Inside Vivint’s Automated ‘Zero Home’ with High-speed Wi-Fi
Vivint is offering 50 Mbps upstream/downstream wireless for $55/month in addition to security, home automation, solar power; Utah zero-energy home showcases the goods.
Vivint provides solar power, security, home automation and wireless broadband at Garbett Homes zero-energy house in Utah.
August 20, 2013 by Julie Jacobson

Vivint is best known for peddling security and home automation door-to-door, especially during the summer when it sells roughly 200,000 systems each year. Now the Salt Lake City company is selling solar power and wireless broadband, and hinting that TV service may not be far behind.

Look out Comcast/Xfinity and the energy utilities?

Vivint started selling solar services in 2011 and says it is now the No. 2 provider with “thousands” of installations, even though it only does business in six states. As with Vivint’s security and home automation offerings, solar power is sold the old-fashioned way: door to door.

Now the new Vivint Wireless division is going door-to-door with super-high-speed wireless broadband - 50 Mbps upstream and downstream for $55/month. The company is still in the trial phase with about 300 customers but it aspires to millions.

“We want to be the supplier for everything that has recurring engagement,” says Tim Lott, director of energy for Vivint.

The Net-Zero Home

All of the Vivint “recurring engagement” services are on display at the brand new “Zero Home” in Salt Lake City, which I had the opportunity to tour earlier this month.

Built by Garbett Homes, the house is billed as the “first affordable, climate 5 net-zero ‘smart home’ to achieve a HERS 0 rating.”

“Affordable” means about $150 per square foot, according to Garbett marketing director Rene Oehlerking.

Climate 5 refers to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) climate zone map that corresponds to the SLC area’s cold, dry climate. The HERS Index is the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency - the lower the rating, the more self-sufficient the home. So a zero rating is really really efficient.

Related: Energy Savings From the Inside Out

Vivint installed the photovoltaic system at the house and will sell the power as soon as Utah lets it.

Here’s how it works: Vivint leases the solar panels to consumers for 20 years.

The homeowners pay nothing up front. Instead, they pay Vivint for the solar energy they consume each month at a cost of roughly 20 percent less than the local utility charges.

Vivint keeps all the incentive funds provided by utilities and government programs (often in the five-figure range) and also pockets any cash for reselling excess energy to the utility.

Here’s the rub: This arrangement is only legal in states that allow power purchase agreements (PPAs). Utah isn’t one of them … yet. So for now, Garbett Homes is simply including the solar panels in the price of the house.

That price, by the way, includes almost everything you see in the zero-energy model home sans furniture and electric car – the photovoltaic system, car charging station, high-efficiency energy recovery ventilator (ERV) that combines a heat exchanger with a ventilation system, current transformer (CT) clamp for monitoring energy usage, all the best window materials and insulation, plus luxurious design elements including appliances, high-end countertops and uber-stylish custom doors made by Masonite exclusively for Garbett Homes (lots of pics in the accompanying slideshow).

“Everything you see here is included,” says Garbett’s Oehlerking.

That includes, of course, the security and automation system.

Home Automation & Security

The energy-efficient features of the Zero Home are multiplied with the home automation system installed by Vivint. The system is from 2Gig with some features exclusive to Vivint and special sauce developed through Vivint’s own Innovation Lab.

Here’s what Vivint gets that other 2Gig dealers do not: a sleek new touchscreen with built-in camera, a hard drive for local DVR, a new user interface and some exclusive energy monitoring and management software (many of these features were demonstrated by 2Gig last April at ISC but Vivint gets them first.)

Related: High-tech Green Homes Use iPads, Energy Monitors

I’ve always thought energy dashboards showing graphs and pie charts of a household’s energy usage were silly, but Vivint’s VP of innovation Jeremy Warren says the trick is to provide “actionable headlines” based on the data, which Vivint does.

With Vivint’s “energy analytics,” the system might suggest, for example, “You’re using 20 percent more energy than your neighbors. Do you want to adjust the thermostat?”

The automation system also provides data from the photovoltaics, letting users know how much solar power they’re generating, consuming and potentially selling back to the utility.

As for the other automation features, Garbett installs as standard automated door locks, security sensors, Z-Wave thermostats, plug-in Z-Wave modules (not switches) and cameras.

The cameras can be set to record all activity all the time and the system can store a month’s worth of videos for up to four cameras (i.e., 120 camera days). The camera built into the touchscreen, then, would record who is logging into the system – your daughter’s boyfriend, perhaps?

Interactivity currently is provided through Vivint’s longtime partner in cloud-based security and home automation,; however, Vivint is developing its own cloud-based platform in-house and eventually plans to migrate some of its 700,000-plus accounts to that platform.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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