The phrases "smart home," "home automation," and "integrated home" get thrown around quite a bit and it can be confusing to figure out what exactly you need amidst all the noise.
There are many players getting into the smart home market including ADT, Verizon, AT&T and more. Systems are becoming more affordable and scalable allowing home owners to get started small and build their systems over time.
Here are 5 tips to finding the right installation for you.
#1 - Find a system that allows integration with your mobile devices
5-10 years ago, there were fewer players in the market and touch screen control was only offered through their proprietary devices. Take Crestron Electronics for example - They are the leader in automation for residences and businesses and pioneered many of the technologies in the industry. Their touch panels made it cost prohibitive to many consumers at $2,000-$3,000 a piece to provide a nice graphical user interface. Now you can have your iPad, iPhone, Andriod or computer as your touch panel and save a significant cost on those devices.
Control4 offers a site license for the home as part of their control systems that is a one time fee of $499. This allows the home owner to sync unlimited mobile devices to their system.
There are some advantages in having branded touch panels and interface devices. Typically, the iPhone and iPad are slower to access quick functions like lights, volume and channel surfing
#2 - Choose a system with wireless devices such as dimmers, switches and thermostats
Most of the systems allow you to do this to some extent but if you want your system to be scalable, pick a system like Crestron or Control4 that allows you to add wireless dimmers, switches, thermostats, and more. This also allows you to reduce the hardware in the system without having to make a physical wiring connection from each device to the processor. A few years ago, every single device would have to be hard-wired to the processor requiring additional wiring, labor, power supplies and more.
The Zigbee wireless protocol is very effective in that it creates a mesh network. The original Lutron Radio Ra lighting was point to point, meaning the single wireless transmitter sent out a signal and if one of your twenty dimmers didn't receive it (perhaps it was too far away from the transmitter) the signal would not get processed. The newer systems use Zigbee and other protocols to create a mesh network so each device (dimmer, switch, etc) acts as a repeater for another device. So if you have twenty dimmers you have essentially twenty different transmitters and receivers in the system.
The new Lutron Radio Ra 2 is now a mesh network and a great improvement over previous versions.
#3 - Accessing your media quickly and efficiently
For most users, a good integrated home allows total control for audio and video as well - not just environmental features like lights, temperature, shades, pool and spa. Some automation companies make it easier than others to access your media. Most offer a nice interface to access FM/AM and satellite radio as well as an iPod dock.
Having access to Sonos, Pandora, iTunes libraries, Internet Radio and Movies is a little trickier. The easiest and most cost effective way to have total control of your music if definitely the Sonos system. The issue is that Sonos is not an automation company so it is on an island in terms of not being directly integrated with our home control platform. The only company that offers integration into the home automation system of Sonos is Control4. Extra Vegetables (a third party Control4 driver company) has created a driver to allow total control for the Sonos audio system right from the Control4 interface.
#4 - Remote access when you are not home
One of the benefits about having an integrated house or office is that you can check on it when you are away. These functions range from setting vacation modes for your lights, drapes and sprinklers to give the appearance that you are home. Also checking on your cameras when you alarm goes off. Being able to remotely see who is at your front door and buzz people in for package deliveries and more.
Crestron Mobile Pro G
#5 - Choose an established install company and equipment manufacturer
There are many home automation companies that pop up here and there and ultimately get bought out by their competitors or go bankrupt. This means no support, no dealer network, and no upgrades for the homeowner that just spent $10,000 - $50,000 on a system. A few years back we walked into a client's home who had a Phast system. Phast was supposed to be the game changing new kid on the block 15 years ago and they were in business for a couple years before being bought by AMX (a larger competitor). AMX killed the line and left customers with these expensive systems that were essentially paperweights.
Companies like Crestron, Lutron, AMX, URC, RTI, HAI, Control4 and Savant have been around long enough that they are good bets to invest in a system - you can also rest assured that you have a strong dealer network with these brands to service, upgrade and repair elements of you system.
Bryan Gorog is the owner of BCG Concepts Audio & Video in Los Angeles, CA
Home Theater, Audio Video and Automation Blog - Los Angeles