36 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | MAR. 15 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
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This is an exploding industry right now. We have everyone from
Kickstarter startups to huge conglomerates entering the field.
—Tom Kerber, Parks Associates
in 2009, and he’s seen customer awareness of Io T-style devices
soar since then.
“We had to explain the benefits, and now homeowners are
begging for them,” he said.
The company’s offerings are becoming as sophisticated as
the Apple iOS mobile operating system used in iPhones and
iPads has evolved.
“We’ve had apps now for a long time, but now we have iOS
apps in 17 languages,” Rhoades said.
While the company offers its own smart home platform based
on structured wiring, Leviton also has established partnerships
with companies now making waves (so to speak) in the wireless
category, including Wink, whose wireless-hub-based products
are sold through Home Depot. Similar to Lowes’ Iris system and
Staples’ Connect line, Wink has developed a wireless platform
that controls connected devices through a hub connected to a
customer’s wireless router. In December, the company launched
an in-home control panel that replaces a standard light switch
with an iPhone-sized touchscreen, bringing more structured-wiring unification to what has been, until now, a collection of
random products and smartphone-based apps.
“We consider the hub, in that market, [as] the razor, and
the devices that go into it [as] the razor blades,” Rhoades said,
explaining why Leviton opted against adding its own hub-based system to the growing list of proprietary competitors.
Communicating through the popular Z-Wave protocol,
Leviton’s switches also are compatible with Iris and Connect,
enabling the company to match its “blades” to any number of
Certainly, wireless smart-home product manufacturers are
touting the do-it-yourself aspect of their offerings, but Kerber
said that some consumers can become frustrated when what
seems to be an easy DIY installation gets caught up in pass-
words and communications snafus.
“Any product with a network connection has a 12 percent
return rate,” he said.
He sees a sweet spot for electrical contractors, who, along
with traditional security companies and broadband service pro-
viders, are among the few outside resources that consumers
trust to deal with home-wiring issues. Electrical contractors
familiar with these technologies are in a great position to build
both customer trust and their own business by bringing the
new options into conversations about even the most mundane
“The problem with adoption is that people aren’t aware”
of the available products, Kerber said, adding that face-to-face
relationships are the best avenue for raising that awareness.
“To the degree the electrician is in the home for another
service, [there is] an opportunity for upselling,” he said.
Rhoades agreed that, wireless or not, the new technology
offers a big opportunity for electrical contractors.
“They’re already in the homes, and they already understand
wiring. It’s taking a little more training, but they are asking us a
lot and we’re seeing a lot of electricians roll through our training programs,” Rhoades said.
The opportunity doesn’t lay just with individual homeowners, Ely said. With 93 percent of new homes including a
broadband connection, homebuilders are looking for ways to
leverage that Internet access in the upgrades they are offering
to prospective buyers.
“More and more, builders recognize the need to offer and
be able to talk about these technologies,” he said, adding that
many are looking for new partners to help them with this task.
“The role of the partner is to at least be able to speak about
the technologies,” Ely said.
While electrical contractors might need some training on
product-specific installation requirements and some network
communications details, they already have the basic wiring
knowledge needed to get into the field, Kerber said. And, at a time
when revenues might be flat for standard service offerings, smart
home expertise could be a big bonus to a contractors’ bottom line.
“This is an exploding industry right now. We have everyone
from Kickstarter startups to huge conglomerates” entering the
field, Kerber said.
For example, he said that up to 99 percent of new homes
have incorporated smart switches, which are an inexpensive
upgrade from standard analog offerings.
“In the future, this is only going to increase,” Kerber said.
“It’s amazing how fast this stuff is moving off the shelves.”
ROSS is a freelance writer located in Brewster, Mass. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.