If there is any truly emerging technology homebuilders should pay attention to today, it’s “smart home” technologies like home control and automation. Consumers are realizing they can control everything from the thermostats to lights in their homes, via apps on their smartphones and tablet computers.
They can monitor and access home systems from the couch or the road, resulting in unprecedented convenience, energy efficiency and safety.
Several smart home system providers and organizations at the TecHome Builder Summit in Austin this week will showcase and demonstrate their home control technologies, giving homebuilders an array of automation choices for their offerings, whether for luxury homes, starter homes or the many potential smart homes in between.
Smart Series for Smarter Homes
Savant Systems is known as a high-end home control and automation solution, but the company is now taking its sleek Apple-based system and interface to more affordable markets. (Read: homebuilders.)
Savant Systems will showcase for the first time its premium control and automation solution that includes its new Smart Series platform, Wi-Fi lighting, Wi-Fi thermostat, climate solutions and more, all based on Savant’s software and apps. At the Summit Savant will demonstrate integrations at point-of-purchase displays that will enable the builder community to see Savant’s competitively priced solution.
Sarah J. Harrington, corporate marketing specialist at Savant Systems, said Savant will work with each builder to create ideal packages that suit their customers and enable them to bring the functionality and value all sizes of home, with multiple-room deployments as low as $1,000 per room, according to the company.
A starter solution for some homebuilders could be Savant’s Wi-Fi Lighting solution that puts the processing for automated lighting control in the wall switches and allows a system to be built off of that.
“These solutions will bring exciting smart home functionality to the builder market, helping builders to differentiate themselves in a competitive arena,” says Harrington. “Smart Series solutions are based upon Savant’s software that makes the system future-proof and easily enhanced as customer’s needs evolve.”
What’s so great about ‘cloud’-based automation, as in taking place on the Internet? Homeowners can get upgrades or service issues done neatly via the Internet, with no annoying tech support calls and truck rolls and waiting around for the tech guy.
Clare Controls’ ClareHome, is the first home automation solution managed from the cloud (Internet).
Clare’s cloud-based system management technology provides remote visibility into running systems, allowing a local Clare dealer to see potential problems before the customer calls you. It also supports remote management, letting the dealer deliver new applications and perform some maintenance without a service call. Clare can also provide national backup service via the cloud, if necessary. Homeowners’ systems are updated automatically from the cloud.
Not everything is in the “cloud.” Home control via the system is done in the house via a processor, independent of the Internet so there’s no lag time.
Clare provides a complete automation solution, including the most popular security, entertainment, access control and lighting applications. It’s scalable to accommodate customers’ evolving needs within the same framework that Clare deploys in luxury mansions, but sized for use in mainstream homes. In the past, complete automation systems occupied racks of equipment in dedicated service closets with special electrical and cooling requirements. Clare Controls has packaged the entire system into a single-bay enclosure, with no extraordinary service requirements.
The Clare Controls app allows users to configure the interface for themselves, so they can arrange the control icons based on the systems they use most often. Users can control their systems securely from home or away, via ClareAnywhere.
Each program is built on a personalized agreement between the builder and Clare Controls. Homebuyers configure their automation packages from a menu of applications and upgrades defined by the local authorized Clare dealer, who installs and maintains the system. Builders earn a profit on every application the homebuyer specifies.
Nexia Step for Builders?
Nexia Home Intelligence is built on an open architecture platform, which means it works with products from a number of different manufacturers, including Summit participants Trane, Schlage and GE.
Nexia’s will show its software platform, open architecture and the inclusion of multiple hardware brands at the Summit. The Nexia user interface will be demonstrated at its booth and during boardroom presentations using PCs, smartphones and iPads.
Trane and Nexia will highlight the thermostat portfolio, which allows remote connectivity to one of the largest energy consumers in the home, the HVAC system. “We will speak specifically to the [Trane] XL824, which has the Nexia Bridge included in the thermostat, to enable communications with other Nexia devices, eliminate hardware components and simplify the installation and activation process,” says Scott Peterson, business development manager of Trane/Nexia.
Nexia utilizes Z-Wave wireless protocol, so that the bridge can speak with various hardware components throughout the home. The bridge then speaks to the wireless router in order to convert hardware messaging into the Nexia user interface via the cloud.
Price points for Nexia systems range from introductory all the way to ultra-premium. The system is already being sold by several homebuilders. “Nexia has been very successful gaining builder business because of its aggressive price point and ability to build on to the system at a later date,” Peterson says.
Catching the Z-Wave
One of the most popular technologies being used for home control and automation today is Z-Wave, a wireless protocol that creates a “mesh” network so that Z-Wave devices on a home network act as nodes to help transport signals in case another communication path fails.
At the Summit, Z-Wave Alliance representatives show some of the products that make up the Z-Wave ecosystem and answer any questions attendees may have.
Z-Wave technology uses a low-power radio frequency embedded into a wide array home electronic devices and systems from lighting modules to door locks to energy monitors. No complicated programming or new cables need to be run for the products in a system to communicate with each other.
Currently there are nearly 1,000 different Z-Wave products from over 300 companies, so you can choose the products that are right for your home. Z-Wave technology is used by security provider ADT, door lock companies Schlage, Yale, and Kwikset, Eaton Cooper Wiring, and Nexia Home Intelligence.
Z-Wave will be showcased in the Hot Technologies Corner of the TecHome Builder Summit.
Wireless and Powerline
Another complete home automation option comes from Insteon. The company will demonstrate its My Live Home app at its booth.
Insteon is a dual-mesh control and sensing, remote control technology using both the powerline wiring in the home and radio-frequency communication to send signals to devices for control. Lighting control, leak, door and motion sensing, and garage door control are amongst the most popular applications.
“We are the largest ecosystem out on the market right now,” said Rich Petersen, vice president of retail and channel development. “We run the British embassy in Washington, D.C. for the entire complex.”
Insteon has over 120 automation enabled products for the home. About 20 of those products will be on display at the Summit, including controllable light bulbs, dimmer modules and more.
“What I would suggest is to outfit a great room in one of the homes [homebuilders] sell and then being able to sell them more of what the customer is looking for,” Petersen said. “Just get them connected in the great room where people live most of the time, and entertain.”
These home automation systems allow users to control and monitor a home with a smartphone, tablet or computer. This makes life easier for homeowners. To demonstrate this fact, homebuilders can shut off the sprinkler system, set the temperature to a comfortable 68 degrees, dim the lights and put on some Mozart to welcome potential buyers. Once homebuyers arrive in the driveway, the homebuilder can get a pot of coffee brewing. When they are done with the tour, the builder can shut off all the lights and arm the security system.
- Allow homeowners to be assisted through the activation process post-close.
- Provide factory-trained installation professionals worldwide.
- Make homebuilders well positioned to provide customers with expertise.
- Provide training programs for builders and homeowners.
- Installation process should be the same as standard products.
- Provide detailed instructions.
- Offer promotional emails to customers.
- Sell through active demos.