Those touchscreens and black boxes may look impressive, but it’s what you don’t see that holds the true power of an automation system. Software is the driving force of an automation system. The more sophisticated that software is, the more the system can do. As technology changes, so must the software. Before you buy any system, be sure the manufacturer (or your installer) will be able to unlock and download software updates automatically.
5. Variety of Interfaces
There are a number of different ways you can control the electronic systems in your home: by pressing the buttons of a handheld remote or wall-mounted keypad, by touching colorful icons on a portable touchpanel or by sliding your finger across your iTouch. Depending on your family dynamic, budget and preferences, you might like to utilize a variety of different controllers (most people do, says McClellan), so make sure the automation manufacturer offers a wide selection of interfaces.
No one, except for serious early-adopters, likes to be the guinea pig, so choose an automation system with a proven track record. Same goes for the person who installs the system into your home. “Look for an installer who’s been installing the same systems for a number of years,” suggests Derek Cowburn of Distinct AV in McCordsville, Ind. You should be able to gather some historical background about manufacturers and installers from their company websites.
7. Strong Dealer Network
“You can have great equipment,” says Jeff Singer of automation system manufacturer Crestron, “but you’ll need a highly trained and certified installer in order to get your money’s worth.” Good home automation manufacturers go above and beyond to create a strong dealer network, by offering continual education and training and by supporting multiple dealers in a single geographic area. For consumers, having more than one dealer to choose from is important. When more than one dealer carries a particular product in your area, pricing is more competitive and should one dealer go out of business, there’s someone else you can call to pick up the pieces. (To protect yourself should your dealer close up shop, demand that he provide access to your project file, advises Eric Smith of home automation manufacturer Control4. You’ll have all the documentation you need should you ever need to hire someone else)
8. Commitment to Energy-Savings
One of the hottest topics in the consumer media is energy conservation. Automation systems can help save energy by turning off electronics devices automatically, and some do this better than others. Be sure to check out the energy-saving features of a system before you buy.
9. Layer of Protection
Everyone always wonders what happens to an automated house when the power goes out. Does the system forget how to operate the lights when power is restored? If an automation system has the appropriate back-up protection, you won’t have to worry about that.
10. Can-do Attitude
This goes both for the installer and the manufacturer. Automation is only beneficial and practical if it fits your lifestyle. Since everyone’s lifestyle is different, the manufacturer should provide its installers with the tools to customize the system to your specific needs. If there’s something that you want your system to do and your installer says it’s impossible, either he or the manufacturer has failed you. Keep looking.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.