From simple lighting controllers to whole-house integrated systems for data, security and entertainment, the residential automation market is exploding.

Published at: Lowe’s for Pros October 2005 | By Chuck Ross

Building automation is old-hat for electricians involved in commercial construction. Office buildings, schools and factories have been tying heating and lighting systems together, and developing plans for more flexible voice and data communications, for more than a decade. Now, growing consumer sophistication is creating demand for these systems in homes and apartments, presenting a growing market for electrical professionals who understand the challenges and opportunities.

Computer and media networking is driving much of the growing consumer interest, experts say, as homebuyers seek to make the most of expanding cable services and broadband Internet connections. Structured wiring systems, which can bring Category 5 or higher wiring together with RG6 and fiber-optic cable into multi-outlet boxes called home network centers or media centers, are becoming required ingredients in many new upscale housing developments—and demand is expected to continue growing.

Additionally, landlords increasingly are including structured wiring in higher-end rental communities, such as the Deer Valley Town Homes in Ellington, Conn., where JJL recently added structured wiring systems to its plans for the development’s one- and two-bedroom apartments. The systems incorporate Category 5E voice and data wiring, RG-6 coaxial TV cable and a multi-number telephone distribution panel for every unit. Tenants also can add distributed audio and security (including optional remote cameras) to their systems.

Flexibility Adds Value
For homebuyers in his area, Lanouette says a structured wiring system can add $1,000 or more to a home’s value, but homeowners who understand the design’s advantages generally agree to the add-on.

“Once they grasp the flexibility that it gives, they want to be involved in it,” he says. “When we start talking about being able to hook all the family’s computers to the DSL, it really becomes a no-brainer.”

Lanouette adds that pulling structured wiring in either new or existing construction is really no different for the electrician than working with any other kind of wiring. However, others note that contractors incorporating such designs may want outside help developing the initial schematics.

Brett Griffin is co-founder of Architechtronics, a Seattle-based firm that provides such consulting services for homeowners and developers across the United States. He notes that many of today’s home automation systems are reaching beyond media centers to provide remote communications and control of a residence’s heating and cooling costs. He says this approach can help homeowners “correct bad habits.”

By tying heating and cooling controls to alarm systems, for example, homeowners can ensure their thermostats will drop back to the “away” setting as soon as the alarm is armed. Similarly, lighting can be connected, allowing for on/off combinations programmed to related alarm-system settings. But Griffin says selling such advantages may require builders to rethink some of their “wow” factor based marketing efforts, and focus, instead, on the practical savings that could result.

“There’s a different method of approaching the sales process,” he says. “If we can save 10 to 15 percent on the utility bill [through better controls], you can pay the system off in three to five years.”

~by Chuck Ross

©2005 by Lowe’s. All rights reserved.
Published at: Lowe’s for Pros

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