How to decide between Z-Wave vs Control4 automation?
- By: Ashley Saunders
- November 2021
The hardest task after deciding to automate your home is picking the right system for you. On the surface, comparing Z-Wave vs Control4 might seem a little weird as one is a DIY-friendly option, and the other is a professional level system.
While that is true, Z-Wave and Control4 use completely different methods to achieve similar outcomes of handing back control of your home to you. So, comparing Z-Wave vs Control4 is a worthwhile task, especially if you’re about to spend four or five figures on a system.
A Z-Wave home automation system uses affordable wireless technology and is DIY friendly. Adding Control4 to your home involves hiring an approved dealer to install and configure the wired system. The install cost can easily equal the amount you spend on equipment.
Even with these brief descriptions, you can see some of the main differences between Z-Wave vs Control4.
Let’s look at each system in detail, exploring what it can offer and its limitations. Next, we’ll try to draw a fair comparison between the two, allowing you to make an informed buying decision. By the end, you’ll know whether Z-Wave vs Control4 is the right option for you and your home.
Dating way back to 2001, Z-Wave is 20 years young! Created by a Danish company named Zensys, the Z-Wave protocol is a unique way to control the home.
Zensys started building a lighting control using the protocol. Over the years they developed a proprietary chip that enables control via a Z-Wave system. Then they set about to licence the chips, which is now used by hundreds of brands.
To put into perspective how impressive Z-Wave is. In 2005, only 6 products used this technology. Fast forward to 2018, and the number is well over 2,000. Just a few short years later, and the number is closer to 4,000 in 2020.
How Z-Wave works
At the heart of the system is a proprietary system on a chip (SoC). This uses an unlicensed frequency band in the 900 MHz range. The protocol has a much bigger range than Bluetooth and is a lower power alternative to Wi-Fi.
In simple terms, Z-Wave uses a mesh network where each device can talk to each other. As devices talk to each other, they can repeat messages and also acknowledge they’ve received messages.
As devices have a 30-metre range, the network can adapt itself to ensure signals are routed in the best possible way to avoid any ‘dead-spots’.
Is it DIY friendly?
While there are some retrofit products on the market, most devices are plug-in and play. This means anyone can easily install and configure a Z-Wave system. Although you do need to pair devices to allow them to work as part of a system.
With over 3000 products, there’s likely a product to control almost every function in your home and garden!
Some brands, for example, Fibaro offer a complete solution with a hub, app, sockets, and heating control that’s built around the Z-Wave framework yet operates as a complete stand-alone system.
There’s a range of controllable light bulbs that work with Z-Wave. These include screw-in lighting and dimmer sockets. Fibaro, for example, produces modules that sit behind the existing light switch in its backbox.
Also, plug-in power sockets are available as are a range of sensors, relays and controllers. There’s even a Yale Z-Wave door lock that uses both traditional keys and a keypad.
If you’re looking to control heating, there’s a range of products for that. You can replace your thermostat with a smart one or upgrade your TRVs to smart devices, allowing you full control over the heating in each room.
There are very few downsides to Z-Wave. While only limited retrofittable products are available, the market does seem to be shifting in this direction. Plug-in-and-play devices are easy to install but stick out and can look quite ugly.
In theory, the Z-Wave protocol ensures all devices with the chip play nicely with each other. However, some can require a bit of work to get them working nicely together. So, you might end up having research and experiment.
Since launching in 2004, Control4 has established itself as a leading provider of home automation systems for both homes and businesses. Based in Salt Lake City, USA, the company operates through a global network of nearly 6,000 authorized dealers.
Each system is unique as it’s built around the client and their requirements. Control4 can help automate and control connected devices. You can use the system to control features such as lighting, audio, video, climate control, intercom, and security.
To buy a Control4 system, you have to use one of their approved dealers as products aren’t available directly to consumers. The dealer will install and configure the system, creating a bespoke smart home.
In addition to a superb range of products, the Control4 operating system now works with tens of thousands of third-party products. Over the years, they have cemented their place as a leader in the market by acquiring several companies such as Pakedge, Triad, Neeo and others.
Around 475,00 homes worldwide use a Control4 system with more than 15 million connected devices.
How does Control4 works?
Control4 is a predominantly wired system, usually requiring your home to be rewired. Devices are wired into rack-mounted modules that control the system. However, the majority of the controllers are wireless and battery-powered.
Many wireless devices including Sonos smart speakers, for example, can be effortlessly integrated within a system, allowing the user access to a wider set of functions. The system even works with Google Assistant!
As a wired system that requires programming from the ground up, unless you’re a highly trained engineer, it’s near impossible to install alone. It’s why they have dealers all over the world! That said, once installed, a Control4 system is rock solid.
Since you can’t buy products off the shelf, the only way to negotiate a good deal is by playing two dealers off each other. Buying a control4 system is completely different from asking a local electrician to install a few smart sockets!
If you were to compare two homes with a Control4 system, you’d quickly realise that each will act differently depending on the homeowner’s demands and requirements.
Is it DIY friendly?
As a wired system, it’s far from DIY friendly. Unless you know what you’re doing or have endless time to research, you’ll need to hire a dealer or installer who understands how to install and configure the Control4 ecosystem. Typically, this isn’t cheap as it’s a highly specific skill.
If you think you can buy second-hand devices from eBay and rewire your home, then you’re in for a shock. Plus, it’s unlikely you could ever cobble a system together from what’s available on eBay, even if you waited a while.
So you’ll need to work with one of their dealers from conception to configuration.
Current product range
Designed to be a complete home automation system, Control4 offers something unique as it can help you control your lights, power, security, media and more. It’s truly a comprehensive solution.
On top of the Control4 branded products, they have worked with a range of 3rd party manufacturers. You, therefore, have access to an even wider range of products that seamlessly integrate with the system.
As long as it’s a repetitive task, you should be able to automate it with Control4. You can even connect all of your TVs to your Control4 system, then be able to pause and move rooms while taking the show with you!
Due to it being a wired system, installing a Control4 smart home involves rewiring your home. So, if you live in a historic or listed property, you might struggle to actually install a Control4 system.
Another issue with having to run cables throughout your home is doing so isn’t cheap. The labour cost alone quickly adds up, not to mention buying the cables and equipment.
As a closed dealers network, they expect that you’ll spend a sum of over £50,000. So, it’s hardly a system you would install on a whim or give it go yourself. Nor should you expect your system to be installed and working overnight.
Buying Control4 products is costly. Even finding the latest price list is tricky as dealers don’t want to be knocked down on price or have clients trying to remove features to save money.
You can’t update the system or products with new software and firmware, so you’ll need your dealer to send their engineer out to apply the latest updates.
Z-Wave vs Control4
Having looked at both of the systems in detail, you might wonder which is better? So, let’s compare Z-Wave vs Control4.
As an open system with over 4,000 products available, Z-Wave can be as simple or complex as you need to. These affordable products are available worldwide. So, no matter where you are, you can use Z-Wave in your home.
As the system uses two-way communication forming a mesh, the system range is good. It’s superior to other DIY home automation systems. And as Z-Wave uses a unique protocol, it doesn’t slow down your Wi-Fi.
Z-Wave largely uses plug-in and play devices, a factor we dislike purely from an aesthetic point. However, more companies are releasing devices that can replace existing ones, creating a more attractive finish.
On the other hand, Control4 is highly flexible and delivered by dealers who pride themselves on providing excellent support and an unrivalled buying experience.
As a closed system, products are rigorously tested before being released. Many third party products are put through the same process to ensure they fully work with Control4. Being a wired system, it doesn’t need Wi-Fi to work.
That said, an internet connection helps extend the system’s functions and control. So you shouldn’t experience any dropouts or connection issues.
When you buy a Control4 system, someone else takes care of the details and issues, allowing you to return to an installed and configured system, without any hassle. Of course, this comes at a high price, not to mention running a Control4 system can be expensive.
Picking a winner: Z-Wave vs Control4!
Control4 and Z-Wave will both automate your home. Their methods are completely different. One way to settle Z-Wave vs Control4 is to look at what features you want to automate.
Control4 uses a wired infrastructure the system is rock solid, easy to expand and works with a multitude of third-party manufactures. On the other hand, Z-Wave enables you to quickly and affordably automate essential functions within the home.
In a historic home, the idea of having to rewire it may send shivers down your spine. You might need planning approval to add the wiring a Control4 system needs. So, Z-Wave is ideal as it’s pretty much wireless.
You might need to wait for months to get Control4 installed, while you can install and programme Z-wave in a weekend. As you can add devices to a Z-Wave system yourself, you can start small and grow. If you don’t like DIY, Control4 is a good option as the dealer will take care of everything.
Your property’s value is another way to decide between Z-Wave vs Control4. If your home is worth at least £750,000, you’ll probably have the budget to install a Control4 system. Z-Wave is likely ideal for properties worth under this figure.
Hopefully, that settles the debate between Z-Wave vs Control4.