Years ago, there were few places you could go to buy a home automation system. There were basically two options: You could either hire a professional home systems installer to configure a system for you, or buy pieces and parts from a mail-order catalog to build your own solution.
Thankfully, there are a few more avenues today, giving consumers more choice than ever and the opportunity to fit a system exactly to your needs and budget. Here are four of the most common vendors of home automation systems, along with the pros and cons of each.
1. Retail (online, brick-and-mortar stores, and other sources)
• This is the most affordable option, and system sold retail are intended to be set up by homeowners, which means you forgo costly labor charges associated with professional installation.
• Systems sold at retail are usually modular in design, which means you can start with just a few pieces and expand your system as your needs change and your budget permits.
• You can experiment with a few simple features, learn as you go, and have fun tinkering with technology.
• Unless you are particularly tech-savvy, setting up a home automation system yourself can be more confusing and complicated than you expected.
• Most systems are wireless, which simplifies installation, but establishing a solid, reliable wireless connection can be difficult.
2. Mass Market Service Providers (Internet, telephone, cable, satellite)
• Purchasing a home automation system from a multi-service provider means you can often roll the cost of your system into your phone/cable/satellite/ISP bill. It’s a convenient way to pay for technology.
• These systems are usually wireless, which means they can be easily retrofitted into any home—old or new.
• The system is professionally installed—all you need to do is schedule a time for the installation to happen.
• If you’ve already been disappointed by the level of customer service your ISP, cable, satellite, or telephone company provides, don’t expect it to be any better once they start peddling automation.
• These systems are fairly barebones—no fancy bells and whistles.
3. Security Dealers
• From the same well-known and respected companies that have for years been selling security systems to homeowners—ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, and others—you can now buy a complete automation system.
• You get a reliable security system in addition to practical automation features, like the management and control of lighting, temperature, and security.
• Security manufacturers are continually improving and enhancing their home automation offerings.
• Professional installation and wireless architecture, which makes these systems ideal for any type of home.
• Most systems sold through security dealers focus only on security, lighting, and temperature control. Few get into the management of and control of entertainment systems, as well as other components like motorized window shades, swimming pool pumps, etc.
• Customization of the system—like a special command that sets up the home for a dinner party—probably won’t happen.
4. Custom Electronics Professionals, also called Home Systems Integrators
• CEPros have the training, skills, and knowledge to provide everything you’ve been dreaming of in an automation system … and they’ll install it seamlessly into your home.
• Systems sold by a CEPro are highly customized and tailored precisely to your needs.
• You’ll receive a high level of customer service and ongoing support.
• This is by far the most expensive way to outfit your house with technology, as systems sold by CEPros require more engineering, design, and programming than systems sold through other outlets.
• Based on the level of sophistication of the systems, it may take days, weeks, if not months for a system to be completely configured and installed.
• A good number of systems sold by CEPros are designed to be installed during the construction of a home (be sure to check).