One common thing that we’ve noticed at Arizona Sound & Light is that, although most people have a general idea of what kinds of A/V and technology systems can be put into their homes, very few people have any idea what those systems cost. As I’ve discussed in other articles, the range of pricing can vary greatly, depending on factors such as grade/level of equipment, number of independent zones, amount of automation/integration required, the size of the home, and other factors. A whole home A/V and technology system can, therefore, run anywhere from about $5,000 all the way up to over $1M and everywhere in between. So, how do you know how much you should spend on your system? It’s tough, but we will give you some basic guidance in the paragraphs that follow!
Independent Estimation Companies
One quick way to get some numbers is to use an independent, outside estimation service. There are some free ones on the internet – my favorite is the Home Technology Association (HTA). They are an independent organization that vets and certifies custom integration companies around the country, and they also provide a free budget calculator on their website. Their budget calculator is really easy to use – it asks you a series of simple questions and quickly turns out a detailed budget for all major systems that you might want to add to your home. ASL is still in the process of getting certified by the HTA, so I unfortunately can’t put a link to their site here or on our website yet. But they’re pretty easy to find, so I’ll let you check them out on your own!
Overall System - Home Integration and Number of Zones
As I’ve said before in my articles, the more independent zones you have in your system, as well as the more integrated the system is, the more it will cost. In an ideal system, all of the equipment is housed in a central equipment room, and all technology systems are integrated into a single automation system that can control them all with one app on your phone, tablet, or touchscreen. Every room shares every source, and you can play anything, anywhere. Depending on the size of your house, these types of systems typically run anywhere from a minimum of about $25,000 all the way up to $250,000 or more.
If you’re willing to use multiple apps to control different systems, and/or if you don’t need all of the systems to communicate with each other or share resources, you will spend a lot less – more in the range of $10,000 to $50,000, typically.
Note that this includes the overall budget for most of the audio, video, and other technology systems in your home. For specifics about each subsystem, please refer to the following paragraphs for details about some of the key subcategories of home systems…
Dedicated Home Theater or Media Room
These days, almost everyone has at least one room that they refer to as the “home theater.” While this may not exactly be a dedicated home theater, it’s typically at least what I would call a “media room” – i.e., the room with the biggest TV and the most comprehensive surround sound system. Entry-level media rooms/theaters start at about $5,000 for very basic equipment and quickly go up to $25,000. If you want something a bit more high-performance, expect to spend more in the range of $30,000 to $50,000. From there, you start getting into more dedicated rooms. These are rooms that are more specifically designed to be used as home theaters or media rooms. When you factor in special seating, acoustics, and other décor items, a basic, dedicated theater/media room will run in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $100,000. Higher-performance versions are typically $100,000 to $350,000. Ultra-high-performance theaters quickly get to half a million dollars or more. Equipment alone can cost over $1M in ultra-high-end theaters!
Speakers and Distributed Audio
Speakers vary widely in price and performance, perhaps more so than any other technology product. Bottom-of-the-line in-ceiling speakers can run as low as $100 per pair. Top-of-the-line freestanding speakers, on the other hand, can run up to $500,000 per pair. Of course, this doesn’t include the amplification necessary to power the speakers. For a basic Wi-Fi system where you have a single wireless speaker in each room, approximately $250 per room is a good budget. $1,000 to $3,000 for a typical house. For a distributed audio system, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $10,000 for somewhere between 2 and 4 rooms/zones. For more rooms and higher quality, budget more in the range of $10,000 to $25,000 for your whole-house sound system.
If you’re going to have a lot of technology in your home, you’re going to need a really strong network. As I’ve said in other articles, there are essentially three grades of networks: consumer, enterprise, and commercial. We’ll assume you don’t need a commercial-grade system, unless you’ve got a really large home. Consumer-grade network upgrades typically run in the range of $1,000 to $2,000. Due to performance limitations of consumer-grade systems, however, enterprise-grade networks are strongly recommended for large homes. Enterprise-grade networks are more in the range of $3,000 to $5,000. For really large homes or state-of-the-art performance (2.5 Gbps or higher), expect to pay more – typically $5,000 to $15,000.
Like photo cameras, the quality and pricing of surveillance cameras are all over the map. You can buy a wireless 5-camera system from your local bargain store for under $1,000. While these are not very high quality and are therefore not recommended, they do represent the low end of the budget. For better quality, hardwired cameras, assume roughly $300 to $500 per camera, plus $1,000 to $3,000 NVR costs if you want local data storage (i.e., you don’t trust “the cloud” to store your camera data.) Top-end camera systems are closer to $1,000 to $1,500 per camera.
Security systems are very similar to cameras. In fact, many manufacturers bundle cameras and security equipment together. Like cameras, though, wireless systems are not reliable and are therefore not recommended. For a quality, hardwired security system, expect to pay somewhere in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 for a normal-sized house (2,500 to 4,000 square feet), depending on the number of doors and windows you have in your home.
Automated or motorized shades obviously increase in cost as the size of the window increases. But what most people don’t realize, however, is that, like every other technology category, there are many grades and levels of quality of motorized shades. You definitely get what you pay for! Expect to pay roughly $1,500 to $2,000 per window for your high-quality motorized shades. For top-of-the-line or specialty shades (e.g., roman shades), expect to pay more like $2,000 to $3,000 per window.
Lighting Control System
There are essentially three ways to approach your lighting control system: 1) do it yourself and invest in a certain brand/technology that you can get online and/or at your local hardware store. Buy a bunch of smart switches and/or lights, and install everything yourself. This will typically cost you less than $100 per controlled light or roughly $2,000 to $5,000 for your whole house. 2) use the dedicated switches, keypads, and controllers that work with your automation system (e.g., Lutron, Control4, or Crestron). This will cost you more in the range of $300 to $500 per controlled light or roughly $6,000 to $10,000 for your whole house. 3) install a centralized lighting system to give you full control of all lights everywhere. This will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the home size and number of lights controlled, and is usually only installable when the home is being built.
As you can see, technology system costs add up more quickly than most people realize. The common misconception is that you can buy exclusively wireless systems through Amazon or Costco and be fine. While these types of systems will certainly be inexpensive, they definitely won’t be stable or reliable. We strongly recommend that you use an independent outside budgeting source, such as HTA and/or this article, to plan ahead for your home’s technology needs. Like budgeting for a new pool or a kitchen remodel, once you understand the price ranges well, you’ll be much better equipped to handle what can often be the “sticker shock” of realizing just how much high-tech electronics cost!