Expert Andrew Woods on Designing a Smart Home that Clients Will Love

Control4 Smart Home Professionals have a passion for technology and beautiful home esthetics, as you’d quickly find out after just a few minutes talking to Andrew Woods. Andrew has been in the technology industry for a long time, and his talent and knowledge for home automation spans beyond his technical knowledge; he understands the importance of both how a home looks as well as how it functions.

We asked this Control4 Certified Dealer & Programmer about his passion for technology, how he approaches the customer experience side of home automation, and his latest project – a District II Budapest villa.

What got you interested in becoming a home automation expert?

I was an electrician and a DJ in the UK before moving to Canada from England. I’ve always been an audio person. I’ve always loved music, and it fascinated me that you could reproduce the sounds of a live concert on a sound system. I’ve constantly had extreme sound systems, and I was always trying to think of what I could do next to make it better. Since my first business in Canada was in access control and security, networking and home automation were a natural progression for me. I have been working with Control4 since the beginning (over a decade ago). When I found out they were bringing the technology to Hungary, I wanted to be on the forefront and have the opportunity to live and work in this beautiful city of Budapest.

What are the benefits of working with a smart home professional for design professionals?

Designers like working with me because they know I’m not going to complicate their client’s lives, I’m not going to put technology in places that will take away from the beauty of the home, and I can offer solutions to the designer to compliment their work. The true character of any company comes not when they are trying to sell a product, but when they are trying to solve a problem. How fast I respond, how fast I fix it, and how competently I fix it are what’s most important. And I believe that you can’t just be good at that—you have to be great at it. Designers can trust that I want their customer to be happy and I will always put my best foot forward for both new and existing customers.

How do you approach a project to make sure the client is satisfied with the results?

I listen a lot in the initial meeting, I do an interview, and I always ask people what technologies they’ve had in the past, what they like/disliked about those systems, and what technologies they have heard about that they would like to have in their home. I never want to create a system that they won’t be happy with, and I’ve learned through experience that customers don’t want complicated systems. So I listen and then think about what solutions would solve their problems and what they are looking for. For example, some of my clients are older, and they want something that is simple and easy to use. The Control4 system is very intuitive for most people. 

What advice do you have for your homeowners or for designers/architects integrating technology into their designs?

What I see designers and homeowners struggle with the most is that they equate smart devices with a smart home. These piecemeal, DIY devices are not very reliable nor are they often integratable. That can cause frustration because they are not able to perform all the functions that a homeowner may want. Start thinking about technology as an integrated solution rather than just a device. For example, if someone just gets a smart doorbell or gate bell, you can’t have it connect with anything. All it can do is ring to your smartphone. However, if it is properly integrated into a smart home platform like Control4 and hardwired by a professional, then it’s not stressed with bandwidth and can ring on the audio system and video can pop up on the TVs and the touch screens as well as your phone. The homeowner can also respond to it via video or even open the gate/ door all from one interface or app. People want a quality experience in all aspects of their lives and that includes technology. Think of technology as a quality-enhancing solution for the home experience, and you’ll really start impressing clients.

What Control4 project are you currently working on here in Budapest?

I’ve spent the last year designing the smart tech and AV for a new-build villa in the Buda Hills. Working with the architects and other designers, the aim was to build a modern villa and create the optimum smart home for easy living, both inside and out. Not only did I create the design for the tech, but I am also doing the installation and programming on-site.  We start tomorrow, so stay tuned for future updates and follow along with the build!

The Budapest Smart Villa with a view.

Control4 Smart Home OS 3 has arrived!

Control4 Smart Home OS 3 has hundreds…no, make that thousands of enhancements driven from customer and dealer feedback. Which are my favorites? Here are just a few…

  • Favorite Rooms – I love swiping quickly between my living room, bedroom, kitchen, and terrace.
  • Audio Favorites – My one-click Favorites to play Radio Paradise on TuneIn; The Beatles White Album (Super Deluxe) in MQA from Tidal Masters; and my Genesis playlist.
  • On Screen interface – I added Favorites for Netflix and Amazon Prime;  lighting scenes; and my door locks so they are what I see as soon as I press the red Control4 button.
  • Music distribution – Sending music to rooms is available from the new Media Bar on the Room, Now Playing, or Sessions Screens.
  • All Rooms + Filter in Lighting – It’s easier than ever to see which lights were accidentally left on.
  • Volume tap – on the volume slider, I use the tap-the-slider option to change volume up or down a couple of percentage points.

We recently released a new help page for customers that provide light troubleshooting, user guides and videos.  Click here for more:

 Customer Help Page

3 Ways to Have Fun with your Smart Home this Christmas

1. Use lighting controls to add special ambience to your party or seasonal display

There’s nothing better than baking some cookies, playing your favorite music, and sitting by the fireside with some hot cocoa. To really set the mood, dim the lights in your home with your smart lighting controls by Control4. You can even automate your Christmas lights when its time to decorate. To add some color to your seasonal displays, use Phillips HUE smart light bulbs. They can emit all the colors of the rainbow and tie into your Control4 system. So not only will you save money with lighting control, but you’ll have fun picking different shades for a party or your decorative displays. Pick a subtle orange for Thanksgiving, and then red and green for Christmas.

2. Create holiday playlists and play them with your whole house music system

Music plays a huge role in getting us into the holiday spirit, especially since we only play these songs once a year. When you have a whole house music system, you can play different songs in each area of the house, or play the same playlist everywhere. And with smart controls, you can even time the music to come on every day. Wake up to Christmas carols, and then end the day with “Jingle Bell Rock” as you decorate the tree. If your partner is tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, all he or she has to do is turn on a different station in another room. Open the Control4 app on your phone or tablet, select a source like Spotify, and then choose which type of music you’d like to hear. With a smart home, you get to choose exactly how you celebrate the season.

3. Enjoy fun films with family and friends in a home theater

Just like music really gets us in the mood, watching movies can do the same thing as they give us some holiday entertainment to enjoy. If you have a Dolby Atmos home theater, you can enjoy 3D audio as well while you watch your most loved films. Your favourite Christmas movies can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. All you need to do is hit one button on your Control4 touch screen to dim the lights, close the shades, set the thermostat to a cozy temperature, and start the movie. The best way to enjoy yourself this holiday season is to take advantage of all the conveniences of having a smart home—and of course some cookies and mulled wine. 

The Pitfalls of DIY Home Automation

THE PITFALLS OF DIY

The inscrutable interface. One of the most recognizable aspects of a DIY “smart home” is that the only person who understands how to use it is the person who implemented it. We all have that gadget that presents a confusing array of cryptic buttons or a software application with an unfathomable user interface. Sure, it makes sense to the engineers who designed it. But for the average user, it’s just frustrating.
 
An automated home is much more complex than a single device or app. It integrates multiple devices and orchestrates them to work together. It takes the pile of entertainment remote controls and consolidates them into one, and then extends that control to lights, climate control, shades, door locks, the hot tub, the garage door, and…well, you get the idea. A smart home is one of the most complex systems there are. Making it simple to use is a complex task.
 
The DIY hobbyist typically ends up with an array of light switch buttons, entertainment system controls, and other interfaces that confound anyone but him or herself. For a spouse or family, this experience can cause, shall we say, “domestic friction.” And when you demo all the “conveniences” you implemented to guests, it leaves them less than impressed.
 
The work of professional installers gets you an entirely different experience. They aren’t mere techies, but more so user interface designers. They understand that technology is simply the means to automate a home. They apply their technical acumen, experience, and education to create a smart home that actually feels smart and leaves the homeowner with a system so simple and sensible that anyone can use it.

THE DIS-INTEGRATED HOME
 
Directly related to the “inscrutable interface” problem is the tendency for few DIY automators to ever bring their various smart devices together to create a single integrated system. Just getting the shades or lights automated feels like a major accomplishment. My house is now automated! But the novelty of “there’s an app for that” wears out quickly when you have to launch a separate tool for each different subsystem of the home. The result is an experience that is disjointed for the owners and inaccessible to visitors.
 
To make this clear, let’s take another example. A Nest thermostat is, at first, fantastic. A Ring doorbell, convenient. A Sonos whole-home audio system, grand. Likewise, a network security camera or a Philips Hue smart light bulb. But each uses a separatemobile app. There’s no integration point between them.
 
Now apply that to the dream of a “smart home” as expressed by an evening at home. You come home to relax, pour a glass of wine, and read for a bit. Dimmed lights set the mood. The room warms or cools to your comfort. Your favorite music cues in the downstairs. And when someone comes to the door and rings the bell, the music pauses, the front porch light turns on, and your smartphone shows you who’s there.
 
A smart home makes all that possible with the press of a single button, maybe on a keypad on the wall, or from a single app in your hand. But with the usual smart devicesthat the typical DIY enthusiast installs, the setup requires a couple minutes of juggling between different apps to get everything set just right for relaxing. And then it’s another multi-app scramble when the doorbell rings.

My point here is that a smart home is not an archipelago of smart devices. That experience is frustrating even for the person who knows all the different apps. It’s impossible for the person who doesn’t. That’s why professionals use advanced home automation systems. By having an intelligence layer that connects a home’s various subsystems, the pro installer can orchestrate them to the homeowner’s lifestyle. The result is a qualitative difference that is immediately apparent. No more jaunty-jumping between disjointed interfaces. Things just work. 

THE TYRANNY OF EXPEDIENCY

Another common DIY mistake is corner cutting: time cuts, effort cuts, and cost cuts.

There is nothing wrong with the DIY homeowner seeking to save money by going DIY. Saving money is one of the major reasons we do things ourselves. And for most DIY projects, we can make up for inexperience through a wealth of online resources that demonstrate how to get the job done. Replacing a garbage disposal? You can find a hundred examples on YouTube. Fix an uneven subfloor? Flip through an inexpensive book from a home improvement superstore for several ways to approach it.
 
However, automating a home is different from most home improvement projects. It requires vast amounts of domain-specific knowledge, from how to get the best 3D sound for an Atmos theater to determining the best wireless sensors for detecting if a window has been accessed or a door has been left ajar. Without a background in this domain, you can’t assess the compromises you’re making until late in the project. That’s when the system won’t work as you want, and you’re stuck figuring out why not.
 
Here’s what I call the “everything wireless” path to failure. The rationale goes like this: “In this modern age of WiFi, I can just connect everything wirelessly!”

And the current world of devices presents you with a picture that makes it look like you really can. Just about every other device you might want to connect in the home—wireless speakers in various bedrooms, the Apple TV and audio/video receiver in the theater, the video doorbell at the front door, and the security cameras from Best Buy—can all connect to a WiFi network.
 
So you think, “Cables? We don’t need no stinking cables!”
 
It’s cheaper. You don’t need to buy Ethernet cables and switches.
 
It’s easier. You don’t need to run Ethernet cables through walls to hide them.
 
It’s faster. You probably already have the wireless router from your ISP set up and ready.
 
Sadly, you’re betting on the wrong horse. The vendors who make these solutions seldom consider that you want all these solutions to work at the same time.
 
So, movie night on the DIY system goes like this…
 
Your spouse sits down at to watch Netflix from the wirelessly connected smart TV. Your daughter starts a YouTube video on her tablet upstairs. Your son downloads a game to his laptop. The now-overloaded WiFi network chokes with demand and delivers nothing well.

A professional installer knows that the only devices that should use wireless are wireless-only devices. They specify a wired network for major bandwidth-consuming devices like an Apple TV, smart TV, or music streamer because they know that your smartphone or tablet have no choice but to use WiFi. Essentially, the professional installer clears the air for your best experience by designing a wired network tailored to connect any device that can use it.
 
Yes, a wired network will cost more, for the equipment, labor to properly run cables, and the effort to design for performance. However, its payback is in reliability and responsiveness you’d expect from an automated home. Like that of a crystal-clear, unpixellated Netflix movie night.
 
Most DIY enthusiasts will tell you that a vitally important part of home improvement is doing it right the first time. But home automation does not lend itself to achieving that goal. Professional integrators have learned through apprenticeship, experience, and, frankly, failing a lot along the way. There is simply no way for a DIY enthusiast to achieve that kind of background and expertise.
 

A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
 
While we’re on that idea of domain-specific knowledge, let’s hit one other big way that that DIY often comes up short: you don’t know what you don’t know. If you have never lived in a properly automated home, you probably lack adequate context to understand what you really want. 
 
Many people have the idea that “smart lighting” meant lights they could turn on or off by a schedule, or from a mobile phone. 
 
Most people don’t have adequate context to understand that humans prefer lighting based on areas of use rather than circuits installed by an electrician. Most often when you go in the kitchen, you want the counter pendant lamps and the recessed ceiling lights to come on together. With a modern open floor plan, you may want the family room illuminated at the same time. Out of innocent naivety, the DIY enthusiast imagines that automation is the control of circuits. Consequently, they produce a quirky, gadgety interface: this button turns on this light, and that button turns on that light.
 
The professional thinks about setting “scenes.” They know that a kitchen serves different functions at different times:
 
 A “Cooking” button turns on all the right lights to a relatively bright level, so you can actually see what you’re doing.
 
A “Cleaning” button turns them even brighter, so you can sterilize those nooks and crannies.
 
A “Homework” button dims most of the lights except where they’re needed, keeping the youngsters focused.
 
An “Entertaining” button dims the lights down and plays the “Party” playlist overhead. 

PRESCRIPTIONS FOR AN ASPIRING DIY-INCLINED HOMEOWNER
 
The pitfalls I described above are just some of the ways a home automation project can go wrong when done by DIY rather than DIFM (do-it-for-me).
 
As fellow tech enthusiasts, most professional installers love sharing what they do. It’s their passion. Asking them to show you a project site or give you an idea of what you can do in your own home costs you nothing. One visit to a job site will open your eyes more than any further examples and admonishments I could lay out in written form. 

What is Home Assistant and do I need it?

Did you ever wish that Alexa or Google Assistant was able to let you have a smart home instead of just a bunch of smart things? It would be awesome to wake up to fresh coffee, have the news playing on a TV or radio, the toaster pre-heated and the temperature adjusted correctly and all the other things we can use smart gadgets to do, but have it do them automatically based on the time you set your alarm clock. How about dimming the room lights, turning on any back lighting on a monitor or display, and making everything cozy when you start playing a movie?

These are relatively simple tasks that should be able to be strung together and just work instead of us having to open 10 different apps and make 10 different adjustments individually. Isn’t that what we all imagined when we decided to start having an automated home?

You can, and you can even do a lot more with a good automation hub. And a good automation hub doesn’t have to be expensive because you can use the Home Assistant platform on something as cheap as a Raspberry Pi.

What is an Automation Hub?

It’s a smart appliance that can hook into other smart devices and issue commands that you’ve setup under the circumstances you’ve setup.

We have a basic example of an inexpensive hub with Samsung’s SmartThings. With the SmartThings software you can set up schedules or commands driven by an event (event as in it’s cold outside, not event as in a concert or movie premiere) and individual smart devices can work together and be smart like they are supposed to be.

An Automation Hub is probably what you expected from your Echo or Google Home and didn’t really get.

The Home Assistant platform works the same way. You let it find all the smart things on your local Wi-Fi network, connect with the ones it can control, and gives you a simple interface to make them act as a group based on when and how you want the single command to trigger. What makes Home Assistant great is that it isn’t trying to focus on a single brand of smart products. Most of the gadgets you already have will work, and connecting to network services like IFTTT is straightforward and simple.

It installs on any always-connected operating system that can support Python 3 apps and it’s very small and lightweight. This makes it great if you want to use a Rasberry Pi as a small and inexpensive Automation hub.

Why do I want this?

Maybe you don’t. It’s important to remember that Home Assistant can’t control anything itself. It only acts as a master device that can tell other services like Philips Hue or Nest to do something. If you don’t have any existing smart devices you won’t see Home Assistant do anything. But if you have already invested in one or more smart devices, it’s a really great way to extend the features and functionality that won’t cost a lot of money.

Home Assistant is easy to use and setting it up is inexpensive.

It’s also a local service, which means it’s not going to send any data to the cloud, even if it has to retrieve data from the internet. The routines and commands you set up are for your eyes only. It’s also pretty easy to “program” routines using a web interface hosted locally from the Home Assistant program. That’s important because a service like this can get extremely complicated if you want to program extensive routines, so having the interface nice and simple makes doing it a lot easier.

I think anyone with more that a couple smart gadgets and even a slight interest in taking the next step really needs to check Home Assistant out.

 

6 Smart Home Upgrades to Install during your Renovation

Smart Home Reno

A renovation is the perfect time to customize your living space and take advantage of the latest in smart home tech. The smart home market is on the rise, and many companies are starting to offer products that integrate seamlessly into the design of a house. For those brave enough to jump into the deep end, the potential benefits from whole-home automation are nearly limitless. Larger upgrades often involve extensive custom design work, including hardwiring, so it’s best to upgrade when you’re already renovating to cut down on cost.
 
Smart home integration is a strong investment. According to a survey conducted by Houzz, smart tech has become more of a priority for renovating homeowners—28% say that it’s at the top of their lists. And in the luxury home market, these features are now expected. Smart home technology can set your home apart from other options on the housing market, and potentially increase the value of your property’s value.
 
Take advantage of your next overhaul and consider incorporating these six smart home renovations into your living space.

1. USB OUTLETS

If you tear out the backsplash in your kitchen, chances are you’ll need to rewire a few outlets. A home renovation gives you the opportunity to upgrade your home’s electrical system for your tech-friendly lifestyle. Outlets with built-in USB ports allow easy smartphone and tablet charging without the need for an unsightly power brick, freeing up the outlets themselves for appliances and lighting. Look for a USB outlet that offers 4.8 amp charging for larger devices, and make sure it meets the highest standards for safety.

2. HOME AUTOMATION SYSTEM

If you’re planning to install a number of smart home products during your home renovation project, a smart home system can help you automate the function of each device. A smart home system offers compatibility with a range of individual devices across several standards, and it may integrate directly with your digital voice control assistant. The Amazon Echo is the most popular voice-controlled smart device offered today and is compatible with whole-home automation systems like Control4. Once you’ve chosen a smart home automation system, be sure to select smart devices that “play nicely” with it to further the benefits in your home.

3. BUILT-IN SPEAKERS

Speakers and audio equipment can take up a lot of space, and unsightly wires can really break up the aesthetic feel of a minimalist living room. Luckily, several companies offer custom speaker systems that integrate directly into your home’s construction. Look for systems that mount directly into your home’s walls, ceiling, cabinetry, and even your patio. And they can be custom-matched to the painting on your walls or to various wood veneers.
 

4. MOTION SENSORS AND SMART SECURITY OPTIONS

While it’s still very possible to do in a home that does not require repairs or updates, automating your home security can be much easier to do during a renovation. Adding sensors that detect motion, door or window access, broken glass, smoke or carbon monoxide, and flooding are individual components that can be integrated into an automation system and customized to the unique layout of your home. When you tie an alarm panel into a home automation system, you can even receive alerts on our mobile device if any door or window has been accessed, or every light in the house can turn on instantly or flash repeatedly to alert neighbors of a potential break-in.
 

5. HOME SECURITY CAMERAS

Doorbell cameras, perimeter cameras, and interior cameras can be accessed and monitored by the phone in your pocket while you’re away at work or vacation. Discreetly camouflaging security cameras into the design of your home’s entryway and most frequented areas can help you protect your home and the things inside without making friends or family feel uncomfortable. Doorbell cameras are low-profile and minimally invasive, and you can easily install one during a refresh of your doorway. The faceplate can be customized to match your home, and most units come hardwired so you don’t need to replace any batteries. Should you decide to add one after the fact, there are many wireless options, as well.
 

6. SMART THERMOSTATS

A smart thermostat is a nice upgrade for your heating and cooling system, but these devices can potentially improve your home’s efficiency much more if you install a few extra temperature sensors. During your home renovation, you can hardwire sensors directly into your smart thermostat, allowing it to automatically regulate the temperature in each room. 
 
Whether you’re hiring a contractor or renovating your home yourself, the opportunity to update your home’s technology shouldn’t be missed. You’ll save on installation time, and the potential increase in your home’s value may offset many of the costs associated with these technologies. Your smart home can make everyday tasks and activities more pleasant and convenient, all while keeping your family safer and more secure. It’s a win-win for home renovators.

5 Must-Have Automated Home Accessories

Outdoor security

The home of the future has arrived, thanks in large part to state-of-the-art automation accessories. These “smart” devices can transform an ordinary house into one with improved energy efficiency, safety, and privacy (while making daily tasks a lot more convenient and fun). From controlling your home’s temperature, lighting, and security system, to making it all work together with just a simple voice command, here’s a look at five must-have smart home accessories.
 
1. Motorized Window Treatments
 
Smart window treatments allow you to open and close your motorized blinds or shades from your mobile device, a touch screen or keypad on the wall, or program them to open and shut on a schedule.
 
Automated window treatments can make a world of difference, particularly for homeowners who want to reduce their heating and cooling bills. Set your shades to block out the sun on a sweltering summer day, or open them to let the sun shine in, naturally heating your home in the winter, all while you’re away at work.
 
There is no need to sacrifice your distinct sense of style with automated window shades, either. You can choose from a broad array of motorized blinds and shades in colors and fabrics to complement and enhance your house’s appearance.
 
2. Thermostats
 
A smart thermostat helps you keep your house at the optimal temperature, while using only the necessary energy. While a regular thermostat allows you to manually adjust the temperature of your home, a smart thermostat can deliver the right level of comfort with advanced presets and scheduling, It can also respond with the seasons or the humidity within your home.
 
Additionally, with a smart thermostat, you can manage your house’s temperature remotely, warming up the house before you arrive home or setting it to “Vacation” mode while you’re away. It may even lower your annual energy bills and help to reduce your carbon footprint.

nest-thermostat

3. Door Locks
 
Ever worry that you forgot to lock the front door when you left the house? With smart locks, you can put this worry to rest.
 
A smart lock frequently complements a traditional front door deadbolt. It enables you to unlock your front door without a key, lock and unlock it remotely, as well as receive alerts about who is entering and exiting your home.
 
Let’s not forget about the home protection that a smart lock provides, either. A smart lock can be paired with a video surveillance camera and security system to deliver continuous home monitoring.

Door lock

4. Smart Lights
 
Smart lights give you additional control over your home lighting and may even help you sleep better at night.
 
Like many smart devices, your lights can be controlled from a smartphone or tablet. You can even control the lights using a dedicated touch screen, keypads on the wall that replace traditional switches and dimmers, or even the TV remote! Smart lighting is customizable, and you can configure certain lights to automatically turn on or off based on the time of day, on a schedule, or activate lighting “scenes” based on certain moods and activities in your home (cooking, dining, parties, etc.).
 
If you have trouble sleeping, smart lighting may even help you get the Z’s you need, as well. With color changing bulbs, you can find a perfect color and temperature that mimics natural lights and calming hues. Then, have the lights gradually decrease in illumination throughout the evening to prepare your eyes for bed.

5. Voice Control Assistant
 
Imagine what it would be like if you could control all of your smart home devices with a single accessory. Today, voice control is making this dream a reality for homeowners.
 
Think of a voice control device as your very own personal assistant. The system responds to your voice commands, making it easy to do anything from order groceries to schedule appointments.
 
Voice control is also proving to be exceedingly valuable to users with disabilities, helping them accomplish many home tasks that they otherwise would be unable to complete on their own, like controlling the lights, thermostat, security system, and window treatments.
 
All of these smart home features can be connected and integrated, too. When they’re all integrated into a fully-automated smart home,  you can manage your home’s most vital functions from many convenient interfaces, making the home of the future your home of today.

Alexa