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`SMART HOME' TECHNOLOGY GETS BETTER - AND CHEAPER

Doug Nelson, a Naples, Fla., homebuilder, has decided to catapult homeowners into the space age with home automation systems. Here's why:

"In 1994 we can walk in space, but we switch on our lights the same way as the day electricity was invented," he says.The idea of activating appliances by voice, telephone or touch pad isn't new, but evolving technology is making it cheaper and easier for occupants of existing homes to buy into such convenience.

Until recently, the more expensive hardwire systems commonly available were limited to new construction. But according to the literature of Automated Electronic Systems in Waterford, Mich., its wireless technology can control any electronic device from anywhere in the world by telephone in a system that usually costs about $2 per square foot per home.

The benefit of wireless, or line carrier (X-10) technology, is that it can be installed in existing homes without disturbing walls.

"Commands from a controller or computer travel over the existing home electrical system to operate special switches, outlets, transmitters and receivers, allowing users to control any component in the home," Nelson says. "There is no additional wiring involved, and the devices usually replace existing switches."

Company literature says the brains of the system is a microprocessor the size of a briefcase, programmed to store information that is easily accessed by anyone who can use a telephone.

Nelson, vice president of 3N Group Inc., says the Automated Electronic Systems technology he used to operate everything from a pool waterfall to the fireplaces in his posh new model saves energy as well as time.

Yet wireless systems aren't flawless, either.

Nelson says that if several houses in close proximity had such systems, there's a chance that signals could bleed from one house to another.