In the early 2000s, connected home technology — a smart home — was a costly proposition. That’s because, in most cases, high-priced “structured wiring” linked a central server to the devices it managed and also to proprietary, hardwired keypads and control screens.
Fast-forward more than a decade. Things are simpler and more affordable, with everything from security sensors to speakers to lighting controls available in wireless models controlled by a tablet or smart phone. The price of fully connecting a home is one-tenth what it used to be.
Many homeowners aren’t taking full advantage of this new affordability. A survey of 6,500 households (published in early 2015 by technology research firm Gartner Inc.) found only a handful using this powerful technology to do more than simply stream movies.
A new home is the perfect opportunity to join that select, modern few.
Ed Webb of Koncerted, a Boston-area home electronics integrator, says that most of the homeowners he talks with are familiar with remote control of temperature and security, but they seldom know what other automation is available. Once they learn about and try it, they want more.
“My lighting control business is up 250 percent over last year, and my automated shade business is up 200 percent,” he says. That’s because the benefits are grand and the price is right. In just one example, wireless technology has cut the cost of automated shades by more than half when compared to hardwired versions.
Other affordable wireless products finding a ready market include Ring, a doorbell with a camera that displays on a cell phone; Nest, a self-programming thermostat; Hue, an LED bulb that can be dimmed or changed in color via a handheld app; and Sonos, a wireless speaker system.
One thing that stops people from wanting such devices is worry about getting them to work together. A good electronics integrator can set up an iPad app that controls the TV, the heating and cooling system, the lighting, and everything else.
When deciding between devices it’s best to focus on benefits. For some, being able to remotely control the thermostat sounds interesting. For others, being able to use a phone app to adjust the home’s heating and cooling system so it’s comfortable on arrival lights up the imagination.
One common question is whether the home still needs a wiring infrastructure. The answer is yes, but the wiring is simpler than in the past. The basic requirement is to run data and TV cable to every room for bandwidth-hungry video services such as Netflix or iTunes: streaming these services through a wire is a lot more reliable than streaming them wirelessly.
For sending data to all those new wireless devices, Webb recommends an enterprise-grade wireless router with 5 gigabytes of RAM instead of the typical 56K consumer model. Costs for the upgraded router are higher, ranging from $400 to $1,000, but it can keep up when people are streaming movies on two or more screens. Video devices like the Ring doorbell can also eat up bandwidth. For remote areas of the house, consider wireless access points rather than repeaters.
The bottom line is that with a few affordable devices and a little integration work, homeowners today can easily set up automated systems to conserve energy, manage home security, provide a world of entertainment, and generally make their home more responsive and comfortable.