Great article posted on LifeHacker. Thought I would share it with all of you!!!
How Can I Bring My Tech-Unfriendly Home into the 21st Century?
I love technology, but in my attempts to keep up to date I feel like I’m in a constant struggle with my home. I’ve got bad Wi-Fi reception, limited outlets, and despite all of this my power bill is through the roof. How can I make my home more 21st-century tech-friendly?
Living in Obsolescence
I have the same problem in my current apartment, and while I don’t believe there’s a perfect solution (short of rewiring the place), there is still quite a bit you can do to keep your home from feeling like a relic. Most of what you can do is free or inexpensive, but—like with most things—if you’re willing to pay a little extra you have a few more options. Let’s go over them all.
Control Your Power
Power is generally one of the biggest problems. Too few outlets and too many devices mean your walls are going to have power strips flying out of them like octopus arms. Most outlets also won’t natively charge USB devices, and when you’ve got tons of devices snaking out of your wall you’re going to draw more power than you necessarily need. These are, in a way, two separate problems, so let’s tackle them separately.
Increase Your Outlet Capacity
The solution to limited outlets is pretty simply. You just need a grounded outlet expander. The idea is the same as a power strip, except it attaches to your wall. Your best bet is to find one with the largest amount of space between outlets so you don’t lose any to a large plug. The option pictured to the right (which you can buy here for under $8) sets four outlets to each side rather than packing them all into one flat space. You can use the front two outlets for larger plugs and the four side outlets for smaller plugs. If you’d prefer something more traditional, or all your plugs will fit nicely together in a compact array, you can just pick up a standard outlet expanderand save a few dollars. Either way, the important thing to remember is to buy one with a mounting screw that will let you keep it attached to the wall. You don’t want the entire expander to come out when you pull on one plug, so mounting it is important and only takes a few seconds.
If your goal is to add more USB ports, you should consider upgrading your outlet wall plate. In the event you cannot do this in your home (or simply don’t want to), this USB wall plate will convert one outlet into two USB ports. The downsides are that you lose one outlet and no mounting screw is provided, but it’s better than nothing.Finally, if you do have to (or want to) go the power strip route because it makes more sense in a particular situation, there are two options that are better than the rest: thePowerSquid and the Socket Sense expanding power strip. Both make it possible to use every outlet without worrying about the size of the plug. If you have many existing power strips, however, you can just pick up a power strip liberator—which are essentially tiny extension cords—to solve the problem as well.
Decrease Your Power Bill
We’ve previously suggested several ways to cut your power bill, but let’s focus on the ways you can better-manage your technology’s needs. Basically, your goal is to turn off your gadgets when they’re drawing power they do not need. If you’re using a power strip, consider switching to something like the Belkin Conserve Smart AV. It’ll run you about $29—which is about what you’d pay for a high-quality power strip in the first place—and will automatically reduce power when your electronics are in standby mode. It also has one special outlet that you can use with the TV in your home theater system. When you turn your TV on, the power strip will provide power to every outlet. When you turn your TV off, it will turn off everything else as well. This way you don’t have to worry about accidentally leaving anything else on and can cut noticeably down your power usage. Alternatively, you can pick up a remote-controlled conserving power strip for easy control and power savings without the special home theater features. Belkin actually has a variety of really good options to choose from.
You can also start utilizing solar power in some situations. While good panels (such as this one) aren’t necessarily cheap, they can be used to charge your devices without any ongoing cost. If you want to move your USB devices off the grid, solar can be a practical option if you’ve got a good place by the windows to mount the panels. You may also be able to replace some of your gear with solar alternatives as well, whether it’s outlet- or battery-powered. For example,flashlights, battery chargers, speakers, and more can charge via the sun instead of through your wall.
Improve Your Wi-Fi Reception
Wi-Fi signal problems are common in homes, even when they’re not that large. I previously lived in an apartment that had a router placed on one end of the room and lost most of its signal on the side—only about 100 feet away. We’ve previously discussed solutions to bad reception problems, but here’s what I’ve found works best in practice:
- Mount your router as high in the room as possible. Don’t stick it under a table, in a drawer, or anywhere that can obstruct its broadcast. Keep it out in the open and as high up as possible.
- If your router supports it, install DD-WRT (open-source custom firmware that provides additional options) and boost your transmit power a little bit. (If you don’t know how, read this guide.)
- Choose the broadcast channel with the least interference. By default, your router probably broadcasts on Channel 11. If other nearby routers are using this channel you’ll end up with signal interference. To avoid this, use a tool like Wi-Fi Stumbler to discover which channels are underused. You want to pick the one that is used the least, but that also has little-to-no use on the surrounding channels. This is because your router broadcasts on a primary channel, but that broadcast bleeds into the surrounding channels as well. As a result, picking an lesser-used channel may not solve the problem if its surrounding channels are in heavy use.
If your issue is simply that your signal won’t reach, you can turn an old router into a repeater to extend it further. I’ve found this tends to hurt the signal in a small space and would recommend avoiding it unless it is necessary.In the end, there’s only so much you can do to improve your signal and should considerwiring your home. This doesn’t mean you have to fish cables through the walls. You can simply run your cables along those walls, tape them on, and paint over the tape to hide them (if necessary). You may be surprised how easily you can run cables around your home without creating an eyesore. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can just turn them into art.
Automate Your Home
Finally, one more way to bring your home into the 21st century is with automation. Even if you can’t rewire the house (or apartment), you can still automate things like your lights and other outlet-based tech. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. You can just turn an old router into a home automation server. Alternatively, you can go the professional route and use X10 devices to get the job done. Software for Windows and OS X or iOS can make it simple to control power around your home with a few clicks (or taps). This is really great if you have very little (or no) built-in lighting in your home and have to turn on every light manually with an individual switch. X10 devices can allow you to control many lights at once and even program room settings. It’s a really elegant way to solve that problem without rewiring or spending a ton of money.
All in all, there’s a lot you can do to make your out-of-date home feel much more tech-friendly. While it might require a small investment in the beginning, if you employ some power-saving methods you’ll get that money back in a couple of years. Enjoy your new, 21st century home!