When it comes to home automation usually the first thing put in is an audio/video system with lots of sources, remotes, touch panels, matrix switching, etc. All valid and exciting things to own none the less, but they are all wants and not needs. If you have the budget, no doubt put it in. But if you are working on a limited budget, here are the three most important sub-systems for every integrated home in order of importance.
- HVAC Controls
Number one is lighting. Why? Well it is probably one of more expensive and most difficult to do after the house is finished. There are lots of options for lighting control systems but nothing beats a centralized panel in your basement, garage, attic, or all of the above. The larger the home, the more important it becomes that a properly designed, installed, and programmed lighting system is in place. Do you really want to have to turn your lights off throughout your home at night? Or worse yet just leave them on until who knows when? Smaller homes could be retrofitted easily with wireless systems but they still need to have programmed keypads retrofitted into the walls and this often does not look nearly as neat and clean as it could have if done right from the beginning. If wireless retrofit is your only option look for the new Crestron infiNET-EX series to come out this year that will allow your dimmer or switch to also act as your customizable keypad.
Finally, your HVAC controls should be taken into consideration. Maybe you only have a small house with 3 or 4 zones. Do you really want to go walk around your house to make the necessary adjustments or even just to see what the system is operating at? By investing in centralized control you will have a more cohesive interface that is easier to manage. What if you have more than 4 zones? If your home has 20 or 40? I know what you’re going to say, “that’s what I pay my staff for”. While true, would you rather pay them for a few minutes of time at a touch panel managing your home or an hour of their time walking around?
Network could almost be the most important subsystem because it is becoming more and more a part of our daily lives. Do you watch TV on Hulu, AppleTV, and Netflix Instant Play? Other devices like Kaleiescape rely on your homes network speed and reliability to watch a movie throughout your home. Then there is wireless networks. You want to be able to watch Hulu on your laptop right? What about watching TV in HTML5 on your hot new iPad? There are plenty of options and configurations out there for your homes network that you can achieve with cheap parts from your local big box retailer. What those parts don’t come with is the knowledge and engineering that goes into a properly designed and engineered network. Think about your IT personal at work for a minute. They have a full time job to make sure that your company has no down time and will keep employee productivity high. Depending on the business type, odds are that the IT department is not dealing with millions of packets of multi media like audio, video, and impatient control systems that are constantly pinging each other.
Well if you still have the budget you may consider doing motorized shades before your audio/video as well. If nothing else, like I said do the lights and probably the HVAC system controls. After that prewire for the network, the shades, and then the audio/video. If you don’t plan for these things now, it will only cost you more money later. My honorable mention is a home alarm system. While not every home needs one, if you want to do it wired it you need to plan for it from day one.