Why we’re likely to see more wireless building automation in the next few years

Last month, ABI Research released a much talked about report titled “No New Wires Technologies to Drive Home Automation Market.” In a summary of the report’s findings, ABI Practice Director, Sam Lucero, directs attention to the merit of wireless systems in four key areas: (a.) install time, (b.) complexity, (c.) cost, and (d.) available options.

At this point, it’s a well-established fact that technologies like Zigbee and Z-Wave have the potential to drastically reduce the cost and complexity of residential installations. So, in this post, we thought we’d talk a bit about how they can do the same for even the largest of jobs.

Wireless installations take less time to complete

Earlier this year, the RFID Journal featured an article that claimed wireless lighting controls typically took about 10 minutes to install, compared to an hour for their wired counterparts. In other words, to achieve the same result, you’ll need to work six times as hard.

Impressive as that figure alone may be, it only accounts for the additional time it takes to run dedicated wiring. In large residential dwellings, access to tenant spaces may be required to complete certain phases of the installation process. Because wireless systems come largely preconfigured, include built-in diagnostics, and can automatically discover nodes on the network, minimal access to these areas is needed. Of course, this also reduces the time and attention needed for managing all of the personalities and schedules involved.

Wireless installations are less complicated

Not having to dig around inside the walls will hasten installations, but there are other benefits that make wireless installations less complicated. In short, wireless systems are more adaptable and upgradeable.

We’ve already established that a wired retrofit is a considerable undertaking. Right after it’s complete, it’s likely to be more than adequate. Whether it’s still cutting-edge a few years down the line is another question.

As Louis-Nicolas Hamer, CSE Magazine contributor and vice president of Product Strategy at SCL Elements Inc., points out, the number of inputs and outputs in traditional lighting or HVAC systems is limited by the available physical connectors. In the initial design, this is unlikely to be an issue. But when the need arises, expanding the system is made easier by the lack of a physical connection between the gateway and any switches or sensors on the network.

Wireless systems cost less

There’s little dispute over whether lighting controls can save money. They do. But building managers have long been faced with a trade off between current costs and long term benefits. With payback periods of up to 10 years or more, the yearly savings haven’t been enticing enough to sway most.

One of the reasons that traditional, wired systems cost so much to install is all of the added labor. Another, however, is the cost of the wiring itself. A standard 48 ballast retrofit can require up to 5 miles of dedicated wiring at an estimated cost of $2.00 per square. Eliminating both of the above can produce savings that bring the cost of wireless in at less than half of a wired system.

Wireless systems allow a choice from a broader range of products

From a consumer perspective, one of the strongest advantages of large ecosystems of interoperable products is the ability to pick and choose among them. This might seem obvious enough, but wireless standards offer the freedom to choose based on the quality and functionality of individual components, irrespective of others. If a manufacturer is out of stock, out of business, or simply out of touch with a customer’s needs, standards make it possible to swap out one brand in favor of another.


The current numbers hint at the fact that the adoption rate for wireless building automation is still somewhat negligible. However, this largely owes to the fact that the overall adoption rate for building automation is relatively low. But there’s no reason to think that it will stay this way. For one thing, there are plenty of examples of successful, real world applications that illustrate the benefits we’ve discussed here. Then, there’s the fact that these benefits are readily expressed in tangible, real dollar terms. So, it’s highly likely we’ll continue to see more and more of these systems rolled out over the next few years.

This entry was posted in Building Automation, Lighting Control, Z-Wave, Zigbee and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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