Home Automation FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions….

Answers to the Most Common Home Automation Questions.

Here at Custom Controls we find a number of questions come up time and time again – either from potential customers or any various forums. So we decided to create this Home Automation FAQ. We also welcome questions on our Twitter profile – @Custom_Controls or via the #AskCustomControls hash tag.

What is a Lighting Control System?

A lighting control system is an intelligent system which allows you to control the lighting in your home. A single room may contain “circuits” of lights which means they will dim and switch off on and off together – in a normal living room circuits might be as follows: Pendant in the centre of the ceiling, downlights round the outside of the ceiling, a picture light on the chimney breast and two table lamps. These lights could be split in to five circuits allowing each lamp to be independently controlled – dimmed up and down and switched on and off. The status of lamps can be saved and recalled by using a “lighting keypad”. Pressing button 1 on the lighting keypad can ensure the lights go to dimmed level the homeowner has preprogrammed. Pressing button 2 could be different levels again. The levels can be set to different levels to allow for different activities in the room – entertaining, tv watching, reading etc. There is no limit to the number of lighting channels which can be controlled by a keypad. A whole house lighting control system replicates the above in each room of the home and lighting keypads by the entrance doors can control many rooms – either switching lights on as you arrive or off when you leave.

Do you recommend a Wireless Lighting System?

We often get calls from clients who have a finished property and they would like to add a mood lighting system. We typically install the Creston wireless lighting range in this scenario. Traditional light switches are swapped for lighting keypads with in-built dimmers (either one dimmer or two) and table lamps etc have in-line dimmers added. This enables us to take complete control of the lighting in a room. The dimmers themselves form a mesh network so the more we install the more reliable the system and this allows us to convert a complete home without intrusive re-wiring.
Once installed clients can set up lighting scenes via our custom lighting application and also benefit from scheduling etc – the same benefits as a wired system.
Our Kensington Lighting case study benefitted from a full wireless lighting installation and would be good further reading

How Do Soundbars Work?

A soundbar is a slim speaker which sits under your TV and provides a better audio experience than your TV speakers would. There are a few different varieties with the likes of the Sonos Playbar being a self contained unit – it just needs power and a feed from the TV to produce great audio. Our soundbars tend to be at another level from this – for starters they are made to a custom width to match the TV (which looks better) and then they have front left, centre and front right speakers built in to the speaker. We couple these with surround speakers and an audio video receiver (an amplifier) to produce a full surround sound system from a very subtle package. In even bigger TV based home cinemas we may also install a sound bar which is just the center speaker, this means we also install Front left and right speakers independently. You can see a case study of this type of installation here.

How Much Does a Crestron Home Automation System Cost?

A Crestron Home Automation System can encompass many things, from a simple single room control system (in a home cinema for example) through to a multiple building control system which is handling Audio Video, Lighting Control and Heating & AirConditioning. The smaller system may have £4,000 worth of hardware installed where as the latter system may have hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of hardware installed. As a company we don’t have a minimum project cost, as long as the project has enough budget to be designed and installed well we will get involved. The best way to get an estimate of costings for your project is to view our case studies and see if one broadly matches your requirements then get in touch and we can discuss the options.

Do you Design Home Cinema Systems without performing the installation?

Yes! We are happy to design home cinema rooms for clients on a consultancy basis – you just pay for our time. We are experts in designing home cinema systems for awkward spaces such as basements and attics. We recently completed a design for a system in a glass box extension – a real challenge to incorporate technology yet the end result produces both an outstanding experience and great aesthetics. In our home cinema designs we always take in to account acoustic requirements, ensuring your home cinema audio system sounds the best it possibly can. We have lots of home cinema case studies which show some of our installed systems and our designs are sometimes detailed on our Blog (when clients allow it).

We even produce 3D visuals of the designed space to allow clients to walk through the room before committing to the build.

What is Home Automation?

Home Automation is simply using a control system to control anything electrical in the home. We commonly control devices for home entertainment, bespoke security and mood lighting but have done things as diverse as irrigation systems, fire pits and car lifts! A Home Automation system can aid convenience and save energy – the larger the house the greater the justification for a bespoke system. A central processor sits over the top of electrical sub systems in the house and ensures they work in harmony (so underfloor heating and air conditioning don’t compete for instance) creating the perfect environment in the home.

What are the elements of a Home Automation System?

A Home Automation (or Smart Home) system needs a few basic elements – a central processor (the brain), user interfaces (touch panels or remote controls) and control interfaces (infrared, serial or Ethernet). The brain communicates with devices in response to a press on a user interface, a timed event or some other external stimuli (night fall, temperature, motion etc). Sensors communicate with the central processor to provide feedback which can then trigger an action eg light levels falling during dusk can bring on lights externally or light levels climbing in a room which is hotter than the temperature setpoint can cause the blinds to close. Sensors can be remotely installed and communicate with the central processor either wirelessly or over a dedicated network. Our larger systems contain multiple processors which communicate between themselves – so audio video processors talk to lighting processors and heating processors ensuring redundancy, efficiency and scalability.

How Reliable is a Home Automation System?

A basic Home Automation system will send a command out and hope it is actioned (like pressing a button on a TV remote control) whilst more complex systems will send a command and await a response, for example a serial command to a TV will be “TV on” and then a command back from the TV – “OK TV on”. Different actions can be performed if a response is not forthcoming – a warning on a user interface or power cycling the TV for example. Generally the more complex the Home Automation the higher the cost and the more specialist the installation.

How Easily can a Home Automation System be expanded in Future?

The higher end Home Automation systems are modular by design – a serial interface is added to talk to a serial device etc. The various modules are joined together on a bus or private network so adding in another element to the system is as easy as adding a component and programming it. Our distributed architecture means that different elements operate as a stand alone system – audio video is independent from lighting control which is independent from heating. The systems interface to each other and share information so the heating system knows when a room is occupied but they do not have a reliance on each other. More and more manufacturers provide wireless solutions allowing retrofit in to existing homes without disruptive cabling meaning lighting control can easily be added to a system at a later date.

What are the best Home Automation companies available today?

The best Home Automation companies vary depending on the client requirements and budget. The most flexible are systems by companies like Crestron and AMX – their systems can control anything electrical and offer hugely flexible solutions but generally attract a premium price tag. Manufacturers such as Lutron and Control 4 offer excellent systems and can be slightly cheaper but aren’t as flexible – if their ecosystem does what you need then they are a great solution but you may be restricted to which devices and third party manufacturers you can integrate with.

What are the top 3 devices in the home which benefit from being integrated?

Home Entertainment is by far the most popular system we integrate – Music and TV around the home with every room connected. Whole Home Lighting Control allows us to show the home off at its best whilst adding warmth and ambience. Heating Controls allow you to save energy and add convenience – ensure your home is warm when you need it!

What Wiring do I need for a Home Automation System?

We have a blog post specifically designed to cover the wiring requirements for a new build property, we suggest you read that. The good news is that most systems run on inexpensive and easy to install Cat5e/6 cabling. Install to our design and your home will be future proof!

Nest is Cutting Edge so why invest in a Crestron Heating System?

An excellent questions submitted by Twitter! Nest is a great product which is doing a huge amount to revolutionise domestic heating systems. Nest works out when you are in the home and uses this information to only heat the home when required. Huge amounts of energy can be saved by lowering your heating setpoint when you are at work or away from home. You can control the whole system with your smart phone ensuring the home is always warm for your arrival. This is great but Nest falls down slightly when you have multiple zones of heating – do you need to heat bedrooms during the day when they aren’t occupied? Nest really works at a whole house level. There are also challenges in relation to hot water integration – modern mains pressure tanks don’t integrate well with the Nest. A properly installed Crestron system will allow you to set schedules for every room of the house in addition to all the benefits of Nest – remote access, predictive heating patterns etc. Of course, due to the flexibility of Nest we also integrate them in to our Crestron systems when the solution fits, we have a blog post on the very subject.

What is available in the high end Security market?

Intruder alarms and CCTV systems go a long way to protecting your property and may put off the opportunist thief. For the more determined intruder it pays to have a system which intercepts them before they reach your home. External perimeter protection systems can catch intruders as they enter your grounds – alerting the home owner and a monitoring station of their presence. Discreet speakers in the garden allow the monitoring station to issue a warning before alerting the authorities. All but the most determined intruder will flee at this point. For those that don’t the family have ample opportunity to make their way to a panic room in the property. The panic room is equipped will full access control and monitoring facilities allowing the home owner to monitor the property and allow access to the Police or a private security team. Having a third party monitoring station provides total peace of mind for the entire family whether the house is occupied or not.

Can You distribute 4K Video around my home?

Yes! Our Crestron Digital Media systems can happily distribute 4K video. This allows all sources to be centralised and enjoyed anywhere in the home. You may have heard of HDCP 2.2? The good news is that the Crestron DM is also 2.2 compliant ensuring no handshaking or distribution issues. We install a range of copper based and fibre based solutions, depending on length of run and installation environment, and both can easily handle 4k video.
Get in touch to see how your home can benefit from a Crestron 4K video system.

Why would I need wired Touchpanels rather than an iPad?

We usually install one or more wired touchpanel in every job. iPads are great to use as remote controls but a wired touchpanel is always in the same place, doesn’t suffer from any wireless or update issues and can’t be dropped and damaged. We have a variety of panel sizes to choose from – 7″ (TSW-752) and 10″ (TSW-1052) through to 20″ (TSD-2020) and generally the bigger the panel the easier it is to use.
In our higher end installations every room may be equipped with a touchpanel as this allows intercom around the home – “Call the kitchen” etc – and also allows panels to call users – “Call Dad”. Touchpanels can also fully integrate with security systems showing CCTV, which rooms are occupied and alarm status. A single touchpanel can allow easy control of any electrical device in the home – they are very powerful things!

Can I buy Crestron online?

Yes – we regularly quote against equipment kit lists and ship Crestron equipment around the UK and the world. We also have accounts with most major players in the home automation and entertainment industry so can quote and supply equipment required for a full project. In addition to supply only we can help design, document and program your system by working off planning drawings.We have accounts with high end logistics companies which ensure we can reliably get products anywhere in the world with a minimum of hassle.
For more information on buying Crestron online please click here.

I don’t like Technology! Will it be Easy to Use?

Yes! Our systems are designed to be extremely easy to use. As we bring multiple devices together on to one remote control or interface our systems are easier to use than the individual systems. For example a simple heating page with a temperature set point allows you to easily make the room cooler or warmer – the fact our system controls underfloor heating and air-conditioning is transparent, if the room needs to be cooler we switch off the underfloor heating and bring on the air-conditioning. We can control multiple devices through one easy to use interface.

All your AV devices have the same look and feel so it doesn’t matter if you are controlling Sky, Apple TV or Amazon TV – the interface is the same. We can even create custom shortcuts to frequently used services – in Dubai the home page of the kitchen touch panel contains radio station favourites allowing clients to switch on the radio, their most common source in the kitchen. This understanding of the clients requirements and the power of our systems combine to create the perfect Smart Home system.

Our systems are regularly used by visitors and staff, some of whom don’t speak English – there is no training required to use one of our systems.

Can your system control Electronic Blinds?

Yes it can. We can control all types of motorised blinds from sheers and blackouts through to curtains. We have a number of options for installation – some of which allow motorised blinds to be retrofitted in to existing properties without the need to run new cabling. We have partnerships with several motorised blind companies – SilentGliss, Somfy and QMotion being the main players. 

We can incorporate motorised blinds in to fuller lighting control systems or install them as stand alone systems.

How much does a Home Automation System Cost?

This is incredibly difficult to answer! Each project is bespoke and every client is different. Our usual process is to get a brief from the client and plans of the home, we can then work out an initial approach (with costs) which we can then run through with the client. It’s important to note that the cost of a system can vary by as much as 50% simply due to the quality of speaker systems, number of lighting channels etc – this gives us huge amounts of flexibility to meet a clients budget requirements.
The systems on our case studies pages vary in cost from approximately £35,000 to £1million+.

Is this possible?

We are often asked by clients whether it is possible to integrate a device or automate a specific function – our answer is nearly always yes! We can integrate any electric device in the home and we work with bespoke automation experts – such as Future Automation – to make movement mechanisms for almost anything. We haven’t had to say no to a client yet – if it is physically possible we will automate it!

Some previous examples are irrigation systems, smart glass and fire pits!

I’m building a new home, when should I get in touch?

Get in touch with us as early as possible! Our infrastructure needs to be integrated in to the very fabric of the home so the earlier we can design cabling and feed information to other trades the better. If we can also influence the selection and installation of other subsystems such as heating, air conditioning or security then we can ensure a very tight integration – ensuring realiability and providing the most functionality. We also produce heating and energy plans for our larger projects – ensuring the whole home runs efficiently and as economically as possible.

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