With more focus being placed on home automation, pressure is building on remodelers to stay up on the game. The good news is integrating home automation doesn't have to mean ripping out the walls -- thanks to a number of retrofit home control products that are wireless or can "talk" over existing wires.
Many retrofit products use a central controller and wall modules that plug into existing outlets and light switches. More important, the systems leave room for modifications and upgrades as needs change.
"Here's the opportunity to take a kitchen remodel and have it turn into a whole-house remodel without having major labor or construction taking place throughout the house," says Eric Lind, a director of sales for Lutron. Lutron manufactures Radio RA, which wirelessly controls lights using RF signals.
Vantage Controls' new wireless product, RadioLink, also uses RF signals and can operate up to 15 controllers for lighting, climate control, and more.
Leviton continues to upgrade its Decora line of home controllers, which operate over existing wiring. One new component, the Deluxe Programmer, remembers up to 64 lighting scenes and also can be used to control appliances like security systems and spas. The HomeTouch lighting control system, recently introduced from the makers of LiteTouch, talks over wiring through modules that replace existing toggle switches.
Implementing home technology into remodeling projects is not limited to lighting and appliance control. Already, technology that networks computers, audio, and video over existing phone and power lines is growing at a rapid speed.
The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA), a group of 150 industry companies, is creating standards for networking computers and audio over existing phone lines. Early versions offer a 10 MB capability and about 100 products already are available, including several that can stream MP3 audio throughout the house.
A second alliance of about 90 companies, HomePlug, is developing standards for networking voice, data, and audio over existing power lines. The first version of the technology offers a speed of 14 MB.
One of the most important aspects of the alliances is that products are interoperable -- products with a HomePlug logo will work with other HomePlug-labeled offerings and HomePNA merchandise will work with other HomePNA products.
Mixing old and new
Even with the number of retrofit products, structured wiring systems are not out of the question for remodeling. For large additions, especially those involving media rooms or home offices, structured wiring makes a great upgrade. Systems can be installed in the addition, then integrated with retrofit systems in the rest of the house. In fact, experts say that eventually ideal solutions will use both wired and wireless technologies.
Remodelers looking to delve further into home automation should form relationships with local custom electronic installers. Aside from potential lead sharing, they can keep you up to date on the latest products and technologies -- options your trend-savvy customers may already be asking about.