Inside Vivint’s Automated ‘Zero Home’ with High-speed Wi-Fi

Vivint provides solar power, security, home automation and wireless broadband at Garbett Homes zero-energy house in Utah.

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.


Aug. 20, 2013 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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, Alarm.com; 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.

Vivint’s Innovation Lab and Broadband Aspirations

Vivint is not content to sell just security, home automation and energy. It wants to rival the big boys in high-speed Internet as well.

Today, Vivint has about 300 customers for a new wireless broadband service it is testing in Utah. Vivint’s service delivers roughly 50 Mbps upstream and downstream, but even higher speeds are supported - Vivint likes the extra capacity to give customers the highest speeds even at peak times.

On the day I visited the Zero Home, I watched 4K Ultra HD video being streamed from YouTube at 55 Mbps while the upstream speed was clocking 44 Mbps. Granted, it was playing on one of those cheap Seiki 4K displays, but still …

Vivint is charging a mere $55/month for the service ($60 without a two-year contract).

“You could pay Comcast $100 for the same download speeds but you won’t get fast uploads,” says Warren, the innovation director.

To deploy the service, Vivint taps into the closest broadband pipe and sends signals via microwave to a receiver erected in the neighborhood. The receiver, which looks something like a big satellite dish, then relays the signals to small boxes perched on select homes in the area, which ultimately transmit 5 GHz Wi-Fi signals to neighboring homes.

Those who volunteer to host one of the discreet Wi-Fi hubs get a discount on their broadband service. Each hub can serve about five to seven homes.

Related: Builders Seek Green in Building Green

Fueling the system is Smartrove, a provider of wireless mesh networking technology recently acquired by Vivint. The algorithms developed by Smartrove optimize quality of service for broadband delivery, explaining the gorgeous 4K streaming video at the Zero Home.

Here’s how Smartrove describes its solutions:

Smartrove implements a self-healing mesh network, with a unique degree of control over individual streams to meet traffic SLAs [service level agreements]. Using low profile phased array antenna technology coupled with MIMO, peer nodes dynamically discover optimal routed paths. Using 4X4 spatial diversity, and digital beamforming, the mesh architecture delivers higher throughput and range extension than conventional radio.

Smartrove brings together technologies to enable city wide Wi-Fi cloud deployment and has various products to meet specific needs in outdoor carrier grade networks for verticals like law enforcement, public services and 3G/4G offload.

Just as with security, home automation and now solar, Vivint is selling broadband door-to-door.

Will Vivint Be the Next Apple? Comcast?

Vivint believes it can provide all of these valuable services and more “in such a way as to become a household brand, like Apple,” says director of energy Lott. “We create experiences that make life easier.”

The sentiment is echoed by Luke Langford, Vivint director of strategy and COO of Vivint Wireless, who says Vivint “has a good brand now” but the company expects to rival the likes of Comcast in the not-too-distant future. He intimates that door-to-door sales tactics will continue, but Vivint would like more customers to come to them, rather than the other way around. As such, the company plans to invest heavily in enticing more inbound customers.

Much of this planning takes place at Vivint’s new Innovation Lab, a skunkworks organization of big dreamers, currently numbering about 100 product designers, user experience experts, marketers, researchers, operations guys and other thinkers and doers.

With business and family ties to 2Gig, Vivint in the past has relied largely on that manufacturer—now part of Nortek’s Carlasbad, Calif.-based Linear group—to chart its technological path. Via the Innovation Lab, Vivint will be taking more control of its future, while still partnering with 2Gig, which maintains a sizable staff in Salt Lake City to work exclusively with Vivint.

Related: Mass Market Home Control, Again

At the Lab, I saw scribblings all over ubiquitous white boards and glass windows that will some day become the next Vivint thermostat or iPad interface.

So what’s next? I asked Langford when Vivint might make a quintuple-play and add TV service to security, home automation, power and broadband.

“Hopefully soon,” he says, noting that it would make sense to partner with an existing provider rather than go it alone.

Vivint definitely fancies itself as the next Comcast/Xfinity, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, AT&T or other multi-service providers. But while the other guys offer Internet, TV, security and automation, none of them does energy and certainly none of them has thousands of well-trained salespeople knocking on doors and providing a treasure trove of feedback to the higher-ups.

PRESS RELEASE: Zero Home FAQ with Garbett Homes/Vivint

What is Garbett Homes?
Garbett Homes has been building, marketing, and selling award-winning communities for over 30 years. Garbett Homes strives to offer the most up-to-date technology and innovative designs to make homes both comfortable and functional. The company is committed to green building practices and constantly looks for new ways to improve in every aspect of energy efficiency, sustainability, and environmental responsibility. Garbett Homes has built over 2,500 homes and apartments in more than 30 communities in the United States and Mexico. See www.garbetthomes.com.

Why are Vivint and Garbett Homes teaming up?
This partnership is aiming to create the first affordable net-zero climate 5 smart home in the United States. This self-sufficient, solar-powered home will be located in Herriman, Utah, and will generate as much power as it consumes, marking the next chapter in a history of building innovative homes. Although many states fall under Climate Zone 5, this collaboration between Garbett Homes and Vivint is the first project to ever realize net zero in this climate division. While net-zero climate 5 projects have been attempted in the past, the Zero Home is the first smart home design that is highly replicable, affordable, and scalable.

What is Climate Zone 5?
Entire Climate Zone 5 states include Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, and Rhode Island. Portions of various states also fall under this zone, including counties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington. The IECC climate zone map divides counties in the United States into eight temperature-oriented climate zones to specify the minimum level of energy efficiency; generally, the higher the climate zone number, the more insulation is required.

What does “net zero” actually mean?
Net-zero homes are designed to minimize energy use through energy efficiency and meet remaining energy needs with installed renewable energy systems; this target has been difficult to achieve in the Salt Lake area’s cold, dry climate, which according to the U.S. Department of Energy Building America Program corresponds to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) climate zone 5. Garbett Homes will seek to achieve a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rating of zero with the home, which is means the home is completely self-sufficient. Administered by the Residential Energy Services Network, the HERS Index is the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency.

How will the home reach net zero energy?
By implementing a solar energy system with Vivint Solar panels. The home will also be equipped with a Vivint home automation system that incorporates the latest proprietary technology from the Vivint Innovation Center, including a new touchscreen panel that features energy analytics and Vivint Wireless Internet. Some of the technology features highlighted in the home will not be immediately available to the public, but will showcase the foundation for future net-zero communities built through the Vivint and Garbett Homes partnership.

What are some other features of the home?
Starting at $350,000, net-zero homes are an affordable way for the average consumer to choose an energy-efficient lifestyle. Based on the price per square foot, the Zero Home is in line with other homes in the neighborhood. This single-family home that will feature five bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms and a four-car garage. To allow homeowners to enjoy purified air inside the air-tight home, the house will feature a HEPA air filtration system - the same filtration used in surgical operating rooms. The home also includes Garbett Homes’ energy-saving features, including spray foam and blown-in insulation, low-E windows, compact fluorescent lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, solar water heating, dual-flush toilets, and low-flow faucets.

What technology is Vivint providing?
Vivint will add to the consumer experience by installing a new prototype of its real-time energy analytics technology, which will decrease the energy expenditure for homeowners by allowing them to monitor and adjust their home’s energy usage. The Vivint Solar energy system is also crucial to obtaining a HERS zero rating. The energy it produces reduces the rating on the home from approximately a 28 to a 5. The home will also contain all of Vivint home automation features.

HOME SECURITY
The Zero Home features a wireless residential security system from Vivint. The system includes an LCD touchscreen panel, a variety of sensors and detectors to protect the home’s entry points, and 24x7x365 monitoring. Thanks to Vivint’s remote access capabilities, homeowners can arm and disarm their system right from their smartphones.

HOME AUTOMATION
Vivint technology will connect all the technologies in the Zero Home: lights, locks, energy management, HVAC, and more. All systems are monitored 24x7x365 by professionals and can be managed from anywhere via a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

REMOTE ACCESS
Every home automation and security product in the Zero Home can be controlled with Vivint’s mobile app. Good for any iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry device, this app can be used to arm the home’s security system, adjust the temperature, control the lights, and much more.

SOLAR ENERGY
The Vivint Solar energy system decreases the Zero Home’s HERS rating from approximately a 28 to a 5. On average, these arrays save homeowners 20% on their energy bills with a minimum amount of materials and reduced waste. The array also uses the newest microinverter technology to provide maximum production for the home—even in less than optimal weather conditions.

WIRELESS INTERNET
Vivint Wireless Internet uses the newest technology to give users 50 Mbps (upload and download speeds) and eliminate the 7 p.m. Netflix slowdown. For half the cost of cable and a much better customer experience, the Zero Home will feature internet that’s 100% reliable and four times faster than other high-speed providers—even at peak hours.



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