Six Tips To Consider Before You Invest In a Home Automation System Today
Home automation, mainly using Crestron, has been at the core of my audio-video system in my last three houses. While not the most fruitful of advertising category (when comparing to audiophile and home theater) home automation has always been a somewhat expensive, bleeding-edge collection of technologies that, when done right, can result in fantastic results – aka a smart home. I’ve always been a fan of the concept.
Let’s be clear in that the road to a high level of home automation excellence is fraught with serious and real-world challenges. I recently spoke with a young friend of mine (27 years old) who had just gotten engaged. I asked him if he wanted my wife and my best advice about weddings and he enthusiastically said yes. I advised him that weddings are a) not always a celebration of you and-or your wife on your special day as much as a merger of 2-3-4 or more families that might not always blend well b) if you are “paying for the wedding” that you could save three to four times the money (and have more fun) just throwing a “party” c) if you calculate the cost per-hour of your wedding you might barf and d) register with a travel agent and go anywhere and everywhere you want even if you throw a “party” instead of a wedding. He lit up with such hard-learned experience and enthusiastically thanked me. I was glad to share our collective experience. As nice as a black tie, puppy-friendly event was at The Hotel Bel Air back in 2007 - $40,000 an hour to entertain 84 people was an insane and foolish expense on my part. No matter how much Veuve Clicquot you drank or how many black truffles were shaved that day… I could have paid 20 percent of my mortgage off and still had $30,000 for a trip to say the Maldives. I am not saying that I regret the marriage. I just might have used the six-figure expense differently if somebody told me about the outcome of the event.
My goal here is to offer you the same sage advice here regarding home automation so that you find your “happy place” and end up with a smart home that makes sense on every level.
Issue One: The Installer/Programmer Versus The Product
I cannot tell you how many times that I have met someone out in the wild who finds out what I do for a living and says, “Oh, I got some of that fucking Crestron (gear) and it rarely works”. That’s not Crestron’s fault, as I can tell you that people make Crestron systems work fantastically. My last house was flawless in terms of its installation and programming. Every remote. Every shade. Every zone of HVAC. All the lights. Every access point for the security cameras and more - all worked flawlessly. That was because I hired a nationally known boutique AV firm who installed the product wonderfully and paired that with a programmer who could, from any place in the world with Internet access, tweak and-or repair even the smallest of issues.
Remember this: when it comes to home automation… it is much more about the chef than the ingredients. Control4, Savant and Crestron are ALL fine products. The way there implemented is the issue at hand. I’ve seen disasters with all the above platforms and stunning examples of what can be done. Pay the programmer generously if you are going BIG with home automation as you will get more happiness that way.
Issue Two: The Home Depot Effect
If you asked me what the BEST article that we ever published at my old AV magazine was, I would tell you it was Adrienne Maxwell’s article on home automation done with products from places such as Amazon.com, Lowes and Home Depot.
Years ago, you needed expensive components and very tricky programming to make a home automation system jump through the hoops that they can now.
Some things that you can do today for DIY Home Automation Include:
- You can order up shades from mainstream places like Hunter Douglas or even buy them at IKEA and easily control them while powering them for years with an easily changeable D-battery (or two). With a very low overall cost, you also can control said shades with an app that goes on your phone, iPad and whatnot.
- You can replace your lighting fixtures with many products that deliver not only LED levels of power consumed but remote dimming which likely also comes from an app. Philips and Lutron come to mind, but there are many other options.
HVAC controllers are a big part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and there are countless “smart thermostats” that you can get for a mere few hundred dollars that will a) make you your investment back in a short period of time from energy savings b) can be installed by you and c) again, can be controlled via app. My Crestron does this for me, but at what cost? A hell of a lot more cost than this option that can be had in any city in North America and-or much of the world. My friends who know the space like Nest but not as much as Ecobee. At least, that is what they tell me, as I live in the Crestron bubble.
- A lot of today’s gear comes with their own apps for control, so something like an iPad can easily control your home and can be all you need (when paired with your wireless Internet). A few Sonos Ports into a distribution amp and back to a phone or tablet and you’ve got a DIY distributed audio system with access to every song ever recorded with a subscription to say Amazon Music, Pandora, Apple Music, Spotify (you pick which one you like) and you are set. And for VERY little money.
Issue Three: Supply Chain
Nobody that lives in North America hasn’t suffered from needing products that are in short supply these days. I just needed an odd-sized stainless steel double oven and I couldn’t find one at Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot or any number of three local but powerful appliance distribution places here in Southern California. Home automation is suffering the same issues. Remotes, routers, switches and other components are getting to the “one year out” range. Are you willing to wait a YEAR for a new remote? Most aren’t. Check with your installer and-or programmer as to the availability of parts and components. This is a key factor in your home automation success.
Issue Four: Remote Access For Programming
This seems silly, but considering cost, it really isn’t. If you are working with a programmer, make sure he or she has VPN (secured) remote access to your system. Firmware updates are essential to home automation success as your system is an ever-changing mix of gear, software and firmware.
The cost of sending someone out every time you need a little tweak is high. Having them fix some programming detail from a distance is very smart of your smart home.
Issue Five: One Room Versus Whole Home Control
My old editor, Dennis, is about the best Control4 programmer that I’ve ever met. He did a historical story about how you can for (at retail price, mind you) about $1,000, buy all the components needed AND have a whole one-room home theater system dialed in using the Control4 platform. This is more stable and powerful than traditional “universal” (concept – not the brand) remote systems.
This one-room solution can give you the best of both worlds where your whole home isn’t tied to one control system, but perhaps your home theater room is. You could do traditional control of your home or possibly use some (or all) of the above DIY options. Not a bad point to compromise.
Issue Six: Value (or Lack Thereof)
If you think adding a home automation system to your property will add to its value, think again. You need to spend the amount of money that you can consume and enjoy from your home automation system and not more.
I always say “Home automation is the swimming pool for the inside of your house” meaning that it doesn’t bring any added value as you would get from a redone kitchen or bathrooms.
Home Automation and Resale Value?
When selling my last home, I had people as me questions such as “can you rip out the Crestron?” or “could we fill in your pool”? Sure folks. I spent $90,000 redoing the pool, but you can fill it in if you like. I spent $100,000 on automation but I can take the products with me, perhaps? But then how would you control the lights, HVAC, shades, etc…? These weren’t good buyers for that house, but they are real questions that I got.
Compared to audiophile and home theater components, home automation gear loses its value about as fast as a Dell computer. For example: the Crestron DM (4K video switcher) was $24,000 retail new. I got it as cost, which helped, but when I looked to see what they sold for on eBay.com about five years after the installation, it was 1/10 of retail. Ouch, that’s an enormous loss.
Home automation done right is a glorious and joyful thing. But know going into any home automation project what you are getting into in terms of logistics, options, access, programming, value and more. You don’t have to jump in with both feet if you are say a five out of 10 in “tech savvy” as you can likely do some of the work on your own.
Much like my buddy who recently got engaged, I want you to know what the real deal is regarding home automation. By no means am I saying “don’t do it” when it comes to automation. What I am just saying is that you need to know your options before you take the plunge because there is no “pre-nup” with your home automation system and a “divorce” from that level of technology can be an ugly one. We want you happily married to your technology – now and forever. If anyone has any objections to this…speak now (in the comments) or forever keep your peace.. You may now kiss your Crestron…
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