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For some, home is where the smart is

From complete home systems to individual Internet-connected products such as high-tech appliances and power strips, the smart home is no longer a futuristic gimmick.

The technology behind smart gadgets — items that can be controlled remotely or perform tasks on their own — has been around for decades, but until recently the devices were rudimentary and, above all, expensive.

"It had always been an upscale-type business: Unless you were in the top 5 percent of income levels, you didn't have access to this type of connectivity," said Randy Light, merchant of home automation for Home Depot.

Wireless Internet and the widespread proliferation of smartphones are making smart home technologies more sophisticated — and affordable.

"This used to be something out of The Jetsons or limited to the super-rich," said Jonathan Dorsheimer, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity. But as smart home technology has improved and costs have come down, "it's becoming more mainstream."

Analysts estimate that only a small single-digit percentage of homeowners have smart homes.

But the home automation systems and services market is expected to see enormous growth in the coming years and is forecast to reach $14.7 billion in revenue globally by 2017, up from $3.6 billion last year, according to NextMarket Insights.

These days, a wide swath of companies are clamoring to sell smart systems, including home security firms, telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Verizon, cable providers and utilities.

That's expected to help "propel the market from its fairly modest size today to one which serves more than 35 million households by 2017," NextMarket said in its recent report.

Meanwhile, technology giants such as Samsung and LG are rolling out individual smart home products, part of the "Internet of things" trend that has seen Internet connectivity make its way into everyday items.

The housing recovery also could fuel growth if owners choose to pull out their rising equity to give their homes high-tech upgrades.

And, as Americans purchase more newly built homes, they may increasingly find those digs fully integrated with their phones. Some of the nation's largest home builders now market tech-equipped houses' advantages over older homes.

Although new homes are usually more expensive, builders have emphasized the long-term cost savings owners can reap through solar panels and the ability to monitor and change their energy usage with smart devices.

That's because computerized controls in one's home and on appliances can be set to respond to signals from energy providers to minimize electricity consumption at times when the power grid is under stress from high demand. Homeowners can even shift some of their power use to times when electricity is available at a lower cost. The so-called smart grid — a digital network enabling utilities, consumers and alternative sources of renewable energy to "talk" to one another instantaneously — steers electricity to where it is needed most.

Smart home technology isn't for everyone. For many, it's not too much trouble to set the washing machine or dishwasher manually or wait until getting home to turn on heat. And smart home products are still more expensive than old-school items.

Analysts also point out that in many cases, it could take years for the savings from reduced energy use to offset the cost of installing a home system.

But the market is surging ahead. Los Angeles-based builder KB Home now offers a base home automation system in all its new communities nationwide. The standard system enables owners to track their energy use through the Internet.

Home buyers can then add options, including appliances, a thermostat, lighting, security cameras and locks that they can control through smartphones and tablets. Solar power also comes standard in most of the firm's Southern California communities.

For some, home is where the smart is

02/20/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 5:47pm]

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