Jun 07, 2016 02:33PM ● Published by Dia
By Pamela Hammonds
Today’s technology allows us to manage our households as efficiently as we conduct business on our mobile devices. Smart tablets and phones can keep our homes running smoothly, even when we’re thousands of miles away. Need to turn the thermostat down while you’re on vacation? Do that on the drive to the airport. Someone at your door? Answer as though you’re at home even when you’re on the beach. So what does it take to live more intelligently? We asked area homeowners and industry professionals for their advice.
From DIY to Hiring a Pro
When Stephen Ellis sold his family home in Southlake last year, he left behind a pet project. He had designed and installed the majority of his smart home system that allowed the Ellis family to play music, control the television, adjust the lights and more with the touch of a button—or rather multiple buttons. “We had one remote for the family room, another for the media room, a separate app for music, another for lights,” Ellis says.
Even though the system worked, it didn’t function efficiently. So, when the family built their new home, Ellis planned his smart home carefully, walked the house during construction, indicated where he wanted outlets, and hired a team of experts to handle the wiring and installation of a Savant system.
While the Savant App won the Best New Product Award at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) national convention in Dallas last year, it’s one of many options for controlling a smart home.
Now the Ellis’ family home has a central media server so movies can be streamed from one central location, and all HVAC, lighting, window shades, music, and security cameras and recordings are managed through Savant. There is even an option for creating scenes—scenarios with custom settings. “I can hit a button for entertaining, and then Pandora plays music, the fireplace comes on, lights get dimmer, and shades come down,” says Ellis. “I love the fact that I can control everything from our iPad.”
Raising Your Home’s IQ
Even if your home has automated features, if they’re more than five years old, you might be surprised at what has changed. “The biggest game changer has been the ability to use a smart device and have full control of your home at your fingertips,” says Adrian Ballard, manager and system designer at Starpower in Southlake. “You can be halfway around the world and still control your security system, pool, audio/visual—anything you want to do.”
For one Southlake family, it’s those times away from home that make them most appreciate their smart home’s features. “Every time we’ve gone on vacation, we’ve had moments where we didn’t know how to do anything,” says Jarrett Cadiz, laughing. “We act like complete idiots because we have to stop and think to turn on a light when we enter a room.”
Cadiz, 23, installed his smart home system and outfitted it with motion sensors and other features that detect and remember his family’s lifestyle. And then, after deciding his home was still not ingenious enough, Cadiz designed technology to make the system more convenient, perceptive and reactive to how he and his parents live.
“I created a layer to fill in the gaps and sit on top of existing systems so they’re not just programmed—they actually react to our activities,” says Cadiz. So revolutionary was his concept that he formed a company, BeeMatic, Inc., and dubbed it an “artificial intelligence platform.”
For instance, when four o’clock rolls around, Cadiz gets a ping on his phone; his house is asking if it’s time to work out. “If I reply, ‘yes,’ the air conditioner turns down and the music turns up,” Cadiz says. He’s even programmed their Amazon Echo into the system. So if his mom is in the kitchen with messy hands, she can ask Alexa (the Echo’s voice service) to change the music without stopping to clean up to touch a button.
And since the BeeMatic layer has learned the Cadiz family’s day-to-day routine, the house recognizes when it’s time for bed (with softer lighting and armed security) and when they’re out of town (with lights that dim at various intervals). But Cadiz can still override the system when needed. “I was away from home and trying to call my dad but he wouldn’t pick up,” Cadiz says. “He’s a little hard of hearing, so I muted the TV from my phone and tried again. He answered right away!”
A Growing Industry
The global smart home market was valued at $20 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $58 billion by 2020, according to Market and Markets, a worldwide market research firm. And while the industry is growing and evolving, smart home technology is also becoming more mainstream.
Perhaps the biggest misconception, says Jeremy Beck, owner and president of Futurian Systems, is that only the über wealthy and luxury homeowners can afford a smart home. “Technology has come down in price,” Beck says, “and it’s completely scalable.”
With locations in Southlake and Vail, Colorado, Beck, a Carroll grad, says families with smart homes can use their automated systems to save money and protect their assets. “You start with a primary controller that communicates with the other systems in the home,” Beck says. “You can adjust your climate when you’re away from home, start heating the hot tub on your way home, and provide enhanced security.”
CEDIA reports that last year, home theaters and media rooms remained at the top of homeowners’ most popular projects, followed by multi-room audio and home automation and control. In 2010, the average cost of a home theater installation project was $16,400. In 2015, that average project more than doubled to $39,000.
But that doesn’t mean home automation projects are limited to the very wealthy. According to CEDIA, the median home theater price systems integrators sold was just $16,666, and the median audio installation was $11,000.
“Homeowners with a wide variety of budgets can turn to our members for help creating indoor and outdoor entertainment centers and to make their homes enjoyable, intelligent and more secure,” says Dave Pedigo, CEDIA’s senior director of Learning and Emerging Technologies. “They view these investments as not just ways to improve quality of life, but also to increase the value of their homes.”
So Where to Start?
Both Beck and Ballard advise investing in an infrastructure that can handle the increased activity your smart devices will utilize. “People often make the assumption that their consumer grade network is enough and it’s not,” Beck says. “They’re designed to handle four or five devices and that’s it.” Your basic router just isn’t up to task.
“If you have 50 devices in your home and you send a command to one, on an unmanaged network, every device is receiving that information,” says Ballard. “On a managed network, if you send a command to your lighting, it’s closed off so the security system doesn’t receive the ping, the AV doesn’t receive the ping. So the response is quicker.”
Ballard likens a managed network over an unmanaged one to driving down LBJ Freeway at 10 p.m. versus rush hour. “Traffic just isn’t an issue,” he says.
Unless you have a technologically savvy family member, like Jarrett Cadiz, who can ingeniously develop the intelligent system you’ve always dreamed of, hire a pro. CEDIA.org is a great place to find qualified, professional teams to install a smart home system. As the design installation association authority, CEDIA provides training for technicians and routinely acknowledges those companies that excel in the industry.
Ask friends with systems about their automated home designers or technicians, check BBB ratings and read online reviews. You’ll also want to look for established companies that will be around to service and upgrade your system in the future.
Then establish a budget and set priorities in case you can’t afford everything you want. “We can put the core pieces in place initially,” says Ballard, “and select an established manufacturer so we can build on the infrastructure later on.
A visit to an installer’s showroom can allow you to view products, discuss options, ask questions and weigh pros and cons. If you have your home’s blueprints—especially if it’s fairly new or, better yet, under construction—those certainly help your technician ascertain the options. At the very least, bring photos of the rooms at various angles to determine equipment placement at your first meeting, Ballad suggests.
“There’s been a push by manufacturers to encourage consumers to do their own installations,” says Beck. Wireless door locks and the Nest thermostat are two prime examples. “But an expert can design a roadmap so your system is configured correctly,” he adds.
If your home has an outdated system, it might be possible to simply upgrade components as long as they are sound, the manufacturer is still in business, and a retrofit makes more sense than starting over. “We handle every client on a case-by-case basis,” says Ballard.
Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than having to manually run your home’s equipment with multiple controllers is having an automated system that works inefficiently. “We’ve seen people try to save money by purchasing products off the web that are outdated or even used,” says Beck.
Before investing in products you install or hiring professionals to design and install a system for you, be a smart homeowner and make informed choices. Your intelligent home should work for you—so you can relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends. SS