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Ask Slashdot: Ideas For a Geek Remodel? 372

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-forget-the-robot dept.
An anonymous reader writes "What would you do to 'go geek' if you had a major remodel on your hands? My wife and I are re-modeling my in-law's 3000 sq foot single-level house, and we're both very wired, tech-savvy individuals. We will both have offices, as well as TVs in the bedroom and dining room. My question to the community is: What would you do if you had 10-20,000 to spend for this kind of remodel project? What kind of hardware/firmware would you install? I'd love to have a digital 'command center' to run an LCD wall-calendar for the family, and be able to play my PS3 from anywhere in the house (ie, if everyone wants to watch Netflix while I'm in the middle of some Borderlands). What else have geeks done/planned to do? This is a test run for a much, much nicer house down the road, so don't be overly afraid of cost concerns for really great ideas. We will be taking most of the house down to studs, so don't factor demolition into costs. For culinary-minded geeks, I'd love any ideas you have to surprise my wife with cool kitchen gadgets or designs."
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Ask Slashdot: Ideas For a Geek Remodel?

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  • by suso (153703) * on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:22AM (#41796191) Homepage Journal

    Invest in a good voice recognition system and write some regexes that will detect your name in various contexts and alert you if they are leaving their house to come over to yours.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:47AM (#41796325) Homepage

      Remember Rule 1 in remodels:

      A poorly planned remodel costs three times as much as originally budgeted.
      A well planned remodel only costs twice as much.

      • by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:36AM (#41796659)
        That's pretty accurate, but you forgot to mention that the estimated time for project completion will be about 50% of the actual time needed for project completion...
        • by hardie (716254) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:49AM (#41796771)

          One more--if you're doing the work yourself, it will take anywhere from 2 to 10 times as long as a real contractor would take. This is why their pay grade is higher than yours (in contracting...). The quick estimate is to take the contractor's wage (say $60/hour) versus your "skilled" labor at $10: it will take you six times as long.

          Next, add in the effects of only working on weekends (if so), and not being in shape for a full day of serious hustle contractor takes even longer.

          I am a dedicated do-it-myselfer. I don't mean to discourage, but go into this with eyes open.


          • by vthome (21702) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @04:28PM (#41798823) Homepage

            Here's a counterargument: yes, it'll take you 2 to 10 times as long as "real" contractor would take. However, the quality of the work is defined by *you*, and you *can* afford to take time and utilize a proper process that takes time, instead of a shortcut (just one example: use correct glue instead of "5 minutes curing"). A contractor won't be coming back a day after to finish the job - it'll mean two trips for them, lost time, lost income. You are, however, right there.

            One of my horror stories, with lots of pictures and links (use automated translator): []

    • by Xacid (560407) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:51AM (#41796793) Journal

      I was wondering if it was a classy way of saying "we live in her parents' basement?

      Given another post here though - a large chunk of the cost will get eaten up with the usual supplies (paint, flooring, misc repairs, etc). Maybe get a couple wall mounted flat screen TVs or a projector? I don't know honestly - it'd really depend on what you want. I mean...if you're a geeky and come up with your own projects.

  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:22AM (#41796197)

    Star Trek living-room.

  • System under glass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:25AM (#41796207) Homepage Journal

    The #1 thing I've always wanted to do is put the whole entertainment system behind glass and give it muffled fans and intake filters. I'd really like to eliminate every little bit of noise finally, even the TV has a hum to it. And then there's the dust, which could be all but eliminated by using the right materials for building the enclosure, and the use of the aforementioned filters. I'd give it its own system for control of temp and humidity too, since that's relatively easy if you have all the other parts.

    • by TWX (665546) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:03PM (#41796893)
      That's fairly easy to do with a simple closet off to one side with a tinted glass or plexi door. I actually use a 5' telecom cabinet that was designed with some fairly nice wood paneled sides. Friends of ours have a pseudo wine fridge for their large collection of reds in the form of a closet with an AC duct into it. You could combine these, add a baffle to close it off in the winter from the heat, and have such.

      I would suggest multiple Cat6a ethernet cables to each room. Two per wall, and if a wall is particularly long, possibly more sets. I would pull four into each entertainment center, and pull them in behind where each of the kitchen appliances goes, into every curio cabinet, where the laundry is, where the hot water heaters and air conditioning units are, and even to where the doorbell is, though that last one might remain unterminated in the wall. The beautiful thing about four-pair twisted pair wiring is that it can be used for not only ethernet and computers/appliances, but for telephones, intercom systems, security cameras, and all other manner of low voltage devices. Pick a nice closet as the concentration point and be sure to label everything so that you can figure out what it all is later. If you're feeling adventurous, put in conduit for all of this ethernet cable so that it can be upgraded or added to later. Probably 3/4" or bigger given the size of Cat6a. Yes, I know that everyone carries on about wireless, but wired really is the way to go for anything high bandwidth, like when all of the TVs are on and streaming different content at the same time.

      Consider putting single-mode fiber in too. That could be a bit pricier though, and my guess is that it would be less essential than the copper.

      In each room that will have any chance of having an entertainment center, put 2" conduit from the entertainment center location to the rough middle of the ceiling, terminate the conduit in doublegang boxes. That'll be for video signal cables. Or use a triplegang box at the entertainment center end and run eight speaker wires- front left, front center, front right, rear left, rear center, rear right, side left and side right. That way you can use a 4 way, a 5 way, a 6 way, or an 8 way surround sound system without having to change the cabling.
      • by peragrin (659227) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @01:00PM (#41797297)

        instead of just pulling cat6 through the walls go ahead and install 1/2" or 3/4" conduit to each location where you might want Network or Cable TV. Star everything to a central location.

        That's where your network equipment goes. all of it.

        In the future you will be able to easily replace all the cables to the then current standard.(remember cat5 while still being installed only lasted 15 years before it started to be replaced by other things)

        this way you can replace all wires and equipment as you upgrade relatively painlessly.

  • Unrealistic budget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aranykai (1053846) <> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:28AM (#41796223)

    As a general contractor, assuming you are doing things(paint, flooring, maybe light fixtures and blinds) to the entire 3000 sq ft, your budget that remains purely for tech is going to be approximately zero. Its doubtful that budget would even allow for much of a kitchen/bath update depending on what part of the country you are in.

    • by IdolizingStewie (878683) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:54AM (#41796381)
      I have to think that given that budget, what he means is this is what we have left over for tech upgrades. At least I hope that's what he means.
    • by bob0the0mighty (904854) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:13AM (#41796507)

      As a general contractor, assuming you are doing things(paint, flooring, maybe light fixtures and blinds) to the entire 3000 sq ft, your budget that remains purely for tech is going to be approximately zero. Its doubtful that budget would even allow for much of a kitchen/bath update depending on what part of the country you are in.

      Not if they do most of it themselves. I've redone the floors, moldings, painted, replaces lights and door hardware for less than 4000 in my 1000 sq ft condo. Once you start talking major appliances it gets much harder to save money, but cutting out labor saves a ton of money and you'll learn some useful skills.

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:22AM (#41796565) Homepage

      That was my question too... is that budget just for tech? (In which case, it's fairly modest) Or for the entire (to the studs) remodel? (In which case it's ludicrously low, even if they have "free" labor from all their friends.)

      Another thing that bothers me, they say it's their "in-laws" house... Are they not the owners? Are the owners onboard?

  • Kitchen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:30AM (#41796235)

    Faucet over the stove.

  • Ethernet! (Score:5, Informative)

    by DogDude (805747) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:30AM (#41796239) Homepage
    Lots and lots of Ethernet ports. Wireless is insufficient for the True Geek.
    • Re:Ethernet! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Auroch (1403671) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:36AM (#41796267)

      Lots and lots of Ethernet ports. Wireless is insufficient for the True Geek.

      Well, it's not a bad idea. The wiring can be done in a way that you can thread other things when ethernet is no longer fast enough.

      Though, if you're going to do that - why not send all the cords to a central part in the house, and install a command centre there? You can use it to re-direct connections, spy on internet usage, selectively disable (or re-route) certain wires ...

      • Ok, Ethernet's fine too, but what you really want is some 1-2" conduit to a central location, so you can easily rewire the house with whatever kind of wiring you need decades down the road, if anything's still using wire. Maybe it's for audio, or fiber for something, whatever, but you won't really know. Expect that somebody in the future is going to want to put the TV/stereo/whatever on the other side of the room from where you want it, and run conduit there too. And make sure there are enough electrical sockets in enough places (though current electric codes mostly do that already.)

        Also, you want wider doors, because you or whoever you sell the house to in the future may be old enough to need a wheelchair, and an extra six inches of width makes moving furniture a lot easier also. And you want good insulation, and wiring from your HVAC vents to your server closet (because at some point you might want to automate those) and maybe an occasional niche high up in a wall to put whatever electrical stuff there makes sense (e.g. a clock or fan or TV.)

    • by modmans2ndcoming (929661) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:06AM (#41796449)

      Lots or Ethernet ports AND WAPs! Wired may be unnecessary for lots of applications (gbit please) but wireless is unnecessary for lots of applications as well and good reception is a must.

    • Re:Ethernet! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:11AM (#41796493)
      And to add to this, redundant tubes. So if one day you decide to switch to glassfiber, extra speakers, or something, you don't have to break up all the wall's again, just run them through those tubes.
      Or alternatively you could have all the tubes, valves and wiring neatly side by side running in plain sight at the ceiling, color-coded, and labelled , just like a sub-marine. Then have a "command centre" with the whole system, flowrates, temperature's, power-usage per socket a and other measurements at your finger-tips.
      Or maybe not if you go for cosy :-)
      • by vlm (69642) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:19AM (#41796545)

        And to add to this, redundant tubes. So if one day you decide to switch to glassfiber, extra speakers, or something, you don't have to break up all the wall's again, just run them through those tubes.

        They've got a ranch so just make the basement ceiling accessible (acoustic panels or whatever) and fishing thru uninsulated inside walls is no challenge. Insulated walls are a slight challenge but not too bad.

        If you've got 2 stories then the upper story gets wiring fished thru the attic.

        If you've got 3 stories then I donno. Suffer I guess.

    • by sandytaru (1158959) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:31AM (#41796609) Journal
      I heartily second this. Our house was built with a central cable box and cable in every bedroom. If I had had a hand in building that, it'd have been Ethernet instead. This is probably one of the cheapest "upgrades" you can do once a house is taken down to stud boards, since the cable is cheap on a spool and the end clamps are a dime apiece in bulk. Then just install a commercial grade router to run DHCP for your dozen net drops.
  • by modmans2ndcoming (929661) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:31AM (#41796245)

    An other Home Automation tech. It will have meaning to them, save them money, and does not cost too much these days.

  • Lighting automation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beernutmark (1274132) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:32AM (#41796251)
    As soon as we moved into our new house I replaced all the switches with an Insteon system and an ISY-99 controller. I absolutely love it. Being able to turn off all the lights in the house from the bedroom is great. I can put the kids lights on timers, see if any lights are on, have the sprinkler system turn on per water need (connected to weatherbug), setback the thermostat automatically when we leave the house, have a night kitchen run scene, etc....

    A DIY friendly system and the programming language on the ISY is easy to use and quite flexible.

    I have been very happy and wish I had done it on the old house.

    #2 favorite thing (actually probably #1 but it is not really a remodel item) is a whole house Sonos system. The perfect audio sync and ease of listening to anything anywhere in the house is great. I used to be a developer for GiantDisc (which still has the best cataloging system available anywhere) but the Sonos ease of use and perfect audio sync won me over.
  • by Freshly Exhumed (105597) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:38AM (#41796277) Homepage

    Since you've asked for a true geek solution it is necessary to get out of that immobile structure with it's permanent address and accompanying tethers to "the man". Get yourselves into a geek-pimped Class A motorhome so that you can live off the grid as much as possible. A strict observance of anti-surveillance protocols will be a must, including burner phones. Keep them guessing which Wal-Mart you'll camp in next, and have fun wardriving. Field-strip your gear regularly and don't leave anything behind anywhere. Destroy this message. Good luck.

    • by magic maverick (2615475) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:48AM (#41796761) Homepage Journal

      Except this is for the inlaws. Personally I would just rig lots of Ethernet to every room (two or three points in different walls) plus plenty pull lines to every room, make sure that every room has heaps of power points (any three or four metre square room needs at least eight points, two in each corner), and insulate the hell out of the place.

      With power and connections everything else can come later if needed.

      Also, solar on the roof.

  • by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:40AM (#41796289)

    And let your in-laws decide what they want..

    More to the point, anything too advanced you install, you will have to support...

  • An unusual idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:42AM (#41796297)

    I know that you said this in the abstract, but I'd really avoid having a TV in the dining room if I were you. Not to sound too much like a 1950's stereotype, dining is a social occasion, and dining together is a good time to talk. Have a TV in your office/den and if you're having a lazy lunch etc, take the food there, but try to have a clear space to have dinner together and you'll find it really encourages conversations.

  • by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:47AM (#41796323)
    Get this thing for a thermostat []. It's kinda awesome.
  • by RR (64484) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:50AM (#41796353)

    Especially if your house is big enough to require more than one air conditioning system, it's convenient to have them on a network. Not necessarily so you can control them from the Internet, but so you can control them all from one place and turn them off when nobody's at home, to save energy.

    Of course, once you have them under digital control, you could add things like schedules and remote monitoring.

  • Comms and power (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:53AM (#41796369) Homepage

    An adequate supply of CAT5 (or CAT6, really, it's getting cheap enough) and mains sockets in every room.

    I'd also look at ecological heat and power measures - wind and solar power, solid-fuel stove and a ground-source heat pump.

  • by Guano_Jim (157555) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:54AM (#41796379)

    It's a matter of personal taste, of course, but I'd keep the TV out of the dining room and spend the money on something else. You need a place to get away from information overload.

    We've declared our dining room to be a screen-free zone-- no TV's, laptops, iPads, smartphones, whatever. It's the one room in the house where we sit, eat, and converse as a family.

    I find the half hour or so when people aren't checking Facebook, tweeting, playing minecraft, checking their calendar, etc to be pretty refreshing. It's amazing what you can find out when you ask a kid how their day was.

  • Kitchen advice. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:55AM (#41796389)

    Layout and work flow are key to a great kitchen. Fridges that have cat5 and lcd screens are essentially toys. Spend your money on quality cookware and utensils that are commercial grade.
    Think about little things like;
    how do I cool stuff down efficiently,
    what is the best convection equipment that I can afford.
    Where do I rinse vegetables?
    Is there filtered water and how well can I clean oversized pots. A pot sink is a better alternative to a double shallow!
    Get a small commercial salamander oven that can top brown ...not a cheap toaster oven.

    Don't spend your money on toys!

    Above all set it up so that more than one person can work in the kitchen at a time without having to worry too much about stabbing each other! Your wife will love you for that much more that all the geek toys you can stuff into a kitchen now a days.

    Sure put a sit down bar away from the prep area where you can have a laptop or whatever and put sound in the kitchen but by and large all this is secondary to a well thought out design and quality equipment!

    I am a cook and know what really matters in food preparation.

    • by godrik (1287354) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @01:22PM (#41797431)

      I totally aggree with that.

      I only cook as a hobbyist, and clearly kitchens tend to be poorly designed. One typically does not need any "toys" in there. At most leave an area where you could put a tablet in a position confortable enough to read while cooking, everything else is pretty much useless.

      A common problem I see in kitchens is that there is no good way to evacuate the steam/smoke/fog that comes out of the cooking. Put a damn window in the kitchen or a really good ventilation system!

      If you put high cabinets, think that when opened you'll bang your head if it opens like a door. Something that slides in is probably better.

      I want to emphasize again the sink, pick the largest thing you will clean (most likely a soup pot, or an over grill) and make sure it fits in the sink.

      I often run into the problem that there is no large surface I can safely cook on. When preparing a pie dough (for instance), you will need space to lay it on and spread it (not sure what is the proper english word for that). If your kitchen does not have an appropriate space making that dough will become a pain.

      Often in cooking, having a small FOO, means having a useless FOO (useless you also have a large version). My freezer is small and it makes it almost useless for cooking purposes. I can not easily fit a large bowl in there to keep mousse or cream really cold.

  • Outlets! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by yotto (590067) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:00AM (#41796423) Homepage

    Power outlets every 3 feet.
    Network outlets every wall.
    Cable and phone in every room.
    10 years from now they'll call you and say "Remember when I said I didn't think I needed a power outlet in the closet? Oh man thanks for insisting!"

    • by magic maverick (2615475) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:51AM (#41796803) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, this.

      Except that you don't need phone cables, 'cause the ethernet can deal with it. Oh, and lots of pull lines. Like heaps.

      And solar on the roof. And insulation. Wait I already said that. I should have read the thread before commenting...

  • by hack slash (1064002) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:03AM (#41796435)
    Bionic Fingers! Awesome!
  • by ka9dgx (72702) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:11AM (#41796487) Homepage Journal

    I'd put some big conduit and wiring ducts across the house, with drops in every room. This way you can pull whatever cables, fiber, etc. you need.

    Why are you remodeling someone elses house?

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:16AM (#41796527)

    By the time you get your CAT 6 cable pulled, it will be obsolete and you'll need CAT 7. Or 8. Who knows?

    Put in wall boxes, pull boxes and some 3/4" conduit runs to a central panel/server location. Then, whatever happens, you can yank the old stuff out and put new stuff in.

    For the kitchen, put in a couple of extra 20 Amp circuits (two general purpose circuits are required by code).

    For the rest of the house, separate the lighting and outlets on separate circuits. Code (and cheap electricians) allow these to be fed off the same branch circuit. Bu there's nothing more annoying than plugging in something and having the lights go out as well.

    Extra lighting in the master bedroom if you like to share videos with other couples. Some of this amateur stuff is pretty poorly lit.

  • by bmajik (96670) <> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:22AM (#41796567) Homepage Journal

    ... then put smurf tube _everywhere_. you don't know what wiring you'll actually want where, but putting in the tube now will be a huge help. When I had all the walls in my house open, I made sure to put smurf tube runs, pull boxes, and low-voltage outlet boxes everywhere I thought I could possible want _something_. Years later, I'm still going back and actually running wire through them, on a strictly as-needed basis. It's nice to be able to run a new cat5e run directly from my basement rack to a 2nd floor bedroom in an hour or two, without cutting anything besides the cat5 cable :)

    That said, you won't be able to actually do much for 20k.

    It's hard to do a kitchen remodel for 20k unless you do gobs of work by yourself. The first one I did was probably 9k, and I did the tearout, the flooring, electrical, sheetrock, cabinet installs, plumbing, etc, all myself. I got the base model cabinetry from home depot.

    I also wouldn't go crazy with TVs. I have 2 fixed displays; 1 in a media room where I can chill out and play video games, or where my wife and I occasionally watch something. there's a big projection screen in there. Then there's a smaller flat panel upstairs in a common area that my kids will use to watch curious George, super-why, etc. We don't have any conventional TV service; I wouldn't bother getting one.

    We still have POTS, and POTS handsets and wiring in the house (but its star-wired with cat5e, and rnu back to our patch panel, so we can change to ip if we like)

    Honestly wouldn't wire for it at this point; if you're both geeks, I'd put an asterisk box in the wiring closet and then use VOIP handsets in the house. We mostly use DECT handsets where like 3-4 wireless handsets go through one wired base.

    My wife watches "her" video content on a laptop. Tablets, laptops, etc are much more convenient for media consumption than fixed devices. My wife watches lots of junk tv via streaming services, while sitting in the bath tub. A tv in our bedroom would be of little use, but might contribute to bad habits...

    One thing you might want to do is building a wiring closet and server closet. Make your end-user devices as quiet/fanless/small as possible.

    Another thing that will be relevant in a house of your size is having at least one computer or device setup with a "guest "account in a common/public area of the house. Make sure it has access to a good black and white printer. Invariably, your guests will need to login, print their boarding passes, etc, before you kick them out after a few days :)

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:23AM (#41796569)

    $10-20k is your budget?

    Seems pretty small unless you're doing all your own labor or your own your own contracting company...

    A kitchen remodel alone is going to run you between 10-20k... Since this is your inlaws house, why not ask them what they want in it? Do they want to play PS3 in any room of the house? Doubt it. Maybe they want a up to date kitchen with high end appliances? Or they want to rip out all the carpet and put in new hardwood floors with new molding and remove all the linoleum in favor of tile in the bathrooms and kitchen... and then paint the whole interior to refresh the walls/ceiling to go along with the new floors. Or install new 2xpane windows....

    All sorts of things that add immediate and long lasting value to the house. If your inlaws sell it one day, telling someone "there's an dust free glass enclosed entertainment center" only appeals to a tiny percentage of buyers, however 2xpane windows and a up to date kitchen appeals to almost everyone.

    Also, why are you asking /. what your inlaws want instead of them?

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:48AM (#41796767) Journal

      A contractor-grade kitchen remodel is going to run $30k if you do everything yourselves. A nice kitchen remodel is more like a $50k+ project. You can do a kitchen remodel for under $20k if you don't count any labor, but it means very pedestrian appliances and disposable-grade cabinets.

      I think if their budget is $20k, stripping the house to studs is going to result in an unfinished house that is unsaleable. I'd be willing to bet they drop close to $1000 in roll-off rental and tipping fees at the landfill, and at least a couple hundred more in permits.

      I presumed they no owned their in-laws home (who are in a retirement center, or beyond). I'd go with finishes and a good wifi system. If there's money, a mini-split HVAC for the two offices. Residential heating systems are notoriously poorly balanced, and getting your office just the right temperature for work is critical for efficiency. A Mitsubishi Mr. Slim or similar will set them back $4000-5000, but will pay huge dividends in terms of comfort and efficiency.

  • by chrispitude (535888) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:25AM (#41796589) Homepage

    This is out of your remodel budget, but it's a possibility for future new construction. Consider room-by-room zoning: []

    This system places a small, discrete wireless thermostat in every room, which provides two advantages:

    * Each room can respond separately to room-specific demands, eliminating hot and cold spots in the house.
    * Different rooms can have different temperature programs.

    We have the older version of this system (MyTemp) and we love it. It's not cheap, but I only paid the difference between the builder's standard 2-zone system and this system. Some highlights from our own use:

    * To simplify scheduling, you can group rooms together to form named zones. For example, we group the master bedroom/bathroom/closet into "Master Suite". Most of the downstairs is grouped into "Living Space".

    * We set our toddler's room to more moderate temperatures than our room, since we like it very cold at night.

    * Guests can set the guest bedroom to whatever they like. When the room is not used, we simply press the button on the wall controller to put it into "Saver" mode. This runs the room on an alternate program you define with wider temperature swings.

    * Any room can be put into/out of Saver mode at any time.

    * The temperature of any room can be overridden temporary with arrow buttons on the wall controller. Just came in from mowing the lawn and you're hot and sweaty? Crank the temperature down in the family room and kick back! It changes the temperature of that room only, leaving other rooms in the house/zone undisturbed.

    * Each room/zone is completely programmable. For example, our bedroom is on a 7-day schedule (it's always relaxed during the day), but the toddler's room is on a 5/2-day schedule (relaxed during weekdays because he's at daycare, conditioned during weekend days because he takes naps).

    * I work from home. My home office always ran hot due to the two computers. With this system, it now directs air conditioning to the office as needed, which has been fantastic. No more fiddling with vents!

    * You can bring up temperature graphs for each room that allow you to see the temperature history and heat/AC calls from the room. I can actually see the air-conditioning demand follow the sun on a room-by-room basis as the sun swings around from the east to the south to the west. All rooms stay perfectly comfortable, regardless of whether the blinds are opened or closed, etc.

    * For special rooms like dedicated home theater rooms or workout rooms, this system is a huge advantage. Anyone with a home theater can tell you how warm they can get after two hours with the projector, A/V equipment, and a bunch of dead bodies. With Emme, the room will demand as much air-conditioning as it needs. If you don't use the room often, put it in Saver mode as you walk out to save a few bucks.

    * House-sized HVAC units have minimum airflow requirements. When only one or a few rooms are calling, the system conditions as many additional rooms as needed to meet the minimum airflow requirements of your HVAC unit, using a pressure sensor in the plenum to account for any flow differences from room to room. It's smart enough to choose the rooms that are furthest from their comfort points, which would have been the rooms that would have called next anyway.

    * To save energy, the system can circulate air instead of running your heating/cooling. This is possible because it knows the temperature of every room. For example, in the summer, it can circulate air from your cooler rooms on your first floor to warmer rooms on your second floor, without kicking on the AC compressor.

    This may all sound complicated, but it's not. The complexity is hidden from you. You simply create your zones and program temperatures over time, and the system does the rest. The best advertising for this system is the user manual: []

    Feel free to ask me any questions; I'd be happy to share our experiences.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:29AM (#41796601) Journal

    One thing I can't stand is in-your-face electronics. Save that for the Epcot Center exploration exhibits.

    With 10-20k - even doing it all yourself - you're really just looking at finishes. New floor covering, new paint. If you're handy, bathrooms might be an inexpensive target with new vanities/fixtures/toilet (hint:Toto). The kitchen is pretty much out. Look at your lighting - is it sufficient? Is it economical? Is is pleasing? Look at colors, window treatments, and accessories.

    This is where you will live and, possibly, work. TVs are nice, but don't go overboard. Make it efficient - that's the true geek. Examine how your day workflow is, and install all the things you need so you don't waste time on the mundane stuff. Coffee, meal prep, snacks/entertainment gear, phone system (if hardwire, then distribution matters, if you're a cell-only house, check your signal and look into an amplifier to guarantee strong signal that taxes your mobile phones as little as possible).

    On the tech side, you can look into hardwiring for data to the offices, but that's it - and it's not even critical to be honest. Go wireless, but be smart about it. 5GHz and a coordinated distribution system is key. A server closet would be nice. Oh - whatever you buy for your main interface and router, get two identical models. $200 sounds expensive until your network goes down due to a hardware failure. A distributed system is going to have setup configurations you don't want to have to re-create from scratch with new hardware.

    If you just have 20k to buy "stuff" and the house is already remodeled, you can start thinking about a heavy duty server system with data/video/etc distribution. If you took my advice above and put in a balls-up wireless system, you're way ahead of the curve for a connected house. Fishing new wire sucks. Installing conduit is even harder. Accept the fact that nothing you are using now will work in 5 years, and build your system so it doesn't pigeon hole you into a single system. If you keep your file server and media server distinct, it will give you the option of upgrading gracefully or in parallel.

    Of course, this ignores what you really should be doing with your $20k, which is: do the things that will pay dividends first. Look at your energy efficiency (heat pump?, gas?), inexpensive but energy efficient replacement windows, heat pump based hot water heater, efficient but pleasing lighting, proper ventilation, easily upgraded insulation areas, etc..

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:31AM (#41796613) Homepage

    Unless your inlaws are rich they will appreciate you creating an energy efficient house. You could think about solar of some kind, but more fundamentally if you are want things like LCD screens as photo frames you need to get the most efficient ones you can.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:35AM (#41796641)

    If you're doing a down-to-studs remodel of a 3,000 square foot house, what kind of house are you planning for your "much, much nicer house down the road"?

    I live in a 65 year old house that's less than half the size that went through a similar remodel - including completely rewiring and replumbing the house to get rid of the old knob-and-tube wiring and galvanized steel plumbing, and I can't imagine what else I'd want in a house, so I'm curious what someone sees as a "much, much nicer" house than a completely remodeled house. Wouldn't it be more cost effective to pay a bit more now to do a nicer remodel and get the house you want?

    Oh, and we did wire for data: coax + cat6 to the livingroom and master bedroom, cat6 to each bedroom (2 boxes on opposite walls) and to kitchen/dining room... all pulled back to the second bedroom closet where the patch panel, and ethernet switch live. Conduit from each outlet box runs to the crawlspace so I can easily fish in new cables as needed.) A pair of PoE powered Wifi nodes in the attic provide good coverage throughout the house and the back deck.

    It turns out that except for the livingroom for the cable, most of the wiring goes unused - too annoying to plug/unplug the laptop from the ethernet jack everytime I want to move to another room, so I almost always use Wifi. The full-sized computer in the den is hardwired, but it's rarely used. My Wifi network speed is faster than my internet connection, so Wifi bandwidth doesn't matter except for when the laptops run backups, which are scheduled to run at night.

  • by justfred (63412) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:39AM (#41796683) Homepage

    Every house needs a serious series of tubes.

    Think of it - you could send a sandwich from the kitchen to the den. You could send the mail from the office to the front door. Route laundry and garbage to their appropriate destinations.

    Why send electrons when you can send atoms?

    (Example, there are lots of others:) []

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:40AM (#41796691) Journal

    For a 3000SF house, stripped to the studs, I'd recommend about $50/SF minimum for a rebuild if you're going to do it all yourselves. Maybe $80-100 if you have someone else doing the heavy lifting.

  • by gravis777 (123605) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:44AM (#41796731)

    Seriously, have you priced stuff at all? Unless you are going with cheap, Walmart brand televisions, your TVs alone can eat your budget.

    DON'T TAKE IT DOWN TO THE STUDS!!! I was in a house for 10 years that needed some repair work. The first thing I did was take off the wood paneling in one of the rooms almost as soon as I moved in. Bad mistake - I bought the sheetrock, but hanging it was another issue. Then you have to texture. Oh, and you will probably have to put in new insullation. Took me forever to get it done, and it looked ugly because I really had no clue what I was doing.

    With that kind of budget, you might be able to do the bathroom, and maybe the kitchen. If the bathroom is small (like the majority of American bathrooms), you may want to expand by knocking out a hall closet or something. Just do a bit of planning. Pay someone to do sheetrocking, then put up tile, tile the floors, replace shower and tub with something really nice, replace toilet (actually go to Home Depot and look at different toilets. It may sound something trivial, but might as well make "having to go" more enjoyable, and a nice toilet you can get out for under $100 on), replace sinks and vanity, replace mirrors, maybe wallpaper if the wife is into it.

    That right there is probably about $5-10k, depending on how nice you want to go (you could probably get out for under $1000, but the parts you will be replacing with are probably not going to look as nice as what is already there).

    Once you are FINISHED, then you can do the second bathroom.

    Replace counter tops, cabinets and appliances in the kitchen. Maybe add an island and replace floor.

    Your budget is gone. Forget televisions, forget bedrooms, forget the living room, forget wiring the house.

    Seriously, watch a few television shows about people who flip houses. Especially try to catch a few episodes about first time flippers. People on those shows can easily sink $50k-$100k on a house half your size - and that doesn't include tech stuff.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:45AM (#41796735) Journal
    Touch screen computer built into the wall with Internet access. Bookmarks to recipe websites, Food network, and a calendar/planning system for keeping track of food inventories. A small printer to print out labels for foods. Also, iTunes or Pandora, and a good 5.1 speaker system set up throughout the kitchen.

    More counter space than any one person could ever possibly need - or so you'd think. Two stoves, two ovens (one convection.) A central island with a bar on one side. A large dry pantry. An entire wall cabinet dedicated to storing cooking dishes. Two refrigerators. A deep freezer. A microwave oven that doesn't have an LCD interface left over from 1985. (Good lord that pisses me off. $350 for an over-the-stove microwave, and the display still only handles 8 characters at a time. What the hell, Maytag?!)

    Proper track lighting overhead, and recessed lighting under the top cabinets. One counter taken up by a giant chopping block cutting board. Good tile floor, not linoleum. A comfortable rug in front of the main stove. A proper tile backsplash behind the sink. That new no-touch on-off faucet I've been seen commercials for that basically predicts whether you need the water on by your body language.
  • by MickLinux (579158) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:47AM (#41796753) Journal

    I would have easily removable wainscotting for access to the walls, and lots of conduit allowing whatever room-to-room connections I might need later. I'd model it on hospital setups, but go cheaper:I'd use luann paneling for the wainscotting, for example.

  • by jjh37997 (456473) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:52AM (#41796807) Homepage

    Wire the shit out of the place.... you can never have too many power outlets, ethernet jacks, speaker ports, or coaxial cable outlets. Run everything you can through conduit so you can future-proof the place and run additional wire when needed. Don't daisy-chain the outlets if you can help it. Run everything to a central utility room that's large and well ventilated enough to hold all of your backend computer shit. Don't just shove it into a closet, give yourself some room to move.

    Put in recessed lights and speakers in the ceiling for all the rooms and put in multiple zones for different zoom designs and activity patterns.

    Think about where you'll spend most of your time and put the house's thermostat there so you'll be most comfortable. If your furnace/AC can handle zones make sure you think hard about the best placement of the other temperature units.

    Buy an LCD and place it behind two-way glass in the bathroom so you can get a pop-up display of the weather or watch local news in the morning while you brush your teeth or pee.

    Hide speakers and video cameras in the walls/floors and connect them to a hidden computer that broadcasts out to the world on a concealed SSID. Then, when you move prank the new owners and make them think the place is haunted. Don't do anything overt, let subtlety be your friend. Creaking floorboards, a door closing, quiet footsteps that follow along and move from speaker to speaker, and ultrasonics for the pets. Record everything if you are feeling really illegal about it and then stitch it all together and post your movie on YouTube.

  • by Ramley (1168049) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:56AM (#41796839)
    Don't forget about lighting, and some of the REALLY cool things you can do with LED's.

    For about $25 (US), you can pick up 16 foot reels of bright LED RGB lights (30-60 LED's/meter). They come with remotes, so you can control color, brightness, effects, etc.

    I've done some very cool access lighting in strategic places around the house, and it's pretty awesome.

    The low-hanging-fruit, of course would be in the kitchen with under-cabinet lighting. It's even cheaper with one-color (white) LED's... It took about 30 minutes to "install", and the ROI is huge. Especially with the wife.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:01PM (#41796881)

    If you live in a mansion like this, pay someone to put the system in.

  • by orlanz (882574) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:01PM (#41796887)

    Make sure that you read up on all the building codes or talk to an inspector for the below.

    1) A 2-3" conduit from top to bottom. Possibly two depending on the number of wires you will be running which depends on the number of rooms on each floor. Don't forget to fire stop and steel plate the floor/ceiling studs.
    2) 1" electrical (grey PVC) conduit in each room, including garage. Top floor goes to attic, and bottom floors go to basement. If no basement, all conduits go to attic. Same regs as #1
    3) Drop a HDMI over ethernet where ever you are going to put a TV or system. All lead back to the command center so you can do & change what links to what there.
    4) Put in a magnetic circuit trip on each window and door. Most homes already come with this (security system) but you can better segment the house (ie: a circuit for sets of living room windows). Of course leading back to command center.
    5) Wire in motion sensors in rooms and hallways (cameras are a bit creepy). Again, this may already be done for you. Wireless is fine too.
    6) In wall speakers in every room (hey, you said you have 10k plus) (I haven't done these)
    7) In wall mics (I haven't done these)
    8) Camera for front and back door.
    9) UPS (w/ 2x cheap car batteries) at the command center.
    10) Tablet on fridge for kitchen inventory & movies

    1-3 & 8-10 are obvious. 4 & 5 you want to hook up to an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. It can email you a SMS when your phone (you) isn't in the house and someone trips one. 6 & 7 if you want to do voice commands with playlists or your TV(s).

    I think the above pretty much summarize the demands on your command center.

  • by jonsmirl (114798) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:03PM (#41796901) Homepage

    Let me repeat that, plan you lighting before you start. Again - plan you lighting before you start. If your electrician wings it and makes mistakes it is almost impossible to fix.

    For example high end lighting in a dining room might have:
    1) chandelier
    2) halogen cans over table
    3) halogen cans around sides of room
    4) art light aimable cans
    5) cans over buffet furniture.
    6) tray lighting in the ceiling

    Do you really want six dimmers in the wall of the dining room? No. What you want to do is remote all of those dimmers and have a single keypad at each opening into the room. Remoting a dimmer means putting it down by the electrical panel or in an attic. The home automation feature of the keypads then controls the remote dimmers. Doing this at wiring install time is almost free.

    Repeat this in each room of the house. Think about art lights, fireplace sconces, in-cabinet lights, switched outlets, in-floor outlets in the center of rooms. Plan all of this before you let your electrician start. If you plan all of this correctly you'll never end up with 8-gang rows of dimmers. Well designed lighting is an easy way to make a major improvement to the feel of the house.

    Hide the thermostats in closets and use in-wall remote temperature sensors. Disable the temp sensor inside of the hidden thermostat.

  • by PNutts (199112) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:42PM (#41797173)

    I wired my house with 30 pin cables and now I have to rip it out and pull 8 pin cables.

  • by epp_b (944299) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:55PM (#41797269)

    If you're handy with programming, you can do a lot with a few Raspberry Pis.

    Currently, I've got a Pi setup as a dedicated video player for the big LCD in the den. It's running OpenELEC and networked via a WRT54g running dd-wrt (which doubles as a wireless range extender), so it can play media from any other networked device in the house. Plays full 1080p HD wirelessly and flawlessly.

    I have thought about doing something similar to what you mention with the family calendars. I still have some details to work out, but I envision all of our smartphones and a tablet in the kitchen on a quick-release wall mount synchronized using an exchange-like system. I've already got a web server running at home with a dynamic DNS service, so the synchronization could could conceivably be location-agnostic.

    The Raspberry Pi's GPIO makes cheap home automation only a small leap of imagination.

    As for the PS3, sorry, I'm not a gamer, so I don't know what the options are in that regard.

  • by Archimonde (668883) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:57PM (#41797281) Homepage

    I did it at my own house. It doesn't cost nothing extra, it is just your imagination on what to do with your bricks.

    And one day I hope this is going to be visible from space;) []

  • Secret passage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by c++0xFF (1758032) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @12:58PM (#41797285)

    Since you're going down to the studs anyway, find some place to put in a simple secret passageway. You know, for the kids and grandkids.

    Look for dead spaces in the walls. It can be as simple as going from one closet to another. Try to connect to the crawlspace, maybe.

  • by MinistryOfTruthiness (1396923) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @04:56PM (#41798995) Homepage Journal

    In light of the approaching hurricane, and during heavy rain in general, I like to make sure my sump pump is keeping up (I live in an older house). Rather than continually going down to check on it, I installed a WiFi IP Camera in the room pointed at the pump. That way I can check on it periodically from my phone without actually going in there. Of course, infra-red LEDs are a must on such a setup, but they come with most cameras anyway. To generalize, cameras wherever you might want to monitor the state of the house. This would be separate from security cameras.

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