Introduction to Home Control: What is it, ideas to get started, what to choose and where to buy it?

In this article, discover how home control can add comfort, convenience and enhance your everyday lifestyle.

What is Home Control?

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Though home control is emerging as the next must-have technology for homeowners, the term itself isn’t the only term used to identify it. You may hear it referred to as home monitoring, home automation, smart home, or connected home. Home control can be used in a limited capacity in single spaces, or throughout your entire home, including outdoors. Today, there are very few limitations as to what can be controlled or monitored using this technology.

Some of the most popular examples of home control include:

  • Devices that control lights, shades, thermostats, audio, video (one or more TV’s, a dedicated home theater, etc.), pools/hot tubs, security systems and more.
  • Smartphone or tablet-based apps that let you turn your lights off and on, control temperature, or monitor the security of your home remotely.
  • Complete whole-home integration that unifies nearly every electronic subsystem in your home all controlled by dedicated touch panels in the walls and offering remote monitoring and control from smartphone and tablet devices.

Lutron devices

Dedicated Remote Controls, In-Wall Switches and Interfaces, Smartphone and Tablet Apps

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The reasons consumers want home control can vary widely. For some, it’s the peace of mind they enjoy from being able to monitor and control their home when they are away. For others, it’s the convenience of setting the right mood and enhancing the look of their home at the touch of a button.

Why Get Home Control?

What’s great about home control is that you can start integration for one reason and then expand your system to automate other electronic systems as you realize the benefits that the right control technology can offer you. The key is to understand your options up front and plan accordingly.

Consider some of these great ideas as a starting point for your home:

  • Lighting:
    Start with lighting control that can be dimmed via a wireless remote or using a smartphone or tablet-based app, or get more sophisticated with pre-determined lighting scenes that will change the light level based on the activity or conditions in the home.
  • Audio:
    Control the music you want to hear and the volume in multiple areas of your home. Even control zones of music so that you can listen to what you want, where you want; while your kids do the same in the area of the home they’re in. There are a number of control options that will let you access your entire music library easily and quickly.

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  • Video:
    Access your library of movies and video files and send them to be viewed on your preferred display, or move from one room to another and continue watching. Enjoy streaming services or DVR recordings throughout your home wherever there is a TV.
  • Window Treatments:
    Control motorized window coverings like shades, blinds and curtains a touch of a button to provide the perfect level of darkness for movie viewing. Adjust your shades automatically to reduce heat gain and protect furnishings from sunlight, all while enhancing comfort and saving energy.
  • Security:
    Go beyond giving your home that lived-in look while you are away. In addition to lighting control, you can check and lock doors remotely, monitor events or activity with cameras and sensors, and integrate your control system with a new or existing security system. Modern control technology will let you monitor, arm, disarm and control other aspects of your system while on the go.
  • Family Monitoring:
    Keep an eye on seniors, children and pets while away from home through camera monitoring and notifications that can be configured into your system to alert you under certain circumstances.
  • Temperature:
    Increase your energy savings with advanced control of temperature settings. Set your temp remotely from anywhere to get your living space to the right temperature before you arrive home or change it to improve energy efficiency when your home is vacant.
  • Pool and Spa:
    Turn on exterior landscape lighting, adjust the music and even control water temperature and jets remotely from another room, or across town.

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  • Home Exterior:
    Change the look of your home’s exterior with dramatic lighting – control flood lighting, pathway lighting, shrub and flower bed lighting automatically. You can even configure custom light settings for different times of the day, seasons or holidays. Use car visor controls to light your garage area or install sensors for additional security in secluded areas around the exterior of your home.

These are just a few examples to consider when planning your Home Control strategy. You can start small and add more rooms and systems as you go, or start big by connecting multiple systems together throughout your home – with room for even more expansion as new technologies and systems become available in the future.

Which control system is best for you?

There’s a wide variety of solutions available, from simple one-room, do-it-yourself products to professionally-installed residence wide systems. The best product for you is going to be the one that meets your specific needs today and can be expanded and changed as your needs grow.

Another key factor in your system selection is “scalability”. This term refers to how easily the system can be expanded; assuming expansion is something important to you. For example, if you begin with a DIY home monitoring system, you may find that you can’t easily integrate it into a more sophisticated system in the future. On the other hand, with a lighting control system designed to be expandable, it would be a simple matter to add temperature or shade control to the system at a later date.

People with iPad

When considering a DIY solution, it’s a good idea to consider how much time and effort you’re willing to invest. With home control, you may have the ability to do one room, but if you want something more (like linking in audio, video, lighting, security and HVAC) it will be best to call in a professional.

If you are building a new home and considering home controls from the outset, starting your planning early on in the construction phase can be a big benefit.

Whether you’re starting with one room, planning a remodel, or building a new home there are many available control solutions to fit your specific needs. Working with a professional integrator can help you establish which solution will work best for your situation.

Wired or Wireless?

Another popular option in home control is “wireless”. Many homeowners balk at the idea of having new wires run throughout an existing home, so wireless systems look appealing. Rich Black of Lutron notes that for existing homes, retrofit and remodels, wireless can be a time and money saver. Some automation systems may require running power to places where you can’t run a wire. In those cases look for products that can operate for a long time on batteries such as remote controlled lights and shades. Wireless technologies are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s home control systems, and offer a great deal of functionality. However, if you are starting your project while your home (or room) is being constructed, then wired systems will continue to be the optimal solution in the long term.

Will a Control System Affect the Style and Aesthetics of My Home?

While home control systems utilize sophisticated technologies, most people don’t want them to be the stand-out feature in a room.

Control systems require an interface—the device on which the user interacts with the control system. Think of a light switch as a basic interface for your room’s lights. With a more comprehensive control system designed to integrate several subsystems (lighting, audio, video, windows, security etc.), it’s important for the control interface(s) to be simple to use. Common interfaces include tabletop remotes, in-wall keypads, LCD touchscreens plus smartphones and tablets.

Devices

What works best for each application will depend on the number of systems being controlled and your individual preferences. The appropriate control in a given room depends on the room and the activity in that room. If you have a small powder room, then a touchscreen in that room is probably not the practical choice—its technical overkill. When you get into your bigger rooms with multiple functions going on, multiple points of light, many windows facing different directions, audio and video systems—in a room like that you need a more advanced control with a more dynamic interface, say a touchscreen or a mobile device.

Baker Kitchen

Overall, the effect on aesthetics should be minimal. Today’s systems, with their variety of available control interfaces have become increasingly discreet. In many cases, there is no effect at all since an existing device you already carry around with you like a smartphone or tablet can manage your system. In addition, wall-based panels and switches generally are available to match any décor and often do not take up any more space than and existing light switch would. It’s also common for professional home control providers to work closely with an interior designer or the project Architect to coordinate the style of your living space with any controls that may be required.

How Do You Get a Home Control System?

Because the market for home control is very broad, there are many options for buying and installing a home control system. As noted already, some simple solutions can be purchased at home improvement or electronics stores and installed by the user, while others are more suited to professional consultation and installation—it all depends on the scope of the project, your specific needs and the available budget.

How About the Solutions My Cable or Telephone Company is Offering?

A Consumer Electronics Association survey found that 67 percent of consumers want a professional installer while 18 percent said they would feel comfortable installing a system themselves.

Over the past year, tech companies like ADT, Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast have all started promoting home control and monitoring solutions. Most include monthly fees. Some of the products may require some degree of professional installation, but most are intended as DIY systems. How do they compare to fully professionally-installed systems? Those companies are very much interested in entering this space, but they don’t have any intention of doing 5,000 and 10,000 square-foot homes and integrating all those [various subsystems] together. They want to do relatively small security systems; maybe one thermostat and a door lock; maybe one or two remote viewing cameras. But if you intend on including a fully integrated system, either initially or even several years in the future, you’re going to want to engage a professional with experience in designing and installing those larger types of systems.

How Expensive Is Home Control?

Home control and automation was once thought of as something only for the wealthy few, but today there are options to fit nearly any homeowner’s budget. Some basic products, such as a wirelessly controlled dimmer and remote control, can give you a taste of home control for under $100. Smaller multi-room systems can start at $500 and go up to $5,000 depending on their capability and advanced systems for estate-size houses can reach well into 6 figures. It all depends on the size of the project, the number of systems you want to control and the level of ease of use and reliability your project requires.

The cost of a professional installation involves a number of factors. First there’s the cost of the equipment itself which may include master controllers, matrix switchers, and separate modules for specific applications (such as amplifiers for audio distribution), plus the control interfaces for each room. In addition to that, you need to factor in the costs for professional design, wiring, installation and programming labor.

Where Do You Start?

Now that you’re interested and thinking about the possibilities, where do you begin? Visiting or talking to some local home technology integrators is a great start. From a professional integrator you can learn more about the specific systems available and find out what would be involved in each option. Plus, knowing what you are up against budget-wise is a great way to establish your home control starting point.

Couple with iPad

Think about the tasks you do around your house every day—managing your lights and thermostats, enjoying music and video, keeping track of your family, entertaining indoors or out—and imagine what tasks might be made more efficient with a control system. Also think about how you would like to connect to the system—are you a smartphone or tablet junkie, or would you prefer to use an in-wall keypad or TouchPanel that’s in the same place every time you need it?

Keep in mind that having a home control system can be a little addictive. Once you get used to having it, you wonder how you lived without it. Most people who begin with basic functionality end up expanding into more rooms or more functions, and when friends and family see it in action; they will surely want it as well.

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