You might not think that you're adding a lot of value or convenience to your home by replacing a light switch or electrical outlet, but that's probably because you're picturing basic, boring electrical fixtures.
Of course, in some rooms boring is better. But you can bring some high-tech glamour to your home by introducing touch panels, USB ports, and other gadgets. I recently looked into some cool ways of adding ingenuity to my own electrical system, and I found some innovative switches and outlets that can make my home more futuristic. Here's a look at some of my favorite finds.
USB electrical outlets -- We'll start with a simple outlet upgrade. USB electrical outlets are a must-have if you're changing out any of your outlets; they give you a safe, grounded USB port that you can use to charge cell phones, tablets, and other gadgets. You won't have to unplug other items in order to charge your devices, and the USB ports look cool and modern.
If you've ever wired anything, this is an easy upgrade that shouldn't set you back more than $20-$40.
Programmable outlets and light switches -- These are a great way to manage power usage in your home, and they're quite affordable. Programmable outlets safely turn off power after a certain amount of time, and most have built-in surge protection. They're great for your home stereo, although they're not ideal for computers and other devices with hard drives.
Programmable light switches work in the exact same way, and they're an especially good purchase for kids' rooms. A new outlet or light switch with a digital timer costs about $25-$50 depending on features.
Hands-free light switches -- These aren't anything new in theory, but hands-free light switch technology has improved dramatically over the last few years. They can automatically turn on when they detect body heat in motion, and most units have time delays that adjust automatically. This means that the lights won't turn off just because you've stopped moving, which was a major problem with early switches.
Infrared light switches work best in small rooms where they have a clear line of sight, but sound-triggered light switches -- the Clapper is probably the most famous -- work well in larger rooms. Look for a unit with a few different light settings. If you're getting a hands-free switch for a home theater room, make sure that loud TV noises won't trigger the controls. Hands-free light switches vary from $20 or so for sound-activated options to $200 for the infrared models.
Digital recording light switches -- These aren't as creepy as they sound. Digital recording light switches aren't monitoring devices; they allow you to record an audio message for later playback.
If your family has trouble staying organized, these switches are lifesavers. You can record messages of up to 20 seconds in length that will automatically play whenever someone switches the light on. Because the switches use four AAA batteries to supply the recording element, there's no wiring to worry about. They cost about $10.
LED touch panel lighting -- There's some pretty exciting lighting technology out there, but many options like LED touch panels are more popular in Europe than in the United States. LED touch panels allow you to draw your finger across a panel to turn on a light or to adjust the amount of lighting in a room. When paired with some quality LED lights, they make your home a little more futuristic while helping you save on light bills. If you don't want to wait, you can order LED touch lights from overseas for about $70-$100 per panel.
Before you tackle any project with wiring, make sure that there's no power headed to the outlet with a circuit tester. Stay safe and call a professional if you're at all uncomfortable with your electrical skills.