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Smart Home Systems Buying Guide

Smart Home Systems Buying Guide
Rebecca Day and Lisa Montgomery
PDF - 34 pages
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HOME AUTOMATION isn’t what it used to be. A market that once divided between budgetminded do-it-yourself techies who liked to tinker, and wealthy homeowners who wanted a doit-for-me custom system to control lighting, music, temperature, and more, home automation has evolved into an industry with a range of options for any wallet. Just ask Martin Plaehn, CEO of Control4, a home automation manufacturer that launched 10 years ago with an aim to broaden the market.

“When we started in 2005, we started in the “rich” category,” says Plaehn, recalling the narrow slice of the population that could aford the six-fgure investment for a customized control system at the time. Today, the average Control4 starter system costs less than $3,000, Plaehn says, and comes with a smartphone app that allows homeowners “to control everything.” Some 13 percent of Control4 customers have an annual household income of $100,000 and nearly half have household incomes between $100,000 and $250,000.

Control4, along with other companies including Savant Systems and Universal Remote Control (URC), sits in the middle of smart home oferings, between the inexpensive of-the-shelf kits you can buy from Home Depot and Lowe’s, and wired, high-end systems at the top of the pyramid that companies such as Crestron and AMX have long ruled. Wired systems still ofer the most customization, since you’re not limited by the reaches of a wireless signal or the number of controllable devices. But Wi-Fi is poised to become the foundation of the next-gen smart home. Higher-end systems are available, for now, through professional integrators only. “We feel that the customized integrator experience is key to homeowner satisfaction,” says Tim McInerney, director of product marketing at Savant. McInerney noted there are DIY options for installing light switches and other connected home devices, but for many consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to tackle connected device setup, having a professionally installed HVAC or lighting control system “makes a huge diference in user satisfaction." That user satisfaction comes at the cost of installation. Labor rates vary according to region but generally run from $75-$150 an hour.

So which approach is best: DIY or professionally installed? It depends on what you expect your system to do, how you expect to interact with it, and how much you want to spend. In our Smart Home Systems Buying Guide, we’ll walk you through the options, point you toward the features the matter most, and reveal some of the best smart home systems on the market today. —R.D.

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