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Ask Slashdot: Shortcuts To a High Tech House 281

Posted by samzenpus
from the whoever-has-the-most-toys dept.
First time accepted submitter phaedrus9779 writes "I'm a recently married man about to take on the next big adventure: home ownership! I came across a great house in a great community but I need a little bit extra: a high tech house. The problem: money, I'm on a budget. I'd love to have home theaters, super high tech weather stations and iPads seamlessly installed in all the walls — but this just isn't possible. So my question to the Slashdot community is: how can I build a high tech house that will be the envy of my friends, provide lots of useful gadgets, and not break the bank? Also, as always, the cooler the better!"
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Ask Slashdot: Shortcuts To a High Tech House

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  • by Tim Ward (514198) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:15AM (#39540173) Homepage

    ... grow out of thinking that stuff is important when you get married?

    • by oztiks (921504) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:24AM (#39540231)

      From experience its just the opposite.

      From the lack of sex, you find that you spend most of your time secluded in your shed. As such you have one of two choices

      a) accrue a large collection of adult material
      b) find a hobby ...

      I went with hobby.

      • by Tom (822) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:46AM (#39540347) Homepage Journal

        c) find a better wife

        Seriously, I've never understood all the horror stories, not before and not after my own marriage.

        • by misexistentialist (1537887) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @11:02AM (#39540761)
          But in that case the old wife gets your house and shed...
        • by Nemyst (1383049)

          You're assuming /. readers have much of a choice.

        • by Auroch (1403671)

          c) find a better wife

          Seriously, I've never understood all the horror stories, not before and not after my own marriage.

          You're obviously not married, with such a odd comment and low UUID.

      • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:49AM (#39540677)

        What if your hobby is accruing a large collection of adult material?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:49AM (#39540357)

      I don't think that you understand American culture very well. This isn't about the house or the gadgets or the technology. This is about the American male having a higher debt load than his friends and relatives. That's what really matters in America. The bigger your debt, the more American you are.

      When an American says he "owns" a house, the house is secondary. It's the $400,000, 60-year mortgage that's important. His neighbor maybe only has a $350,000, 40-year mortgage on his house, so his neighbor is clearly the inferior being.

      Then there are the American's car loans. Many American couples own three or four SUVs or trucks, because that way they can possess more vehicle loans, each for a greater amount. You don't want to be the only American on the block with one or two cars! That'll clearly show that you're scum.

      Credit card debt is also a very important indicator of how American somebody is. If you've only got one credit card, you're probably just trash. You're worse than trash if you haven't been paying at least some interest on the balance for a few years. Real Americans will have maxed out at least four or five credit cards, while working hard on maxing out the sixth, seventh and eighth that they possess. Buying the overhyped Apple useless-gadget-of-the-hour is a great way to achieve this goal.

      I hope you have a better understanding of American culture now, and the utmost importance of debt. No American household is complete without owing huge amounts of money to some faceless corporation, especially when there's no hope that they could ever repay it during their lifetimes.

      • by vlm (69642) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:28AM (#39540555)

        When an American says he "owns" a house, the house is secondary

        Its a part of modern american doublespeak. For another housing related laugh, "I'm building a new house" means he watches "this old house" and some HGTV shows and he signed a contract for some illegals to build it for him. Confuses the shit out of me because my Grandfather actually built his own house... sears and roebuck dropped off a flatbed truck of lumber in a then new suburb and him and his coworkers swung hammers one summer in the 50s. Him and his coworkers all moved into the same subdivision at the same time and helped frame each others houses, then they contracted out for the technical stuff (electrical, plumbing) then my grandmother and friends painted the inside walls. Resulted in my dad growing up in a very tight knit neighborhood. I'm told this was not the norm, but also was not unusual, in that generation for "building a house" to mean physically swinging a hammer.

        • Sounds like socialism to me!
          • by vlm (69642)

            Sounds like socialism to me!

            LOL the employer was the US Army (although they were civilians)

            According to my grandmother they spent about 2 hours drinking and eating brats and burgers for every 1 hour working, so...

            • by Auroch (1403671)

              Sounds like socialism to me!

              LOL the employer was the US Army (although they were civilians)

              According to my grandmother they spent about 2 hours drinking and eating brats and burgers for every 1 hour working, so...

              Not only socialism, but good old fashioned american procrastination (and giving others many opportunities to help out).

        • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:48AM (#39540675)

          my Grandfather actually built his own house... sears and roebuck dropped off a flatbed truck of lumber in a then new suburb and him and his coworkers swung hammers one summer in the 50s

          Keep in mind that if your grandparents had kids at the time this is a very romanticized view... Likely your grandmother was expected to wrangle the kids all week and then on weekends as well while pops swung hammers building the house - Very tough. Today, there's an expectation of shared childcare, so on weekends you're at the park or swimming lessons or whatever with the kids, which makes finding time to build a house pretty tricky.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by vlm (69642)

            The expectation now is single motherhood, either never married or divorced, so... "whats a father" is more likely the issue, than "how is dad going to build a house"

            Also workplace safety rules were more relaxed back then. The kids were expected to work onsite, sort of a lassie on the ranch lifestyle, in the burbs. So every box of nails or 2x4 was dragged to the "working men" by my grandfather's kids. The kids also did "real work" like painting, not just gofer duties. Supposedly my dad laid down the sod

            • Even the littlest kids were expected to hand beer and soda bottles to the workers.

              Again, a romanticized view not rooted in reality. A two-year old and four-year old have short attention spans and while they might be interested in handing out beer and soda for a few minutes, very quickly they'll want to do the next thing like heading to the park. Sure, 14 year olds should be mowing the lawn not playing xbox, but young kids need parenting and supervision, and in the 'good ol' days' that would have fall

              • by vlm (69642)

                Is this some kind of feminist rant thing? Sorry, but I heard about it first hand from all the players involved... grandfather, grandmother, and father. The stories seem to mesh and they seemed to have no axe to grind.
                I suppose they could have all been teaming up against me in a conspiracy, like santa claus and the easter bunny and the tooth fairy, but this was all discussed at a much later age without any product tie in or moralizing, so I suspect what I'm reporting and they reported is pretty much fact.

              • by morari (1080535)

                Young kids need parenting and supervision, and in the 'good ol' days' that would have fallen on the woman.

                That is unfortunately not the case anymore, is it? Now the kids are just shipped off to a daycare to be indoctrinated by a stranger. The parents have no time for them, as they're both out working full time jobs in order to just barely stay afloat on that house and care payment. They have made themselves into slaves through debt. They children won't even know them, and they will be worse off for it. The cycle will become more and more aggressive with each parentless generation.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          I'm told this was not the norm, but also was not unusual, in that generation for "building a house" to mean physically swinging a hammer.

          Nowdays, it's pretty much outright illegal to try and do this stuff if you're not a licensed contractor.

          It's kinda sad. Even if you could live up to building codes and the like (which are mostly about what materials to use and building standards like "doorways need to be this size"), you still need to have a contractor's license in many states. They're not cheap, either - they usually cost thousands of dollars, and you typically need to be bonded for a few million as well.

          • OTOH, I've seen the result of 'non contractor built houses'. It' was pretty much the norm in Alaska until recently. Most towns didn't have building codes. When we moved into our current house, I knew I had to do a significant amount of renovation (1970's epilepsy inducing kitchen designs for starters) but it would have never occurred to me than anyone would but flashing between the upper and lower stories upside down so they collected water. Nice.

            A couple of removed structural joists later I moved on to

      • by abirdman (557790) *
        I completely agree with you. I don't know whether you got a flamebait because of the sarcasm, the gratuitous Apple dig, or because you're AC, but your comment perfectly decodes today's advertising and media message, promoted and motivated by inconsistent banking regulations and unbalanced tax code. "Stuff" means debt, and people trading debt for stuff means the wheels of capitalism keep turning. Much of pop culture is solely of use in establishing the value of "stuff" so that people will want it, and go int
  • by Tronster (25566) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:15AM (#39540177) Homepage

    Two items I can recommend that cost a bit upfront but do indeed save money down the road:
    - Nest Thermostat ( http://www.nest.com/ [nest.com] )
    - Tankless water heater

    A good tankless water heater will cost a few K (with installation, etc...) so perhaps just start with the Nest. There is currently a waiting list for them, but I was able to get mine about 3 months after waiting. It looks cool, and if used properly, will continually save you money over the life of the house.

    • by ari_j (90255) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:23AM (#39540221)

      What I've read about them says that tankless water heaters wear out faster than the traditional kind with a tank, and that the replacement cost eclipses any energy savings in using one. They are also reportedly less convenient and comfortable (due to a cold water "sandwich" effect as they send water down the line and attempt to sense how much heat to apply to the next water coming through). If those articles and reviews are wrong, I have yet to find any reports of it.

      For cool water heaters, look at a point-of-use water heater for sinks to get instant hot water, and locate the main water heater directly underneath or next to your shower plumbing. Those will actually improve your lifestyle and save water.

      But at the very least, take Tronster's advice and install technology that serves a purpose in your house. If you're on a tight budget, wasting money on things to impress your friends is probably unwise (read: it's beyond stupid).

      • by Keruo (771880) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:46AM (#39540345)
        I don't like the idea of tankless water heaters at all. There are plenty of things you can do to reduce water heating costs.
        If the house is in a windy place, think about getting a small wind mill, something you can easily place on your property, (think something like this [homemadewindmill.org])
        Add directly attached heating element to the water tank and add temperature control relay to switch off the current when the water temperature in tank reaches desired level.
        Second grid-connected heating element could be low-level triggered, if you're using up water faster than your wind power can heat up, the more expensive heating method kicks in and keeps your reservoir going.
        • by swalve (1980968) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:10AM (#39540467)
          If you are ripping out a perfectly good tank heater to put in a tankless, then it probably doesn't make sense. But if it is time to replace anyway, it doesn't cost all that much more. The big benefit is not having to keep a giant tank of water at temperature for many hours a day. Every time your water heater fires up when you aren't using water, it is money out the chimney. Plus, their burners are generally more efficient at turning gas into hot water. The exhaust coming out of the one I installed is not much warmer than room temperature. And they are not nearly as complicated as installing homemade windmills...
          • Agree with keeping the tank if possible - especially if your geekery is likely to extend to environmentally friendly (or keeping the bills down) and you have roof space and / or garden for solar thermal water heating - the warm water will need a nicely insulated tank to stay warm and a bunch of solar thermal tubes (or a self engineered system for more geek points) could be just as good a talking point as living on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise
          • When the old gas powered water tank sprang a leak after 27 years of service, I looked into switching to tankless, and decided it wasn't worth it. A cheap new tank heater was $350, warrantied for 6 years, and was so improved it was twice as efficient as the old one. In contrast, the cheapest tankless heater was about $800. Then it would be another $400 to convert the gas pipe, flue pipe, and water pipes, add electrical wiring so there was some place to plug it in, and contrive some kind of support for it

            • by BLKMGK (34057)

              One thing you forgot is that tankless is endless amount of hot water. Size it properly and no one gets a cold shower and everyone can shower at the same time while washing clothes. I moved to tankless when i did a renovation so costs to move and vent were already there no matter what. I did have to add a water softener but that benefited everyone too. My month to month costs during the Summer when gas isn't used for anything but water heating dropped in half but I'll admit that's only about $10 a month save

        • by vlm (69642)

          I don't like the idea of tankless water heaters at all.

          Can you provide a more detailed engineering assessment? Or is it something like you believe you speak for the flying spaghetti monster in stating its a religious abomination, or ...?

          You pay money to get the capital equipment such that you dump in water and energy and out squirts hot water. Tankless is just a better deal financially than tank. I'm not really seeing the facebook like button effect at all.

          • by Keruo (771880)

            I don't like the idea of tankless water heaters at all.

            Can you provide a more detailed engineering assessment?

            That is a personal opinion, but I'm thinking of the power grid here.
            When you're using electric equipment to heat water directly during usage, you're causing massive drain spikes to the network at mornings and at evenings depending on how people take showers.(doesn't apply to gas utilities, but I'm assuming electrical here)
            Properly insulated tank can be heated during off-peak hours(the electricity might be cheaper) or using solar/wind, tankless rules those options out.

            It's just a question of "do you have

            • by vlm (69642)

              Ah I see. My tankless is natgas powered, and they locally store more than a days worth, so that did not cross my mind.

              I have seen the system design where you a large thermal solar tank storage feeding into a electric tankless, which strikes me as a pretty good design.

              The one saving grace is most of the tankless heaters I've seen draw similar power to a air conditioner. So a house with tankless and air conditioning, draws 50 amps at 5am for a couple minutes, then more and more power until running darn near

      • by vlm (69642) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:49AM (#39540355)

        What I've read about them says that tankless water heaters wear out faster than the traditional kind with a tank

        LOL. I know its April 1st, but for those who don't get it, try to find a tank guaranteed by mfgr longer than 6 years or a tankless with a guarantee shorter than 20 years. The guy's humor is in stating the exact opposite of reality.

        There is some truth that a decade or so ago when I got a tankless, tanks were for residential and were value engineered to fail rapidly to maximize profit via maximum lifetime cost, and tankless were for industrial apps (think laundromat or health club showers) so they were engineered to meet the business accounting goal of minimum lifetime cost. It may be that 2012 residential-grade tankless heaters are now value engineered and built in China such that they'll only operate for a couple years before requiring replacement... If they aren't, the retailers are missing out on a huge opportunity to screw their customers, and they never miss a chance to do that, at least not for long, so buyer beware. But at least in years past, tank = flood the basement twice per decade, and tankless = buy roughly once per human generation.

        Another way I've heard it phrased is if you go tank, then you need to pick a basement floor covering that tolerates flooding multiple times before the floor material is replaced, but if you go tankless, then you will replace the basement floor covering a couple times before the heater is replaced. It has a big impact on decor... Pergo is legendary for being perhaps the least flooding tolerant floor covering, so you can really only go Pergo if you have a tankless, and/or if you have a tank you pretty much need tile to eliminate the water damage issue.

        • I've never had a tank style leak. Not once in my 40+ years of life, owning multiple homes, and living in a total of about 20 different places. And none of them have stopped heating properly at less than 10 years of age.

          • by BLKMGK (34057)

            Umm, I've lived in the same home for more than 15 years. I have had to replace a water heater that leaked badly in that time and I've had two friends do the same - to include one that had a bad flood. To top it off I also had one friend who's thermostat fritz'd and they came home to a tank unit that was bubbling and gurgling like a small time bomb. the pop-off didn't fire and hopefully wold have but when they called me to ask what I thought I told them to shut it off NOW when they also mentioned how damned

        • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @11:46AM (#39540971)

          LOL. I know its April 1st, but for those who don't get it, try to find a tank guaranteed by mfgr longer than 6 years or a tankless with a guarantee shorter than 20 years

          My dad's a plumber and he can confirm that they "ain't built like they used to be". He visits customers who have newer heaters way more often than customers who have older ones.

          Then again, this goes for appliances in general. It's like we lost something, somehow. Remember when a television would last a good 20 years? And that wasn't the exception, that was the norm.

      • by swalve (1980968)
        I put a tankless in for my mom a couple years ago, and it doesn't have any of those problems. It senses the water flow and adjusts (something) to make sure the water output is the right temperature. From handwashing to showering, the temperature is rock solid.

        But yes, point of use is a neat idea in some cases- her house is configured such that the kitchen is a long way away from the bathrooms, and that's where the tankless is located. So it takes a while for the hot water to make its way through the pip
        • by russotto (537200)

          With a tank, you can just install a recirculating pump and valve (or valves) and have hot water quickly to all faucets. Doesn't work with tankless.

          Tankless and hard water is also a pretty bad combination. With a gas tanked heater, the scale tends to mostly accumulate on the bottom, where you can just empty it out with a hose. With a tankless heater, the scale tends to clog up the heat exchanger.

          • by BLKMGK (34057)

            Recirculating the water is a great idea when you've insulated all of your pipes - you've done that right? Otherwise you're just warming the walls for the convenience of having hot water instantly. Scaling is easy to solve with tankless - install a softener. Code requires it in my area and 5 years later my tankless is still working fine. My tank unit was so scaled it couldn't be drained when it was replaced, the water here is damn hard!

            I like the idea of point of use heaters. If I could get that I'd consider

      • by Tronster (25566) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:19AM (#39540511) Homepage

        I had mine installed last year (4/13/2011) because my traditional water heater was cracking and had started a leak. The plumber recommended it; said while they are relatively new to (residential) US, they have been used for awhile in Europe. I did do-diligence with Google and had it put in. The brand is: Noritz ( http://www.noritz.com/ [noritz.com] )

        So 1 year past its running well; if there is a follow up thread 4+ years down the road, I'll let you know how it's handling.

        I haven't had a cold water sandwich effect. Only drawback is that it takes about 25 seconds for hot water to start coming out of the faucet (vs 10 seconds with the tank). Advantages:
        - Mounted on wall (above washer/dryer) in basement; just gained about 3'x3' space back where my old huge tank was sitting
        - I have seen a lower gas/electric bill since installed
        - Should I choose; I can take a ridiculously long hot shower (of course always doing this would negate energy savings)

      • by BLKMGK (34057) <morejunk4meNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @12:10PM (#39541145) Homepage Journal

        I have a gas fired tankless water heater, so long as I don't run the larger pipes that go to the spa tub wide open in Winter I get endless HOT water. In Winter the incoming water temp drops enough that it cannot keep up with the larger pipes that run to that spigot, turning them back 1/4 turn is enough to solve this. My shower regulator in the shower is temp sensitive so any variations in pressure from flushing toilets etc. result in no temp change. The newest best tankless sense the issue of overrun and slow water flow but my unit is about 5 years old now and this didn't exist then. Mine also requires electricity to fire off the gas, some of the new ones don't as they generate their own spark. Being able to adjust hot water temp with a digital temp meter vs using a screwdriver on a hidden potentiometer is nice.

        I compared the efficiency stickers on the outgoing tank vs the tankless. The tank was actually only a year old but my renovation meant it had to go. The tank had a rating in the middle, the tankless on the FAR left which was more efficient. Then I noticed, much to my shock, that the scales didn't even overlap! My tankless kicks the snot out of the tank unit it replaced to say the least. My gas bills in Summer when only hot water is being used used to be maybe $20 or so, they have dropped just about in HALF. Winter it's impossible to tell but I think it's clear the thing is saving me money and the fact that I can run the shower for an hour and still have HOT water simply rocks. I can also fill a damn big Jacuzzi spa tub to the brim with scalding hot water which is damn nice, I'd have had to upsize my previous tank to do this and driven costs up even more storing the water.

        One thing to bear in mind with tankless though is that you MUST have soft water, I have a softener for this purpose that also filters. If you do not have soft water they will scale badly as the water boils going through. In my area code REQUIRES a softener, it's those that don't have this that may cause these to "die faster". I know that when my previous tank unit died it was so full of sediment and minerals that it couldn't be drained... The softer water makes for a nice shower experience and the clothes clean better, the addition of a filter is nice as well so it was win win all around.

        Solar hot water is the ONLY thing that could beat this but the maintenance and install costs just wouldn't be worth it for me compared to the savings I already enjoy. This thing might not ever pay itself off I'll admit but the convenience I have is well worth it and I AM saving money vs a tank month to month. The heat pump tank units are also worth looking at but frankly the cost, space issues, and what to do with the wasted cold air make me pause. The space I needed to put my tankless in was small so a tank wouldn't have worked anyway, mine is the size of a small piece of luggage fit for carry-on!

    • by arth1 (260657)

      Keep in mind that "used properly" is code for "has limitations". In particular, you have to use hot water slowly - no rapid filling of bathtubs or buckets, or hot water pressure wash.
      You'll also likely be at the mercy of power outages - even short ones.

      Another often recommended "upgrade" for homeowners are submersible well pumps. I strongly recommend against them, because the water pressure will vary with the water level (no more Kramer style showers), and when they break, they cost a boatload more money

      • by swalve (1980968)
        The "has limitations" is the same for both. You choose a unit that has a burner that will provide the desired temperature water under the usage scenarios envisioned. A tankless just has one less variable. With a tank heater, you can fill that hot tub, as long as the hot tub is 1/2 the size of your hot water tank, but then you get no hot water until the tank has recovered. With a tankless, it will give you a temperature rise versus water flow. Just size it correctly and you are good to go.
      • by vlm (69642)

        no rapid filling of bathtubs or buckets, or hot water pressure wash.

        I call shenanigans on this one as I have seen no such effect and can't even imagine it happening in the marketplace for sound financial reasons.

        Your plumber, operating on a sales commission, will try to figure out how much money he can extract from you, and then extract it. He was trying to convince me that I need to output water hot enough for instant 3rd degree burns, at full blast, simultaneously out both showers, the bathroom sink, the kitchen sink, the dishwaster, the clothes washer, and the utility s

        • by BLKMGK (34057)

          It should be pointed out that some gas fired tankless generate the power for spark from the moving water and don't require an electrical connection :-) Mine does though, oh well no hot water when power goes out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:17AM (#39540185)

    Pay off at least part of the house before you add frivolous crap to it to impress your friends. I have always been more envious of people with a paid-off (or at least non-defaulted) mortgage than I have of those who have 5-year-old technology pointlessly glued to the walls. You get to choose which of those you have in 2017.

    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:42AM (#39540327)

      Going beyond that, just what value is there to making your friends envious of you? Will they like you better? The truth is that you'll be hosting your envious friends all of the time and they'll never reciprocate, because they'll think you'll look down on them for their general lack of materialist douchebaggery.

    • It used to be reckoned in the UK that engineers bought to last. The result was that, 10 years or so into their marriages, they were better off than other people on similar incomes who bought for fashion.

      The other thing is that, with time, good quality stuff is getting relatively more expensive. The relative price of hardwoods, real stone and so on is constantly rising. Therefore, buying good furniture as soon as you can afford it costs much less in the long run.

      The best things for a high tech house are exce

  • Trick question? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:18AM (#39540189) Homepage Journal

    If, as you say, money is a problem and you're on a budget, you should obviously drop any wild plans. Look for quality instead of tech, because you're going to be stuck with the two money sinks for a long time.
    Save the tech wishes for when money isn't a problem anymore.

    • I guess you think one should buy the cheaper poorly insulated house rather than purchase a more expensive but better insulated house. I guess you think one should buy a cheap car that gets poor mileage instead of one that get better mileage but is more expensive. There are devices that will save money over 5 years such as a programmable thermostat. CFL are now only a dollar at dollar tree so filling the house with those might save a buck or two. One can also purchase incandescent light bulbs at 4 for a
      • by russotto (537200)

        I guess you think one should buy the cheaper poorly insulated house rather than purchase a more expensive but better insulated house.

        You'd have to run the numbers. My poorly insulated house with drafty single pane windows cost $3500 in energy (total) last year, which was a very bad winter. If you go with this winter instead, it's $3150. All the insulation in the world (including replacing the windows and doors) is unlikely to cut that by even 25%.

        • I can tell you with considerably confidence that insulating our walls and greatly improving the attic insulation reduced heating loss by around 40%. We have also done the other stuff (high efficiency German water heater, pipe insulation, high efficiency oven and heating stove) and installed solar PV. The result is that our net energy consumption excluding vehicles costs around $600 a year, a saving of roughly $2000, for a total investment of around $20000. A ten year payback may not sound that good, but the
      • by arth1 (260657)

        I guess you think one should buy the cheaper poorly insulated house rather than purchase a more expensive but better insulated house

        And I guess you fail reading 101, since you missed "Look for quality instead of tech".

    • by vlm (69642)

      If, as you say, money is a problem and you're on a budget, you should obviously drop any wild plans. Look for quality instead of tech,

      Or, if you assume, as most people do, that your life of freedom and fun is over once you get married and get a house, you'll probably have a lot more spare time, and a hell of a lot more space, so go ghetto and spend enormous amounts of time building it yourself out of cheap junk.

      Priced as an "extra luxury item" a large digital picture frame is Very expensive. But an old used PC, and a low end multi-monitor video card, and a cheap desktop monitor with a wallmount, results in a cheap large digital picture f

      • by arth1 (260657)

        once you get married and get a house, you'll probably have a lot more spare time

        I laughed out loud.

        If you have an empty basement,

        ... you're known as a bachelor.

        Well, it may not be that bad for everyone, but I do believe the stereotypes about marriage have some foundations in reality. IME, YMMV

  • Flood wire early on. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @09:18AM (#39540191) Homepage

    If you have to rip apart walls - or even just skim them before you paint or paper - take the time to run in plenty of cabling. You can get audio and video baluns for running over CAT5 these days fairly cheaply, although the hifi purists will throw their hands up in horror.

    CAT6 is cheap enough, might as well start ahead of the curve.

    • +1 wire, the basis for most of the cool stuff you can add.

    • by Nutria (679911)

      Exactly my thought. Lots of cat 6 feeding into a large Gigabit router located in a central closet. That way you can easily pay as you go and upgrade as needed, knowing that Cat6 will take you far into the future.

    • Having done basically this, I suggest you use Cat6-S (the shielded version). More expensive, unnecessary for networking, but it does reduce the general amount of RFI present. Likewise, if you have fancy computerised dimmers. We have both, and our electrically operated curtains(*) now occasionally act like we have a poultergeist!

      (*) We're not that lazy, but these ones are inaccessible.

    • Yup, you'll appreciate having room for growth built into the system. Unobtrusive raceways (many can be worked right into the molding either above or at ground level) allows you to upgrade or update your wiring and cable options. Make sure you're not overloading circuits while you're at it. Even some more recent builds are shockingly undersupplied for power needs. Getting a licensed electrician whenever you mess with your wiring is only smart, too. Your house is a big investment. Do it right!

      If your guest
      • "Getting a licensed electrician whenever you mess with your wiring is only smart, too."

        My butt. Wiring a house is inherently very simple, especially these days with outlets you plug the wires straight into, and good wire nuts. The only reason for a "licensed" electrician is to keep them making Union wages.

        I've wired a number of houses, and haven't burned one down yet. Find out what the code in your area is, and use one standard gauge larger wire. (I.e., if code mandates 14 g wire use 12 g.) It's slightly more expensive but it will last for years.

        Put in more electrical outlets than code

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Cabling is nice, plastic conduit is better. You can re-run wires after the fact.

      Make runs to all rooms in the house and home-run them to a basement panel system. Put the access plate somewhere useful or hidden behind a door. Later on, if you need to branch off the 16" height (where the elec outlets are run) up to a view height so that you can put in interface panels (tablets, etc) then you would only need to cut a few feet of wall right there.

  • re-use equipment you can get for free. if you're just displaying weather or some shit like that on the kitchen wall, who gives a fuck if it's a re-purposed htc pocketpc phone doing it?

    however, envy of your friends? dunno about that. you probably wouldn't get that with even walls laden with ipads because they make no sense. how the fuck do you install a home theater in the wall? a home theater screen yeah sure, but the theater needs some place to sit in too.

    hdtv's are cheap, decent soundsystems are cheap. ol

  • Get a job on Wall Street and steal money from old retirees. You'll have enough for your dream house in no time.

  • Find some little voice coil speakers: Yard sales, computer store dungeons, your kids toys, etc...

    Get some wire: Same as above, also rail stations, baseball fields, transformer substations, etc..

    Run a pair of wires into every room. On one end all the wires meet and are spliced to the tip/ring of your phone jack. On the other end, solder the tip to a speaker. To dial, tap the other wire to the speaker using Loop Disconnect Dialing [wikipedia.org]

    Then hold that wire on there. Fun fact, the speaker is also your
    • Get a bunch of X-10 crap on ebay and setup motion-detect lights all over inside and out.
      Get a X-10 usb transmitter and make all the lights go wonky. Then add voice recognition using Perlbox [sourceforge.net].

      I actually did this once:
      "Computer Illuminate" (turns on lights)
      "Computer Climate Control" (turns on fan)
    • by Animats (122034)

      How many more years will slashdot have an off-by-one error on your Score in your profile?

      Right. The people behind Slashdot failed "Web 2.0."

      Could be worse. Take a look at tribe.net [tribe.net] . It was cool once. Then they went Web 2.0. They tried to emulate Myspace's user-redesignable pages. They botched it so bad that everybody left. Looking at my old account today, of the 20 tribes to which I subscribed, one has updates: "Tribe.net Bug Reports - 2264 new".

  • This is obviously a fake story. It's April 1st, guys!

  • For a most awesome lair! THIS HOUSE [scoutingny.com] is available for sale! It even comes with its own runway!

  • . . . then you can just go live there if a catastrophic event destroys your original house. You'll be all set, right down to the stuff in your fridge from the night before. You can even switch living between the two houses, if you like.

    The difficult part of this solution, is convincing your wife that the other woman in the other house, is just a copy of her . . . and not another woman in your life.

    Every Slashdot technical solution must include rsync. And SSH tunnels.

  • by pz (113803) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:02AM (#39540421) Journal

    Buy used equipment. 1 or 2 generation-old stuff is dirt cheap. Craigslist is your friend, there. Yard sales. Look for going-out-of-business sales (see recent stories on Best Buy closing stores). Buy refurbs.

    Lots of people will tell you to put in wires in the walls. Wireless APs are so good now that this is just a waste of money in nearly every case. Buy good wireless APs (see "buy refurbs" above). This is one exception to the previous-generation rule of thumb above (I've just put in Netgear WNDR3700, bought from advice given in responses to someone else's Ask Slashdot question, and couldn't be happier ... highly flexible, plenty of signal, fast assocation, dual band, and all of the interference problems from neighbors, etc., have disappeared).

    Big wide-screen LCD / plasma TVs are great, but a ceiling-mounted projector does nearly as well, can create a much bigger image, and often can be had for much less. Used stereo components (assuming you want such) are available on eBay by the dozen. Same for gaming consoles, etc. See Craigslist, too. Buying tech on Black Friday or Cyber Monday can save a ton. Since you don't have money, then you'll have to spend something else: namely, time.

    In short, you'll need to compromise, either on buying the latest-greatest, or on buying new, or on the exact technology. You won't end up being the envy of your tech friends, but you'll have fun.

    Finally, a word of advice: if the tech stuff is going to be appreciated more by you than your spouse, then make sure you're finding ways to improve the home that will be appreciated more by your spouse than by you. Domestic harmony is more important than any gadget.

  • by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:06AM (#39540437) Homepage

    I guess it depends on what your friends like, and why you want to impress them. I enjoy tinkering, and have been gradually adding bits and pieces, but nothing designed to impress anyone other than me.

    Playing on the Wii — four player Mario Kart, in particular — with the image projected across the lounge, is something which people seem to enjoy, though; pretty cheap (a bog standard, non-HD projector cost me about £220 about five years ago), and great fun. Just find some games which are easy enough to pick up and play, and get everyone involved, and you're off... I wouldn't put that together just to impress others, though, but it is quite good fun all the same.

    The bought-broken-on-eBay-but-fixed-with-a-screwdriver Roomba is quite cool, but doesn't get as much use as I'd like, as my girlfriend is not a great fan of it. It doesn't save me much time either, to be honest, as, when I run it, I tend to stand marveling at it...

    Personally, the things I find the coolest are music streamed into which ever room I want, controllable via my phone (AirTunes... nothing fancy here), and being able to select any movie and have it streamed through the projector (Apple TV and iTunes on server currently, although previously via a PS3 and a share on the server). Again, neither is fancy, but they both work a treat.

    The remotely-controlled lighting was relatively inexpensive, but my setup is not free of bugs yet — I'm using HomeEasy switches, and a small RF dongle (TellStick) plugged in the back of a Linux machine, and, whilst it means I can easily control the lighting from a web browser, and easily automate when I'm away from home, I have not yet managed to get one transmission controlling just one light. Switching off the lounge lighting via the console / interface switches off the light in the kitchen and so on. A real nuisance, and one which I need to spend more time trying to resolve.

    (Cameras around the house were the only things that raised objections, although agreeing on placement solved that problem.)

    • Perhaps worth adding — I have not had the walls up, and don't want cables everywhere, so everything is wireless. DVDs (not Blu-Ray) get ripped to around 1.2GB each, and stream over the Wi-Fi system. I haven't had a problem with this, and so would see whether a wireless solution would suit your needs.

  • Main Considerations (Score:5, Informative)

    by az1324 (458137) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:12AM (#39540479)

    If you DIY you can probably accomplish a lot for under $10k and the pros would probably charge you 10x that for similar functionality. The following categories should represent the major considerations:

    Infrastructure - How are you going to connect everything?
    - WiFi Everywhere
    - Server box for storage & to run some home automation software & scripts (small embedded linux or more powerful)
    - Main equipment location & as much distributed wiring as you can do cheaply & easily yourself

    Entertainment - From where will your source content & how will you present it?
    - LCD/Plasma Monitors
    - Multiroom audio
    - Rokus or other cheap streaming boxes?
    - Whole House DVR systems from cable/satellite? (Dish Hopper/Joey, etc...)
    - HDHomeRun or other DVR capture cards?
    - A/V matrix switches & distribution? (monoprice)
    - Programmable remotes (ipads, cheap android tablets, logitech harmony, etc...)

    Comfort & Convenience
    - Lighting (X10, Z-Wave, Insteon, UPB, etc..)
    - HVAC (thermostats)
    - In-house communications (intercoms, pbx)
    - Misc automation (window shading, garage doors, locks, etc...)
    - Weather/Environmental sensors (oregon scientific, lacrosse)
    - Programmable remotes (ipads, cheap android tablets, logitech harmony, etc...)

    Security
    - Alarm system (2gig, honeywell, etc..)
    - Cameras & DVR

    The wow factor usually comes from complex actions resulting from simple inputs (scripting) so plan ahead for how everything is going to work together & communicate (sticking to fewer protocols will be easier, though maybe not always cheaper). Have a controller/server you can program yourself and don't get locked in to a proprietary system.

    IMHO, a bunch of ipads plastered into the walls really aren't that useful or impressive so skip that.

  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:44AM (#39540649)
    Make sure whatever you do, it's wife-friendly (unless your wife is an uber-geek).

    If your wife is typical, when she wants to watch TV she wants to press "ON" on a remote, then select the channel that's running Glee. She doesn't want to boot a Linux box, mount a fileshare and browse a bunch of torrents. Similarly, if the house is cold she wants to bump up the thermostat, not telnet into the furnace from a PC that doesn't have a case that lives in the garage.
  • Given Moore's Law and the "Innovator's Dilemma", commoditization, industry liquidation, and the trend of "half the price and smaller" every 18-24 months (even faster for genomics technology), more technology is reaching the price point you need at a faster pace than ever.

    Consider just one option: -iPod/iPhone Light Switches: Though you may not be able to put iPads in every room, I just checked eBay and first, second, and third generation iPods and iPhones are selling for $50-$100. With a little programm
  • by xplosiv (129880) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:56AM (#39540709)

    Check out CocoonTech.com [cocoontech.com], a site dedicated to home automation, home security, and all the other fun stuff, DIY style (but plenty of professionals hang out there as well). That said, I hope you aren't doing it for your friends, you need to enjoy the home yourself ;)

    There is also the Wiring Your New House [cocoontech.com] guide in case you have access to the walls and want to future proof your home.

  • by aurizon (122550) <bill.jackson@gmail . c om> on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:58AM (#39540731)

    and updateable. Nothing looks worse than a tired high-tech house. How soon the latest 1,200 baud modems become scrap, same with flat screens etc. Once I have built it in, how soon before I must rip it out and update because a high tech troll dissed my dated designcraft...

    I would think that 2 inch plastic pipe hidden in the walls would allow you to remove and wire up with better fiber etc. It will also allow seamless mousehole-to-mousehole traffic, so get a cat or three - they never go out of date!!!

    • by abirdman (557790) *
      This is the most realistic post here. Mortgages last 30 years. Tech lasts 10 years. And predicting the next generation of tech is an inexact science. Lots of people (myself included) will install older, cheaper recycled tech, making the half-life even less. I have friends who own a 60's-70's era home built with "revolutionary" electrical conveniences so that all the wiring passes through a central part of the house through proprietary and hopelessly obsolete electrical equipment, and electricians won't work
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 01, 2012 @10:58AM (#39540737)

    You'll get plenty of suggestions as to what will ostensibly save money down the road. Carefully analyze it FOR YOUR SITUATION. Sometimes, the comparison in the literature is today's whiz-bang gadget against "the average widget" in the entire US. Look at your energy and resource costs and environmental conditions in your area (Im in SoCal is different than coastal Maine or Minnesota) Examples from a house built in 1997-1998

    Cases in point:
    Tankless hot water. - Right now, natural gas is *cheap* and it is likely to stay that way for at least 10 years. If you have (or are going to have) children, you consume a lot of hot water, all at one time (yes, 2 teenage daughters, etc.). Tankless is great for one person at a time showers, not so hot for laundry+2 showers+ dishwasher, unless you radically scale up. And conventional tanked hot water heaters these days (with insulating blanket and modern ignitors) don't burn that much gas "keeping the tank hot". (and you could always put a timer on the burner to shut down during the middle of the day). Ditto, solar panels. Today, gas is so cheap that the payback period for solar panels is decades And the maintenance for the panel system is bigger. If I had to make hot water with oil or coal or (god forbid) electricity... it would be different.

    Electrical power - in my house, in the winter, the two big loads are: refrigerator, lighting. But lighting is only when people are home in the evening. I had all sorts of plans for automatic timers, etc. But a bit of measurement (Kill-A-Watt on the refrigerator, TV, etc.) showed that lighting was less than 20% of the total load, and fancy switching might reduce that to 15%. Summer, the big load is AC. But that's mostly determined by factors beyond my control (e.g. the outside temperature). A higher SEER AC might help, but running the statistics showed, not really, for our area.

    Appliances - Front load washing machine is *a lot* better than top load in both water and electrical consumption. But, how long is the payback period on a $1000 purchase? Refrigerator.. same sort of thing. If your refrigerator was bought in the last 10 years, the new ones aren't *that* much more efficient. If you're using an avocado colored beast you got from your parents 30 years ago... yeah, a new refrigerator might not be a bad idea. But again, you're talking $1000

    Insulation - i wanted to aircondition my garage to make it comfortable in the summer to work out there. So I immediately assumed I'd need to go on a insulation frenzy. But a big of calculation showed that running the airconditioner the few hours longer to make up for the poor insulation would cost something like $20-50/year (it's just not that big a space 20x20 ft, and the number of days/hours when the outside air temp is above 80 isn't all that many). Am I willing to invest several thousand dollars worth of time to go through the process of insulating.. nope.

    Moral of the story.. don't take the "conventional wisdom" as the analysis. Your situation, and your power rates and climate, will be different.

  • Sorry kid, but Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick any two.

    You dont have the software skills and Electronics engineering skills to build it yourself, so the Cheap option is out.

    You need to BUY Crestron or AMX for the real stuff that impresses friends. anything else will get them unimpressed when your X10 does not work, or your cobbled together setup fail yet again.

    I know people that can set up up, Less than $28,000 for whole house audio, all lights controlled, and 4" color touchscreens everywhere + ipad control. A

  • by deadwill69 (1683700) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @11:56AM (#39541031)
    After many years in a house and many more years in the industry, here are a few things I've discovered through experience and many professionals: Do not pay extra on your mortgage. While you will feel better watching your balance drop, your bank will not care. Miss a payment and watch all those extra dollars and equity disappear. Better: place the money in a savings account. When the balances equal, pay off the house. In the meantime, you will have the money in the bank in case of job loss, medical emergency, or home improvement. Being able to pay the mortgage in a crisis is more important than the balance. Do not by nifty gadgets. They will never pay for themselves. Solar roof fans? 35 years to break even. Expected life is 10 years. They are only there for your enjoyment and look at them as such. Appliances: your most efficient appliance is the one you already have. Don't replace it until it breaks. Then by the most efficient one you can. Spend your money on the most efficient things you can afford. Do not get behind on maintenance. You will find yourself quickly paying more to fix your house than it is worth. Buy a programmable thermostat. This will pay for itself in a couple of months. Ensure your house is weather sealed. This and the thermostat can easily cut your heating and cooling in half. Don't over do it though. You'll find yourself spending lots to make the house livable again with air exchangers/circulators etc. Unless you spend top dollar, an instant hot water heater is a disappointing luxury. By things that make you happy. You will be in the house a long time, but don't do it with money savings in mind. You'll get more satisfaction out of a kick-ass stereo/home theatre than some lights you can turn on remotely. Light timers are way cheaper and do the same thing at a fraction of the cost. Oh, and get you a good lawn mower, step ladder, 10-in-1 screwdriver, hammer, and inexpensive cordless drill.
    • by tunapez (1161697) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @12:38PM (#39541349)

      Buy a programmable thermostat. This will pay for itself in a couple of months.

      A note of caution on Programmable Tstats on tiered power plans: When you set it 'on' for 7PM(when off-peak pricing begins), plenty of 'smart' systems will anticipate and run the compressor full bore for a period(20/40/60 minutes) of on-peak usage to have the temp at the desired temp when that time comes. Getting into a diagnostics mode and disabling this 'feature' is recommended or you may be surprised to find the exact opposite of savings. Honeywell calls their service Adaptive Intelligent Recovery(AIR), must get into setup mode to disable. YMMV..

  • setup your own DVR from which you can easily extract any video you've recorded( ie share clips with friends/family when something interesting is seen ). The next is Zoneminder which is a home video security system which you can use to know when the mail has been delivered, when the dog ate, when the dog ate your couch, etc. Zoneminder can use video feeds from IP cameras, web/usb cams, or with a capture card CCTV cameras.

    Throw in a few X10 modules for a little fun with lighting control.

    All that is pretty che
  • Arduino, lots and lots of Arduinos. They're cheap and can be used for lots of stuff.

  • by waferbuster (580266) on Sunday April 01, 2012 @04:11PM (#39542935)

    I just bought a new house in Phoenix Arizona, and the biggest improvements I've made are:

    1. Insulating the metal garage door. I bought some 1 1/2 inch thick styrofoam board from Home Depot, cut it to fit the inside of the door, popped them in place, and sprayed expanding foam into the cracks. Now I'm not losing all the air conditioning to the outside. This means my electric bill is smaller, which means I have more money for other stuff!

    2. If you live in an area with poor quality water, install a water softener and Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit to purify the water. Here in Arizona, the water is very hard (lots of calcium), and has a nasty taste. The water softener means that there's not as much soap scum in the showers and less scale buildup on the water fixtures and tubs and showers. This means less time spent scrubbing (yay!). The RO unit takes the nasty tapwater, and filters it. The filtered water is stored in a 3 gallon tank, and is dispensed at the kitchen sink and the front door of the fridge. The refrigerator ice cubes no longer have that awful flavor, and instead are pure and tasteless.

    For me, these two improvements have been the biggest bang for the buck, because they directly affect other parts of my life. Your choices may be different, but think about what sorts of changes will make your life more pleasant for a long time to come. An iPad on the wall will look 'quaint' in 8 years, but a fresh glass of icewater will still taste sweet. I did the 120 inch screen and 1080p projector in the Man Cave, but it's not as big an improvement in my life as having clean water.

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