Home automation: extravagance or essential? (+Video)

Amy Hamilton Chadwick
Home automation: extravagance or essential? (+Video)

Do you really need an automated home? Well, no. It’s not a necessity, but nor is the central locking remote for your car.

Home automation is an added extra that uses technology to make your life run a little more smoothly and conveniently.

The big question is: is it worth the cost?


Limitless applications

Automation creates a smart home where your security system, digital devices, TV, sound system, appliances and lighting can be linked together in a network – a ‘wireless mesh’.

You control your devices from a central remote on your phone and tablet. There are an almost limitless number of applications, including:

  •     Remotely monitoring and managing your home security, including video.
  •     Keyless entry, allowing you to let in tradespeople from work, for instance (you can also give them a code and change it once they’ve finished the job).
  •     Energy control and monitoring, turning appliances and lights off whenever they’re not needed.
  •     Audio everywhere, using your phone or tablet to control your music in any room of the house.
  •     Automated timing systems for when you’re away, like turning on lights, opening curtains, and turning on garden sprinklers.

SEE ALSO: How much should you spend on your renovation?


How much does it cost?

The price of automation has plummeted in the past five years as the technology has advanced.

Where it used to involve putting new cables into walls and start at tens of thousands of dollars, it now means installing tiny circuit boards into your existing systems. Retrofitting automation is now the same price as putting it into a new house.

“The range is $6,000 to $60,000, but most of my clients spend around $10,000 to $15,000,” says Rhys Dilks, managing director of Digihome.

He says the majority of his clients are passionate about technology and love being early adopters of home automation.

“Probably the thing people love the most is lighting control. They think they can do without it at the start, then whenever I talk to them afterwards they rave about it – they never have to turn a light on or off again. And they never have to worry again that they’ve left something on when they’re not at home, whether it’s the lights, the heaters, or anything else.”


How much does it add to the value of your house?

Having a great home automation system isn’t going to add any measurable dollar value to your house price, says Steve Williamson, Auckland regional manager at Rawlinsons.

The quantity surveying company prices up “very few” home automation systems for new homes, although that doesn’t include high-quality security systems which are almost universal.

Buyers don’t expect home automation (except possibly at the $5 million-plus range) and when they see it they’re not going to pay more for the house, Williamson says. But he has automation in his own home, driven by his teenage son, and admits it’s handy to be able to turn on the heating before he gets home.

“You do this for personal enjoyment, because you have an interest or there’s something you specifically want, as opposed to it being something buyer might want.”

Dilks agrees that automation doesn’t add anything to the price of your house, though he says he works on new apartment buildings where the sales teams see automation as an added point of difference.

“The sales guys say it helps their apartment building stand out from the rest, and sell faster than other buildings. Also, where it’s an option for people buying off the plans in an apartment building, about 80% of the buyers are taking it up.”

It’s an age-old argument from a quantity surveyor’s perspective, laughs Williamson: “The sales guys want something that will cost $5,000 per apartment and we say, ‘Is the price going to go up by $5,000?’ They say it’s about differentiation and selling faster - it’s a constant battle between the financial managers and the sales team.”


Is this going to become common or remain a luxury?

Our homes, like our cars, are platforms for technology. Innovations tend to start out with limited applications, lots of problems and high price tags – early mobile phones were brick-sized, had 30 minutes of talk time and cost $4,000. As the technology advances the price and size of devices drops, it gradually becomes mainstream and eventually it’s in the fabric of daily life.

LED lighting has been a good example of this in our homes, says Williamson. It was once too expensive to install in your home but now most people specify it. Wi-Fi has seen a similar uptake pattern: “We’re now seeing Wi-Fi going into retirement villages, where five years ago you wouldn’t have expected it.”  

How soon will the tipping point come when home automation is going into a majority of new builds? Williamson thinks it could be 10 to 20 years; Dilks thinks five to 10: “It looked like extravagance when it was $80,000 to put cables through the walls. The price was too high but five years ago it began to change. We’re starting to hit that mix where the price is right and the technology is good enough to make it work.”

SEE ALSO: How much should you spend on your renovation?


What’s driving the home automation uptake?

Even over the past year, Dilks says awareness of home automation has risen dramatically. Fewer people are asking him to explain what home automation is and more are asking about specific applications.

The Internet of Things revolution is gathering momentum: IT giant CISCO predicts that there will be 3.2 connected devices for every person by 2020. The desire for energy efficiency in new homes is helping drive demand (though your power savings alone won’t cover the cost of installing a new automation system).

As people show off their systems to their friends, the word keeps spreading. And as tech-reared Millennials start to rent and buy homes, they will pull technology with them into every aspect of their lives and their houses.

“Home automation will become expected but it’s still a long road to go and I don’t know what that road will look like,” says Dilks. “Five years is a long time in technology but a short time in property.” 


Property ambitions?