Which is the best home automation system?
Like most whole-house automation companies, Crestron makes most of the equipment in its systems, including devices such as light switches, speakers and system controllers. The company has hundreds of hardware partners and the largest equipment selection in our comparison.
Crestron Home, formerly Crestron Pyng, consists of Crestron's newest residential home automation products and is easier to set up and install than older Crestron systems, which typically required custom programming. While you can still get custom programming to fit your needs exactly, dealers charge a premium for the service, which is long, complex and expensive.
Crestron's website provides examples of what Crestron owners have done in their homes. Of particular note are the case studies, which discuss the details of a project. In fact, Crestron is one of only two companies we looked at that provides detailed case studies, while many other companies use less-detailed descriptions.
If you get a Crestron system, you can expect to work with a dealer for customer support and warranty issues rather than contacting the company directly. All Crestron dealers must receive training through the Crestron Elite Dealer program before being accepted a certified dealer. When looking at warranties for Crestron equipment, we found that most of the company's equipment has a three-year warranty, though some equipment, such as speakers, may have a longer warranty. Check with a dealer for more information on warranties.
Best residential brand
During our research, we found that many installers preferred installing Control4 systems over any other company. This is because the company doesn't require installers to program every aspect of a system and most Control4 equipment comes ready to install. By standardizing its devices, Control4 also makes it easier to add to a system over time. For this reason, Control4 is less expensive than Crestron, though it's still expensive to buy dealer-installed home automation systems.
Control4 trains all of its dealers to install equipment, and you can find a dealer near you by using the dealer locator on Control4's website. The website also has many customer education resources that help you plan and master your system. Control4 systems have a two-year warranty, which is average for home automation systems, though not as long as the lifetime warranties that some home security companies offer.
Although Control4 doesn't quite match Crestron in terms of product selection, it still has hundreds of hardware partners, including some certified hardware partners that offer enhanced compatibility. Control4 also uses the same user interface across its mobile apps and touchscreen controllers so you don't have to learn multiple ways of controlling your system.
- Read our Control4 Home review
Savant positions itself as a luxury home automation company. Most of its equipment has a sleek, artful design that blends into your home's surroundings. If you go to the Savant website, you'll find customer education resources that show how a Savant system can improve your daily routine. Although this is helpful, it's not nearly as detailed as the case studies you can find on Crestron's website.
If you need quick assistance with your system, you can contact the company directly, though a Savant dealer is a better option if you need help fixing a problem. Savant covers its equipment with a two-year warranty, which is average among intelligent home systems, though you can find longer warranties from Crestron and Vivint.
Although Savant can outfit your home with all of the most common home automation equipment, it is less compatible with third-party devices than most other system we looked at. For example, even though Savant works with products from dozens of companies, Crestron, Control4 and RTI have better product selections.
Savant also has a smaller dealer network than many competitors, though it manages to cover most of the U.S. As you would expect from professional installation, Savant systems are much more expensive than affordable standalone smart home products.
Why trust us on home automation
Since 2010, we've evaluated smart home devices and tested some, including thermostats, security cameras, DIY security systems, smart locks and video doorbells, in our lab. These tests gave us insights and let us experience how a complete smart home system should work. In contrast, our evaluations of home automation systems focus heavily on research, mostly because the expense and complexity of such systems precludes testing.
We approach our evaluation of each company from the point of view of a potential customer starting to research their options. Our conclusions are based on discussions with dealers, manufacturer offerings and brochures. We found the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, or CEDIA, to be a helpful resource – it provides consumer education materials and access to home automation dealers, also called integrators. We also investigated the costs of professional automation systems to help you decide if one is the best option for you.
How much do home automation systems cost?
You can expect to pay at least $2,000 and as much as $10,000 to have a professional integrator install a simple home automation system. Unfortunately, the price tends to vary depending on the size and layout of your home as well as the equipment you get. A simple home automation system usually includes a central controller, sensors, light switches, thermostats and locks.
Even if your integrator only uses inexpensive devices, your project’s total cost can go up quickly based on the number of devices you use and the price of labor to install them and program them. The central controller is usually the most expensive component, followed by security cameras, thermostats and locks.
Anything involving complex electrical work will dramatically increase your project costs beyond $10,000. This includes installing new outlet boxes, home theaters, whole-house audio systems and surveillance cameras throughout your home. Running all of those wires behind walls and between rooms is time consuming, especially since your integrator needs to comply with building codes in your area.
Lastly, you don’t pay just for equipment and installation – your integrator puts serious effort into designing and programming the system before and after installation. This means the more you customize your system, the more your integrator will likely charge.
How we evaluated automated home systems
Part of the appeal of professional automation systems is they can automate almost anything in your home, which is why we can’t make solid recommendations on one brand’s hardware capabilities those of another. Most differences in systems are superficial, but we highlighted the biggest ones we could find.
Customer education resources
The best home automation companies provide case studies, brochures and galleries to showcase different projects in which their technology played a major role. We looked at the showcases each company offers to get an idea of what its system can do. Companies with detailed descriptions and multiple examples ranked higher than those that only showed photos of completed projects.
Ease of finding an integrator
We visited the websites of the companies we reviewed and looked for ways to contact integrators near our office. The best companies make it easy to find a dealer from their homepages, usually an interactive dealer map, a form or a phone number you can use to get information. Control4, for example, has a form on its homepage that helps you get a quote.
Number of hardware partners
We estimate roughly how many third-party brands are compatible with each home automation system. Whole-home systems that support products made by many manufacturers scored higher than those that only support a few since they give you more choices – the best partner with hundreds of brands. This is also important if you have a favorite brand, such as Bose or Sony, and you want to include its components in your system.
Customer support options
As a general rule, a dealer is your first, and maybe only, point of contact with a home automation company. Although dealers can make service calls to your home, many charge a fee to do so. Since we can’t evaluate all the thousands of dealers across the U.S., we looked at the manufacturers to see what direct customer support they offer. If there’s the faintest glimmer of direct customer support, we gave the company extra credit.
The advantages of a home integrated system
Types of systems
A professionally installed home automation system is a serious investment that can add value to your home – it's not a hobby or a gimmick. Installing a home automation system is as expensive and complex as remodeling your home. Our research revealed some ways you can rein in your expectations to find a system that's best for you.
What to expect from professional home automation
Whole-house automation systems from Control4, Crestron, Elan, RTI, Savant and URC are more expensive than security systems, but they offer more flexibility and connectivity, particularly with home theaters. They also require custom wiring and programming, which can take weeks to prepare in some cases.
Home security systems such as ADT and Vivint, focus on home security but offer automation upgrades. These upgrades aren't as complex or customizable as whole-house automation systems, notably lacking home theater integration. However, these systems are often more affordable and include home security monitoring.
A stable market with local dealers
Whole-home systems are sold by local dealers, also called integrators, in most states. In addition to acting as resellers, these dealers install and set up you home automation equipment. Home security systems have larger installer networks. Only in the last decade have DIY systems appeared, and voice controls like Amazon Alexa make them more useful each year
When you work with a dealer, they figure out which products work together ahead of time and then offer a variety of systems to meet specific needs. Many whole-home system manufacturers make every piece of equipment and also support hundreds of third-party products.
Home theater integration
A home theater is the most expensive part of a whole-home automation system because it requires special controls to send audio and video to rooms throughout your home. The rest of the cost associated with home theaters comes from audio equipment, such as speakers and amplifiers, and video equipment such as projectors and TVs.
Where to start when buying a home automation system
When you decide to buy a smart home system, aside from setting a sensible budget, there are only two things to consider: what and who. Getting what you want means finding the right focus for your smart home. From there, decide who should install it. Here are some tips to help you decide the what and who of your smart home.
Determine your focus
Focus only on features you want. Whole-home automation has elements of control, security, utilities and entertainment. However, systems sold by security companies don't do entertainment. These categories are not mutually exclusive; for example, lighting plays a role in all four. Once you know your focus, you can find a dealer to make it happen.
Finding an integrator
Most major cities have a few home automation dealers. To find the right one for you, it’s a good idea to get competing quotes from the integrators in your area. With quotes in hand, learn about each dealer’s certifications, setup process and whether it can help you get security monitoring services.
Look for dealers that are members of CEDIA, which has a strong code of ethics and helps installers stay up to date with the latest technology certifications. Also, look for a dealer that's trained to work with the smart home products you want.
Choose a dealer only after they give you a detailed explanation of the changes they need to make to your home such as removing drywall and installing wiring. If the dealer won’t give you a written contract that lists everything they plan to do before they start, then find a dealer that will. Verbal contracts lead to overpriced projects.
Ask if the dealer offers home security monitoring or can connect you to a security company that monitors home automation systems. In general, if you don’t have door sensors, motion sensors or security cameras, you probably don’t need monitoring and shouldn’t buy it if the dealer insists.
Getting the most from your automation system
Whether you use your system as a universal remote or have automatic tasks that run in the background, you can expect to interact with it every day. Idle systems are a great way to underutilize your investment – make them work for you. Here are a couple things every home automation system owner should know.
Learn the ropes
Take time to study the manual, mobile app and other tools you have access to. Look at all the components that make up your system and see how the mobile app controls them. By familiarizing yourself with the app, you can find lights, create presets and know where in the menu everything is. In most systems, you can set up schedules to control devices such as your thermostat and exterior lights.
When to call the dealer
Aside from occasionally replacing batteries in a sensor or dusting off your equipment, there isn’t much maintenance you can do on your own without voiding the warranty. If your system is under warranty, you should be able to replace your defective components at no cost. It’s possible that you might pay a service fee, even with a warranty – check with your dealer to see when they charge for service calls. If you don’t have a warranty, set priorities instead of calling the dealer any time a component stops working.
When you work with a dealer, remember they may offer a separate warranty from that of the manufacturer. Make sure the dealer’s warranty covers installation and labor for at least a year. For faulty hardware, many dealers work with manufacturers to get replacement parts so you don’t have to contact the manufacturer directly. The best home automation systems offer lifetime warranties, though a warranty should last at least three years.