Building a connected home is no longer optional—it is expected by many of today’s young buyers. The market is saturated with gizmos and gadgets that every consumer wants in their home. So, the question remains for builders: With so many devices and home automation systems available today, how should residential construction companies choose which one to put in new homes? Taking it a step further, what standards and protocols come into play and how do builders choose which one for homes?
We all know Gen Z, or Screeners as I like to refer to them, are digital natives. This generation is the most likely to report a positive opinion on adopting smart-home technology, according to a Cinch Home Services survey, and yet it is also the generation that is most concerned about compatibility in their homes. And it’s for this reason builders and GCs need to take notice and need to start paying more attention to making a seamless connection in the home very harmonious. Because if there is one thing for sure, if the system or device doesn’t work, this generation will quickly take to social media and your world will be turned upside down quicker than you can say “woke.”
Selecting products that are built on certain standards often mean the products will be interoperable with other products from different manufacturers that are built on the same standard. But with so many options for standards, which direction should builders go?
Let’s talk about some of the traditional ones. Wi-Fi is perhaps one of the biggest standards in the home—and is expected by many young buyers today. In 1999, Wi-Fi was introduced for us in homes—and is a family of wireless network protocols, based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. The number of households in the United States with permanent internet access via broadband continues to rise, reaching 120 million households in 2020. Some of our most common devices like Amazon Alexa and other Google products run on Wi-Fi.
Later came the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance) established in 2002. Unlike traditional hub and spoke systems, in which devices communicate to a central controller, Zigbee products use a mesh networking technology, which allows devices to communicate with one another. Z-Wave is another example, which is a wireless radio frequency technology and operates at 908.42 MHz (in the U.S. & Canada) and allows smart devices to talk to and connect with one another. Z-Wave also runs on a mesh network. Another familiar name that often comes up in discussing smart-home protocols is Bluetooth. One of the biggest benefits to choosing Bluetooth for a home automation standard is that it uses significantly less energy than other alternatives. Unfortunately, it tends to have a limited range, so devices may stop working if the control (smartphone, tablet) moves out of range.
While those are some of the most widely known, there are many other standards that are not as widely known—and yet are still having a major impact on our homes.
One of the less talked about standards here in the states is KNX, which is an open standard for homes and building automation that can manage lighting, blinds, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), security, energy management, audio/video, and so much more. Using twisted pair, powerline, RF, or IP links, KNX evolved from three earlier standards: the European Home Systems Protocol (EHS), BatiBUS, and the European Installation Bus (EIB or Instabus). If widely used in Europe, why isn’t this standard more popular here in the United States?
New standards continue to emerge too. Less than a decade old, Thread Group came to market with an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking technology for the IoT (Internet of Things). The Thread Group alliance was formed as a working group in July 2014 to aid in becoming an industry standard by providing Thread certification for products.
Another one showing promise is LiFi—Light Fidelity—from pureLiFi. LiFi makes use of visible and invisible light, allowing it to have access to a greater range of available frequencies as the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger than the entire radio spectrum. The big benefits are this: LiFi are more secure from outside access and are lower costs in terms of energy consumption.
Here’s the point. There are many different standards to choose from—and more arriving every day. Perhaps we have done a disservice by creating so many standards for our smart homes, and yet each offers its own benefits. The challenge is without a home standard the industry is creating more headaches for the homeowner when something goes wrong. Isn’t it time that as an industry we learn to work together to figure this all out for the good of everyone, and I mean and putting the customer first? Putting the customer first, who’d a thunk?
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