Home Automation Gets Real

The promise of home automation has beckoned for years. But while many companies have installed keyless entry devices, automated lighting and sophisticated climate control systems in office buildings and other facilities, consumers have largely eschewed home automation because of the high costs and complexity associated with retrofitting a house.

But the situation is changing and it?s creating new opportunities for a wide range of companies– and, of course, homeowners. ABI Research reports that the home automation market is undergoing a significant shift. Prior to the recession about 90 percent of all home automation installations took place in mid-to-high-end homes. The figure has declined to about 40 percent as homeowners turn to automaton for retrofits and renovations.

?The development of mostly standards-based technologies and resultant increase in retrofit jobs has somewhat offset the decline in new build business,? notes Craig Foster, senior analyst, home automation systems. The emergence of ?more reliable, no new wires technologies, such as ZigBee and Z-Wave? has played a fundamental role in fueling this growth. He also notes that when an upturn in housing takes place, adoption of home automation technology is likely to spike.

Already, a spate of vendors peddling Internet-enabled devices is beginning to tap this market. Companies like Eccobee and Trane, for example, offer climate control systems that can be managed via a web browser or iPhone. The Schlage LiNK system, which incorporates the Trane thermostat, also manages home locks, security and lighting. The latter system makes it possible to create temporary entry codes and avoid being locked out. 

Cable providers and telecoms are getting into the act too. Comcast, AT&T and others are aggressively pursuing the home automation market. ABI says that the remaining barrier for vendors and service providers is addressing a ?lack of awareness amongst the general populace? about what?s available and how the systems work. Nevertheless, it predicts that total global subscribers of home automation services provided for by home security companies will increase from around 513,000 in 2010, to over 10 million by 2016.