Home Automation: a Luxury Item No Longer?
Home systems integrators agree that automation has officially evolved from a luxury item to one of necessity.
At the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) Fall Conference held recently in Chicago, I got the chance to hobnob with some of the country’s leading manufacturers and home systems integrators. I find that it’s often during casual conversations with these home tech experts that a gain the most insight about the industry. I also find that more often than not most industry people are in agreement on what’s trendy, what’s shaking things up, where we’ve been and where we’re going as an industry in concerning the development and installation of technology into residential spaces. Here are a few of the most popular topics of conversation during my two days at the conference.
• For so long home automation has suffered the stigma of being a luxury item for the home. While catering to the mainstream has for several years been a goal of both manufacturers and home systems integrators, convincing homeowners that automation is a practical, useful, and affordable amenity has been a challenging endeavor for the industry to tackle. But based on comments by HTSA members, there appears to be a shift in consumer attitudes. “The question posed by consumers is no longer, ‘is there value [in home automation],’ it’s what’s the best solution?” says Control4 president and CEO Martin Plaehn. Often, these best solutions, he says, are smaller room- or application-specific parts of a complete system. “Easily accessible entertainment systems, multiroom audio and intelligent lighting are popular entry points for consumers.” Adds Joe Barrett of Barrett’s Technology Solutions: “It’s no longer products that are compelling mainstream consumers to invest in home technology and home automation, but rather the experiences they get from technology. We see that automation has definitely moved from a luxury to a necessity.
• Home systems integrators are slowly moving out of a role of being purely problem solvers to that of being convenience enablers. “We are becoming more proactive in our approach to systems integration,” says Kris Paulson of Paulson’s Audio Video. He along with several other integrators at the conference are demonstrating improvements in project proactivity by providing customers with solid home networks and by offering valuable post-installation monitoring services. “We lead with the network,” says Barrett, “it’s always the first line item on our contract, and ensuring a home has a good network allows us to solve problems before they start.” As the number of individual devices and systems on that network continue to climb, “servicing that network becomes increasingly important,” add HTSA managing director Bob Hana. Integrators are following up by offering clients remote monitoring, maintenance and upgrades as part of their system warranties and/or as a monthly service.
• Function seems to be following form increasingly in automated homes, with integrators taking their cues from architects and interior designers in stride. Where there once was conflict between the design community and the technology provider there now appears to be greater harmony. “The home systems industry seems to be increasingly design-focused,” says Hana. Manufacturers are fostering a good union of automation style and substance by engineering products that are attractive to look at or that can be easily fused with a home’s architecture.