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10 Ways to Take Advantage of New Technology in Your Old House

Utilize new technology to upgrade and improve your older home while keeping all of the charm, tradition and coziness intact.

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See Inside your Walls with the General iBorescopeFamily Handyman

See Inside your Walls with the General iBorescope

Unless you have X-ray vision, it can be tough to figure out what's inside a wall. That's where a 'borescope' comes in handy. It's basically a small camera on the end of a snake. You just fish it through a hole or tight space to view what's inside on a video monitor. Several companies make borescopes, but the General iBorescope line is a little different in that it lets you use the display on your smartphone or tablet as a wireless video monitor. The borescope acts as a Wi-Fi hot spot, letting you connect your mobile device to it without a Wi-Fi router or Internet access. A free app lets you snap photos and record video, and the camera is waterproof so you can safely use it in areas that may be wet. Before removing a all, you need to know what's inside.

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No Key or Combination NecessaryFamily Handyman

No Key or Combination Necessary

Master Lock's Bluetooth Smart Padlock does only one thing, but it does it very well. When you download the app, your smartphone morphs into an electronic 'key' for opening your padlock. The app also allows you to give multiple users access to your lock, thus eliminating the hassle of lost keys and forgotten combinations. You can also create a combination for the lock's key pad for use when the smartphones aren't on hand.

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Add a USB Charger in a SnapFamily Handyman

Add a USB Charger in a Snap

In this electronic age, there seems to be at least one device charging on every single counter and end table in the house. It's getting difficult to find an unoccupied outlet for antiquated blenders and desk lamps.

Here's a cool gadget that can help. It's an outlet cover plate with a built-in USB charger, and it's as easy to install as a regular cover plate. You just shut down the power, unscrew the old plate and screw on the new one. No receptacle replacement required! The USB port gets its power from two prongs that contact the screws on the sides of the receptacle.

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Ultimate Garage Door OpenerFamily Handyman

Ultimate Garage Door Opener

My garage door opener finally gave up the ghost, but it survived almost 30 years and three teenage boys! I bought another Chamberlain and got a few more bells and whistles this time. The HD950WF model I chose has a hefty 1-1/4-hp motor and a battery backup, which is great because I rely solely on the garage door to get into the house. I'm not even sure where my house keys are, so I'd be in a pickle if we lost power.

The door starts out slowly, picks up speed, and then slows down before reaching the top or bottom. That, in conjunction with the belt drive, makes it super quiet. I really love that I can use my smartphone to close the door from anywhere, which comes in handy at bedtime when my wife is convinced the door was left open and wants me to go double-check.

Mark Petersen, Associate Editor

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Motion-Sensor Power StripFamily Handyman

Motion-Sensor Power Strip

Your cable/satellite box, Blu-ray player, TV sound system and streaming devices all draw power 24/7, even when the TV is off. It's the same with your computer and its attached printer, scanner and accessory speakers. The TrickleStar Motion Sensor PowerStrip shuts off those power-sucking devices when they're not being used. It takes its cues from whatever device (TV or computer) is plugged into the 'control' receptacle, along with input from the attached motion sensor.

Here's how it works. When you turn on the TV or computer, the power strip immediately powers up three switched receptacles for your accessories/peripherals. When you turn the TV or computer off, it shuts off the switched receptacles. And, if the TV or computer is on, but you leave the room for 30 minutes or longer, the motion sensor shuts off the switched receptacles. Come back and it powers them back up. The unit has one control receptacle, three switched receptacles and three always-on receptacles, along with built-in surge protection (1080 joules) for all outlets.

Learn how one of our editors monitored his residential energy consumption with help from his local library.

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Whole-House Shutoff SystemsFamily Handyman

Whole-House Shutoff Systems

For the ultimate in water leak detection and flood prevention, consider a whole-house automatic shutoff system like this one. Wireless sensors placed around the house tell it when there's a leak or if a pipe has frozen, and a motorized valve shuts off water to the house. The WaterCop has been around for a few years, but the company now offers a Wi-Fi module that sends alerts to your smartphone or computer when there's a problem. A complete system consists of leak and freeze sensors, a Wi-Fi module and automatic shutoff valve. Depending on your DIY skills, you might need to hire a plumber to install it on your home's water main.

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Keyless Entry

Keyless Entry

This is basically what makes a smart door lock 'smart.' Thanks to electronic keypads, key cards and fobs, fingerprint scanners and smartphone technology, frantically fishing in your pocket for a house key while holding an armload of groceries can be a thing of the past. Some smart locks will even allow you to open a door via a smartphone app when you're away from home, so you can let in anyone who needs access. Check out these 14 gadgets that turn your home into a smart house.

Photo: SCHLAGE

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Motorize your Existing Dead BoltFamily Handyman

Motorize your Existing Dead Bolt

The August Smart Lock ($200 at august.com) is a great choice if you don't want to change how the outside of your door looks. That's because it works with your existing dead bolt hardware.

Available in four colors, this ingenious smart lock replaces your dead bolt's interior thumb-latch and uses Bluetooth technology to turn your smartphone into a wireless key, which activates a motorized throw bolt that unlocks as you approach the door and locks when you leave.

It keeps an activity log of who's coming and going, which you can view on your smartphone using an app. The app also lets you control the lock remotely with an August Connect accessory ($79). You can create virtual keys for other users, and use your existing dead bolt keys as backups. The manual is well illustrated and easy to understand, making installation simple on most existing dead bolts. Runs on four "AA" batteries.

See what home tech products are coming out soon.

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Traveling DoorbellFamily Handyman

Traveling Doorbell

If you're in the market for a new doorbell, and even if you're not, check out the Honeywell Wireless Doorbell Kit. It has six high-quality chimes to choose from. The volume is adjustable, and more than one doorbell and button can be used together.

But what we love most is the fact that it can be lifted from the wall mount and brought with you into your shop, out in the backyard or wherever. So if you're waiting on a pizza delivery or the cable guy, you don't have to stay chained up inside the house. It has a 225-ft. range and a flashing icon to alert you in case you're wearing headphones.

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Best Night-Light in History: SnapRays GuidelightFamily Handyman

Best Night-Light in History: SnapRays Guidelight

About once a year here at the office, we encounter 'The Perfect Product." This year the title winner has to be the SnapRays Guidelight. Even though it's just a lowly night-light, it's practically perfect in every way. Here's why:
  • Everyone needs it: If the sun goes down where you live, you need a few night-lights, right?
  • Anyone can install it: It takes all of 60 seconds. Remove the single screw on the old cover plate, snap in the Guidelight and reinstall the screw. That's it.
  • It's inexpensive to operate: The three tiny LEDs come on only when it's dark, thanks to the light sensor built into the cover.
  • It's not an ugly plug-in. It looks exactly like an ordinary cover plate. The LEDs at the bottom light up the floor right where you need it.
  • The price is reasonable and they cost even less per light if you buy a bunch.
The Guidelight is powered by two little prongs that snap over the terminal screws on the receptacle. Brilliant! No batteries, no wiring, no nuthin! You have a choice of two outlet cover types in ivory, almond or white.