7 Key Home Control Features

Understanding all the possibilities of home control will help you pick the best system for your home.

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From wireless touchpanels that operate lights and motorized shades to whole-house music systems, there are a wide range of control features to chose from. We break down the key features to help make selecting the correct system a breeze.

Open Architecture
With electronic systems growing increasingly complex, it’s critical that you install a home automation system that plays well with others. “An automation system that is open and works with leading products allows the user and the custom electronics (CE) professional to pick the best system for the job,” says Elan Home System’s Joe Lautner. For example, a home automation system that’s compatible with a variety of lighting products, thermostats, audio/video components and security devices gives you more freedom and versatility in using your automation system.

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Efficiency
A home automation system may be a large investment, but it can save you some money in the long run. “Consumers should definitely explore lighting, shading, and HVAC control and [energy] monitoring as part of their home control systems. The solutions can cross communicate like never before and offer you the opportunity to manage and monitor your systems,” says Jeff Singer, marketing communications director for Crestron. Home control systems can help cut your utility costs by turning devices off automatically, dimming the lights, setting back thermostats at certain times or under certain conditions, and opening and closing motorized shades to conserve on heating and cooling rooms. Some systems can even anticipate your utility costs and show where you are using the most energy.

Ease of Use
As Apple has proved with the enormous popularity of its iPad and iPods, ease of use is what good technology is all about. “The most important feature has to be the user interface, or the places where you interact with the control system,” says Craig Heim, general manager of simpleHome, a Westborough, Mass.–based custom electronics installation firm. “The touchpanel graphics must be intuitive for the entire family, not just the technically inclined.”

Mobile Control
We just love our Apple and Android-based smartphones and tablet devices. If you’re installing a new system, and there isn’t “an app for that,” keep shopping, advises Singer. “With the arrival of home control mobile applications, homeowners can travel for business or pleasure and keep an eye on their homes, loved ones and pets via their smartphone, PC, laptop or iPad,” he says.

Scalability
You never have to install everything up front. Your budget may prevent that, or you may not know what you want now or later. Look for an expandable system that can grow with your needs. “I should be able to start out small and add on as I become more comfortable with the technology,” says Control4 vice president Paul Williams.

Internet-Enabled
Increasingly, home automation systems are running on Ethernet, the same wiring that connects your computer to the Internet. That’s a good thing. When a system is IP-enabled, it becomes a portal to the outside world. Content from online entertainment websites can be streamed to the home control system, which can then distribute it to various locations in the house. When a manufacturer adds new software features to its home automation system, they can be easily downloaded and added to the system already installed your home.

Customization
No two households are alike, so should a home automation system be? You’ll pay extra for more customization, but you may want your system to meet the specific needs of your family. And your needs might be much different from your kids’ and spouse’s. For this reason, some home control systems can be personalized for each member of your family.

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