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Seeing the Light

Consumer awareness of home automation has never been greater.

Consumer awareness of home automation has never been greater. Last month, on Amazon Prime Day, the retailer prominently offered a bundle deal consisting of an Echo Dot and an entry-level Philips Hue lighting kit for less than $100. That means right now, all across North America, hordes of people are enjoying their first taste of the possibilities of smart home control–and without doubt, wondering how they can take things to the next level. Cue the professionals.

With its Color Match solution, Crestron can provide roller shades in any custom color a client desires, to perfectly blend with a room’s aesthetics.

“With Control4, a smart home scene activated from a wall keypad replaces simple lighting for an entire room environment,” said Brad Hintze, senior director of product marketing at Control4. “For example, a ‘Good Morning’ scene–which can be activated with voice using Amazon Echo–can lift the shades and dim the lights, simultaneously turning on the news and air conditioning. Instead of viewing lighting as simply a smart light bulb, homeowners are seeing lighting as the anchor to creating a smarter home all around.”

Indeed, Control4 was one of the very first players in the industry to recognize the reach of Amazon’s voice technology, and integrated it from the outset. While the control company offers a wide range of options for controlling a home’s systems–from touchscreens, to remotes, to wall panels–it views voice as a major driver of the category in the future.

Another company that recognized this and has been building around voice control from the beginning is Lutron, which sees the interface’s advantage reaching far beyond simple convenience. “The ability to use your voice to control lights, shades, and temperature gives newfound freedom to an elderly person or someone with limited mobility–it could mean the difference between leaving the shades closed for years, or, with the touch of a button, having the freedom to let the warm sunlight fill the room,” said Michael Smith, vice president of sales, Lutron Electronics. “And to someone who’s wheelchair bound, having the ability to use their voice to adjust lights, shades, temperature, and more could mean the difference between a good day and a great day, providing them with the freedom and independence they might have thought were lost for good.”

The Savant Shading line of décor-conscious motorized shades features an enclosure-less design and carefully selected fabrics to complement a vast array of home design styles.

Basalte has crafted lines of wall switches, such as Sentido, that merge aesthetic simplicity with the control simplicity that automation systems allow.

Acknowledging the desire of consumers to start small and build a system as they see fit, Lutron offers the Caséta Wireless system, which provides control of lights, Lutron Serena shades, and thermostats from anywhere, using voice, a Lutron Pico remote, or the Lutron app.

Houston, TX-based Electronic Custom Distributors (ECD) can attest to the role that voice has played in driving CI sales, reporting substantial growth over the last six months. “Devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home have been major game-changers in making lighting control and home automation more attainable for the average consumer,” said Tom Hart, sales manager at ECD. “The lighting products themselves haven’t seen much change, but the new way to control them has taken our business to another level.”

According to Hart, the addition of lighting control can sometimes serve as a gateway into a whole-home system. “We’ve seen an encouraging increase in other devices such as smart thermostats and automated shading shortly after an integrator completes a smart lighting install to work with a voice assistant,” he said. “After the first installation of a few devices, customers are calling their installer back to add additional control throughout their home.”

If voice assistants represent a doorway into smart homes, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a floodgate. The promise of turning every device in the home into an intelligent endpoint is the dream of the industry, and a catalyst behind the latest in lighting and shading solutions. “IoT is driving smart and connected automation products with a focus on providing consumers with ease of use, efficiency, and reliability,” said Cassie Metzger, product marketing manager, residential, at Legrand Building Control Systems division. “IoT products for natural and artificial lighting management, integrated with shade control, continue to be a focus for lots of companies, including QMotion.”

Using the ZigBee Home Automation Mesh Network, QMotion shades work in conjunction with lighting and home controls to move shades to the right position to optimize the level of natural light, which results in increased energy efficiency and cost savings from the reduced use of artificial lighting. Products such as Qadvanced with ZigBee HA1.2 battery-operated shades feature two-way communication, for further efficiency.

Draper offers a range of shading lines that span the gamut of price and capability, as well as products for odd-shaped windows, like its Bottom-Up FlexShades.

Energy savings is another influence on the direction of smart home systems, as consumers begin to make the switch from traditional lighting to more efficient solutions. “Homeowners are adapting to LED-based solid-state lighting, generating demand for more products in the market that offer control of forward-phase or reverse-phase load types,” said Reid Cram, director of marketing communications at Legrand Building Control Systems division. “Vantage has developed several products that are load and fixture agnostic such as the Universal Dimming Module (UDM) and the Universal Dimming Station keypad (launching soon) featuring adaptive phase technology.”

In many cases, home design aesthetics all but necessitate intelligent shading solutions. “A current design trend in home building is to include lots of glass,” said Amy Madden, residential market manager for Draper. “That makes for a gorgeous façade with natural light that is proven to make us feel better. However, if left uncovered, it also increases HVAC costs and can even damage home décor.”

Draper offers a variety of automated shading solutions spanning the gamut of price and capability, from simple products like its battery-powered FlexShade Recharge, to creative solutions for odd-shaped windows, like the Bottom-Up FlexShades with custom hembars, as well as outdoor patio shading, with the FlexShade Zip.

Control4 offers tight integration with Amazon’s voice platform, allowing homeowners to use scenes to simultaneously lift shades, dim lights, and turn on the news and air conditioning.

For customers who want to start small and build a system as they see fit, Lutron offers the Caséta Wireless system, which provides control of lights, Lutron Serena shades, and thermostats from anywhere.

Savant is a brand that has always given the utmost attention to its product design and intuitive performance, and lighting and shades control is no exception. “Aesthetics, cost, and ease of installation are driving new trends in smart home lighting and shading, and Savant continues to bring simplicity and elegance to both product categories,” said Tim McInerney, director of product management, Savant Systems. To that end, the company offers compact, single- and dual-load snap-in lighting panels with built-in energy management capability that are designed to eliminate customized lighting enclosures. In addition, its Savant Shading line of décor-conscious motorized shades features an enclosure-less design and carefully selected fabrics to complement a vast array of home design styles.

Crestron is also very attentive to the design needs of its customers, putting customization at the forefront of its philosophy. “Design trends are always changing; however, it’s the personalization that is the true driving force–everybody is individual and allowing complete personalization is the only trend that matters,” said Michael Short, residential marketing manager at Crestron. “Our clients are unique and set their own trends, and therefore they need a lighting and shading solution that works just right for them.”

One way that Crestron enables this is through its Color Match solution: the company’s roller shades are available in any color, to perfectly blend with a space’s overall aesthetic. According to Short, the company can also tailor every other aspect of a home’s systems–from remote and touchscreen user interfaces to lighting schemes–to meet the aspirations of discerning clients (and their oft-obdurate interior designers).

Intelligent shading solutions from Legrand’s Building Controls division include (clockwise from left) the Vantage Equinox keypad, QMotion QIS (Power and Communication Panel), and the Qube Coordinator.

Finally, for the high-end client–especially ones with demanding design requirements–specifying an easy control solution for lighting and shading systems can be a difficult endeavor, as wall panels can detract from a room’s feng shui. “Moving away from the typical plastic switches, we see the rise of keypads that are made of durable, quality materials with designs that can go both ways: blending in the interior, or standing out as a true design statement,” said Klaas Arnout, CEO of Basalte. “We noticed that users focus more on functionality and less on technology. They are increasingly concerned about great usability and having functionalities that are adapted to their requirements. The technology behind it becomes less important.”

With these observations in mind, Basalte has crafted lines of wall switches, such as Sentido, that merge aesthetic simplicity with the control simplicity that automation systems allow, with control for consistent scenes on each keypad across a system.

Though it’s long been the case, the general public is rapidly becoming aware that home technology encompasses far more than just audio and video. As devices such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and forthcoming Apple HomePod whet the masses’ palette for the simplicity of automated living, the clientele for more sophisticated systems with high-end lighting and shading control will grow in step.

Matt Pruznick is senior editor for Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News. Follow him on Twitter @Pruznick.