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What are realistic expectations for Control4?


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So...in the process of designing my retirement dream home. Based on a quick bit of research it feels like Control4 does what I think I want in terms of Home Automation. Mentioned to my architect and got back a response as follows:

"We have had some disappointing experiences with Control4 on past projects". 

There are some obvious follow up questions I will be asking such as: what kind of experiences? when? what OS version? etc. A non-exhaustive google search turns up some unhappiness with Control4 but given the number of installations done in the last twenty years the number of complaints I found seemed relatively small.

I guess if I could wave a magic wand and survey everyone that had a whole home system completed in the last 12 months if the system has met or exceeded their expectations, I am wondering what percentage of people would answer "No".

Anyone want to speculate based on your own experience? Any other thoughts?

Thanks

 

 

 

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It's typically not the system that was an issue, it was the dealer.

Finding a competent dealer makes a world of difference.
Explain you wants and needs, have clear defined goals, and you'll be happy, like most all the other Control4 home owners.

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What do you need and what do you want from any home automation. Forget vendor for the moment.

To me your post is trolling a bit. Not sure you are really telling the truth, but if you are and you are here trying to talk about Control4 you should absolutely be able to rattle off what you need and want.

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49 minutes ago, Windthrow said:

So...in the process of designing my retirement dream home. Based on a quick bit of research it feels like Control4 does what I think I want in terms of Home Automation. Mentioned to my architect and got back a response as follows:

"We have had some disappointing experiences with Control4 on past projects". 

There are some obvious follow up questions I will be asking such as: what kind of experiences? when? what OS version? etc. A non-exhaustive google search turns up some unhappiness with Control4 but given the number of installations done in the last twenty years the number of complaints I found seemed relatively small.

I guess if I could wave a magic wand and survey everyone that had a whole home system completed in the last 12 months if the system has met or exceeded their expectations, I am wondering what percentage of people would answer "No".

Anyone want to speculate based on your own experience? Any other thoughts?

Thanks

I've met a major architect here in Australia who didn't even know how to use an iphone and needed help with a computer. 

Architects are often focused on making a place feel premium and aren't the best place to ask about designing an AV system. I've literally come across premium homes which require 4 different light switches to walk down a hallway. I've been to another where the bathroom had 2 different entry doors (both to the same hallway), and you couldn't even find the bathroom in the the hallway, because they designed all the doors to look like wall panels (for that sleek premium look that makes things difficult). The funny thing is that often, after the architect leaves, in some homes there are sometimes a lot of changes too (not all, there are good architects around who do an amazing job who work closely with installers)

When they say they've had "disappointing experiences", don't forget that many of them are done early in the process (so they don't see the final result), and in some architectural homes I've seen, the architects also specify products with poor integration too. That's why you need to also engage an integrator early in the process. I've also seen Architects do things like make requirements for installers to put Wifi ap's and such in bad spots, amongst other things (simply to make their work look better)

That being said, it depends what you're trying to accomplish. In a large home or multi-story in particular, you NEED some kind of home automation. And in such homes, good integrators will do things like when arming the alarm, all the TV's, and lights turn off in the house (so its a timesaver). For home theatres and such, Control4 does an awesome job too.

When you look at products like Google Home, they don't come anywhere close to systems like Control4 either

Furthermore, if cost is a factor, products like Shelly for lighting automation are also cheap these days (and our driver is also cheap and fairly quick to deploy, even in very large deployments)

Why not ask the architect what Home automation system they recommend? Because, Control4 is one of the cheaper premium ones (and it definitely gives driver developers a huge amount of flexibility these days)

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My system was put in about 15 years ago.  My dealer wasn't very good and I didn't understand the limitations of the dealer model.  Some folks have bad experiences because their dealers are not very good.  Others don't like the fact that they need a dealer to add hardware to your system and do some types of programming.  And they may not have thought about the fact that they will have to replace a bunch of the hardware every 7 years or so.

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No trolling.

In my current house and vacation property I have bits and pieces of home automation that work well; thermostats, bits and pieces of "smart lighting", smart door locks and sound system for example.  Plus parts that dont work at well at all; home theatre being the prime example of that. Would love one system that "rules them all" that work reliably and allow us to manage the homes systems quickly and easily.

Have not got to the point of figure out exactly how I would configure the system, but expectation is that it will manage: lighting (interior and exterior), blinds, AV, security and HVAC as a start, That said I realize I probably dont know what I dont know yet,

 

 

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39 minutes ago, Andrew luecke said:

I've met a major architect here in Australia who didn't even know how to use an iphone and needed help with a computer. 

Architects are often focused on making a place feel premium and aren't the best place to ask about designing an AV system. I've literally come across premium homes which require 4 different light switches to walk down a hallway. I've been to another where the bathroom had 2 different entry doors (both to the same hallway), and you couldn't even find the bathroom in the the hallway, because they designed all the doors to look like wall panels (for that sleek premium look that makes things difficult). The funny thing is that often, after the architect leaves, in some homes there are sometimes a lot of changes too (not all, there are good architects around who do an amazing job who work closely with installers)

When they say they've had "disappointing experiences", don't forget that many of them are done early in the process (so they don't see the final result), and in some architectural homes I've seen, the architects also specify products with poor integration too. That's why you need to also engage an integrator early in the process. I've also seen Architects do things like make requirements for installers to put Wifi ap's and such in bad spots, amongst other things (simply to make their work look better)

That being said, it depends what you're trying to accomplish. In a large home or multi-story in particular, you NEED some kind of home automation. And in such homes, good integrators will do things like when arming the alarm, all the TV's, and lights turn off in the house (so its a timesaver). For home theatres and such, Control4 does an awesome job too.

When you look at products like Google Home, they don't come anywhere close to systems like Control4 either

Furthermore, if cost is a factor, products like Shelly for lighting automation are also cheap these days (and our driver is also cheap and fairly quick to deploy, even in very large deployments)

Why not ask the architect what Home automation system they recommend? Because, Control4 is one of the cheaper premium ones (and it definitely gives driver developers a huge amount of flexibility these days)

The architect and also the builder have been involved  in Control4 builds and have worked with an installer that appears to have been installing for at least 5 years. Next step is to talk to all 3 and understand their concerns better, so am  trying to educate myself as much as possible before that conversation so I ask the right questions.

Thanks for the responses so far.

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Ask the architect first what went wrong?
So you can ask the dealer how he'd address those issues.

Home theater is the easy one for Control4.
The other items you mention will have brands that will integrate better/easier than others.
In order for any integration system to work properly with other brands products, it needs software that both can speak, Control4 calls them drivers.
Some brands have great drivers and integration goes smooth (Honeywell/Lutron for example) Others are more touchy (Nest Thermostats/EcoBee/Hunter Douglas) and some not at all, (Ring).
Some drivers are cloud based and need an internet connection to function, others are local network.
Picking the right brands, using local/native drivers and products where possible, and a good dealer will make a successful project.

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19 minutes ago, Shoe said:

You are still designing the house and haven't pulled permits yet? What city is the property in?

Not sure I understand the reason behind the question. Architectural design is largely done. Grading design is being finished in advance of Minor Variance application. Structural design is just getting underway, interior design and HVAC soon to start as well. Building permit application will go in once Variance is approached. All working towards construction start late summer.

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4 minutes ago, Windthrow said:

Not sure I understand the reason behind the question. Architectural design is largely done. Grading design is being finished in advance of Minor Variance application. Structural design is just getting underway, interior design and HVAC soon to start as well. Building permit application will go in once Variance is approached. All working towards construction start late summer.

So just a heads up. Even with stuff like HVAC, you'll want to engage installers early to ensure that drivers and such exist

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I faced the same question four years ago and ended up with Control4.  I would do it again today.  Your list is pretty comprehensive, especially if by "AV" you mean a whole-house audio system.  When we built a previous house, I did everything DIY, and had some fun doing it, but I wanted a "grown up" system to be, as you said, one system to "rule them all."  I think of the house as a series of subsystems, that roll-up in Control4, and one screen to control *everything*.  Control4 can do that for you, in spades.

I would ignore your architect's comments and instead talk to a few dealers that are local to you.   As others have noted, these things are likely outside their area of expertise, no matter how great of an architect they are.  Your doctor has probably heard stories of people being unhappy after buying a boat.

One thing I would say, regarding expectations:  it can be expensive.  Depending on the budget/scope of your project, that may or may not be significant to you.  Relatedly, be prepared to pay a multiple of the price for a lot of components versus the "consumer" versions.   It is what it is.  There are often ways to save money around the edges, but I would recommend you stick with solutions your dealer recommends and will support.

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10 minutes ago, Andrew luecke said:

So just a heads up. Even with stuff like HVAC, you'll want to engage installers early to ensure that drivers and such exist

Excellent point.  A lot of details you will be deciding now will make integration much easier (or harder or impossible) later.  Fireplaces, landscape lighting, wiring for lighting (panelized or traditional) etc, etc.    

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11 minutes ago, Windthrow said:

Not sure I understand the reason behind the question.

If you can say the City I'm sure people can highlight some local choices for experienced installers so you can get 2-3 bids. You know, like normal business approach to expensive implementations that are difficult to change.

If you haven't built yet it tells people where you are in the process and what can still be changed to meet your needs. Basic stuff like media/security closet for a rack of gear. Electrical plan for line and low voltage. Panelized or central lighting control or not. Drops for appliances, sensors, speakers, alarm system, security cameras, in floor heating, wall tablets, shower control etc. If you want automated lighting a lot of things can be different like a different approach to 3way or N-way lighting.

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Control4 works perfectly but depends on:

-A good C4 dealer to design it and set it up

-On large new builds a builder and architect that are willing to cooperate

-A GOOD network (usually done by dealer)

 

All too often a builder or architect has existing working relationships (if not contracts) with:

-Electricians that refuse to do wiring differently (or charge an arm and a leg, especially true with centralized lighting) because they don't want to......and because they don't want to make less money (again, especially central lighting wiring should be CHEAPER than standard lighting with 3 and 4 ways everywhere) - or these days they'll refuse to accept that a whole house can simply be done with low voltage lighting (you know, it takes away their jobs.....)

-Blind providers (that don't integrate well). Architects and interior designers especially on this one. Hunter Douglas comes to mind. There's a good DRIVER for it, but the API has it's limits and more importantly, all too often the 'smart' design portion doesn't get set up well by the blind company (so even the HD app is finicky, and if that is finicky so will integration)

-HVAC contractors - in these scenarios very often it's carrier (which is a pain) or it's infloor heating from some sort of third party control system (if they just used Tekmar for these....)

Many builders, architects and interior designers (and for that matter specialty contractors, including some C4 dealers) are stuck in their ways, and not open to changes of how they do things, which will cause friction. It takes a skilled dealer/salesman/general contractor to overcome that to ensure whatever is chosen.

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@Windthrow Given your use case, I would suggest 10 areas of focus:

  1. access control
    1. the DoorStations (the 2N devices) have a nice finish and permit keyless entry, event logging and efficient key management for staff and guests
    2. integration with the C4 programming is seamless
  2. security
    1. C4 integrates with a conventional security panel (consider IQ Pro)
    2. you can use Luna X20 cameras to trigger events in the C4 programming (line cross, motion detection) and extend you security perimeter well beyond the exterior walls of your house
    3. set push notifications to be activated whenever a fenced portion of the yard is breached
    4. this gives piece of mind when traveling
    5. check out Pulsor from Sure Action for precise interior monitoring
  3. HVAC
    1. you did not mention in what geography your property is located
    2. reduces risk of pipe freeze or damage due to high humidity
    3. general comfort
  4. Lighting
    1. whole house, panelized lighting (either C4 or Lutron)
    2. C4 KCB keypads for back-of-house or Black Nova for front-of-house
    3. reduces wall clutter
    4. hands-free lighting, scenes etc.
  5. Water monitoring / flood prevention
    1. reduce chances of water damage by mounting water monitors near toilets, hot water heater, irrigation system components, slop sinks, etc.
    2. we have prevented at least 4 incidents in the last 10 years that would have caused $25k+ of damage and inconvenience
    3. whole house water turn-off / on to automate flood prevention
  6. Irrigation
    1. Hunter Commercial line of irrigation controllers integrates well with C4
  7. Key accessory integration
    1. exterior: pool, boat lift, dock, etc...
    2. interior: sauna, hot tub, etc.
    3. mission critical: generator (Generac tie-in)
    4. driveway gates
    5. landscape lighting
  8. Power management
    1. Shelly makes a Pro version of its PM (power management) line
    2. great for refrigerator, main power line, power line supported by the generator
    3. dishwasher, washer / dryer, floor heat, pool pump, sauna, hot tub, air handlers, etc.
    4. goal here is not so much to measure consumption but to make certain that devices are on when they should be and off when not
    5. equipment usage by hour for preventative maintenance
  9. Whole house audio
    1. We use a Autonomic MMS system (fully integrates with C4)
    2. this is likely the most visible (pun intended) feature to guests.  Having music in each room from a centralized source is fantastic
  10. Remote controls for TV
    1. lastly, the Halo (Neeo) remotes and the more recent additions to the line-up are very convenient and a nice upgrade from those supplied by the cable company

One consideration:  C4 permits you, the homeowner, the option of directly accessing and adding / modifying the programming yourself using Composer HE.  Although Composer HE is somewhat rudimentary, the functionality permits you to make changes and experiment directly -- no waiting for a dealer or contractor.  This ability is a huge advantage over other competing systems.  Use your dealer of record to add equipment (bindings) and spend a moment getting YOUR system to perform exactly the way YOU want.

I hope the above provides a useful starting point.  Good luck with your build.

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I'm in my 7th year with Control4.  I use it to control AV, lighting, hurricane shades, security, garage doors, ceiling fans, fireplace and HVAC.  I didn't go through a home automation selection process because C4/dealer is who the builder worked with the most and recommended.  And this is my first experience in home automation.  I guess I got pretty lucky because we love the system (including my non-technical wife).  The dealer also did the network, security system w/cameras (and central vac).  We've kept it up to date and added functionality as we've gone along.  Here's a few things that may help:

  1. If you are into technical DIY, you really need to understand the dealer model before going C4.  I am into technical DIY, but I wouldn't want to be without a dealer; the breadth and depth of the home automation space is just too wide and deep for me to want to "go it alone".  Yes, dealers can only do certain work (i.e. you cannot) and get paid to do it, but there is an ROI because of their knowledge and experience.  But C4 also allows you to do a lot on your own too.
  2. Get a detail install plan from your dealer prior to construction start and spend time understanding it before approving.  Our dealer used the house CAD drawings to produce a network/security/HVAC plan, AV plan, lighting plan. etc.  I learned a lot about the system through review and discussion of the drawings with the dealer.  And neither I nor my dealer had any surprises!
  3. We spent time on planning the rack space - making sure we had adequate space (we moved a wall a couple of feet pre-build), HVAC supply (we needed an additional air duct run added to the HVAC plan) and dedicated circuit to the rack (a new circuit added to the electrical build plan).
  4. If you want great integration to C4, you need to select components that have great C4 integration capabilities already built.  C4 has a very wide range of robust product integrations, but it is impossible for anyone to integrate well with everything.  You basically find you have a new requirement when selecting a TV, AV receiver, HVAC system, etc. etc. etc. - how good is the C4 integration.
  5. This forum has great people that know what they are doing and want to help.  I'm really happy I found it early on and have received great help.  The folks on here have been a great supplement to my dealer.  I haven't had a dealer truck-roll in years!  Good for both of us.

Good luck with your process and home build.  C4 does a great job and coupled with the right dealer, builder, architect and planning, you will be very happy with your choice!

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Control4 can work very well. As others have stated, dealers play a very important role. They can make or break a project. Dealers get paid based on both time and margin on hardware. If you live in a larger area get multiple bids. Look at both competence and price. Remember you are ultimately in charge of the scope & specs of the project. 

The main selling points for C4 are UI ease of use, comprehensiveness, reliability, and support. Functionally all these control/automation systems, from a $150 DIY controller to the C4 controllers, work basically the same. They are all event based. A button is pushed, a light comes on. Time becomes sunset, a light goes on. The additional technical functions that C4 offers over DIY systems mostly relate to AV control/automation. There aren't many technical reasons to choose a different dealer system over C4.

My #1 piece of advice is to make your design as controller agnostic/independent as possible. Control4 makes some nice C4 branded stuff, but most of it requires a C4 controller. The home automation market is in a competitive phase. Lots of companies are entering the automation market. And C4 is a public company that is going through some business model changes that are adding yearly licensing fees. What happens if you find a reason to make a change of controller?

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Thank you for all the thoughtful replies. Has been very helpful, feeling more prepared for the initial conversations on this.

Build is in Ontario Canada, a two hour drive from Toronto. Closest dealers are about an hour away, and then obviously many more in Toronto.

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Control4 only really works for 2 types of customers. I have posted this before but will again:

1 - the people with more money than time: they hired an integrator because they wanted to have some cool technology in their home and be able to control it all from 1 place. if control4 is being used in their home it probably wasnt their choice, it was the integrators. the technology in the background is irrelevant. its the integrator that matters. if the integrator thinks there is another product than could do what they want better or easier then they would have it. the customer doesnt care if the solution is open or closed (C4). they just want it to work.

2 - people with some money and some time -  this is the group who if there was a DIY (open) solution out there that could do all they want they would probably use it instead of C4. The fact is though if you want to have a hard button remote that can control all of your audio and video together easily there is just not anything on the DIY side that comes close (and on the custom side there isnt anything with the user base and price point of C4). And even if there was a product, the price of a CORE LITE and SR-260 is not that much different than what Logitech's last solution was going for. Yes there is the cost of an integrator but there are varying levels of what involvement you need from them if you have the time and knowledge. C4 has a great product at a great price for these types of users.

If you don't fit into 1 of these 2 categories you will likely not enjoy your experience with C4. If you do fit then there is a good chance you will really like it.

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I love my C4 system. I'm an electrical engineer and a techie, so I had a good idea of what C4 could do and what I wanted to be able to do with it. I quickly realized after sending my dealer exhaustive control descriptions and functions I wanted to be able to implement, that I was far from their typical user who more often than not just wanted fancy backlit/labeled switches, distributed audio, and shortcuts to netflix (which are generally built into most new tv remotes anyways). C4 allows you to do so much more than a typical "smart home" platform like Apple Homekit, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa, as you don't need to use approved and proprietary equipment with it. However it requires constant tinkering and programming to truly make it your own and user friendly. The programming side of it is the biggest challenge, and you can do some modification as a home user, but the bulk of the programming is locked away behind your dealer to keep the user from breaking it.

Long story short, it's a great system if you put a ton of time into the planning of the system, or have a dealer with a ton of experience and the desire to help guide you through what it can do and how best to do it.

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16 hours ago, cnicholson said:

Relatedly, be prepared to pay a multiple of the price for a lot of components versus the "consumer" versions.   It is what it is.  There are often ways to save money around the edges, but I would recommend you stick with solutions your dealer recommends and will support.

I'll add that sticking with 3rd party gear that your dealer is already very familiar with is some of the best advice you can get.  Sure, your dealer *can* integrate the less expensive thing, but you don't want to be the guinea pig that pays for your dealer's education.

In a lot of cases, the 'dealer recommended' product will be less expensive in the long run (even if more expensive up front) because the dealer doesn't need to spend time to figure it out or make a driver, manually configure it, etc.

That's one of the reasons Control4 lighting, for example, can in some cases still be economical compared to less expensive alternatives.  The electrician installs them (same as any other dimmer, no additional wiring), the dealer adds the free driver and taps the top button 4 times to learn, and it's fully in the system.  No figuring out drivers, no manual configuration (like for Lutron / KNX 3rd party lighting), etc.

RyanE

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@RyanEMy experience with C4 branded centralized lighting (C4-DIN-8DIM-E, C4-DIN-8REL-E, C4-DIN-8TV-E) and the KCB backlit keypads has been remarkably positive.  The set-up is rock solid.  And, of course, the integration is 100%.  My only deviation from the C4 brand is my addition of BlackNova keypads which are in a league of their own.

Once architects understand the expanded degrees of freedom for design afforded by centralized lighting, they become quick converts.  A large room easily can have 8+ lighting circuits.  With the low-voltage keypads, a single button creates a lighting scene using a combination of contributions from each circuit -- and the end user is unconcerned as to the technical complexities.

The C4 value proposition is that automation "just happens" in a luxury setting; this is not designed to be a low cost offering.

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Yeah, I forget about centralized lighting, mainly because I don't have any of it in my home...  :)

That said, it's also 'more native' and easier to install (driver/software-wise) in a Control4 installation than using a 3rd-party system.

Those are some nice looking keypads.  I think if I were doing 'any' keypads, there are a ton of KNX keypads that are also pretty fantastic by many manufacturers, although that's not the easiest way to go for a US project...

:)

RyanE

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