Every year, new technologies and innovations in the realm of home automation bring added features and functionality to end-users. But having more options often breeds confusion among consumers who are interested in creating a robust system in a new home or renovation, or in retrofitting a home-automation program in their existing residence. On the following pages, experts in the field answer some of our most vexing questions.
How does a whole-house automation system enhance luxury living?
Almost everything electrical these days, from appliances to TVs, has become a small computer. So architects and designers are designing houses that are essentially filled with computers.
Whole-home automation is a sophisticated system that makes everything else simple. It provides you with a single point of access to every function of the home, from anywhere in the world, through practically any device you’re using—whether it’s your computer, mobile phone or watch. It controls security, cameras, lighting and HVAC, and can give you peace of mind knowing that if there’s a leak anywhere in your residence, you’re going to get a text message. Of course, there are separate gizmos for each one of these functions on the market, but it’s impossible for users to buy these and have them talk to each other in a simple way. —Vincent Sagart, Poliform | Sagart Studio
What are some of the most exciting innovations hitting the market today?
A homeowner can get an app that will automate just about any device in their home. For a short time in the not-so-distant past, having a separate app to control each of your many devices was the norm. But now, people are starting to appreciate a home-
control system that centralizes these apps into one, and single-platform controls are more popular than ever. These systems allow us to control climate, lighting, shades, security and, of course, audio/video all in one application. —Jacob Baker, Electronic Home Environments
How can homeowners ensure that automated window treatments will integrate seamlessly into their décor?
Our interior designers and installation technicians work closely with clients to ensure that our motorized window treatments integrate seamlessly. We conceal unsightly wires within walls and ceilings, and use motors that are nearly silent so there’s no loud buzzing while the blinds operate. We’ve also replaced clunky, old brackets that can look unfinished with ultra-sleek, fashion-forward hardware options. If you don’t want to see any hardware at all, we can install our motorized shades inside the ceiling so that they roll in and out from a near-invisible slit overhead. Our Rockville showroom has a large display of motorized window fashions, and we can help homeowners understand all the options. —Ilan Fulop, Rockville Interiors
How have security and control systems changed and what should consumers look for in a system today?
Devices for the “Internet of things” have impacted control systems in smart homes. People expect cheap products to be very good because they come from Google or Amazon—but the reality is that these products have not turned out to be as reliable as expected, and consumers have become frustrated. Those looking for ease of use and reliability should work with a reputable home-technology company to ensure they are installing professional-grade products that work really well. —Eddie Shapiro, Smart Touch
How has the home theater evolved?
In the early 1990s, home theaters were designed to mimic the very best commercial theaters—built as dedicated spaces with four walls and calculated sight lines, and engineered to be acoustically correct and soundproof. As lifestyles and technologies have evolved, the idea of dedicating an enclosed space to watching movies has become less desirable to consumers and designers. With proper attention to acoustical design, component selection, speaker placement and ambient light control, it is possible to create a high-performance home theater that is open to other spaces and welcomes other activities, including conversation, reading, listening to music and even yoga and meditation. —Tom Wells, Integrated Media Systems
What mistakes do people make when retrofitting their home-tech systems?
The biggest mistake is not installing a strong WiFi network because it might involve the hassle of drywalling and repainting to wire it correctly. Instead, homeowners often cobble together not-so-compatible products. It is always best to hard-wire devices rather than relying on wireless technologies, but that isn’t always practical. A few well-run wires to key locations can eliminate spotty coverage not only for media and automation devices but for computers, tablets and phones. Using DIY deployable products without checking their cross-compatibility often results in more frustration than function, so consulting a professional before diving in is always recommended. —Avi Benaim, A.B.E. Networks and A.B.E. Construction
What technologies are best suited to the retrofitting process?
Better wireless communications, both WiFi and RF (radio frequency), have enabled the retrofitting of most automation subsystems. Security devices like alarms and cameras have self-contained battery options, some requiring low-voltage, plug-in power supplies. Temperature-control and energy-management products can replace existing thermostats; these products operate both conventionally and via smart phone apps. Lighting-control systems can scale up in size using existing wiring; new options include color-changing LEDs that are controlled with an app or specialized switch. Wireless audio options—from small, voice-controlled speakers to surround-sound systems—require a power connection. Finally, today’s smart TVs can communicate over WiFi, and many video-streaming options are available for movies, sports and news. —Eric Davidson, American Automation