By December 7, 2015 Read More →

Home automation doesn’t need to cost the earth

Andrew Wilson- Varilight (3)
Home automation technology can have a significant impact in optimising energy usage in the home. Andrew Wilson, Commercial Manager at Varilight, explains how those environmental benefits need not cost a fortune.

Over the past ten years there has been a proliferation of competing home automation technologies and a growth of integrated systems providing sophisticated control of a wide range of household devices.

The benefits of integrated systems are manifold but entry costs can be prohibitively high and often restrict their adoption to high-end installations. Simpler, stand-alone systems therefore deserve consideration as a means of offering installers and householders enhanced control of devices and energy usage in the home, whilst presenting clear up-selling opportunities for wholesalers.

Consistent design

Expensive integrated home automation systems typically offer control of lighting, heating, audio-visual and security devices in the home from a single app or control device. The convenience to the user of controlling each element from a single application can bring many benefits.

The design of the control app itself impacts significantly on ease of use and the ultimate success of home automation systems. Successful apps use consistent design across screens with attention paid to simplifying menu structures to enhance the user experience.

Integrated systems usually contain a proprietary hub, which communicates with the existing router to enable control from remote locations over the internet. Using this feature householders have the facility to, for example, turn on the heating before returning home.

Despite the apparent appeal of features like this, it is important to consider how often they are likely to be used and the impact they have on product cost. Sophisticated systems are rarely priced to appeal to the mass market and customers may be required to pay a significant premium for features they would rarely use. Consequently an opportunity exists for the wholesaler to promote less complex, relatively low-cost products that perform key tasks and will appeal to a wider audience.

Even less expensive products are often offered with the facility to utilise smartphone apps to perform key tasks, in place of discrete control handsets.

Understandably, householders are keen to reduce the number of remote control handsets they have decorating their coffee tables and so it makes sense to develop systems that can utilise a smartphone to control devices in the home, even if they don’t necessarily facilitate control over the internet from remote locations outside the home. A tiered approach is sensible with an optional upgrade to add features like this.

Return on investment

Simpler home automation products will usually include energy-saving features comparable with those offered by more expensive systems. Depending on the category of product, these might include output level controls, timer functions or programmable profiles. The enhanced control these features offer brings with it the opportunity to save energy by optimising appliance control. Significantly, however, the return on a lower investment is realised much more quickly.

Eclique Dimmer control

There are advantages to simpler home automation systems too. They tend to be manufactured by brands that specialise in specific areas of control, such as heating or lighting. They may therefore offer superior control when compared to many integrated systems. For example, manufacturers with expertise in dimming LED lighting can offer home automation products that provide superior lighting.

Many complex, integrated home automation systems include lighting control products but the manufacturer may not have access to the specialist technologies required to deal with challenging lighting loads such as LED lighting. Consequently, lighting control performance can be relatively poor with flickering, strobing and shimmering effects leading to customer dissatisfaction and inconvenience.

There may be a need to call installers back to site, which can be costly. Ultimately problems of this nature translate to a poor return on the householder’s (not insignificant) investment.

Installation costs

It is worth remembering that installation costs can constitute a high proportion of the overall cost of complex home automation systems. This might be as a result of a requirement for additional wiring or complicated software needed to integrate the various products into a single system. Installation costs may also deter many householders from choosing complex home automation systems. Nevertheless, this presents a marketing opportunity for wholesalers to promote simpler systems where take up is likely to be significantly higher.

Trusted manufacturers with reputations for having expertise in specific control technologies often offer simple-to-install, retrofit home automation products as extensions of their existing range. For example, at Varilight we have added to our popular V-Pro LED dimmer series with the launch of our Eclique2 remote control dimmers which offer a plethora of enhanced features including scene-setting.

Scene setting is a feature common to many home automation systems that incorporate lighting controls. Users are able to organise their lighting into zones where light levels can be set to create a particular lighting “mood” or scene. For example, in open plan living areas, scenes can be created to suit the user’s preferred light settings for a variety of tasks such as cooking, dining, reading or watching a movie.

Householders purchasing the Varilight YRE8 handset gain access to the LightScene functionality embedded in our Eclique2 dimmers, which are capable of storing up to four lighting scenes created by the user across up to four lighting circuits and recalled at the touch of a button.

Dimming a light saves energy and so simple scene-setting solutions such as this one provide similar energy-saving benefits to more complex systems, which, in the final analysis, are performing the same fundamental tasks.

Product availability

From a wholesale perspective, the ready availability of products is a key requisite to efficient operation and so promoting products from recognised brands within the electrical accessories industry has a major advantage: wholesalers are able to utilise reliable supply chains that are already well-established.

Looking into the future, when the so-called “internet of things” begins to impact of even the average home, customers will expect stand-alone control systems to achieve a high level of integration with each other. This does not mean that customers have to turn to expensive integrated systems however.

Conventions such as Google’s nascent “Nest Weave” protocol enable devices to interconnect and allow customers to add devices as and when they are required to their own bespoke network of home automation products.

An appealing aspect of protocols such as Nest Weave is that they can be incorporated into own-brand devices used by independent manufacturers during the product development phase. When installed in a home, products using a common protocol are equipped to join existing networks and begin to play their role in the “network of things” in a particular home.

Specialist knowledge

A device can interact with all others in the same system to create a network of intelligent, discrete home automation devices with devices performing specific tasks manufactured by trusted brands with specialist knowledge. In this way, manufacturers such as ourselves can concentrate on doing what we do best, safe in the knowledge that our products can join an integrated system.

It’s an exciting prospect and at Varilight, we are working hard to develop new lighting control products that ensure we continue to play our part as experts in dimming technology. Our goal is to continue offering lighting control products at accessible prices that will appeal to the mass market. In this way the forthcoming revolution in home automation will be truly democratic one and available to all.