Determine Your Home Control Needs

Before you begin an integrated home project, think about what you want, from entertainment to security to convenience features.

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Embarking on an integrated home project can be overwhelming simply because functionality and options are virtually endless and are evolving at breakneck speed. "For some, being able to play different music in different rooms from various sources will bring great enjoyment. But more commonly, there is a desire to distribute video, control lighting, shades and climate, and even integrate surveillance cameras and access control," says Bob Dodge, director of Talk of the Town. Here are some basic features of home control to help you decide what you need and want from your system, both now and in the future.

Ultimate Entertainment

"When it comes to anytime, anywhere access for what's important to you, there are so many choices for content — not just from television, but from discs, Internet streaming and more," says Dodge. "The ability to take control of all that with an integrated system is not just a luxury, it's becoming increasingly essential."

First, figure out your entertainment needs. Do you like to throw parties? Then distributed or wireless multiroom and outdoor audio are features to consider. Do you frequently have people over to watch football? Then a big TV screen is a must. Does your family like to watch movies? Opt for a surround-sound audio system. Additionally, the latest media-streaming devices, like Roku and GoogleTV, let you download movies from the Internet and stream music from your phone, but dictate the need for a good wireless network. If you want to distribute high-definition video to multiple rooms in the home, you need structured wiring to make it work properly. Plus, you'll need a good control system to control the whole thing.

Aside from audio and video, setting the mood for entertainment with lighting is key. With a lighting control system like those from Lutron ($100-$1,700+) or Savant Lighting, you can set various lighting scenes and access lights from your iPad, remotely on your iPhone or Android, via in-wall keypads, and more. It's no longer an on/off switch world.

Media Rooms and Home Theaters by Budget

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$20,000 - $30,000

$30,000 - $75,000

$75,000 - $150,000

$150,000 - $300,000

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$500,000 - $1 million

$1 million+

More Security

While you might consider convenience and entertainment features like these optional, you can't go wrong with an integrated security system to keep your family safe. It can be as simple as an integrated alarm system that you can arm or disarm from afar or something more sophisticated.

For example, an electronics systems contractor can tie together lighting, audio, control, security cameras and video systems for greater functionality. Cameras across your home can send live video feeds to any TV in the home, and are backed up on a dedicated DVR that stores running footage. If the alarm is activated, lights flash on and off and the alarm is sounded through the audio system, alerting neighbors that something is amiss.

For a false alarm, simply re-arm the system from your iPhone or Android. All of this is now possible with an integrated home security system, giving you peace of mind both at home and away from home.

Comfort and Convenience

In fact, integrated lighting control is relevant not only to entertainment, but is the ultimate convenience feature. Just imagine hitting an "all on" or "all off" icon on your iPad right from bed to turn out the lights across the entire home, or a smart lighting system that turns lights on and off based on room occupancy. With voice control, you can even speak commands like "Turn lights off" for totally hands-free control of your lights.

Likewise, climate control has never been more convenient. Control your thermostats from your iPhone or, via a control system like those from Control4 and Savant, automate climate depending on the time of day or external temperature. Forgot to turn off the AC before you left for vacation? No need to turn around and risk missing your flight — now you can conveniently access climate control from your phone on the runway. Connected kitchen appliances and a pool/spa are also easily accessible, allowing you to turn the oven off from afar or to turn the Jacuzzi temp up after work.

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