For someone in the home tech industry, I don’t have a whole lot of technology in my home. I have a little home theater with a standalone Crestron system controlling it. I have a URC programmable remote for my living room. I bought a first generation Nest thermostat for my HVAC control back in 2010. I had a Sonos system but didn’t really end up using it.
The biggest challenge I’ve had, technology-wise, has been getting my Wi-Fi robust enough to handle all the devices we have connecting to the Internet and streaming (a handful of computers, kindles for the kids, mobile devices, and an iPad). In my experience, most folks in the industry end up with a constantly evolving laboratory of electronics in their houses.
But what happens when you have the opportunity to start from scratch, on a normal consumer’s budget?
If you read my previous article in this series, you’ll know that’s where I found myself.
Here's the real challenge: integrators across the industry have found their niche focusing on elite clientele — folks who can spend $100k+ on their home control systems and AV. As an industry, we’ve been on the outside looking in as “GAFA” pushes into the market. Various startups ride the wave of IoT tech, betting on DIY consumers adopting app based control for home technology.
I believe there is a strong market opportunity for products geared toward the “X-ennial” and Millennial client who is interested in “smart home” technology that is both cool and practical, wants professional installation and support, and is willing to “trade up” for a reasonable cost to a fully integrated control solution for the home.
You just have to know where to look.
Considering Loxone for Home Control
Loxone (pronounced “lox-own”) is based in Austria and has had a strong presence in Europe, boasting 9,000 integrators worldwide. Although Loxone has been available in the U.S. for a few years, it has stayed pretty quiet.
In late 2016, the company re-launched its unique solution to total home control to the CEDIA channel of dealers. There isn’t a whole lot on Loxone’s website from a technical perspective; it’s for consumers.
In order to really see what Loxone is all about, I knew I’d have to see it in person. I did have one takeaway from its website and promotional videos, though: Europeans are all about their colored LED strips.
Because of the personal nature of the visit, I decided my wife should see the system in person. She doesn't often get to experience the technology that I've grown accustomed to in our industry, and I knew there were some unique aspects to the Loxone home that I knew she would either love or hate.
Getting her perspective was important, but it was even more important that I’d have her buy-in on what we put in our house. It’s not just me that has to live with it. For instance, Loxone “keypads” are small, square, flat capacitive surfaces — no buttons. I wasn’t sure if she would be ok with these control points instead of traditional light switches or keypads.
So we made the drive out to Media, Penn., to tour the Loxone show home with Florian Woess, CEO of Loxone (U.S.). Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored article. I’m not being paid by anyone to write this. These are my own takeaways after checking out the system.
The keypads, which are capacitive surfaces with five touch points, were about a third the size of a normal light switch on the wall. Hallways, bathrooms and closets have no light switches — they are all automatically engaged through motion and occupancy sensors. A primary wall-mounted iPad in the Kitchen runs the intuitive Loxone app.
Loxone makes its own RGBW in-ceiling LED lights, which it has throughout the home. The lights are wired into the control system directly (just another device in the tree), and powered at the sub-panel.
Fan control and lighting dimmer modules are available for line voltage accent fixtures throughout the house, providing a centralized dimming solution.
In the show home there is a sub-panel on each floor and a trunk between them. Every controlled device, not just lighting, wires to the sub-panel.
Every wired keypad has a built-in temp sensor. The HVAC control works best when you use Loxone in-line dampers for each room. This gives multi-zone control without requiring an actual multi-zone HVAC system.
Using more traditional security devices like CO2 detectors, door and window contacts, and water bugs, the Loxone system uses two “levels” for security.
When a security device is tripped, an alert goes out through the app, while the lights throughout the home flash. The speakers can act as a siren sounding an alarm. Having a system preconfigured to offer this integrated functionality is very convenient.
The second level is to call or text the homeowner. This could be integrated with a monitoring facility, if desired, or used to alert the homeowner directly.
The wiring infrastructure is a proprietary tree where multiple types of devices can be on a single branch, including the LED spots, LED strip control, motion sensors, keypads, window contacts and other devices. The wiring of devices is incredibly flexible, and up to 50 devices are supported per branch.
Loxone's audio distribution solution isn’t elegant, but it seems to work. Loxone have a zone controller and multi-channel amplifier. The zone controller is an audio server — the client can load their music, access from a server in the house, or stream multiple Internet radio stations which are supported via the UI.
Interestingly, Loxone is using uPnP technology in its zone controller. So in theory, you can actually stream to a Sonos zone controller from the Loxone system, turning a Sonos Play:5, for instance, into a Loxone audio zone.
There isn’t much by way of video distribution. If you are doing multi-zone video distribution, you’re using third party remotes and distribution infrastructure. Your video zones are basically standalone for control. You can play some tricks to make it more integrated, but it’s not built-in.
Although not totally flawless, the Loxone system is quite impressive. In fact, when you consider each subsystem and the overall design, it’s arguably the most vertically integrated control solution on the market.
That’s enough for me to not only take them seriously, but consider putting it in my personal home.
Stay tuned to learn a little more about the system from a practical standpoint; and find out why I chose to go with Loxone.
This is the second article in a series about an “X-ennial” — someone who is not quite Gen-X, but not quite a Millennial — in the industry choosing a control system and documenting the experience, from planning, to selection, to design, to installation.
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