How HVAC Can Sell Home Automation

How HVAC Can Sell Home Automation


Photo courtesy of Premier United Communities

One company on the front lines of marketing home technologies to homebuyers is actually known primarily as an HVAC systems installer.

Beutler Corporation started as a heating and air conditioning company in 1947, and about 12 years ago the company branched out into the low-voltage space. Beutler now offers a variety of “digital home” services such as security, energy management and home control with audio/video packages to homebuyers of volume homebuilders in the Sacramento area.

When you show them you can control it from the phone, they say, ‘Oh sweet!’

 

About 90 percent of Beutler’s low-voltage business is with 15 to 20 homebuilders in the Sacramento, Calif., area, says Jeff Davies, general manager for Beutler’s Low Voltage Division.

 

Photo courtesy of Beutler.Photo courtesy of Beutler Corp.

The company presently installs structured wiring for about a hundred homes a month and has equipped several homebuilders’ models with systems representing different levels of home technologies. Beutler offers three levels of home controls, from wireless Nexia Home Intelligence systems offered through Meritage and Lennar homes to Interlogix and Alarm.com systems for the more security minded, to BitWise Controls home automation with home entertainment packages for higher-end homes.

The Nexia starter package features a wireless Z-Wave-controllable thermostat and lighting modules that can be operated via smartphones and web-based computers and tablets, and homebuyers can add electronic locks, cameras and other devices to that system. The Nexia system also works with a circuit-level energy monitoring eMonitor from Powerhouse Dynamics.

The GE Interlogix starter package offers remote access for the security panel and an enhanced package with home automation in conjunction Alarm.com.

For its home automation packages, Beutler uses BitWise Controls, which makes affordable home controllers that connect to a variety of home systems and provide easy-to-use interfaces on iPads, smartphones and the like. BitWise can also mimic some interfaces, such as Aprilaire thermostats, so homebuyers don’t have to learn a new way to control something they already know how to control.

For a minimum cost, one can get a basic home automation system and energy management through thermostats, and that paves the way for lights and other things.

“The customer has a lot of flexibility to program what they want into [a BitWise controller],” says Davies. A BitWise controller can even be installed into the structured wiring panel, he says. Beutler also uses Yamaha receivers for multiroom audio systems in its home automation packages to stream music through the house, and Davies says the Yamaha receivers integrate well with BitWise.

 

Photo courtesy of Premier.Photo courtesy of Premier.

The company has met with some success by equipping a model in homebuilder Premier United Community’s upscale Alexandra community, which also serves the nearby Serramonte community, and has sold three to four complete systems out of 10 homes, according to Matt McKenzie, director of construction at Premier United. The model features an in-wall iPad charging port so the iPad can be taken off the wall and guests shown how to turn the TV up or down and activate digital door locks remotely, for example. In addition, several security cameras can be monitored and switched on screen.

“A lot of people want to control their home but don’t know how to control their home,” says Beutler Corp.’s sales and service supervisor Brian Sheley. “When you show them you can control it from the phone, they say, ‘Oh sweet!’”

 

 

Driving Home Automation

Like many integration and technology companies marketing and selling home tech to new homebuyers, Beutler faces some hurdles. In total, only about 5 to 10 percent of homebuyers in the communities it serves purchase some level of home automation.

“Our challenge now is how do we drive that, and get the builder more comfortable and provide that as a standard,” says Davies.

Beutler has equipped several home models for builders such as Tim Lewis Communities’, which is building a new Vista Ridge development of $500,000-plus homes, where BitWise and Lutron lighting systems will be used, as well as BitWise systems in four different models for control over the alarm and lights, home theater and audio.

Home automation in the models also helps the homebuilder by automatically shutting off lights and other systems at night, which saves money, and allowing sales agents to turn everything on with one press of the button when they enter.

“People like it when they walk into the models, and the sales agents like it to control the house from one location,” says Sheley.

Sometimes, though, that’s as far as a sales agent will take the technology. “In some cases you’re against countertops or carpeting, and you’re leaving the selling to someone you have no control over,” says Davies. “I think we have to be more connected to the end user and homeowner.”

Beutler is considering doing more training and support with builders.

“We’re creating a presentation and fine-tuning it—just keeping it simple and showing them some things these home automation systems can do, and creating a better product for builders,” says Davies.

Beutler is also creating more collateral materials to help builders educate homeowners, and is trying to automate that as much as possible. Davies says Beutler is considering an interactive disc that guides users through the security panel and provides instructional videos.

 

Thermostat to Home Control

Davies says Beutler is also restructuring its direction, which is driving the company to new dimensions. The demand and desire for energy efficiency in California is also driving the company’s direction.

“We’re integrating the low-voltage division with the HVAC division to get basic energy management through thermostats and to make it standard,” says Davies.

Beutler can offer remote connectivity through a Nexia thermostat, for example, and at least offer a remote-controlled thermostat as standard, then allow buyers to enhance that with automated lights and electronic door locks.

 

Photo courtesy of Beutler.Photo courtesy of Beutler.

“As soon as a customer comes in, they have the foundation for home automation,” says Davies. “For a minimum cost, one can get a basic home automation system and energy management through thermostats, and that paves the way for lights and other things,” he says. “We’re seeing more builders asking the question on standards,” Davies says. “Here in the Sacramento Valley we’re seeing builders moving toward interactive thermostats and making those standard.”

“Builders are being driven to produce the highest level of energy efficiency they can. They’re being more green and far more energy-efficient,” he explains. “This gives homeowners more control to manage the systems in their houses, integrate systems and in some instances track their electricity use.”

Sheley concludes with the basic message to both homebuilders and homebuyers: “The home has the capability of becoming very connected and automated. It’s just a matter of putting it in there.”

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