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Making dollars and sense from home automation

The key is a technology partner to integrate the complete system


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November 30, 2017 by John Bleasby

Scott Comens’ career has evolved from working in his father’s computer store a few decades ago to specializing in the installation of customized home automation packages today. “I watched as home automation and audio business became more computerized and internet-based. With my technology background, it was an opportunity to get into the home automation and digital audio business— a more interesting career path for me personally because of the variety of work.”

Scott Comens (r) became comfortable with technology working with his father Roger (l) in the family computer store
(photo: TheRecord.com)

Comen’s company, Neutron Digital Solutions in Kitchener ON, is part of the fast-growing home automation service industry, something savvy home builders and renovation contractors need to understand. As new appliances, lighting, audio, and security systems take advantage of the internet in combination with wired, wireless, and voice-activated technologies, there’s potential for contractors to build out their services and meet their clients’ expectations.

Wired versus wireless
As promising as the wide range of today’s home automation possibilities may be however, Comens is cautious about wireless technology, something many might find surprising. “Wireless is not the solution for everything,” Comens says.  “Light switches will talk to each other on their own wireless system quite well. But when you start installing music, say, in several areas of the house, wireless can have problems. You don’t always get a steady audio stream; it starts getting choppy or falling out. You also end up with speaker and control boxes of some sort placed around the house. People really prefer hidden elements that aren’t part of the décor.”

It’s not that there isn’t a place for wireless devices in a home automation system. There is of course, both now and in the future.  It’s just a question of recognizing the limitations. “There is more room for data on a wire than on a wireless system,” says Comens. “What’s important to remember is that as you add more wireless devices, only one wireless device, or maybe three on higher end systems, can talk at once. Everything else is waiting while the other is talking. The more you can hook up with a wire will free up the wireless network for devices that you can’t hook up.”

Working with a Technology Partner from the planning stage
For home builders and their clients, it points out the importance for the builder and the client working with a technology partner to determine what is needed and wanted in the house, not only today but from a re-sale standpoint in the future, and then building the system accordingly. Some builders try to cover the bases by building a wireless infrastructure into the home. However, range restrictions can be a factor, resulting in larger homes requiring more than one wireless access point. At the same time, running wires everywhere with no defined future purpose isn’t the answer either, says Comens. “If we’re just running wire everywhere, the homeowner won’t see the value if they can’t see themselves using them all.”

Legrand’s Intuity control panel is the heart of the home automation system, linking wired, wireless, and voice-activated elements

A fully integrated, reliable and stylish solution make the most sense for Comens
From a client standpoint, Comens points to the importance of system reliability, integration, and design compatibility from one device to another. Visible elements need to both work and look great. For this, he often chooses the Legrand collection of devices, like their adorne and radiant collections, managed through Legrand’s Intuity system, to meet these demands.

“The Legrand Intuity system allows us to develop a fully integrated package for the builder and home owner,” Comens explains. “We can install all the required elements and train the homeowner how to use them. Realistically, there’s no on-going support needed afterwards. The system just works. From an installation standpoint, it’s repeatable yet can be customized. And Legrand backs it up well, directly to the end user, with a 5-year warranty on the entire system which includes support on the hardware as well as any installation or wiring issues.”

Comens also appreciates the style integration of the full Legrand line. “With each manufacture having its own designs, even different colour face plates, nothing matches. It’s a pet peeve of mine. With the Legrand’s radiant and adorne lines, I can get a light switch, an intercom, and digital audio system, mount them on the wall, and they’ll match. That keeps designers happy. It simply looks better, more finished.”

Comens likes the stylish faceplates and switches of Legrand’s radiant collection, which allow home automation to blend seamlessly with all styles of decors.

Voice command is here to stay
Yet, voice activated products form an important part of home automation future. In fact, according to an NPR Smart Audio Report, 42 per cent of homeowners say voice-activated devices have already become essential to their lives. In response, Legrand recently announced that their  adorne and radiant smart lighting controls are now compatible with voice control-enabled devices, including Amazon’s Echo and Dot, and Google Home. Using these product’s apps, users can easily control multiple lights with a single command, name individual lights, schedule individual lights to go on/off, and set scenes by time of day.

Contractors can add automation to their profit plan
Technology partners like Comens are happy to work with home builders and renovators. He points out the importance of working together during the early stages because of scheduling. “Generally what works best for us is to include me on the list of outside suppliers to be visited by the clients, just like kitchen counters or light fixtures.” That allows Comens to work with the homeowner directly, record what the homeowner wants and put a package together before the drywall is up. In terms of how everyone can profit, Comens says flexibility is the key. “Depending how hands-on the builder wants to be, I can quote the end price the home buyer.” Most often, however, Comens quotes the contractor so they can add a markup to cover their time.

Home automation can significantly enhance the lifestyle of today’s new home buyers or those considering major home renovations. Technology partners like Scott Comens are ready to make design and installation easy for both you, the contractor, and for your clients.

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