Home Automation: Where to Splurge, Where to Save

Get tips on where to spend money in your home control project and where to cut back.


Photo by: HOWARD TUCKER 216-696-4616

HOWARD TUCKER 216-696-4616

By: Peter Walsh

A fully integrated home means that all the components work together. That includes your locks and alarms; indoor and outdoor lighting; audio, visual and your system. A total package can be costly, but there are ways to bring the costs more in line with your budget.

First, you should know that you could start small and build on a system — provided you plan ahead. Do your homework and identify a company in your area that specializes in home integration systems. Be upfront and honest with them about what you ultimately want to achieve and what your level of comfort is working with this type of technology. Develop a relationship with these professionals and rely on their expertise. They want your business and will help you create a system that's right for you. Here are some ways to save money and when and where you should splurge.


You can purchase wireless locks and surveillance cameras online or at home center stores yourself to save money. Splurge by having someone with the know-how install them for you and set up the app on your smartphone or iPad device so you can self-monitor. "The tech-savvy person may be able to do it themselves," says Joe Corona, owner of Corona Integrated Systems. "There are people who can do this but you need to be in tune with networking and it can be very frustrating. If you do it yourself and run into trouble, pay a guy for one or two hours to come in and help set it up."

Security Locks 01:22

Here's an examination of two different automated door lock systems.

Lighting and Thermostats

If you simply want your house lit up when you come home in the evening, save by installing timers on some lamps inside your house. You can also easily install timers or motion sensors on outdoor lighting so your yard is illuminated as well. "For $35, you can buy a dimmer or light sensor, or set a timer on landscape lighting for the same capability as an integrated system," says Steve Edelman, director of sales at Integrated Electronic Solutions.

For your HVAC system, there are thermostats available online or at home stores that cost about $125 and can be retrofitted into your home that work off an app on your smartphone or iPad. "You download an app that gives you access to the system," says Edelman, pointing out that even the tech-challenged can learn to turn their thermostat up or down via the app. "It's become so mainstream and embedded in our society that nearly anyone can do it," he says.

Audio and Visual

Your existing stereo equipment or TV will work just fine linked up to an integrated home system so you save by not having to buy new components. You might, however, want to upgrade to a surround sound system that includes new speakers so you'll get the most enjoyment for a home theater experience.

20 Must-See Media Room Designs

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The design possibilities are endless when it comes to creating an elegant, inviting dedicated media room. In this urban space, a custom frame and a welded-steel support "float" the backlighted screen in the urban condo pictured here. White LED lights create a custom glow around the screen. The spiral staircase leads from the media room to an upper-level living area.

Originally a garage, this media room doubles as the client's boardroom. The TV acts as a video monitor and LAN network device for work presentations.

This room has open space for card tables, a foosball table and a large wine bar, and it also allows ambient light for daytime activities. As for its media room role, it has custom sconces that won't rattle during movie explosions, reclinable seating and a 120-by-68-inch acoustically transparent woven-microfiber screen that conceals the center speaker. The projector is concealed in a noise-reduction soffit to ensure clean architectural lines.

His and hers HD DVRs as well as two additional DVRs for guests takes this charming living room to the next level of entertainment. Homeowners have access to four DirecTV HD DVRs, Blu-Ray movies, AppleTV content, ROKU content, a computer and dual Mirage Media sources such as Pandora, Rhapsody, LastFM, XM radio, iTunes music and an iPod dock.

This room's 65-inch plasma display is recessed for a clean, polished and unobtrusive installation. A massive hearth made of native stone visually dominates the rustic room, and all the speakers and the subwoofer were positioned in the ceiling so they wouldn’t distract the eye.

When it's time to watch a movie in this room, the projector drops out of the ceiling and the screen drops down from a reclaimed beam in the ceiling. The control system allows the house sources to be shared in the media room along with a local Blu Ray player.

Photo By: Alex Fenlon

Hand-scraped wood floors and traditional design details anchor this luxe living room, which features discreetly placed audio and video components for a high-end entertainment experience that doesn't overshadow the room's design. Design by Audio Video Interiors

Photo By: HOWARD TUCKER 216-696-4616

Genesis Audio & Video turned an unused shell above a garage into a multifunctional media room to a include access to the house-wide DVD and music server, in addition to the home's security cameras, the Internet and house-wide lighting controls. Rather than hang the projector from a pole in the ceiling, technicians used a cantilevered wall mount to install it sleekly at the top of the rear wall. Photo courtesy of Genesis Audio & Video

Go back in time and spend a night at the movies with this Hollywood-inspired media masterpiece. The audio system features eight powered woofers, 10 surround speakers and three massive screen speakers. That equals 8,400 conservative system watts. Design by by Cantara Design, Interior Design by Slayman Design Associates

A large projection screen drops in front of the flat-screen TV from the 10-foot ceiling when the owner of this home wants to watch a movie. The movie screen drops enough to hide the television but doesn't cover the surround-sound system's front speakers.

Photo By: Barry Schwartz

In the 2013 HGTV Smart Home canvas artwork retracts to reveal flat-screen TVs. When not in use, TV covers scroll down to create a framed art experience. The media system is controled by a smart tablet or Web-enabled device

Photo By: Eric Perry

Moore Audio Design tamed reflective surfaces with acoustic treatments identically matched to the paint color, and added an area rug. Window treatments help eliminate natural light, while a Screen Innovations 97-inch Black Diamond Zero Edge screen amplifies light coming from the projector. Aside from the main screen, homeowners can view either of the 40-inch Samsung LED TVs if they are playing poker or getting a snack in the back of the room. Floorstanding surround speakers by MartinLogan offer true, immersive surround sound that is hard to beat. Photography by Jim Schmid Photography

Photo By: Jim Schmid Photography

This inviting room combines traditional design with a high-tech home system that allows homeowners control heating, security, and the entertainment hub. Design by Architectural Electronics, Inc.

Photo By: CEDIA

Optimized for both daytime and nighttime, this room lets viewers choose from a recess-mounted flatscreen and a projection screen that resides in the ceiling when not in use. Design by Starr Systems Design


For must-have media room products, the Panasonic ZT60 series is one of the most venerated TVs available, with stunning image quality. The My Home Screen feature allows you to personalize your experience and seamlessly integrate apps and content as you choose.

With a custom-cast space to fit the TV and a specialty finish on the TV frame, this room provides the best in entertainment without interrupting the design appeal of the home. Design by Starr Systems Design

A swivel-mounted flatscreen lets homeowners follow the action on the screen from all angles, including above. Photo courtesy of Innerspace Electronics, Inc.

With 5.1 surround sound and a sleek recess-mounted plasma TV, this cozy retreat overlooking the kitchen offers a change of pace in this combination live/work residence. Design by Beyond Home Theater

From family movie night to prime-time sporting events, the geometric patterns and artwork, a commanding 85" plasma TV and a full bar area set the stage for everyday this media room. Design by Starr Systems Design

Photo By: Alan Gilbert

In the 2012 HGTV Green Home a 59-inch flat-screen TV, mounted above the fireplace, is a family room focal point. When mounting a TV above the fireplace make sure seating is located far enough back to avoid irritating neck strain.

Photo By: Eric Perry

Again, here's where you might splurge and pay for help from an expert to link your entertainment system to the mainframe in your home. "A lot of the newer audio and visual equipment is DIY, so you can install it yourself, but it may not integrate with your system," says Bill Weingarten, owner of HomeTech. "To be fully integrated, it all has to talk to each other rather than work independently on all different apps. In a truly smart home, it works better when it all works together and is professionally installed," he says.

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