If you have been holding your breath waiting for home automation to finally develop into a mass market, your long wait is over. It’s time to exhale and saddle up to join the stampede of technology and service providers that are racing to lure an expanding range of consumers.
In less than two years the home automation market has suddenly become something of a crowded and cacophonous marketplace. New offerings from heavyweight telecoms and cablecoms, as well as DIY entries from big box retailers, are helping drive rapid change. National marketing campaigns; lower price points; improved technology, functionality and reliability; and growing appeal to consumers are just some of the drivers leading to increased adoption (see sidebar).
A watershed moment for connected devices and integrated systems in the home was unveiled this summer in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. Vivint and Garbett Homes, a residential development company, collaborated to design and outfit a single-family residence that approaches the concept of a true smart home. Nicknamed the Zero Home — meaning certified as net-zero energy-efficient in Climate Zone 5 (more on this in a moment) — the residence validates the trend that security and energy management applications have become key drivers in new home automation offerings.
Let’s take an up-close look at the technologies provided by Vivint that allow the Zero Home to produce renewable energy equal to the amount it consumes, and the advanced connected capabilities the company will soon begin mass marketing. Consider it a launching point to discuss the home of the future, and security’s role and opportunities in it.
Zero-Energy Home in the Spotlight
Located in a new residential community in Herriman, Utah, the Zero Home was first envisioned by Bryson Garbett, president and CEO of Garbett Homes. The concept was to build a home that produces as much or more energy than it uses.
The performance of the Zero Home has been independently certified under the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which establishes minimum design and construction requirements for energy efficiency. The IECC divides the United States into eight climate zones; Utah and numerous other states that experience hot summers and cold winters are classified as Climate Zone 5. The Vivint-Garbett home is the first to be certified as net zero in zone 5. As many as 50 similar homes are planned for the community.
The home actually earned a negative-one rating on the House Energy Rating System (HERS), which is the Department of Energy’s scoring system for measuring residential energy performance. Standard houses typically have a HERS rating of 100. The Zero Home’s ability to achieve a high degree of energy efficiency required a unique framing design, spray foam and blown-in insulation, low-E windows, compact fluorescent lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, a sophisticated HVAC system and more.
Garbett Homes would also require a cost-efficient photovoltaic system to achieve its sustainability goals for the structure. “We sought out Vivint specifically because of the work they are doing in solar,” says Garbett. “As we got to know them better, we would come to learn their talents are much more than that.”
The solar power system decreases the Zero Home’s HERS rating from approximately a 28 to a 5. On average, the arrays save homeowners 20% on their energy bills, according to the company. Vivint Solar’s business model is based on a power purchase agreement that calls for a 20-year lease agreement with the customer. The company installs solar systems at no cost and homeowners agree to buy power generated by the solar panels at a lower cost than a typical power bill. The home remains tied to the grid, allowing homeowners to purchase additional electricity from a public utility when necessary. Vivint sells any excess power to the utility.
A relationship quickly blossomed between Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen and the homebuilder. Pedersen shared Garbett’s vision to build sustainable smart homes that could be replicated on a large scale and remain attainable for middle-income homebuyers. Their talks would lead Vivint to beta test its latest home automation technology in the 5-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom Zero Home prior to being marketed commercially in 2014. It is also equipped with super-high-speed wireless broadband from Vivint’s new wireless division, which is in its trial phase.
The house was officially introduced in August during a press event that was attended by local, state and federal officials.
“What we are trying to accomplish as a business, in partnering with companies like Garbett, is to create this cool, physical world where you can own a home and you can control and manage a home in a very real-time way with technology,” Pedersen told the gathering. (See “Vivint Joins Home Builder to Market Tomorrow’s Smart Home”.)
Smart Thermostat Keys Users to Take Action
The energy-efficient features of the Zero Home are amplified with the home automation system, which was designed by Vivint engineers. The company’s latest control panel technology manages home controls and security systems (a closer look at the panel’s functionality is discussed later).
Aside from the Zero Home’s photovoltaic system, the biggest area around automation that effects energy usage is a smart thermostat, explains Vivint CTO Jeremy Warren. “HVAC is the biggest source of usage for residential environments. So anything that we can do to reduce the use of the HVAC system is greatly beneficial.”
Programmable thermostats are by no means a novel device; however, consumers have largely found them to be unwieldy to use, Warren says. “There is a reason why programmable thermostats are sold everywhere but the usage rates for them are laughably low.”
Vivint’s latest smart thermostat allows users to adjust the temperature manually via an LCD touchscreen, schedule the device to adjust automatically for each day of the week or control the temperature remotely from a Web-enabled mobile device such as a smartphone.
“When you arm your system ‘away’ you put your thermostat into economy mode. When you come home, it is automatically in comfort mode. You don’t have to think about or do anything different. We think that is a huge difference,” Warren says.
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