A couple of months ago, one of our customers was remodeling a home to sell. We added some nice upgrades; new speakers and music system, new lighting control system, climate control, and a nice IPad in the kitchen to have access to all of the technology apps at your fingertips. Then the customer made a simple request, “can you add Alexa into the house?”
I paused, and thoughtfully said, “Maybe…” I had seen all of the commercials during the holidays showing off the simplicity and elegance of Alexa, just like he did. It was like she was magic, and I knew there was a lot more to the picture than a $50 hockey puck shaped device. The truth is, I was really managing his expectations, because I didn’t want his home to be the first Alexa installation; we typically try to test new products in our showroom. I also didn’t want a few thousand dollars of good electronics to be at risk with a $50 device. I had seen a demonstration from Lutron at the CEDIA show last fall, and so I said, “OK, we will add Alexa”.
Voice control is like adding a steering wheel to your car. It controls your direction, but is reliant on sub-systems like the engine, tires, transmission to change direction. Homes are no different. Alexa can interface with other systems that you have purchased and installed, there is no such thing as magic. This house had Sonos for music, Nest for climate control, Lutron for lighting control. We weren’t covering the entire home, but the investment in sub systems was still enough cash to buy a small car with a few miles on it, around $20,000. We could have kept going- adding motorized shades, security cameras, and more.
A big part of our normal programming is to setup “scenes” which are labeled as buttons in each room that has lighting control. Welcome, Away, Family Room, High, Medium, Low… you get the idea. We added the Lutron Connect Bridge, a nice $300 addition to any newer lighting system that allows the system to talk to Alexa, Nest, Apple, and more. We learned the skills into the Alexa app, and then tested the scenes by voice. The customer was coming by with his realtor in about an hour. This better work.
“Alexa, turn Family Room on”. Twenty lights in the big room slowly rose to full brightness. “Wow, that’s very cool” said the realtor. I needed to keep the show going, and I had at least one more trick up my sleeve. I pulled back my left sleeve, opened the Lutron app on my Apple watch, and hit the “Welcome” button. The whole house lit up with lights, and the preset Pandora station starting playing to one of my customer’s favorites, Frank Sinatra. The customer was just blown away, just like a good magic trick.
By: Mike McMaster