Service & Support
Best Home Automation Systems
Which Is The Best Home Automation System?
Since 2010, we’ve compiled a list of the best professionally installed home automation systems and ranked them based on their offerings in a variety of categories. After completing our most recent round of research, we believe Crestron is the best choice because its systems are compatible with more products than those of any other company we looked at. Creston's software is fully customizable from top to bottom, which is why it goes beyond home installations to automate commercial spaces like schools, hotels and businesses. It takes an experienced dealer and a lot of time to install a Crestron system.
Control4 is the top residential brand we reviewed. The system integrates software and hardware seamlessly without the need for a dealer to do intensive programming, which helps bring down installation costs. In addition, this capable system can be expanded by the dealer as your needs change. Control4 offers a robust selection of in-house hardware, and it supports products from hundreds of other manufacturers.
Another company worth considering is Savant. Its system is visually appealing, sleek and glossy, looking similar to Apple’s products. Savant has a full line of professional products you can mix and match to create a system that’s a good fit for your home.
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
The cost and complexity of the whole-home systems limit the amount of hands-on testing we can do. We approach our evaluations from the point of view of a potential customer starting research. Our conclusions are based on discussions with dealers, manufacturer offerings, brochures and in-house research.
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.
What to Expect From Professional Home Automation
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.
Types of Systems
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.
- Control – These devices make your everyday life at home convenient by helping you create schedules, rules and smartphone controls for things like light switches, garage door openers, thermostats and window treatments.
- Security – These devices protect your family and property by monitoring for and deterring intruders. Examples are door sensors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, smart locks, security cameras and sirens.
- Utilities – Using these devices, you can improve your home’s energy efficiency to help save on gas, electric or water bills. Examples include thermostats, sprinkler controllers, leak detectors and window treatments.
- Entertainment – This category includes audio-video devices and home theater equipment. Universal remotes sometimes work with DIY smart homes to control TVs, home audio systems and streaming sticks.
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.
- Certifications – Look for dealers that are members of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, or CEDIA. CEDIA 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.
- System Setup – 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.
- Monitoring Services – 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.