How to choose the right smart home system – Part 2

January 20, 2014

This continues our previous discussion on “how to choose the right smart home system for you“.   Last time we reviewed a little history of home automation and the various, new to market, DIY systems available today and why you might choose to go that route.  This time, we will focus on the 3 remaining types of systems available; Telco/CableCo marketed systems, security panel based systems, and professionally installed custom systems.

TELCO Systems

Second, in our list of the main types of today’s smart home systems, are the starter systems recently advertised by the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.  These are quite similar to the DIY systems, in that they are often basic systems, offering a limited quantity, quality and type of devices that can be integrated.    Typically, the Telco technicians will NOT be installing high voltage devices (light switches, etc).  The Telcos CAN install door locks, thermostats (in some cases) and lamp modules (that simply plug into the wall outlet) and then do the setup to get things working, on top of a security system.   Systems such as these offer some integrated controls such as an app control of a thermostat, doorlock and a set number of lights.  You most likely won’t get audio and video distribution from these systems.  These systems may also have the option for cameras and CCTV that you can view on a tablet or smart phone as well.  Not much more is known about these systems, as they are being rolled out in select cities and are not yet currently in our area.

With respect to cost, typically there is an installation fee (sometimes this is waived for basic installations), there is a cost to the products and then there is usually an ongoing monthly fee.   These systems usually involve paying a monthly service for these systems, as opposed to purchasing them outright.  Additionally, to early terminate a contract you may have to then pay a penalty for the equipment.  We will see how this model fits the smart home business, but with all the recent hype, we will surely see, soon enough.  Fees for these systems start from $29/mo to $100′s/mo (averages we’ve seen are around $50+/mo).  You can find more about these system from ADT, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon but they are similar, if not the same as some of the systems mentioned in my last article.  As one caveat to contract based systems, I’ll point to a recent story that broke to some major news outlets that one might want to consider before purchasing one of these systems.  A Protection Racket.


Next up are the security panel home automation systems.   These are usually installed when your home is being built and sold by your builder or the security contractor, directly to you.  These systems can be as basic as just an alarm system to an app that lets you arm/disarm your home to a system that controls some lights, HVAC, and door locks.  Many newer security based systems can also be retrofitted and some are completely wireless, so don’t have to be installed in a new home any longer.  These include many systems from Ademco to HAI/Leviton which are security systems that can also control some lights, HVAC, turn on TVs and such and give you remote access to the system.

Most of these systems also do NOT include distributed audio and video, but offer all of the aforementioned bells and whistles, plus a full home security system.  Whole house audio (sound in different rooms) or whole house video (watching video around the house from the same source) aren’t typically part of these systems, but can be added to them.  Some security companies will offer to install 3rd party audio systems such as Sonance, Niles, Russound and other audio distribution manufacturers and add stand-alone keypads in certain rooms for audio control only, but these are usually not integrated with the security system.   One could also use some of the newer Sono’s and other wireless audio systems to include some basic whole house audio with these systems, but it won’t be integrated either.

Security systems do offer a lot of inherent capabilities to a home control or smart home system in that they are based on sensing things.  So you can tell your system to monitor the front door opening and closing, people moving in a certain area or whether the system is armed away (no one is home) or disarmed (people are home) and all of these can trigger events that result in the control system causing things to happen, such as arming the security in Away mode, turns off all the lights, turns the HVAC off or sets it back and turns locks any integrated door locks around the house.

You’ll probably end up with several apps to control your home with this method, something we advise against, as you can read about here.   But companies are getting better at integrating more different products, so this should improve over time.  Similar to the Telco systems, these can be sold as monthly services or as installed systems, often times both.   So you might spend $500-5000+ on the starter system and $20-$50/month on the monitoring and services.  These will be sold and installed typically by your local security contractor and include offerings by a few home automation rated security panels, some more advanced than others (many such as Ademco, HAI, Leviton to name a few).

Next time, we’ll explore the final type of system, and the most common source of today’s systems, the professionally installed custom system.   Until then, happy shopping.

If you have immediate questions or needs, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices.  Thank you for reading.

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