It has been a while since Tech Spec last visited the digital home space. It didn't seem warranted while home building companies were filing for more bankruptcies than they were building permits. Not that we're calling a market turnaround here, but there have been several months of relatively good news, or at least not bad news, so it seemed a propitious time to check in with Lutron, which at this writing had just returned from the annual Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association show.

At that show, Lutron unveiled its new RadioRA2, a more robust and less expensive interactive environmental control system than its predecessor, as well as its HomeWorks QS Wireless system, a component of its high-end HomeWorks wireless/hard-wired system that moves the company a bit further into the entertainment space. But the big news on both, for us anyway, was that they are no longer just about lights and shades: They can control HVAC systems.

This is not new in the industry. Crestron, Control4, AMX, and Leviton (at the lower end) have been into this for some years. But it is new for Lutron, and if you're going to mess with lighting, the folks who invented the dimmer are a good place to start.

The RadioRA2 system would likely have the most application in the production home building segment by virtue of its cost and ease of installation. The news here is that prices of RadioRA components have come down on average by 20 percent and 30 percent, according to the company, and that the systems can be hung on standard wiring in a new home, which means they can be offered as a last-minute option in a design center.

This ease of installation also includes occupancy/vacancy sensors under the moniker “Radio Pwr Savr” (their spelling, not mine ... Lutron has a penchant for branding things with odd letter pairings, as in RadioRA). It can be programmed and monitored with a PC, allowing the builder or homeowner to define and control zones and locations, light and shade levels, occupancy sensing, et al from a single, central location. And by combining lighting, shading, and HVAC control, the system can significantly reduce energy use by working all three in tandem to achieve maximum efficiency. It can handle up to 200 devices (dimmers, shades, keypads, etc.), and dimmers have been specially designed to work with specified compact fl ores-cent bulbs and LEDs. Finally, it uses Lutron's proprietary RF technology, which is less susceptible to interference from cell phones and Wi-Fi systems.

The question is, will these kinds of amenities attract buyers any better than they did before the downturn? Phil Scheetz, Lutron's home systems marketing manager, thinks they will, for some interesting reasons.

The first is energy savings. In the wake of the rise in energy prices in 2007-2008 and with Congress pushing energy legislation, there is more awareness of energy use than there was before the bust. But, he says, “People are looking to reduce their energy usage through events that happen automatically. They don't want to have to think about it.”

He has another, even more interesting theory, though. “The last building boom was fueled by baby boomers,” Scheetz proffers. “In this kind of intermission we've taken, it's almost feeling like now there is the next generation of customer. The new generation is much more accepting of and comfortable with technology, so they are demanding more [of it] in their homes.”

In fact, Scheetz says, business in the luxury environment control segment has actually come back. “High-end homeowners are spending smartly, but I think they are definitely back in the game.”

Though Lutron is moving further into the high-end space, Scheetz says it is not looking to push into Crestron's market. “We're an environment control company. They are in entertainment control.”

Oh, and the two systems can be easily integrated, according to Scheetz.