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#DigitalSkeptic: Smart Homes Will Stay Dumb for Some Time

Tickers in this article: GOOG

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- James Coulson has got a tough question for the supposedly super smart "smart home" sector.

"Just how many homes would you consider smart?" asked the global channel and communications director for the European division of Honeywell, the global safety, security and energy management firm. "That's not sophisticated home monitoring or anything like that -- just the basics of remotely controlling one sector of the house over another?"

The London-based Coulson was demonstrating for me his company's latest, whiz-bang home control systems about a month ago at a trade demo. And no question, it was sure impressive to potentially control his Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat with my smartphone -- or my voice. But it was also clear that even for this home automation giant, the average American home was not going to get super smart super soon.

"In England we float around at about 23 million total homes," he said. Roughly 8% of those residences are clever enough to control separate zones in their homes, and probably less than 5% can do that trick remotely, he explained. "A thermostat is still very much a distressed purchase," he said. "The homeowner gets a new one when they have to. We hope to change that with these products.

"But right now we are dealing with a small fraction of total European residences."

Coulson's questions about the size and depth of the smart home market would be just another niche, tech concern save for one critical fact: Google's blockbuster $3.2 billion deal for Palo Alto, Calif.-based smart home control maker Nest, matched with recent rollouts of intelligent home automation tools from the likes of Lowe's and Staples, has turned remotely controlling one's home from an investor afterthought into a major trick question.

It's one that apparently has no easy answer.

"We are, unfortunately, unable to provide that information at this time," said Jaclyn Pardini, a public relations manager at Lowe's Home Improvement, in an email responding to my question about the number of homes now using Lowe's new IRIS Home Management System , which remotely controls everything from heat to home security and even lighting.

The smart home sector's startups are equally tight-lipped about the number of homes it serves. Four (count em!) Nest representatives flatly refused to comment on the totalpf homes enabled with the company's technology. Analysts say nondisclosure is a fact of smart home living.

"Welcome to this industry. Secrecy is a common problem," explained Ben Kellison, senior analyst for Greentech Media , a Boston alternative energy analysis firm. Kellison estimates the number of smart thermostats sold in 2012 was 1 million, accounting for about 10% of the total 10 million thermostats sold annually.