Home systems get a boost from automation roll out

Automation benefits in other aspects of life, such as cars and at work, often whets the appetite for home systems
Saturday, May 1, 2004

The sophistication that consumers have come to expect in their offices and even their automobiles has spurred the interest in, and market for, home automation systems.

Structured wiring has become the backbone of the office environment, noted Jacqie Soechtig, general manager for FutureSmart Products, Draper, Utah. And now, she added, “it has trickled down from offices to homes,” especially in new construction.

“Most people want to have the infrastructure conveniences in their homes that they have in their offices,” she said. “What we’re doing is enabling infrastructure systems in homes,” she added, while also addressing the growing at-home work force.

Gary Axe, director of home control products at On-Q Home, Middletown, Pa., said experiencing automation in other aspects of their lives, such as in their cars, has given homeowners a taste for what these systems can deliver.

“The mainstream end-user homeowner is simply expecting the same level of sophistication from their homes as they have grown accustomed to from their cars,” he said, pointing to features such as navigation systems, cruise control and personalized pre-sets for seats, mirrors and steering wheels.

Translated to the home, he said, customers are seeking features such as light controls “based on security system settings, a programmable schedule or by simply pressing a single button on a programmable wall switch or remote control, or even by simply opening a door.”

The option debate

The advent of structured wiring in new home construction and major remodels has certainly given rise to more home automation options, concurred those interviewed by Security Systems News. Which options are most desirable, however, are open to debate.

Soechtig said the “major drivers” are the PC-centric options, including multiple broadband connections, shared printers and shared fax lines. “Right behind that is entertainment,” she noted, such as whole house audio.

“What no one wants,” added Soechtig, “is to turn on your oven from the office.”

The “low-hanging fruit” are those options that people can most relate to, said Axe, naming security, audio and networking. Most people haven’t experienced home automation, Axe explained, so many of the other control options may be a tougher sell right now.

A focus on security and comfort, said Jay McLellan, president of Home Automation Inc., New Orleans, has moved security systems, temperature and lighting controls to the top of the must-have list. Not far behind that, he said, is the integration of audio distribution.

In the multi-million dollar homes handled by his firm, Bill McFarland, vice president-sales and marketing for AllSMART Solutions, an automation systems designer and installer in Lake Forest, Ill., said “the three outstanding technologies are home theater, lighting and whole house audio.”

However, McFarland added, because of the nature of the homes in which AllSMART works, “security is a given.”

And within that sector, he said, security is not just burglar alarm-based, but includes water leak detection, internal and external video surveillance, integration with smoke detectors and Internet access for remote monitoring and systems control.

The same holds true in the high-end residential projects on which his company works, said Andy Willcox, president of ProLine Integrated Systems, Highland Park, Ill. Security is being integrated with home control systems for everything from monitoring alarms to detecting fire and carbon monoxide to providing CCTV.

“Another control is the elevator,” Willcox said of high-rise residential projects, so homeowners can control who comes up to their floor.

Still, Willcox said “security isn’t the driver in ubiquitous controls,” but rather it’s audio/video, lighting, window treatments and heating and air conditioning. Customers want whole-house controls handled by touch panels, he said, that get rid of most wall clutter such as individual thermostats, security panels, light switches and so on.

Both Axe and McLellan said security is the platform on which their home automation efforts have been based.

“Our primary market channel for our products has traditionally been security distribution,” said Axe, noting they work with security installation professionals and systems integrators who sell or install mainstream security systems.

Now, Axe said, they are continuing that “symbiotic relationship with mainstream security systems manufacturers” by developing a lighting control product that can easily integrate with multiple of security applications.

Axe said lighting not only enhances safety in the event of an alarm, but “also enhances any security system by providing convenience lighting features above and beyond what the security system itself can provide.”

Security is a platform

HAI’s McLellan said they are also selling through security dealers and distributors, with dealers handling the monitoring sales piece. “Security is what we base our platform on,” McLellan said. “All of the traditional (security) functionality is built into it. You’ve got the processor there, so why not let it do other wonderful things as well?”

As a new company within the Honeywell family, Soechtig said FutureSmart is now putting Honeywell’s security product inside its structured wiring can. “It’s a nice, neat package,” she said of the product. “Builders like to deal with as few vendors or contractors as possible, so this provides a solution for the builder,” she added.

Making things easier for both the homeowner and the installer is the idea behind some of Greyfox Systems’ latest developments, said Carleen Tabone, marketing associate for the Pittsburgh-based company.

A universal security bracket within Greyfox’s wiring allows security installers to put in their own alarm board.

“We take a plug-and-play approach on CAT5,” said Tabone. That means homeowners who want to add automation features down the road can easily do so, such as the company’s new CAT5 camera solution.

Greyfox has even increased the size of the can itself, she said, to give installers more room for add-ons.

AllSMART’s McFarland said although the technology is always changing, companies such as his are benefiting from better integration among systems and better understanding of home automation by everyone from architects to builders to homeowners.

“Our business has been growing,” he said, in large part because architects are on top of home automation “and understand and promote the technology.”

People, he said, “are looking for conveniences, whether it’s lighting scenes or entertainment options or security. “It’s not the 9/11 syndrome,” he said, “but people are socializing more in their homes” and want features that enhance that.