If I told you that Home Automation can be easy, you’d probably laugh.
Like some of you, I feel like home automation is a no brainer. I often wonder why people don’t buy in given the environmental and economic benefits. Google and Amazon integrations haven’t made whole home automation “normal”. Only one other person on my street even has one light set up for Alexa to turn on and off. It just baffles the mind, but I kinda get it.
Since 2007 I have been blogging about CoolToys. I owned a home theater and automation company back then and bought most of my gear from distributors in the North Bay. It is also the same year that UDI started. The blog that I started then is now CoolToys TV. Most people know me as either a pilot because I retired as a pilot in the Air Force Reserves in 2004 or the “CoolToys Guy”. If you watch my show you know that I think the UDI ISY is a CoolToy as part of my home automation system. It has a CoolToys® Stamp of Approval
A bit like the 2006 mortgage meltdown, the pandemic has been tough on the home automation business. After not having a single light switch fail, or program hiccup for over 18 months, something happened. I hit up the UDI website and found that there had not been a post in over a year. The same was true on social media. I went to smarthome.com and found out they closed up and Insteon was in the ER.
It was clear looking at the website that something was happening at UDI. Thankfully they were doing well, just too busy to keep up with the website.
Heath/Zenith to Crestron
My first exposure to home automation was automated lighting. The system was a very basic X-10 setup with a super cool digital alarm clock that could trigger one of four lights. That was in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s I built an electrical business, mostly home theater and whole house audio. Clients saw my house and we started installing X-10.
In the 1990’s there was also a boom in residential lighting control. There was also this new improvement on X-10 called Powerline Bus and then X-10 Pro which looked nicer and was more reliable. Soon Zigbee, Insteon and Z-Wave arrived introducing us to the idea of a wired and wireless mesh network. Everyone was pushing the envelope in a slightly different way. All of these new toys led to consumer confusion. I moved my business to a commercial brand, Crestron. That move cut the number of installations my company did by 75% while doubling our revenue. For a while that is.
Home Automation Goes Wild
The 1990’s through early 2000’s were like the wild west. Brands popped up and alliances formed and then went away. Leviton, OnQ, Legrand, HAI, Zigbee, X-10, X-10 Pro, Insteon, Z-wave and others were all playing nice one day and then not the next. It truly became an installation nightmare. A bunch of new midline brands like Control4 appeared and companies like Monster tried to dive in too. There were no standards for home automation. This made it even more difficult for consumers.
From the time that UDI started until today, you could (and can) build a reliable system without breaking the bank, using any number of components. That’s a good thing because any one of the brands could disappear at any time and you don’t want to spend money on a system you can’t keep.
This year Insteon went into the ER and suffered a near death experience. From my view it was without warning. But looking back through my emails during the pandemic lockdowns, I should have seen it coming. Thankfully a small group of enthusiast became investors and Insteon is still alive. We won’t have a good prognosis for a year or so. I personally am pulling for them.
Insteon now joins X-10 as a company/product that appeared dead and is still alive. Until a consumer automates a light switch and their own light bulb comes on, they aren’t likely to automate much else. That is the challenge of the home automation industry. In cases like mine, unless I move, there isn’t much else to buy from UDI beyond my annual subscription so I can tell Ziggy to change the lights. Home Automation isn’t like the razor blade business, there are no blades to buy.
The good news is that since 2007 there has been a single simple tool that almost anyone can program to be a real automation system. It is also solid enough to have a small collection of companies willing to install and maintain it for customers. Yes, thanks to UDI, home automation can be easy.
“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends” – Walt Disney