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Smart Choices

by Debra Gelbart on Sep 6, 2017

Building processes, construction materials and design elements evolve over time, but improvements in automation technology occur year over year. 

Currently, many experts are saying that voice-activated control is especially in demand. "Voice control has taken over," said Travis Ferger, senior technology consultant at Scottsdale-based CCS Presentation Systems' home division. "Many companies are taking the lead from technology leaders like Google and Amazone and [many] thing are now integrated and voice-controlled."

Marty Hayse, director of purchasing at Phoenix-based Dennis Sage Home Entertainment (DSHE), said that, in his view, manufactures of totally wireless systems driven from talking speakers suggest "that hard wire is no longer necessary and everything can be done wirelessly," he said. "This is a good concept, but not ready for prime time."

Now more than ever, he explained, a home's automation network is the foundation for managing all electronic functions. “Keep in mind that all of the voice-controlled speakers have to be plugged into power,” Hayse said. “Ultimately, manufacturers will get this right — and certainly the thought of voice command is appealing — but I don’t think it’s quite secure enough yet.”

What’s hot — and what’s not

A home-automation system, Ferger said, might include control of motorized window shades, heating, air conditioning, pool equipment, water features, lighting, security, cameras, entry access systems, energy management, speakers, TVs and a media room — all controlled by an app, remote or voice control. For all these features, expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 or more, he said.

Notice we said a ‘media room’ and not a ‘home theater’. That’s because: “Dedicated media rooms — with multi-use options — are now the norm and home theaters are largely a thing of the past,” Ferger said. “Today, we are incorporating a large screen theater system with multiple screens, gaming technology, golf simulators, poker rooms and more. These rooms are much more multi-faceted today.”

For homeowners looking for more affordability, many builders are offering basic security systems or pre-wiring for whole-home automation systems as standard features in new homes.

Maracay Homes, for example, launched HomeSmart™ earlier this year in its 13 Phoenix-area communities as a standard feature. HomeSmart™ provides smart technology “that helps you stay comfortable, in control, connected and able to save energy — from anywhere,” said Elise Goodell, marketing manager for Maracay. This includes CAT 6 wiring for maximum network bandwidth and prewiring for Wi-fi access points, she said. In addition, at Maracay Homes’ community in Victory at Verrado (in Buckeye) every new home includes a wireless security system, Wi-fi garage door opener, keyless front-door entry and Wi-fi programmable thermostats.

Wi-fi is the most important thing in homes right now, Ferger said. “We spend a lot of time on the engineering side getting Wi-fi right and making sure it’s highly functional throughout the home,” he said. “We design and implement numerous Wi-fi antennas. Much like cell towers around town, we make sure homeowners are getting a reliable and constant user experience throughout the home.”

Wide range of pricing options

In a new home that doesn’t include a basic security system as a standard feature, you may not have to spend very much to opt for one, Hayse said. For under $1,000 plus the cost of monthly monitoring, you can purchase a system that includes a security panel, contacts for three doors, a motion detector, garage door control through a smart-device app, a programmable thermostat and a key fob to arm and disarm the system, Hayse said. More features can be added later, he noted.

A multi-functional system that includes security, lighting control, an interactive doorbell with video and two-way audio, indoor and outdoor video camera, thermostat control, geofencing (a virtual perimeter that can include pet tracking), garage door control and door locks starts in the $2,500 range.

The mid-range of pricing — in the $4,000-ish ballpark — provides whole-home automation, Hayse said. A totally automated home that includes audio-visual and pool control starts in the $10,000 range. 

If you're planning on installing a smart-home system at the time your new home is being constructed, you may be able to include the cost in your mortgage, both Hayse and Ferger say. “Most all of our work is done at the construction stage,” Ferger [of CCS Presentation Systems] said. “Rolling the cost into the mortgage happens about 50 to 75 percent of the time, depending on the builder.”

Hayse [of Dennis Sage Home Entertainment] said DIY (do-it-yourself) systems can be alluring because of their low price-point, but support you may need later isn’t part of a self-installed system. “Security, automation and ease of use are better maintained by professionals who understand what could go wring and want your interface — the way you actually use your home automation — to be perfect,” he said.

The bottom line

Be sure to ask your builder about what smart systems are offered either as standard or optional in your new home. If you choose to install an after-market system, find out at what point you can have installation begin. 

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