The perfect recipe for outdoor entertaining: weatherproof speakers, smart sprinklers, automated gates and lighting.Kick off your shoes and feel the grass between your toes, crank the music and grab a cold one. Your guests will automati-cally be welcomed by driveway sensors, which illuminate a path of lights up to the fes-tivities. As the sun sets, the lights gradually brighten, and adjust in synch to the music. Your only task for the evening is to keep an eye on the barbie.
It’s tough to achieve sonic perfection in an outdoor environment, but there are certain speaker designs that work better outdoors than others. Wide-coverage, or omnidirec-tional, speakers radiate the sound in multiple directions so that unlike indoor speakers you don’t have to sit right in front of them to hear the music. You can move freely about the yard and hear the music as clearly from the garden as you can from the pool.Another type of speaker that accommodates movement is a ‘centrepoint’ speaker. This relatively new technology reproduces stereo from one speaker, ensuring balanced sound even as you move about the yard. Manufacturers including Sonance and SpeakerCraft offer them for between $495 and $595 apiece. Of course, if there’s a particular area of the yard where you park it – like a patio – two stereo speakers is the way to go, says Mark House, spokesperson for SpeakerCraft.
To keep the outdoor speakers off until you walk outside, outfit your stereo amplifier with a speaker selector switch, available from Niles Audio (distributed by Audio Products Australia), and AudioPlex Technology (distributed by Hi Fi Video & Marketing), for around $269 and $300, respectively. The speakers are activated by pushing a button on the selector.
There are several ways to control the stereo from outside. You can adjust the volume from a weatherproof volume control like the WVC-1 or WVC-2 ($249 to $189) from Niles (available from Audio Products Australia), or use an infra-red extension system. A small infrared receiver eye mounted to a structure outside catches the commands from your existing handheld remote and transmits them over low-voltage cabling to the stereo.
Ordinarily, infrared extension systems aren’t used outside because sunshine botches thereceiver’s reception of the infrared signal. If you can’t bear to leave your remote inside, Xantech offers special sun-filtering receivers (distributed by Audio Works), for around $20, that work effectively outdoors.
Light It Up
Lighting is a natural complement to music. There’s a real art that goes into illuminating the landscape of a yard, so for excellent results, it is best to hire a professional landscape architect to arrange the lights. After that, automate.
By automating the landscape lights, you can make the yard virtually come alive and in synch with the music. A photocell perched on an eave of the house, for example, can automatically snap the landscape lights on at dusk and off at dawn. It notices and responds automatically to the subtle changes in sunrise and sunset throughout the year.
Of course, you probably don’t want the exterior lights on all night. Here’s where a timer comes in handy. For the best of both worlds – photocell and timer – use a product that combines both technologies, like the Clipsal Automatic Sunset Switch ($130 RRP).
Basic lighting effects like these can be accomplished with affordable X-10 (powerline-based) products available from Eon3 and associated Eon3 dealers.
You’ll need a more intelligent lighting system to brighten and dim groups of lights to spe-cific intensities (basic timers and photocells can only turn lights all the way on or all the way off). Some systems, like the iCONTROL from HPM Industries, can be installed into an existing home. Others, like the Grafik Eye and HomeWorks Interactive from Lutron (and also the iCONTROL), are hardwired into a home while it is being built.
One of the most practical areas to apply technology to is the driveway to your home. Sensors planted underneath or beside a driveway can elicit a variety of sensational effects that set the tone for any type of backyard get-together. For example, when a car rolls onto the property the sensor can activate a path of landscape lights that lead guests from the gate all the way to the front door. Other lights can brighten to accentuate the architecture of the house, gardens and other outdoor elements. At the same time, a driveway sensor – such as the Clipsal Infrascan at $175 RRP – can sound a chime or buzzer to alert you to an approaching car.
Driveway sensors come in a variety of styles. Sensable Sensors from Seadan Security and Electronics (around $300 uninstalled) offer an intelligent probe system, an inductive loop that’s set under the ground, that distinguishes between a car that’s entering or exiting the property. As a result, the system can elicit different responses based on the direction of the car.
Then there’s the gate. Departing vehicles trip the sensor, which signals the motorised gate to swing open. An entry keypad is offered as an accessory to Magic Door Industries’ range of LiftMaster products, for motorising either swing or sliding gates (from around $1460 installed). On the other side of the gate, mount a numeric keypad or proximity unit that grants visitors access to the property (such as the Servant Vandal-Resistant Q41 keypad at around $295 uninstalled from Seadan Security and Electronics).
Complement the keypad with a door answering system. The Aiphone by Audio Products Australia, for example, offers the convenience and security of speaking with visitors waiting at the gate. When a visitor presses a button on a doorbox installed near the gate, the telephones inside the house ring with a distinctive tone to let you know thatyour guests have arrived. You can then pick up any phone to converse with them.
The system sells for around $192, which is significantly less than the sophisticated multi-line telephone systems that provide the same gate-to-home communications feature.
Keep It Green
By adding a simple rain sensor ($60-$90) and a moisture sensor (around $350) to a sprinkler system, you can prevent a lawn from being over-watered.
The sensors measure the amount of rain that has fallen and the sogginess of the ground. If plenty of rain has fallen or the ground is sufficiently moist, they signal the sprinkler system to shut off. When things dry out, they allow the system to resume its normal water-ing cycle.
A number of manufacturers, including RainBird and Rainspa (distributed by Sprinkler City), offer rain sensors and/or moisture sen-sors as accessories for irrigation systems.
Perched on the pitch of your home’s roof or on a fence post, the rain sensor catches rain-drops in a small cup. When the water level in the cup reaches a certain level, it transmits an ‘off’ signal. A moisture sensor communicates with the irrigation controller in a similar manner, but measures and responds to the moisture level of the soil, which makes them a more accurate measuring tool than a rain sensor.
However, rain sensors are the most com-monly used, as you may need a number of moisture sensors to give a truly accurate reading.
For the ultimate in irrigation management, link a sprinkler system to a home control system (you may need to call a professional home systems installer to do the job). A home control system, such as Eon3’s X-10 automation system, can work the watering cycle around your family’s schedule and other conditions, like temporarily interrupting the watering cycle when a car pulls into the driveway.
Control Au Naturel
The yard may seem an environment too harsh for electronics, but there are sev-eral good reasons to smarten up the space with weather-hardy technologies. Motorised gates, driveway sensors and irrigation sensors offer convenience, while automated lights and music create an atmosphere that’s as relaxing and comfortable as your family room.