What does it cost to get an "automation system" in your home? Well, that depends. What do you consider a smart home? What do I consider a control system for an automated home?
There are lots of terms for smart home and automated homes. So one of the most important aspects of understanding pricing would be to understand features, because an automation system can range from $1600 to into the hundreds of thousands. I always say it is like buying a car. If you know what you are looking for, then you can better decide if the price is right for you. If you just ask "how much does a car cost?", well you will get a different answer from a Honda dealer and a Mercedes dealer. You would get a different answer from a guy building his own hotrod in his garage. And you would get a different answer altogether from someone who gets chauffeured in a limo. Let's look at what would make a smart home or automation system range so drastically in price.
- Audio. One of the most popular features of a smart home is music. This can be a simple Sonos desktop speaker to a distributed audio system. For some people a simple wireless speaker in a room or two might be all they want. That would fall within the DIY category because that is something you can buy and set up yourself. Our company specializes in distributed audio, but even within that performance and features can range drastically. A whole house or distributed audio system would be architectural speakers (usually in wall or in ceiling) and electronics in a cabinet or closet, powering multiple areas of the home. Most of these systems can play the same music in all areas or can play different streams. Digital music or streaming is the trend and while some services used to be considered low resolution, most have transitioned into CD quality or higher, with the remaining service working out ways to improve quality and even being considered high resolution. The systems we install are all capable of high resolution and scalable, so if someone starts out with a single stream of music, for example, they could add more streams later on. They could even add to the number of zones. Sources and streaming services are part of the equation for whole home audio, but so are the speakers. At no time in history have there been more choices in speakers. We deal with all levels of performance and many, many different styles. But a basic system to give you four zones (areas) would typically sell for $6000 including installation. We have designer systems that can do 5-6 zones that sell for $20,000 including installation. The biggest swing on the budget, outside of the number of zones, will be the speakers used in the design. We go over the basics here.
- Background music. You like music, you want music playing while you are about the house. A basic architectural speaker from a major manufacturer sounds pretty darn good these days. You don't have to spend a ton of money to get good performance for background music. The standard for most speakers in this category is small or no bezel and they are usually a little large to be able to play full range sound, usually 8-10" in diameter. These speakers are usually a couple hundred to a few hundred dollars for a pair of these tried and true options.
- High performance. While looks are important, hi-fi sound drives this purchase. For those who want higher performance, it used to be that you had to sacrifice on sound to get the speakers in the wall or ceiling - not so much any more. Brands like B&W, Focal, Sonos Faber, and more have taken exact components out of floorstanding or bookshelf speakers, built an inwall box for them, and tuned them to be in a wall. The result is really close or same performance as the higher level box speakers in the same series from the same brand. That Bowers & Wilkens Diamond in wall speaker is going to sound surprisingly similar to the bookshelf version but will cost about the same too, before installation. These types of speakers are usually a few thousand per pair.
- Designer. You really like music, but aesthetics are really important. Small aperture, discreet opening, micro are all names for the same category. These are a step up in price and performance from basic speakers. But where they really stand out is the integration into the design. These types of speakers are really small and have grilles to match the size and / or shape of most standard light fixtures. They are usually designed and sold as a system because tiny speakers will require hidden subwoofers in order to produce a full range sound. Most of these systems are usually sold as sets of 5 or 6 speakers. So instead of having a single large pair of speakers in an area, you have 5 tiny openings in the ceiling distributed throughout the space. The end result is better looking, because they look like lights, and better sound because you have higher performance, better distribution, and more full range sound in the space. You are still buying more speakers, which all require installation, and usually need specialized amplification to make them work. But the final product is something that designers and homeowners alike really appreciate. These speaker systems usually cost a couple thousand per zone.
- Invisible. Sure, you like sound, but speakers are meant to be heard and not seen. Truly invisible speakers have come a long way over the years. They have been around for decades, but used to sound like the speaker was just buried in the wall. Not anymore. As technology has improved, so has the performance of invisible speakers. We are at a point in time where it is now possible to have speakers be completely concealed and yet not notice a substantial drop in performance. Sounds ideal, right? Well they do come with a higher price tag AND their own set of specialty circumstances for installation. For example, with most invisible speakers, drywall mud can't be more than a skim coat or 3/16th of an inch. Retrofitting them is not possible without redoing the drywall in the area. Some wall coverings will not work over them (wood, metal, etc.), while many others (wallpaper, drywall, leather) will work fine. And in the unlikely event that they fail and need replacement, they will have to be cut out and mudded back in. While that is extremely rare, it is something to consider and you would only want to buy a brand that really knows their stuff. Bottom line is that invisible speakers can now truly compete in performance with other types, while remaining completely hidden from sight. Both Sonance and Origin Acoustics make versions that perform well. A pair of these will usually cost a few thousand and will have to be planned for with additional installation time by both the drywall company and integrator.
- Climate. Thermostats are another category that is very popular. Yes, you can buy a Nest thermostat for about $350. It is a pretty simple installation but it will likely only ever work with the Nest app. This has changed several times over the last few years. So while buying a thermostat like this may work for you, it is not guaranteed to work with any other system. The thermostats that we sell are going to have more features, mainly a touch screen interface that can be used with a Savant system for controlling scenes (not just temperature settings) and external temp sensor options. They sell for $525, look nice, and are full featured. You can set timers on just about any programmable thermostat. The benefit of these is that with a home control system, you can set up scenes that will respond and control these thermostats without much input. A "home" scene will insure the temperature is set throughout the home exactly as you want it. A "night" scene can not only turn off lights, but it can also change temp settings in areas outside of bedrooms to save energy. And yes, you can set schedules like on most thermostats to save you money while everyone is away from the home. An additional designer feature of the thermostats that we sell is that they come with temperature sensors. We can hide thermostats so that they are not cluttering up walls (since they can be controlled with an app anyway) and make only a dime sized sensor the visible part. This is especially helpful in areas that share thermostats. In many homes, two bedrooms share a thermostat or HVAC zone. No problem. We can add another sensor so that temp readings can be taken directly from each room separately. Now instead of a single thermostat being outside of both rooms in a hallway measuring the temp of the hallway, we can have individual sensors actually inside each room reporting back readings. This has solved several situations where the HVAC system might not be zoned 100% correctly.
- Lighting control. This is a big category with tons of options. I will address this one in another post, going into more detail on types, features, and new technologies. But for the sake of budgeting, controlling a load or group of lights, will typically average out to about $150 per. In many cases that means taking out the existing switch or dimmer and replacing it with a "smart" dimmer or one that communicates with the control system. Yes, there are cheap ones you can purchase on Amazon or at Home Depot that will start at $75 from a reputable manufacturer. These will be limited on how many you can use in a single system and the quality of dimming they provide. Since many of our systems require 20 to sometimes over 100 dimmers, we have to use controllable dimmers designed for this application. A basic, single button will cost about $150 plus installation. A multi button keypad style dimmer with engraved buttons will usually run about $250. And designer keypads can be up to $325 in brushed metal finishes with custom engraved buttons. In some cases, if we work with clients during the design phases, we can reduce the number of devices on the wall. So they need fewer wall box switch locations because they do more from multiple buttons, which means they can spend a little more on the look. We consolidate the other load controls to be behind the scenes. This is more involved, as previously mentioned, but gives a higher level of design. Suffice it to say that $150 per switch location or lighting load is a good starting point for budgeting and as with everything custom, a designed system will go up from there.
- Motorized shades. Some people do none of this, others, especially in condos, do them on every window. Motorized shades are typically custom made to fit the window and in the choice of color or fabric of the client's preference. There are loads of benefits to having them which include lighting control, privacy, and UV protection to name a few. There is no one size fits all solution, so pricing will vary depending on a number of factors. You can go to IKEA and get motorized shades for $150 or so per window if they make them in a size and color that would work for your window. They are battery powered and only work with a handheld remote. The limited control and customization options will work for some people but not for others. So we take the custom made approach with all of our jobs. We see that with wired or battery shades from most of the major manufacturers including Lutron, J Geiger, and Screen Innovations; prices average about $1250 per window. These can be integrated into a smart home system, controlled through an app, and controlled with an optional handheld remote. They are much more versatile and have many more choices when it comes to color and fabric. Obviously a huge window will be more and several small windows will be less per window, but that is a pretty good average to use for budgeting. A reputable company should be able to give you a rough estimate for tentative approval based on plans or quick measurements, then give you an exact price for final. We have done a living room for a couple thousand and done whole homes for $60,000, with everything in between. There are some local companies that do nothing but install shades. They can't do integration, lighting, or anything else besides shades but they might have more shade options than an integration company who usually gets cozy with only one or two brands. If a client wants just shades with no integration, that might be the way to go. But because we integrate most of our systems, including shades, we have to use the brands and types of motorized shades that are not only reliable enough in operation, but also work well with control systems. J Geiger, for example, not only created minimal brackets for shades but is also the contracted manufacturer for Savant. That means that all of their systems HAVE to be able to be natively integrated into Savant (and every other third party control manufacturer).
- Video. Yes, video includes televisions (or displays as they are called in our industry). But when it comes to automation, it is partly about what display is being controlled and more about what signal is getting distributed or how it is getting to each display. Wireless has come a long way. But it also creates problems because everything has a wireless antenna affecting other items. For some people an AppleTV for $179 on a wireless network might be all they need to get all of their desired content. Other people want dedicated cable boxes for local channels, a Kaleidescape for the highest quality movie playback, a BlackDove art server for digital art, and a gaming system. Where do you put all of that on a standard living room TV? This is where a video distribution system can be of benefit. Just like distributed audio described above, this can be a way to put all of the sources in one location in the house but access them in any zone. You could have a simple 4 input / 4 output video matrix. This would allow you to have four sources, like those examples I just used, and four displays in the home that could watch any of those sources. This is a simple but elegant solution that is not terribly expensive. The base components could be had for a few thousand dollars. The other considerations would be how you control the sources since they are remotely located. A standard IR remote would not work, so with a video distribution system of any kind, you usually need to plan on adding separate remotes in each room if you don't like using an app to control the TV. Since a traditional video matrix as described is not a scalable solution, you can also consider video over IP. Using the latest in network technology, this puts a transmitter on each source and a receiver on each display. The video is transmitted from the source through a special network switch, over the network, and "decoded" by the receiver into a standard video signal that the display can accept. This type of system is less likely to become obsolete, is scalable because you can add additional sources or displays at any time, and has additional features like multiple video feeds on a single TV or more sophisticated video processing. These systems typically sell for between $750-1500 per source and about the same per display. The network switch would be separate and would be sized according to the number of transmitters and receivers. In a home with many displays but not many occupants, this can actually save some money because at the most basic level, you wouldn't have to buy an AppleTV and would not need to rent a cable box for each and every television.
- Interfaces. Another category with a wide range of prices and products is the interface category. What is an interface, first of all? Well that can be anything that you "interface" with to control the system in the home. A handheld remote, an iPad, a touchscreen, even a door station are all considered interfaces. Some people love using an app to control everything and don't need any handheld remotes. Others are the polar opposite and want a handheld remote at each TV. Some people want easy access to the system and like having a touchscreen in high use areas like kitchens and master bathrooms. Others want nothing on the walls. Only you know what is the right use case scenario and how you will want to interface with your system. The Savant app is included with any Savant system and can be loaded onto as many iOS or Android devices as you want, so there is essentially no additional cost to control the system that way. A Ring door station that will work with a control system and let you interface with people at the front door is usually about $499. A commercial grade door station that can open gates would be $1300-1900. A handheld, touchscreen remote is usually about $799. An in wall or table top touchscreen usually starts at $900 and goes up from there depending on size and installation. Everyone is different in how they want a system to operate, so only the users really know (or can imagine) how they would like to access features on a regular basis. Items like this are what make each system unique. Finding an integrator that is familiar with all of the options and a manufacturer who makes a variety of choices is most important in this category, because it is ultimately most likely the largest contributor to how you will love or hate your system.
- Network. Saving the best for last? Maybe. It is definitely the most important for any smart home. As more and more devices reside on a network, the network quality is more important than ever. We often get the comment of "I don't have that many devices" from a couple living in a home. We scan the existing network and they are surprised that there are 50-60 devices on their network. It is easy to underestimate the number of devices and therefore the needs of the network. Because of this, the types of networks we sell and install have evolved. 5-6 years ago, a wireless router and maybe a network switch would have probably been sufficient for most homes. That is no longer the case. Some people use the ISP gateway and buy wireless extenders, like Eero, spending a couple of hundred dollars with mixed results. Since a smart home and all of the potentially hundreds of devices, rely so heavily on a good network, we now only provide enterprise grade, high speed network equipment that use wired access points for wireless connections. This is going to start at $3500 for a typical home. This is one category where we know that cheaper alternatives just don't work, so I won't even give pricing for anything less than that. Audio distribution over the network, video over IP distribution systems, metal or concrete construction, or large homes can add significantly to these prices. It is quite feasible that a large, professionally designed home network could get up to $13-15,000 and would be the same thing running in a mission critical application like an Amazon distribution facility or hospital. That also comes with other bells and whistles, including some self healing and AI management features but it is quickly becoming the standard for many people who are working from home and / or doing more and more bandwidth intensive activities. The network has to be rock solid for any good home system to perform at its best, so cutting corners here will cut corners on the experience of the whole home.
- Other considerations. Where is the equipment going to go? We do quite a lot of work in condos. We have almost perfected an approach that keeps devices in walls or enclosures that don't need a floorstanding rack. We can do full audio and video distribution, lighting control, motorized shades, high speed network, and even surround sound systems without having any equipment in a traditional rack. Sounds cool, right? But that doesn't work for 100% of the systems. Some components like some higher powered amplifiers, movie servers, surveillance NVR's, and more require a rack. A typical rack is going to be in the $1000 range. What about power? Do you have a perfectly generated, 120V, sine wave, conversion, unfluctuating power feed to your house? Maybe if you already have a microgrid installed, but probably not. As the power grid ages and the quality of power coming into homes deteriorates, sensitive equipment needs battery backups with transfer times under a millisecond and voltage regulation to keep it operating optimally. A basic, but good battery backup like this will start at $1500 and can run the home control processor and network for several hours with no power. I can tell you from personal experience in my own home that one of these helped me reduce or eliminate the need to frequently reboot equipment as a result of power issues. Another convenience feature we usually specify is controllable power. This is different from clean power in that we typically install multiple of these throughout most systems. This gives the homeowner, our service team, and our remote tech department the ability to reboot an AppleTV installed behind a television, reset an internet provider's modem in a rack, or many of the other common pain points. These don't have to be expensive and can start at only $150 for a single device. They can get up to almost $1000 for a full rack. And they need to work on a consistent system. We sell one brand to all of our clients, that way anyone can have control over their system (and resetting it as needed) through a single, simple app. Then once you have all of this smart equipment and remotely rebootable devices, you may want 24/7/365 tech support for the system. That is also available and depending on the plan could be $1200-1500 a year.
It is easy to see how a seemingly simple system can start to add up, especially when you are doing multiples of some of these categories throughout a home. For many people, navigation and power door locks used to be a luxury in a car. Now they are standard features. Home automation or smart home features are like that. Once you have them and use them, it no longer seems unreasonable to want or expect them in the next home. Some homes warrant all of these features and when you do the math, that can mean a full featured home can be $60-100K in smart features. Some homes are several hundreds of thousands. Do you have to spend that much to get started? If you know what you want and want all features integrated into a single system, then yes. But does it take that to get started or try it out? For those who want to dabble in smart features before diving in, there are many options available that are a step above the DIY approach. One example would be a Savant Smart Soundbar. For about $1600, you can get a powered sound bar that fits most standard sizes of televisions. OK, and? Well that soundbar can be the basis for an audio system. It has built in streaming, so you can listen to music through it OR improve the sound on the TV it is installed with. Want better sound? A wireless subwoofer (or two) can be added. Wireless surround speakers can be added or even installed in a wall or ceiling. So far that sounds pretty typical of many soundbar options. Let's dive in deeper. This soundbar has a hidden secret. It can control your home because it contains a Savant host (processor) and controller. Add a remote, add a lamp module or other lighting control, add an Apple TV, add a thermostat, add a Zoom server, add another room of audio. Yep, you guessed it. This somewhat typical looking soundbar ends up being the starting point and backbone for a home control system with all of the features of a more sophisticated Savant system. While we do prefer to design a system to meet the needs of the home and the client, it is totally feasible that someone could start with a basic $1600 sound bar and end up with a whole home automation system by slowly adding features over time.
So what is the price of an automation system? How much does a car cost? It is all about features, design, and performance. Manufacturers can spend hundreds of words describing unique features and talking tech. Savvy buyers who are even just a little up to speed on categories available and options will be better suited to drive their own experience and either get everything they want or hit their target budget. No one will be an expert by reading articles, including this one. But if you are armed with an understanding of what you can do and a clear price associated to getting that, you can make more educated decisions and not be completely in the dark on getting into smart home systems. You might find out that a DIY solution is what you need. You might discover that you don't want to be saddled with multiple apps for each individual feature. We might also be the right company to guide you through the process and help you decide what is important to you.
Business Development - iconic.systems
23 years in the integration and technology market
CEDIA Registered outreach instructor, ALA Lighting Specialist
Savant Platinum Dealer, Savant Advisory Council, Savant Ambassador, Legrand Elite Dealer, Sony Diamond Dealer, CEDIA volunteer