We all love the easy life so why not make your home easier to live in. Automating your home can be as simple as having door closers or lights that automatically come on when it’s dark; to having a full on system that allows you to switch lighting, heating, security etc. on and off even when you are not at home. In this review we look at what is available from your local DIY store rather than specialised disability equipment.

Doors and cupboards

A door closer automatically closes the door once you have passed through. Simple to fit manual door closers are those with a “lever arm” or swing hinges that attach to the door and frame or wall. The amount of “effort” needed to push open can be adjusted in the lever type and this affects the speed of door closing. You can change your door handles to push plates on one side, or if using restaurant type swing hinges (you can push the door away from you in either direction and it will swing close) you can do away with handles altogether. For swing hinges you will have to adjust how the door fits in the frame to allow the “swing.” DIY stores offer budget closers you can self-install from companies such as Yale and Union. The main problem with manual closers is getting your wheelchair through while keeping the door open, so you could try an electric door closer as these are described as “effortless.”

To make life easier in the kitchen you can put a “Lazy Susan” in your cupboards or fridge. This rotating board means you never have to reach to the back of a cupboard again. Modern kitchen drawers and cupboards come with “soft close” mechanisms so you don’t make a noise when closing them, and you can install electronic drawers.

Curtains and Blinds

Curtains and blinds can be motorised and operated with a battery operated remote control or wall switch. The battery operated ones can be installed without an electrician. Some include either a timer or sun sensor so they can be closed even when you are not at home to keep your house cosy in winter. Most will take curtain weights between 30kg to 60 kg.

Switching things on and off with timers

Options are either analogue/digital timers to fit into a standard plug point, or timers that fit in the distribution board (DB) and operate a “circuit.” Analogue timers limit you to settings per day (a few may have a “per week” option). Digital timers allow greater flexibility. Eskom is encouraging us all to have our geysers on timers, but the timer can be used for other equipment. Timers can switch your electric kettle, coffee maker, table lamps, electric heaters etc. on and off to suit you. So if you want a piping hot cup of coffee ready when you wake up or some lights on when you get home at night this is an easy solution. You will need one for each room you want automated and sometimes more than one per room. We have our electric heaters on in the winter from 17:00 to 20:00 and 05:00 to 07:00; in summer we use the same timer for the mossier machines to be on from 17:00 - 06:00. The advantage of a DB timer is that many rooms can be “automated” at the same time e.g. lights in several rooms or lights and TV in one room, but for this you need an electrician. The DB circuit can be fitted with an override switch to give you more control.

Many cookers have a timer so that you can prepare food, put it in the oven and set a “start time” so that food is cooked when you get home, an alternative is a “slow cooker.” Of course we are not all that well organised. Washing machines and dishwashers also come with “time set” options so your machine can start working while you are out, in bed, or when the load shedding is over.

Automatic lights

Finding a timer restrictive? Then what about a light sensor? These sensors (or day-night switches) either come as part of the light fitting or as an “add on.” The sensor switches lights on automatically when the natural light reaches a certain “darkness.” Mainly used outside to make homecoming safer, but you can get inside systems such as the Qwik-Switch system that can replace standard switches or be added to a standard switch system. Solar garden lights charge in sunlight hours and shine throughout the night to light paths and doorways. There are also lights that work on motion detection, the “occupancy sensors” switch on lights as you go into a room and switch off as you leave. Both light or motion sensors have adjustable “sensitivity” settings.

Alternatives are lights with sound detection that come on with a clap or voice control. The detector is plugged into a socket and you plug your device into it e.g. lamp or TV. If you have a smart phone you can get an App for switching on lights, but you need special light bulbs such as the Philips Hue. The Hue menu App costs R24.99.

Intercom systems

There are two main types, the intercom phones and the child listening monitors, they have a rang of about 300m. The phone type require you to pick up the phone or press a speaker button, but the listening monitors can be set to be “open” all the time. Both can be used to call to another room e.g. call from bedroom to kitchen to ask someone to come and help you, or from home office to kitchen to order a morning coffee, or even just to have a conversation with someone in another part of the house. Monitors come in “audio only” or “video and audio.” The video may come with a pan and tilt video camera as well so you can “search” the room - a good way to monitor your children’s rooms to see what mayhem is happening. Monitors can come with their own “base” or can be linked to your smart phone or computer. You can also use Apps that let one smart device monitor a room and “video stream” to another smart device e.g. prop your tablet up to watch the baby in the crib and send the image to your smart phone. Apps include a “ping” for motion detection, and let you “speak to the room.” This means you can check what’s happening at home even when you are not there (via 3G or WiFi). Some security systems offer a connection to your cell phone so you can open electronic doors /gate from your phone or use your phone as an intercom (uses airtime).

What else can I use my smart devise for?

Well you can convert it into a remote controller, but you need a “receiver” to convert the signal into an infrared signal. There are receiver plugs for a single plug point and “boxes” for the whole house.

The Bathroom

Have you seen those nifty automatic taps at the airport? You can have them at home! Local brands such as Cobra and Franke offer sensor taps and toilet flush mechanisms. Mixer taps can be set for temperature, pressure, and time. Taps can run off batteries or be linked to the household wiring. Flush mechanisms need to be linked to the electrics, mind you, you need to “be flush” to afford these! If you have lots of money you can buy the Santa Tub, which has a pneumatic seat to get you into the tub.

Now and the Future

The problem with all automated systems is the reliability of the electricity supply - given Eskom’s problems you may spend more time resetting the timers than you save having them automated! Digital timers have an advantage in that they usually have a back up battery to keep your “times” memorised. The future certainly will be high tech with all electric equipment being linked via “home control systems” to your smart phone so will be able to fill your bathtub ready for you arriving home!