Understanding the Smart Home
The smart home revolution is upon us, and the Internet of Things has become a tool of the trade for the Pro. Here is a complete guide for understanding the smart home and identifying new opportunities in the home automation market.
By Marty Hohmann
The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we live by connecting our homes, our cars, and even wearables, such as fitness trackers, to the cloud. The products and services the IoT offers to enhance our lives is growing, and so is the demand. What once was the wave of the future is happening now, and the Pro is increasingly being called upon to “connect” the homes of his clients.
According to Accenture, 87 percent of consumers do not understand the connected home market and products. Although many already have some smart products in their homes, they have no clue about the technology at work – and that’s ok. Manufacturers have designed their connected home products to be intuitive and accessible to everyone, with a wide range of products and prices. The market now offers more opportunities than ever before for homeowners to design their smart homes around their desires and habits.
A visit to Home Depot reveals a dramatic change in the home products industry. Lighting can be programmed to turn on when you enter the room or to flash a colored signal in the case of an emergency. Security cameras mounted in doorbells, motion detectors, and sensors to detect carbon monoxide leaks can make us safer in our homes. Garage doors, small appliances, and door locks can be automated to offer a level of convenience like never before.
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) projects that sales for the smart home category – including smart thermostats, smart smoke and CO detectors, IP/Wi-Fi cameras, smart locks and doorbells, smart home systems, and smart switches, dimmers and outlets – will reach 29 million units in 2017 (up 63 percent over 2016), earning $3.5 billion (up 57 percent), says Jeff Joseph, senior VP, communications and strategic relationships, CTA.
Joseph says 5G is the revolution that the consumer technology industry and consumers have been awaiting. “It will open up a wealth of new services and products, including smarter and more interactive homes,” Joseph says. “As consumers transition to this exciting new world of connectivity, new business opportunities should arrive for builders, renovators, integrators and home tech installers alike.”
Understanding the smart home and identifying new opportunities in the connected home market are certain to keep Pros in the field busy in the coming months and years. Ric Johnson, an Ohio contractor and owner of Right at Home Technologies, has been conducting presentations on smart homes at the National Association of Homebuilders’ annual convention for eight years. He says understanding the connected home and its benefits is crucial for those in the trades.
“It all bases around a centralized hub, and other devices are attached to that hub,” Johnson says. “Water sensors, locks, lights – these devices can learn from habits. So, if the lights are going on and the thermostat is being turned up at 6:45 as you’re coming home, they can learn from that and begin doing it automatically.”
The types of products and their ease of installation vary: “Depending on what you want done and connected, it may require special training,” Johnson says. “But the products at Home Depot are designed for people to be able to work with them. And more traditional companies who originally shied away from these products are now coming on board.”
With the vast number of companies producing smart home technologies and products to turn every house into a smart home, homeowners and Pros have the opportunity to determine their price point and degree of connectedness. Whether the job will require hard wiring, an Ethernet cable, or a simple outlet plug is dependent upon the product and its intended use.
Companies that are understanding the smart home
Following are some of the companies offering smart home products and how those products can benefit users.
Belkin has produced home technology products since its inception in 1983. Its newest brand, WeMo, is designed to offer customizable smart home experiences and allow people to manage their products at home or away.
“The beauty of WeMo is that we make it really easy for the consumer to get into home automation,” says Kara Alexander, a WeMo product manager. The WeMo smart plugs go into any outlet, and any item plugged into the smart plug instantly becomes “smart.” The smart plug plus an existing product makes it accessible via the WeMo app on any smartphone.
The WeMo system requires no central hub and uses standard Wi-Fi signals to operate, so WeMo is an option for the consumer just looking to dip a toe into the connected home waters. Consumers who wish to keep costs down can start with one smart plug for about $35, and add to the system as desired.
WeMo’s product offerings include light switches, outlet switches and HD webcams, and the uses include turning electronics on or off remotely or according to schedules; lighting a home inside and out; or being able to see when a child comes in from school with HD video sent directly to a smartphone.
Gene LaNois, head of professional channel at Nest, oversees the company’s relationship with trade professionals. Nest products include the Nest Learning Thermostat, Nest Protect and Nest cameras. “We want to help contractors know that the products can be installed simply, fast and with little risk for callback,” LaNois says. “Our products are made to be really simple and DIY-capable.”
With that said, many consumers would prefer to have the Pros climb the ladders to install the outdoor cameras or hardwire a thermostat. “That’s where a lot of trades may have an opportunity. We have just under 20,000 Nest Pros across North America and almost 27,000 globally.”
A professional simply needs to go to Nest.com/Pro to register to be a Nest Pro, which will give access to online training through the Pro portal. The Pro will have access to preferred pricing, selling and promotional materials, and be listed in the Find an Installer tab on the website.
LaNois’ primary message to the Pros is that you don’t need special tools or training to install and integrate Nest products. Rather, Pros can use the tools they already have on their trucks.
Works with Nest allows myriad products to connect seamlessly with the Nest system. For example, Nest Protect, when connected with Philips HUE lighting, can give a visual cue by flashing lights or changing color when an emergency alert is issued.
“This is where the difference between ‘home automation’ and ‘smart and connected’ really comes into play,” LaNois says. “Nest is really focused on energy efficiency, safety and security,” he says, and many of the products, such as the Nest Thermostat, pay for themselves quickly in energy savings. “Our goal is to make the home more thoughtful.”
“There is a general hesitancy of the mass market to jump into the smart home,” says Todd Manegold, a connected home business lead. But Philips HUE, with its Hue White and Color Ambiance bulbs, makes the process remarkably simple.
“Our core goal is to be the preferred lighting system for the smart home,” Manegold says. The starter kit comes with three bulbs, a bridge, and an Ethernet cable. The consumer merely needs to plug into a router, download the app, and he is ready to go for just under $200.
The HUE system has a number of capabilities. “Philips can talk to most of the major smart home brands and is integrated with them,” Manegold says. “So, if you have the Nest app and want to integrate, simply select that in the app.”
In October 2016, Philips introduced a motion sensor to its line of products, adding one more component to its ease-of-use philosophy. “There are times when you have your hands full, dealing with kids or groceries, and you don’t want to fumble for lights,” he says. “The motion sensor will turn on lights for you as you enter. It’s part of the system and knows the time of day, so if you get up during the night for a drink of water, it can activate low lighting in the nightlight mode.”
Lutron has been understanding the smart home and manufacturing smart home products for more than 25 years and has a number of product lines, including Caseta Wireless dimmers and Serena battery-powered shades. Lutron products allow the consumer to control lights, shades and audio systems with ease.
Matt Swatsky, senior director at Lutron Electronics, says the products offer security, convenience, ambiance and energy savings. “Add a switch anywhere you want one with the Lutron Pico remote and Caseta dimmer,” he says. “The Pico remote mounts on any surface and communicates to the dimmer. Once the system is set up, the consumer doesn’t have to give their lighting needs another thought.”
Creating the intuitive and connected home with Lutron is a DIY, Pro-friendly proposition. “The dimmers install like a light switch and can be installed in as little as 15 minutes. No special wiring or neutral wire is required (most in-wall smart products require a neutral wire),” Swatsky says. “Our Serena battery-powered shades hang just like a normal, retrofit shade.”
The Smart Bridge hub, which comes in the starter kit, simply plugs into the Wi-Fi router, and the app guides the set-up process. Kits include one dimmer, one remote and the hub for $99.95.
“One day, every dimmer and shade may be connected,” he says.
“The August smart home access products and services let you securely manage your front door from anywhere, all from a smartphone,” says Mike Buckingham, director, August Pro for August Home. The August’s Smart Lock, Smart Keypad and Doorbell Cam create a complete smart home access solution.
“Now you can control access by issuing virtual keys, monitor access with real-time notifications, see and speak to people at your front door, and review access with a 24/7 activity log. This allows you to deter unwanted visitors, provide safe and secure access for delivery services and control access for guests – even when you are not home,” Buckingham says.
August Home products install on the inside of your front door with just a screwdriver in about 10 minutes. “You keep your exterior door hardware exactly as it is and can use your traditional key any time,” Buckingham adds.