture, toys and grill.
  • Purchase rock salt for melting snow and a shovel or snow blower if you don’t already have one. Make sure you have the right kind of gas and oil on hand for your snow blower in the case of an unexpected snowstorm.
  • Caulk joints and minor cracks on exterior walls and siding.
  • Look for deteriorating finishes. Minor problems can be patched to preserve the wood. Put bigger jobs, such as scraping and refinishing painted or stained areas, on the calendar for next spring or early summer.
  • Drain and shut off sprinkler systems and other exterior water lines to avoid frozen and broken pipes. Leave all taps slightly open.
  • Insulate exterior spigots and other pipes that are subject to freezing but can’t be drained or shut off.
  • Rake and compost leaves and garden debris, or put out for yard-waste pickup.
  • Clean storm drains, gutters and other drain pipes.
  • Check the foundation for proper drainage. To do this, spray yard with a hose to see if water runs away from the house. A little shoveling to reshape the earth next to the house may make the water run away from the foundation.
  • Make sure dirt or piles of wood don’t come into contact with or touch siding, inviting termites and carpenter ants into the house.
  • Seal driveway and walkway cracks, if needed, before ground freezes regularly.
  • Inspect the roof for loose, damaged or missing pieces.
  • Check attic vent openings for nests or other blockages.