HomeBUTTONS Electronics was founded in 1998. It was then and still is a sole proprietorship with me, Bill Monahan, providing services related to electronic enhancements in the home. Since 2010, HomeBUTTONS has operated from Meaford, Ontario in the heart of the Southern Georgian Bay region.
It has been an evolution, growing and learning.
My vision has always been with homes. My father had evolved from being a cabinetmaker in Owen Sound to being a custom home designer on Salt Spring Island. As a student of architecture at the University of Toronto, I had been encouraged to think about what the home means to the families who inhabit it. Through almost twenty years in the insurance industry corralling contractors to fix homes damaged by calamities while dealing with the homeowners who were traumatized at worst and inconvenienced at best, I stepped away from it to find something more meaningful. That’s when I discovered smart homes.
I had grown up seeing home technologies expand with cable television, telephone answering machines and circuit breakers instead of fuses in the power panel. Only Bell Canada could provide and install the telephones, only Rogers could provide the cable. The home of the future was touted as being just around the corner, where the touch of a button on a control panel could adjust the lights or lock the doors. I was intrigued by the possibilities of a home transformed by electronics.
I created HomeBUTTONS with the idea of developing a way to control a home using all of the electronic innovations that seemed to be on the horizon.
I learned electronics by correspondence from George Brown College and researched companies in the GTA that were exploring the new technologies. Some focussed on security and surveillance while others put the emphasis on home entertainment and communication. Whole home automation systems that included the ability to control all electrical loads and lights from a control panel on a side table were being developed separately by American companies and cost a small fortune – I was lucky enough to find some companies that were selling and installing them. For the next decade I used the company I’d created to work as a sub-contractor for businesses that covered the bases I wanted to learn, basically covering gaps in their labour needs. I was a bit old for an apprentice but I knew how homes were built. I worked hard and learned a lot from the younger, more experienced men on the job. I took home the installation manuals to study them at night.
Ten years later I had worked for high-end smart home contractors, audio-video retailers, security and surveillance system installers, learning on-site until I knew more than those around me. I was not eligible for advancement because I was too close to retirement age. It was particularly disconcerting that my bosses after a decade’s experience were twenty years younger than me and knew less than half of what I’d learned.
And so the dream of making my own way took shape, making HomeBUTTONS a real company, not a sub-contractor. I knew enough at this point to put together a smart home all on my own.
In 2008 my employer sent me as part of a team of installers to spend the better part of a week working on a job in Collingwood. It was a big change from the downtown stress of high-rise condos. When I arrived the first morning on the job I opened my car door and inhaled the breeze coming off Georgian Bay. If there were other customers like this, I decided, then this was where HomeBUTTONS belonged.
My wife Judy and I moved to Meaford in the fall of 2009 and I launched HomeBUTTONS in January 2010. I knew that general consumer adoption of the smart home had not matched the advance hype. Prices for systems were still high, out of the reach of most home owners. I relied on the fact that my on-site education, which included hours of troubleshooting all kinds of electronics, would allow me to be helpful to all homeowners.
I’m not an electronics buff who has expanded my hobby into a post-retirement business. I learned about electronics as a means to an end. My real interest is in how a home serves its occupants and how electronics can enhance that. I have always liked the smart lighting systems, and have been excited by the advances in cameras and recording systems, but my focus has been on how these improve daily life at home.
I have found that most homeowners in the area turn to me for help in configuring, installing or troubleshooting their electronics. Just as in the days when I worked in property restoration, I learn about the occupants when I work in their homes. I see, as others do, that the Southern Georgian Bay area has a high population of seniors. I am pleased to be a safe port in a storm of confusion about modern electronics, a peer who can provide up-to-date guidance. And along the way, I’ve found that my customers can benefit from electronics that alleviate some of the dangers and stresses of aging in a home.
Since I began operating in Meaford, electronics have taken huge steps into the future and smart devices are finally finding their way into homes. With the Internet of Things (IoT), robust Wi-Fi, high speed Internet and mobile apps, smart home features are affordable and accessible for more homeowners. They present a great challenge with competing technologies that may or may not communicate with each other. There is a role for HomeBUTTONS in this new universe, providing a guide.
The future of homes is rapidly changing which in turn dictates a new role for HomeBUTTONS. Scientific discoveries and trends in the area of Healthy Homes call for pure air and water, lighting that boosts Circadian Rhythms, and biophilic features. Active aging is a new reality for seniors who can extend their years of independence and an active lifestyle in a home that is designed to minimize the inevitable challenges of physical aging. Electronics has a part to play in bringing these capabilities to a home. My role is to keep an eye on the future and help my customers prepare for and adapt to it.
I continue to learn on the job. I learn about how people use electronics and what they need.
Working in Meaford, Collingwood, Owen Sound and around the area has made me some friends. I have been here long enough now that there are some who call me regularly whenever electronics have introduced new challenges in their lives. And others, just arriving in the area, are relieved to find there is someone who does what I do.