Another distress call today, requesting help, a life jacket – anything to get another home automation system functioning properly and make a home owner’s family content. While we are usually assisting integrators around the country with the initial design and programming of their home system, we have been getting more and more calls from manufacturers’ reps and troubled home owners themselves.

Sometimes the language is quite vivid – full of “French explicatives”, threats of divorce and occasional sobbing. I sometimes wonder if we should charge a marriage-counseling fee as we sit down and listen to the clients explain what doesn’t work and how they have been living with their current system and exasperating situation for the past 12-24 months.

So … Who Designed Your System? Actually, I never ask this question aloud, but it passes through my mind on every visit. This is not the time for finger pointing – the customer is simply looking for a solution to their crisis. But could the crisis have been avoided – even by the smallest of integrator firms? I shout (in the privacy of my office) a resounding “YES!”

System Design Resources. A successful project requires the integrator to put together a successful project team. While one person can often take on multiple project responsibilities, not many one-man teams have enough experience to complete a large home automation project without encountering multiple “bumps” along the way. Integrators should possess an internal team of wiring, system design, installation and programming experts or work closely with an independent design and programming firm to make sure the project sees a successful end. The integrator can also work with manufacturers’ sales reps, customer support and technical support teams for additional assistance and has access to an array of industry periodicals to gain further insights into the latest home automation tools and technology. Important associations like CEDIA and CEA provide integrators with support through industry trade shows, newsletters and most importantly, training courses.

Design Problems. The most important aspect of the project is the system design – the master plan that clearly shows how all sub-systems (lighting, audio, video, HVAC, security, etc.), will be tied together to the home automation system and brought to life. A well-designed system creates an avenue for project success . . . but the system designer must take into consideration every detail of every sub-system including:

* audio diagram for audio INPUTS (sources) and audio OUTPUTS (rooms/zones)
* video diagram for video INPUTS and video OUTPUTS
* lighting keypads, zones, circuits
* lighting functionality per keypad, including presets and scenes
* security system layout and functionality
* security system integration with home automation system
* home theater system configuration (audio and video inputs and outputs)
* home automation diagram: master controller, hubs, peripherals
* home automation user interface design: touch panels, keypads, transmitters
* home automation integration with the home PC network
* HVAC integration with home automation system
* power and electrical considerations (distribution, surge protection, etc.)
* appropriate wiring needed for all sub-systems including connectors

The above list should be a lot longer and more detailed, but only serves as an example of the many aspects of a project the system designer must review. The system designer should be aware of the customer’s budget, and always provide options for various equipment and system configurations. Cutting costs and cutting corners is not the same thing; pay a little more now and avoid having to go back to the project and implement “plan B”. Plan the project with expansion in mind. If the customer wants to make an addition in 6-12 months, how easy will the expansion be to implement and how much will it cost?

System drawings (even simple ones) for audio, video and home automation connections should be provided by the integrator and updated if system changes are made. The integrator should be intimate with each sub-system in the home, understanding how each device functions and how each one integrates into the home automation system. If the system designer is not an expert with regards to every aspect of the system, he or she should look for outside design resources, including other system designers, programmers, consultants or even the manufacturers. Making the system work will win you friends and future business. Making a poor system design will cause your phone to ring endlessly . . . and mine too.

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