New wireless technologies put the smart home within reach of any homeowner.
Connected home technology in the early 2000's was an expensive proposition. In most cases, a high-priced “structured wiring” infrastructure linked a central server to the devices it managed and also to proprietary, hardwired keypad and control screen ns. The cost of adding this infrastructure to an existing home was especially steep.
Fast-forward more than a decade. Things are simpler, more affordable, and more flexible, with everything from security sensors to speakers to lighting controls available in wireless models controlled by a tablet or smart phone. The price of fully connecting a home costs one-tenth what it used to—plus, there’s no need to fish wires through wall cavities.
Few are taking full advantage of this new affordability and ease. A survey of 6500 households published in early 2015 by technology research firm Gartner, Inc. found only a handful using this powerful technology to do more than simply stream movies.
A remodeling project is a great opportunity to join that select, modern few. A home electronics integrator, says that most homeowners he talks with are familiar with remote control of temperature and security, but they seldom know what else is available. Once they learn about and try it, they want more. “My lighting control business is up 250 percent over last year, and my automated shade business is up 200 percent,” he says. That’s partly because the price is right. In just one example, wireless technology has cut the cost of automated shades by more than half when compared to hardwired versions.
Other affordable wireless products finding a ready market in existing homes include Ring, a doorbell with a camera that displays on a cell phone; Nest, a self-programming thermostat; Hue, an LED bulb that can be dimmed or changed in color via a handheld app; and Sonos, a wireless speaker system.
One thing that stops people from wanting such devices is worry about getting them to work together. A good electronics integrator can set up an iPad app that controls the TV, the heating and cooling system, the lighting, and everything else.
When deciding between devices it’s best to focus on benefits. For some, being able to remotely control the thermostat sounds interesting. For others, being able to use a phone app to adjust the home’s heating and cooling system so it’s comfortable on arrival light up the imagination.
Having a wiring infrastructure is still a good idea, but the requirements are simpler than in the past, and there are ways to compensate where installing it is impractical. Ideally, you would want to run data cable to every room for bandwidth-hungry video services like Netflix or iTunes; it will be more reliable than wireless streaming. In a remodel, an alternative is to run data cable to those rooms whose walls will be open, and to serve the rest of the house with an enterprise-grade router and wireless access points. These should be able to handle streaming video as well as all those wireless devices.
For sending data to all those new wireless devices, Webb recommends an enterprise-grade wireless router with 5 gigabytes of RAM instead of the typical 56K consumer model. Costs for the upgraded router are higher, ranging from $400 to $1000, but it can keep up when people are streaming movies on two or more screens. For boosting the signal in remote areas of the house, consider wireless access points rather than repeaters.
The bottom line is that with a few affordable devices and a little integration work, homeowners today can easily set up automated systems to conserve energy, manage home security, provide a world of entertainment, and generally make their homes more responsive and comfortable.
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