As you sit down to design and evaluate your state-of-the-art home automation system, don’t overlook the final key to your project’s success: system programming. Known to cause headaches and high blood pressure, home automation programming should be carefully discussed between the homeowner and integrator to avoid the most frequently encountered project ailments. If your project consultations don’t include the following, be ready to invest heavily in over-the-counter pain medications during the course of the project.

D-Tools Integrator
programming budget
* programming time
* user interface design
* other programming notes

Programming Budget: High-level home automation programming does have a value and a cost associated with its value . . . a cost that is often underestimated. The programming budget should be separate from the installation budget and should include user interface design (touch panel design), actual programming of the main processor/system, and on-site support to test, tweak and modify programming after the original program is completed.

Final programming costs differ from project to project, so giving a simple verbal estimate over the phone is never a good idea (and trusting a verbal quote is never a good idea either). Programming quotes can range from $5,000 for smaller systems, $15,000 for large systems to more than $30,000 for extremely large home automation projects. Hourly programming rates for advanced control systems like those from AMX or Crestron range between $80 – $150.

Programming Time: Many homeowners don’t realize how much time is required to program an automation system. Programmers require time to research control methods, infrared files and communication protocol. Touch panel design can make up 30% to 50% of the programming time depending on the number and size of touch panels in the project. And remember there is always a final tweaking phase in any the project. Programming modifications and changes could require anywhere from one to five more days than you originally anticipated in order to take care of changes requested by the customer, or to redesign and reprogram any devices not working properly. While you may have a move-in date or final project date, homeowners and integrators should plan for some additional tweak time. This is technology – and technology always offers a few unanticipated surprises.

User Interface Design: The homeowner and integrator should define the user interface together and how the system is supposed to work in general. Integrators take heed that you don’t ever utter the words “we know what you need”. Homeowners need to take an active role in defining how they will use the system but be flexible and open enough to listen to the integrator’s recommendations. At some point, both need to finalize the user interface design (touch panel design, keypad layouts, etc.) and move forward with the programming . . . and maybe even compromise a bit from the original proposal and design. Most important, all user interfaces should be professionally designed and easy to use. If the project team does not include someone with GUI design experience, you may want to consider using an independent touch panel page designer or firm.

Other Programming Notes: Both the homeowner and the integrator should keep in mind that there are always the unknown and unexpected delays in designing the “perfect” home automation system. Both should have patience and practice meditation during delays and unexplained “glitches” in the system. The homeowner should be allowed to become familiar with the system over a 2-4 week period, keeping notes of bugs and issues that need to be resolved. The integrator should plan for a visit and additional tweaking time after the customer has had the opportunity to become familiar with the system. Finally, the integrator should know the limits of the system being proposed and not be afraid to say “we can’t do that” or “we don’t recommend that”. Customers remember commitments – and over-committing while trying to sell a residential system will only cause a giant migraine for both parties in the end.

David Teel is the Co-Founder of Avenida Network, one of North America’s biggest independent system programming and design companies. You can contact David at or visit his company’s web site at .