Automation Goes Home

Elite homebuyers want the latest monitoring technology

We live in an age when robots perform surgery and automobiles boast GPS systems and iPod adapters. Witnessing the technology revolution at their workplaces, elite homebuyers want automation at home. Residential prices have risen steeply with sales of technology-laden, $1 million homes becoming common. The home control and automation market is on the cusp of significant growth, driven by cutting-edge wireless technologies now possible for mainstream new construction and retrofits.

According to an August 2006 survey, 72 percent of U.S. homeowners want to monitor their property when they are gone, especially for safety and security. The survey further indicated 20 percent of homeowners worry they left an appliance on or a door unlocked at least some of the time. While on vacation, homeowners want to control their lights, home alarm system or appliances from anywhere in the world. Nearly half want to know who is in their home when they are gone. More than 1.5 million adult Americans worry they are not efficient enough in conserving energy by turning off lights, heat, air conditioning and appliances. The survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted by the Z-Wave Alliance, a consortium of companies formed in January 2005 to establish Z-Wave as the wireless home control standard.

An interoperable wireless mesh networking technology, Z-Wave performs remote home monitoring, safety, security and energy conservation by controlling a wide array of home devices, including lighting, appliances, HVAC, entertainment and more. Zensys produces the technology used in the wireless products.

Z-Wave members provide leading-edge products and systems delivering increased comfort, convenience, safety and security. Z-Wave technology is the foundation of all products manufactured by Alliance members, including Cooper Wiring Devices, Danfoss, Intel, Intermatic, Leviton, Monster, Wayne-Dalton and Universal Electronics Inc.

“We’re in the early stage of wireless home control,” said Mike Einstein, Z-Wave Alliance marketing chair and corporate innovation director for Intermatic Inc. “Our challenge is moving consumers from perceiving home automation as a far-away concept for the very wealthy to using it to solve real problems in bite-sized pieces. Z-Wave enables you to monitor an elderly relative living across the country, keep an eye on a vacation home during a storm or simply ensure your child returns home from school on time—all from your office PC or cell phone.”

Einstein said electrical contractors should familiarize themselves with home control products to effectively manage increased consumer demand for these applications.

Other products and systems

The home automation market has many players. Tim Hogan, Graybar branch manager in Sarasota, Fla., agrees that elite homebuyers want structured media, lighting and thermostat control systems.

“For high-end homes, we’re selling structured media systems by Leviton and lighting control packages by Lutron—either HomeWorks or the RadioRA packages, but mostly HomeWorks. The structured media is still mostly separate from the lighting and thermostat controls, although I think integration will happen more and more. The Legrand On-Q product is an example of an integrated media and lighting system. We also have impressive On-Q products on the security side—with video cameras for home entryways that are easily wired using home runs with Cat 5 cable.”

New systems save energy. “Any place you dim and reduce wattage, you reduce energy consumption,” Hogan said. “Many lighting control systems integrate thermostats to control the HVAC and save energy.”

“Lighting loads are among the most controllable energy sources in homes,” said Brad Wills, Square D Clipsal installation systems and control business director, Palatine, Ill. “Savings vary depending on the home and lifestyle. Savings of up to 50 percent of the lighting load consumption can be possible through occupancy sensors, dimmers, lower wattage lamps such as compact fluorescents and other means of lighting control.”

Hogan said the new systems are especially useful in Florida, which draws hundreds of thousands of winter-only residents. “From their northern homes, they can monitor their Florida home and keep HVAC or other systems off or on low until they’re ready to migrate south. Some systems are controlled remotely by computer. Others, such as Lutron’s RadioRA, have a telephone interface, enabling owners to dial into their system to control their thermostat and lighting.”

Intermatic’s Einstein is one of those seasonal Florida residents. He bought a fixer-upper and added full wireless operation during the renovation. “The Tampa home is a real-world home installation that includes applications, ranging from lighting and appliance controls to garage-door openers, window treatments, security, entertainment systems and universal remote controls,” Einstein said.

Einstein can monitor his Florida home from a Web page anywhere in the world. “One day I logged on and saw the spa was 103 degrees. My son used the house and forgot to turn it off. While I do not rent out my house, family members use it when I’m not there. Because they do not pay the electric bills, they may forget to turn off lights or adjust the thermostat.”

Einstein said hard-wiring an existing house would cost tens of thousands of dollars. In contrast, wireless is significantly less costly for homebuyers because you don’t have to open up any walls to lay new wiring. Electrical contractors can install and deploy a Z-Wave network in considerably less time and for less money than it would take to install a wired solution.

“Wireless also is more aesthetically appealing for elite home buyers, so you are apt to sell them on a larger network of products because it’s easy to use, affordable and installs quickly,” Einstein said. “The real benefit is peace of mind.”

The next wireless project for Einstein’s Florida home is hurricane shutters attached to the house that can be operated by a computer.

Education options

Electrical contractors familiar with home controls will have an advantage as the market grows. Manufacturer Web sites are a treasure trove of new product information. The Z-Wave Alliance Web site is an excellent resource for more information on home controls and the companies that produce these products.

Lighting and home automation trade shows provide EC education, as do trade associations such as CEA and CEDIA.

Talking with local architects, lighting designers and others in the lighting controls business provides insights into local market conditions, said Wills of Square D Clipsal.

“Choose one or more lines of lighting control that are well-regarded, locally supported and offer the flexibility and aesthetics high-end consumers demand,” Wills said. “Consumers typically buy advanced lighting control based on aesthetics, security concerns and price. Look for easy-to-operate systems with attractive keypads, touchscreens and other controls. Find a system that fits your needs as a contractor. Flexible installation, reliable components and easy programming are commonly important to installers. Systems delivering these attributes will serve contractors well.” 

“There are definitely opportunities for ECs to upsell home technology systems,” said Jeff Irish, Graybar senior sales representative, Portland, Maine. “I try to help our EC customers see the value in these products and encourage them to put their sales hats on. We’re constantly educating ECs on the product lines available, so they feel comfortable selling them to their customers. Graybar sponsors seminars with manufacturers for ECs, shows them the products and lets them decide if it’s something they want. ECs benefit most from seeing and touching the products.”

Irish recommends electrical contractors bring their homebuilder or general contractor customers to the seminars. That allows them to see the products first-hand and understand the value it offers elite homebuyers.

Manufacturers produce product literature for electrical contractors to give residential customers. Hogan said Graybar sales representatives hand out supplier literature, and more literature is on counters. The Graybar Sarasota branch puts the newest products on counter displays. With manufacturers making the technology more convenient and easily obtainable, elite homebuyers will come to you for installation. Be ready to oblige them. EC


WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at



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