By Maura Keller
Imagine living in a house where your drapes draw themselves at sunset and open at sunrise, and your home’s heating and lighting adjust automatically based on your daily activities. Or better yet, on a blustery, snowy day, imagine using an app on your mobile phone to tell your house to turn up the thermostat four degrees and turn on the driveway defroster.
What kind of house would this be? A smart one and one that would make George Jetson proud.
High-tech “smart” homes are the wave of the future and manufacturers are stretching technology to make refinements in products we already use—and inventing new things for our homes that we never knew we needed until now.
“There are multitudes of reasons to include smart home technology in one’s home,” says Jeremy Udovich, director for HiQo Solutions in Madison. The most relevant are cost savings, safety and security. The luxuries are more along the lines of home automation such as being able to control your lights or garage door with a smartphone app.
According to Jason DeNoble with Hart DeNoble Builders in Middleton, homeowners can buy thermostats, such as products from Ecobee, Nest and Honeywell that allow you to control heating and cooling only, or other products, like Lutron, that offer complete house lighting control. These wall-mounted computer systems know what day it is, how bright a homeowner likes their lights and how loud they like their music. Want a little Mozart with your manicotti? Simply push a button on your dining room’s computer panel and the classic melodies will begin. What’s more, the music will follow you as you move from room to room.
In the HVAC area, Nest would be the most recognizable product in this category.
“Essentially it turns your phone into a remote control for your thermostat, which is great, but the real value is the machine learning algorithm that starts to learn your usage patterns and preferences so that it runs when you need it to and rests when you don’t,” Udovich says. “The obvious objective here is to save energy and this turns into cost savings for the homeowner.”
From a home security perspective, the majority of smart home technology is centered around wireless camera systems that can sync up to a mobile app on your phone so you can keep an eye on your space.
“The automation industry is experiencing a boom [and] a tremendous amount of growth in the home industry,” says Scott Lowell, owner of Lowell Management Services, a custom builder in Lake Geneva. “There are a tremendous number of options out there for today’s homeowner.”
Lowell sees the primary areas of smart home automation revolving around heating control and security systems. “There are an amazing number of things you can do to automate your home,” he says. “I often counsel my clients to consider some basic automation, but then to add modules or infrastructure that will allow for future automation as needed as technology changes.”
“One that is interesting to me personally is a company called Ring,” Udovich says. “This is a connected doorbell with camera that detects motion and allows you to see a person at your door and speak with them from your mobile device.”
Today’s customers like to be able to control different parts of their home without actually having to be in the room they want to control. For example, you can be in your living room and arm the security for your outbuildings, set the temperature in the upstairs master bedroom, indicate your evening lighting or turn your home theater off because the kids left it on. Your garage, if left open, would automatically close in the evening if forgotten, or open when you drive up to it.
“Whether you are a working parent and you want to be able to log in remotely and see the kids and nanny, a busy business professional who travels often, or own multiple homes, you can now control your home whenever, wherever you want,” says Barry Daoust, CEO of Smarthomes.us. “You can bring the shades up with the sunrise and down with the sunset, send text or email alerts whenever someone walks through the front door, and control all of your entertainment preferences—by room, by season, by mood.”
Trends are moving quickly to enable control of different items in your home via smartphone or tablet. The increasing improvement of Internet connectivity and the growing number of smartphone applications is helping to make this a reality.
As Sanjay Patel, CEO of TiO, a home automation company explains, most major security, telecom, and Internet service providers offer remote home monitoring services due to the rise in number of both partners working and the increased risk of burglary, trespassing or other criminal activity to the home.
“Lighting automation solutions will see a very healthy growth through 2020,” Patel says. “Residential lighting accounts for about 10 percent of household bills, so the need to leverage lighting automation will provide a savings opportunity for consumers. As lighting solutions become more integrated into home automation solutions, we will see an increased usage by homeowners.”
HVAC automation also is expected to grow approximately 17 to 18 percent since this segment will grow at the pace of new HVAC installs.
“Since HVAC systems account for 45 percent of the homeowner’s energy bills, there will be an increased demand for controlling them smartly to reduce the cost,” Patel says.
Even garage door opener manufacturers are starting to develop their own solutions for controlling their garage doors from a mobile app. There are some solutions leveraging geo-fencing to open the garage door automatically when you pull into your driveway. Several major garage door opener companies also offer apps to allow consumers to open and close the garage door from a smartphone.
While corresponding apps are proprietary to the company used for home automation, they offer a streamlined approach to smart home design.
“You have to use their apps that are designed to work with their product,” DeNoble says. “But these products are great for simple functions on a budget under $1,000.”
If your budget allows, you can also consider whole home automation. As DeNoble explains, many companies make products that include their own apps. A favorite and the most common is Control4, which allows homeowners to dim the lights, stream high-resolution music, turn up the heat, lock the doors and arm the security system.
“This system will allow you to do as little or as much as you want,” DeNoble says. “Your phone can control the TVs, HVAC, garage doors, lighting and security cameras from anywhere in the world.”
A homeowner should work with a builder, or an AV integrator if the home is already built, to determine the best solution for them. “Most builders today are offering a home automation solution, generally a starter package, to help consumers experience home automation,” Patel says.
“The technology has become very user friendly,” DeNoble says. “Ten years ago when things were newer, the system would go out and then a tech would have to come out before you could change the temperature in your house or get the home theater on.”
That said, Udovich says it’s important to remember that there are really no standards that allow all of these products—for inside and outside the home—to work seamlessly through one app. So if you want to connect your lights, security system, television, HVAC and sprinkler system, you will need a separate phone app to control each system. “The technology is in its infancy and this is too clunky for mass adoption,” Udovich says. “But someone will create a more standardized platform that will allow a majority of these devices to work with one mobile app or one hub in the home. Then we will see much greater adoption by home builders and, in the end, consumers.”
Patel stresses that there will be tremendous growth in leveraging digital technology in people’s homes. “With more robust solutions and more economical pricing, this will provide more homeowners the opportunity to own a smart home to simplify their lives,” Patel says.
With the latest technology and the smartphone capabilities available today, it is becoming affordable to the masses.
“The control features for certain areas, such as heating and security, is completely affordable,” Lowell says. “It is going to become standard in many of today’s homes.”
“It is security, peace of mind, entertainment, cost savings [and] home management all in one. It is a way of life,” Daoust says. “The same reason you have power windows, door locks, navigation, dual climate control, ABS brakes, power steering, Bluetooth, satellite streaming music [and] heated seats in our cars. Things all of us do every day can be made easier with technology whether [it’s] in your home or car. Home automation has arrived.”
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