It can be as convenient as remotely unlocking a door to your home to let in the painter when you're not there.
Or it can be as efficient as lowering your home thermostat from miles away.
Or as luxurious as heating up the hot tub at your weekend retreat -- while driving there.
Imagine the Web-based home -- now and in the future: Home automation systems that enable you to control household functions from near and afar. Smart appliances, such as a fridge that tells you through a smartphone app how many times the door has been opened.
Even something as simple as talking paint colors with experts on Facebook.
It's all possible.
The future of controlling and monitoring home lights, thermostats, appliances and more from a smart phone, iPad, laptop or other device was a popular topic at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
It's about energy management, safety, convenience.
What you need is a control system that accesses the Internet, said Craig Werynski, president of Stereo Advantage, 5195 Main St., Williamsville.
Those start for less than $1,000 -- and go from there.
It could be as simple as choosing a Web interface for an electronic lock, where a temporary pass code will allow someone to enter your house when you're not there, he said.
From there, on a system like that, you could add on control for lighting. So handy if you're away from home and have forgotten to leave on a light.
"Hop on the Internet through your phone or another device and turn on light one, two and three," said Stereo Advantage's Kevin Bohner, a CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design Installation Association) certified system designer.
For safety, you also could have your alarm system send you a text message that your home thermostat is reading a chilly 50 degrees. Similarly, a sump pump sensor or any trouble sensor could notify you of risky situations.
At the high end, anything that works on a relay -- automatic window shades, interior and exterior lighting, fans, fountains, pool pump -- can be controlled from afar, said Werynski, noting that prices can climb to $70,000, and have in the Buffalo area.
> How it works
Using an Apple iPad tablet computer and sample interface, Bohner offers a demonstration.
"Because of the popularity of these tablets, they are now manufacturing applications so you can use it as your remote control," he said.
For example, you can control Sirius Satellite radio, television programming, AM-FM tuners, iPods -- this is all tied into your home system.
Then you get into things like your lighting where, for example, you can manually adjust your automated dusk-to-dawn sensors if need be.
And you can get feedback. "The Internet is great because you get feedback from a system saying 'Yes, the light is now on,' " he said.
> Web on TV
More mainstream these days is the Web on TV.
"Rather than just having a 'dumb' TV now, the 'smart' TV allows you to go on the Internet. It can go to YouTube; it can go to Netflix and download movies. You can go to music sites and listen to your music through your television ," Werynski said.
"Because of broadband access, because this high-speed access is now so predominant, we can get great video images sent to the house directly," he said.
And that's just inside the home, Bohner said.
People also can have a Slingbox so they can stream their TV programming from home when they're on the road traveling.
"The phone needs a one-time application -- about $30 -- to make it 'talk' to the box at home. That works great because when I'm on the road, I can watch my subscription service I paid for back home on my little device," Werynski said.
Today, all the big manufacturers -- Panasonic, SONY, Samsung -- have models that have a connection for the Internet on the TV, unless it's a very base model, Werynski said.
People not in the market for a TV can still get the Web on TV feature by buying a Blu-ray disc player for less than $100, he added.
"It's an easy way to hop into the Internet on TV," he said.
> On the home front
* At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sears introduced prototypes of Kenmore appliances that will use the Internet to allow consumers to monitor and alter the operations of their appliances remotely, according to Eric A. Taub of the New York Times.
"For example, a high-end fridge will tell its owner, through a smartphone app, how often the door's been opened," he blogged. "Also, the temperature can be adjusted, or more ice can be ordered up" -- when you're on your way home from work.
* Last spring, Benjamin Moore launched a Facebook campaign uniting consumers and design pros to create "an online cocktail party of conversation about decorating with paint and color," said Nick Harris, senior manager of marketing communications.
* The November-December 2010 issue of futureAge magazine describes a prototype "smart home for older people." One feature is for grown children to be able to go to a Web site and see that an aging parent has, say, gotten up in the morning and eaten breakfast.
"This sort of communication comes through monitoring systems that can track movement and activity in a home," wrote Kim Fernandez.
"No cameras are involved, so older residents feel comfortable having it, and it can let loved ones and caregivers know when everything's fine, or when there might be a problem," she wrote.