Gary Sasaki, president of Cupertino, Calif.–based Digdia, a company that provides strategic analysis and consulting for digital media industries, discusses trends in home technologies.

REMODELING magazine: How can remodelers learn about new technologies?

Gary Sasaki: Find a local CEDIA — Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association — or attend a CEDIA event. The CEDIA Electronic Lifestyles Expo, in Las Vegas in April 2007, is designed for a broad audience. [See box below.]

Gary Sasaki, president of Digdia
Gary Sasaki, president of Digdia

RM: What kind of products are clients asking for? GS: Home theater is popular. Some people just go to Costco, buy a home theater, and plop it in whatever room has their TV. The other end of the scale is the $1 million home theater with walls designed to inhibit sound transmission from outside into the theater and vice versa, tiered seats, surround sound, and integrated speakers built into the wall. The $1 million isn't for the electronics; the majority of that sum is for building the room and for the materials that go into it. It's a major remodeling job.

RM: Can a regular electrical subcontractor do the installation?

GS: For home theater — or anything involving integration of audio and video or other systems, such as HVAC or security — you want to hire an electronic system designer or ESD.

Sit down with the architect, the ESD, and maybe the interior designer and listen to what the customer wants; then look at what the job should entail, and design it.

Be aware of when to schedule the electronic systems people. You don't want to route sensitive audio and video cables alongside power lines; doing so can transfer a hum into the audio. The ESD will know where to put the cables. The more coordinated you are up front, the better and smoother the experience will be.

RM: What other technologies are homeowners interested in?

GS: People also want security systems — video as well as alarms. They're a bit less tricky because they tend to be modularized, their wires are smaller, and you can hide a lot in the baseboard.

RM: And “smart” homes?

GS: That's something that interests higher-end customers. It can include home theater, security, lighting, drapes that can be closed, HVAC … In a smart home, you're integrating all those things in some fashion.

RM: What should remodelers suggest to clients who want home technology?

GS: Home theater and whole-home audio are fashionable right now. With regard to home theater, for example, on February 17, 2009, all analogue TV broadcasts will be shut off. All broadcasts will be digital. At that time, many consumers will buy new TVs — even if they don't need them. That will cause a big wave of people to start looking into home theater.

RM: What about wireless?

GS: If you're remodeling in just one room but want whole-home audio everywhere else, you can go wireless. Some products out there are network-based, using the same WiFi network your computer does.

You can send video wirelessly from one room to another, depending on some specifics: If you have a really big house or an apartment building, all bets are off. In a medium-size home you have a reasonable shot at it. It depends on how the house is built. It doesn't go well through really thick walls or through metal.

Another kind of wireless is a control type provided by ZigBee and Z-Wave technologies. ZigBee can be used to turn lights on and off, for example. It's similar to a remote control but is simpler.

RM: With technology changing so rapidly, can clients expect a good return on their investment?

GS: Alarm systems, lighting systems, and whole-home audio are more integrated into the house, so they will retain their value longer. It's when you get into the audio/video stuff that it might not be worthwhile; it has a much shorter life span because the wheels of change are turning much faster there. But if you're talking about HVAC, even though there are changes occurring, once that system is in, you don't tend to rip it out.

Want to Know More?

  • Digdia offers consulting services to companies in the digital entertainment industry;
  • CEDIA's Electronic Lifestyles Expo brings together architects, builders, remodelers, and association members, April 18–21, Las Vegas;
  • DIGITAL HOME is a new Hanley Wood quarterly magazine about home technology for those in the building industry.