NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT, a professionally installed home automation system rarely comes cheaply. But that’s all about to change, thanks to new scaled down systems introduced by companies including Savant, Elan, Clare Controls, and Crestron. And if they’re not paring down the capabilities of their systems to the basics, they’ve refined their programming software to make it faster for integrators to get automation systems up and running. All of this results in technology that’s priced attractively for mainstream consumers. But don’t worry: These entry-level systems offer plenty of practical features that’ll add greater convenience, comfort, and value to your home; plus, they can be easily expanded to incorporate additional functionality.
Here are some of the forerunners offering solid, reliable, automation systems that can be professionally installed for less than $2,000.
When Savant hit the automation scene nearly a decade ago with its sophisticated Apple-based home automation system, the company catered exclusively to the owners of mansions. The system was robust and intuitive, and way out of the reach of the vast majority of homeowners. But times have changed, and software that used to require a powerful piece of processing hardware to run it can now be handled by more affordable processors. “This has afforded us the opportunity to take our software that’s proven to work well in big homes and put it in a piece of hardware that’s much less expensive,” says Savant director of product marketing Tim McInerney. The result is a system that starts at around $1,599 (plus installation labor). The new Smart Series System maxes out at about 12 rooms of control, which is usually plenty for most consumers, McInerney states. With support for more than 5,000 different devices, including a variety of thermostats, A/V equipment, security devices, lighting controls, and more, it’s a system that can be expanded over time—and with more efficiency than before, thanks to the system’s ability to communicate wirelessly with devices, and a new app, Single App Home, that enables homeowners to set up some of their own automation routines (read more about app-based programming tools below).
Embraced by production homebuilders, the CLIQ.express from Clare Controls costs about 70 percent less than the company’s flagship host product (Clare requested no MSRPs be published). The CLIQ.express puts Clare in the unique position of catering to both the luxury and production home markets. As the most stripped-down product in its lineup, the CLIQ.express is able to handle the automation needs of smaller homes where, for instance, owners may need to control only a couple of thermostats and 10 circuits of lights (among a few other things). By comparison, Clare’s full-featured system offers unlimited control over an unlimited number of devices. Missing, too, from the CLIQ.express, are ports for the control of A/V equipment. Like many other manufacturers who’ve morphed their big, upscale systems into modest starter automation packages, Clare’s entry-level systems (which also includes CLIQ.lite) can be upgraded and expanded by home systems integrators by “unlocking”—at an additional charge—the system’s internal software restrictions.
Also reaching into the mass market is Elan, a company known for its robust professionally installed g! home automation system. With its new g1 system, the company plants itself firmly as a provider of automation that “average” homeowners can afford. Priced at $799 MSRP, the g1 remarkably still boasts an impressive roster of features, and it still requires installation by a professional home systems integrator. The g1 can operate up to 16 zones of security; two electronic door locks; up to 32 displays; as many as 24 lighting devices; three thermostats; three surveillance cameras; and an irrigation system. It also comes with a handheld remote that can be used to access and navigate an on-screen display of the g1 user interface. Like Clare, Elan is targeting production builders and owners of smaller homes with this scaled down offering.
Savant, Clare, Elan, and others are following a path initially blazed several years ago by Control4. This company’s HC-250 controller ($750 MSRP) is designed for control of devices within a single room, and has been one of Control4’s best sellers. To cut costs even further, Control4 has launched a configuration tool that promises to dramatically simplify and accelerate the set-up process of its line of home automation systems. With the Composer Express app, a home systems integrator can set up a system—even a very complex one—in just a few hours by using a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet or smartphone. In the past, the process may have taken an integrator several days to complete, so with this new app consumers should realize a reduction in labor charges.
The real muscle behind Composer Express is its embedded Simple Device Discovery Protocol (SDDP), which enables the programming app to automatically discover all SDDP-enabled devices in a home and allows an installer to integrate them into the Control4 platform with just a touch of a button. Savant, Clare, Crestron, and Elan also offer streamlined programming tools, a sign that the home automation industry is committed to providing consumers with more affordable solutions on both the hardware and software side of an installation.
Another trend contributing to smaller automation price tags is the continued proliferation of app-based interfaces—specifically, new tools that give homeowners the ability to easily create their own automation routines for their electronic devices. In the past, this has been a task only to be handled by a home systems integrator but, thanks to an industry-wide shift in thinking, manufacturers are now putting at least some of programming power into the hands of consumers. Even if a homeowner feels more comfortable having a systems integrator set up the majority of the system initially (usually recommended), these new programming tools can significantly reduce the pro’s installation time. And the quicker a system can be installed, the less money homeowners will be charged for labor.
One of the most impressive examples of an app that facilitates configuration of a home automation system by a consumer is the Crestron Pyng. This app proves that just because the components of a home automation system may be sophisticated, the interface used to set up, monitor, and manage it can be extremely simple. The Pyng app and companion hub pairs with Crestron’s reputable line of accessories, including wireless lighting controls, security systems, motorized shading, thermostats, and electronic door locks. By contrast, many other home control apps concentrate on one type of component and only offer limited functionality. “With Pyng, you’re not adding an app to an automation system; the app IS your automation system,” says Crestron technology manager, Evan Ackmann. Initial configuration involves a five-step process that should take a home systems integrator only a few minutes to complete.
After initial setup of the Pyng by a home systems integrator, a homeowner is free to modify the settings and create new scenes by themselves, directly from the Pyng app. For example, if a user decides to add lights or adjust their intensity levels for a Good Night scene, the Pyng app guides them through the process. Adding new iPhones and iPads to the system is easy, too, and eliminates the need for homeowners to pay a home systems integrator to make simple system modifications. And, all settings are stored in the Cloud, so in the event of mistakes, the initial configuration of the system can be restored.
Building off the success of its Clare Controls App, Clare Controls has added new administration features and capabilities to the app, giving consumers even greater control over their home automation experience. The new app, called MyClareHome, invites users to create schedules for lights, window shades, thermostats, security devices, and A/V equipment. They can modify these routines at any time and add new products to them.The ability synch new mobile devices to the system, such as a houseguest’s iPhone is also helpful through the MyClareHome app. After the guest, leaves his device can be removed. “Homeowners want luxury performance with some DIY features, like the ability to make simple system changes without a service call,” says Clare Controls’ vice president of marketing, Brigitte McCarthy.
Another company branching out by offering a do-it-yourself based system is Lutron Electronics. A few months ago, the company launched its DIY-installable Caseta Wireless lighting system; it now follows up with technology to enable users to program the operation of Caseta dimmers, as well as its Serena battery-operated motorized shades, Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats, and GE LED light bulbs. Lutron’s new Smart Bridge product and its companion mobile app, which can be installed and set up in less than 30 minutes by a homeowner, provides on-the-spot control of the aforementioned devices from any iOS- or Android-based smartphone or tablet. A user can also automate the operation of the devices by using the app to program scenes and schedules. The price of both the Caseta system and the Smart Bridge are DIY-friendly, too, at $80 and $150, respectively.
Add these attractively priced, professionally installed automation systems to the scads of DIY systems currently on the market, and consumers can find a system to fit into even the tightest of budgets. And when you’re ready incorporate new features, the systems can be expanded quickly and easily—and without breaking the bank. EH