Sweet Home Automation

By Pat Woods | Mar 15, 2009




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With the green movement going full steam ahead, homeowners expect energy efficiency in both new construction and remodels. Baby boomers and subsequent generations demand energy-saving solutions that shrink utility bills and are easy to install and maintain.

New technologies

To meet consumer expectations, new technologies are released frequently. Recent residential innovations include self-powered wireless light switches, wireless tabletop lighting keypads, wireless shades and UL-approved dimmable outlets and plugs. Wired and wireless fan speed controls have added more flexibility when designing a complete solution for homeowners. Dimmable light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures and easy-to-retrofit, long-life lamps without mercury are on the horizon.

In the future, residential lighting will be thoroughly integrated into appliances and located closer to the task, replacing architectural downlights, which often needlessly illuminate the entire room, said Ann Schiffers, a lighting designer in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. Home office lighting will use simple direct/indirect fixtures sufficient for computer task areas. New lighting source technology will focus on LEDs that can be easily mounted in areas otherwise considered off-limits.

“Stairs can easily incorporate the LED source for safety,” Schiffers said. “Because the LED source is not hot, it can be used in walk-over applications or in stair treads. In another application, residential wine displays can easily be highlighted with low-heat source LEDs without impacting the wine-aging process.”

“When properly designed and integrated, new technologies will deliver lower energy costs, improved architecture appearance and enhanced lifestyle to customers and environment,” said Larry Bem, systems engineer at Audio Advisors, West Palm Beach, Fla. “When you supply this kind of service, you will create a win-win relationship with customers. And with that relationship, the opportunity for new and repeat business will certainly follow.”

With emerging technology, such as self-powered switches, contractors can offer a whole-house lighting control system at a reasonable price, enabling them to differentiate their company from competitors. These products eliminate the guesswork of figuring where the switches go or whether the home-owner wants a three-way or four-way switch.

Residential daylight harvesting

Extensive use of daylight harvesting to meet ambient illumination requirements is frequently a part of sustainable building projects. Electric lighting control and motorized shade systems make the energy-saving benefits of daylight harvesting possible.

Integrating daylight harvesting requires experienced lighting designers and talented programmers and is simplified with the use of modern processors and their algorithms, Bem said.

The benefits are many: reduced maintenance and replacement costs over the home’s lifespan, energy conservation, improved occupant health and productivity, and greater design flexibility. Daylight harvesting is popular because the light is free.

“All we need to do is provide control,” Bem said. “Control can mean reflecting light, filtering it or restricting it.”

The methods to achieve this are varied both in expense and required user interaction. Motorizing blinds and shades in combination with an intelligent controller will reduce heat gain and fabric damage from UV rays.

New generations of solar tubes that capture, reflect and disperse UV-filtered sunlight in the home are gaining popularity. Many of these have an option for electrical lighting to be installed in the tube, providing light at night through the same ceiling diffuser.

Light shelf interior and exterior is the best way to use bounce light to illuminate the room without direct sun and solar heat gain. According to Schiffers, this light shelf also can include electrical sources to recreate the daytime lighting effect. A simple LED strip light mounted on top of the light shelf can be used for this purpose.

“Contractors should gain knowledge of solar collection systems for integrating with the electric system,” Schiffers said. “If they understand current trends and the appropriate mounting/wiring methods for these technologies, they have the advantage of educating their customers as well as installing energy- and money-saving fixtures.”

Be the hub, not the spoke

Electrical contractors need to keep up with new technology, and the simplest way is through wholesale distributors and manufacturers’ representatives. But they also need to change their mindsets, said Norman Rosenberg, CEO, Rosenberg Custom Electronic Window Treatments, New York.

Home automation, as it relates to lighting control and other features, has generated interest among early adopter consumers, but the concept still needs some clarification for consumers and new presentation methods for builders and contractors.

On home theater jobs, for example, Rosenberg said electrical contractors will get a pittance for a power connection and leave big bucks on the table for other trades. Situations such as these call for integration of products and technologies.

Whoever gets to the customer first has the opportunity to sell additional technology and processes, Rosenberg said. You can perform line-voltage installation, cable runs and equipment connection. Moreover, you can do even more by bringing in strategic partners for other requests, such as automatic lighting controls, electronically controlled window treatments and whole-house audio and video.

New technology opportunities are wide open, and customers are thrilled to be introduced to them, Rosenberg said.

“It’s a high-priced field with high margins, and many electrical contractors are ignoring it. As an example, one could have a house with 70–80 dimmers being installed. What if the contractor said, ‘I can eliminate them for you and replace them with a few keypads’? Wouldn’t the homeowner want a product that does that?” he said.

Learn about the residential customer’s needs.

“Think beyond adding a new circuit or installing outlets,” Rosenberg said. “Does Ms. Homeowner want to ‘plug-and-play’ a new plasma TV with surround sound? Or does Mr. Homeowner want to experience sitting behind [home plate at] Yankee Stadium, feeling the tension from the bullpen in a ninth-inning clincher?”

Ask your prospects what they want in terms of home automation. Rosenberg said you don’t have to become an electrical engineer to make proper recommendations to customers.

“You don’t need to have competence with the systems and solutions you recommend,” he said. “But you do need to continually increase your knowledge of what’s possible and what’s on the horizon. Learn to move from being a subcontractor or niche specialist to the resource who brings in all the other experts to set up the home theater as well as other automation solutions. Being the hub geometrically increases your revenue stream.”

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications and is updating lighting in her Arizona home. She can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

Pat Woods writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at [email protected]".





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