Ideas for Smart Rooms on a Small Budget
You can make a big impact in your favorite space with these cost-effective solutions.
A single-room solution can incorporate some home control, but without the cost of a full-blown system. Credit: Paul Robinette
December 24, 2012 by Lisa Montgomery

Money is tight, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams of having a home control system. Just scale down your plans a bit. Instead of spending a fortune to trick out the entire house, you can economize by focusing on a single room.

It’s a trend that’s really taking off, says Keith W. Harrison, owner of Total Home Technologies in Caldwell, N.J. “Not too many people are coming to us these days asking us to wire their whole house,” he says “but they do want us to hang a TV on the wall.”

Manufacturers recognize the shift in consumers’ spending habits, and offer systems intended for installation in one room. “For the cost of a decent vacation, you can put in a system that makes a really big impact in one room,” says Eric Smith of Control4, a company that offers a variety of home control solutions.

The most obvious room to focus on is the family room. The space probably already has a decent TV and possibly a surround-sound system. By adding a few extra pieces to this setup, you can create some real magic where the lights, window shades and even the thermostats are synchronized to the audio and video system.

But first things first: You’ll need a good remote. For less than $100 you can pick up a universal remote that can do the job of several clickers. Many universal remotes can be programmed by homeowners, so the labor is free. However, if you’d like your clicker to control more than A/V equipment, you’ll need something more sophisticated.

By adding a home control processor to your A/V cabinet, you’ll be able to use your remote to command the lights, thermostats and motorized window shades. RTI and Universal Remote Control both offer a variety of processors ideally suited for single rooms. Sony’s new ES receivers with Control4 were specifically designed for this purpose. Lutron offers several systems to add easy lighting and shade control to a room for little cost.

One-room Control Systems
Adding on to a universal remote is one way to grow into greater home control; trimming down a whole-house system to fit the scope of a single room is another.

Manufacturers like Control4, HAI (Home Automation Inc.) and Lutron offer entry-level systems designed specifically for individual spaces. For example, Control4’s HC250 (starting at around $499) comes with a remote that lets you navigate a menu of options presented on the screen of the family room TV. As is the case with RTI’s and Universal Remote Control’s solutions, you’ll need to replace the room’s existing light switches and thermostat with new smart models. Expect to spend between $100 and $200 for each item involved. 

Lutron and HAI, meanwhile, have packaged all the necessary equipment together. Lutron’s RadioRA-SR package, for example, includes three dimmer switches and a controller that lets you use a remote control or touchpanel to operate the lights, as well as Lutron’s own line of Sivoia QS window shades. HAI’s Home Theater Lighting Kit comes with a programmable keypad that mounts to the wall, two dimmer switches and two plug-in modules for table lamps.

Both the RadioRA-SR and Home Theater Lighting Kit can be programmed by a professional home systems installer to enact a variety of scenes whenever a particular button on a keypad or remote control is pressed.

“Now that PLAY button not only starts up the A/V equipment, but dims the lights and closes the shades,” says Jeremy Kleinberg, RadioRA product manager at Lutron. “You can create some real magic in the room.”

You don’t have to stop at the family room, either. Most single-room systems can be expanded into other areas of the house. You can integrate additional lights and shades, or even tie in your home’s existing security system whenever you’re ready to spend the money.

More ideas here: Starting with One Room


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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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