HOME TECHNOLOGY HAS COME DOWN enough in price that a retirement community with units that average 1,300 square feet and start at well under $200,000 now offers a home control and voice, data, and video package backed up by fiber-to-the-home as standard.

Sun Development of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is rolling out 625 units over the next three years at Sun Mission Resort, a community in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Offering the technology is a big selling point for Sun Development, says John Heer, the company's vice president of operations.

“A lot of the buyers consist of two-to-three–person households, many of whom are trading off square footage and giant yards and landscape for conveniences inside the home,” Heer says. “They want the sound system and lighting control—amenities they may never have had in their previous homes,” he explains.

The main reason Sun Development can deliver a high level of technology to such an affordable community is that home automation company Control 4 built a low-cost all-in-one home control system that makes adding applications and integrating multiple devices much easier.

“With Control 4, what used to take [separate audio switches, relays, and processors] now takes one device to set up a home control system,” says Craig Kawamura, operations manager of Idaho-based Home Systems Design, the home-tech integrator on the Sun Mission Resort project.

Kawamura says the basic home-tech and automation setup for a small house—something that cost in excess of $40,000 a few years ago—is now roughly $12,000.

“In the past, home automation had been a lot like programming in MS-DOS,” says Mark Morgan, vice president of sales for Control 4, referring to Microsoft's old programming language that required doing hard coding, as opposed to programming via drag and drop with a graphical interface.

“Now, it's much easier for the integrator to add applications,” says Morgan. “Control 4 has an interface that shows up on the TV or on a mini-touchscreen, so if there's a problem with a program, just about anyone in the integrator's company could make a change or restore a program. There's a lot less need for custom design,” he explains.

The standard package at Sun Mission includes a 5.1 surround sound system, security, and lighting and home control for four rooms. The surround sound system includes TruAudio speakers, an Integra amplifier, and a DVD player. The security is a Lynx wireless security system. The system also features a ZigBee-compatible home theater controller, lighting control, wireless thermostat, and two touchscreen panels for user control from Control 4.

TOTAL CONTROL: This Control 4 touchscreen lets Sun Mission Resort home buyers easily manage their entertainment and home control needs.
TOTAL CONTROL: This Control 4 touchscreen lets Sun Mission Resort home buyers easily manage their entertainment and home control needs.

The home-tech setup is complemented by a fiber-to-the-home deployment and a voice, Internet access, and cable offering from Greenfield Communications. Greenfield, based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., delivers fiber-to-the-home and digital voice, data, and video services to master planned communities. The monthly fee for these services at Sun Mission will be about $100 to $150, depending on the services purchased.

The Sun Mission project is a big win for Control 4 and ZigBee advocates, many of whom have argued that a wireless home control system based on an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard will eventually win the day in the residential market. Competitors to ZigBee include the Z-Wave Alliance, which consists of Zensys, Leviton, Intermatic, and Wayne Dalton and is based on Zensys' Z-Wave radio frequency technology; and the new Insteon product line from Smarthome.

“ZigBee is a mesh network, which means every ZigBee device talks to the device next to it,” says Control 4's Morgan. “The more light switches, the stronger the network is, so the home buyer doesn't have to worry that the device is too far away from the controller,” he explains.