The State of Outdoor Tech Projects in 13 Graphs

Outdoor projects were less frequent in 2021, but they certainly got bigger…much bigger. The high market demand for outdoor entertainment and security systems, presumably driven by the pandemic and rising crime rates, enabled integrators to nearly double the price of their average outdoor project to a median of $13,125, or an 86% growth rate to be exact.

Back in 2019, when CE Pro conducted its first Outdoor Technology Deep Dive Study, the median price for an outdoor project was $6,734, and in 2020 it was $7.034. At the same time, the median number of outdoor projects fell from 10 in 2020 to seven in 2021.  

Both the large jump in outdoor project scale and price, along with the decrease in the number of outdoor installations, mirrors the same trend integrators experienced across the board in 2021, according to the annual CE Pro State of the Industry Study.

Dealers are being more selective in the projects they choose to take on as they look to maximize their revenue and profit in the face of an extreme labor shortage. Thus, they are taking on fewer projects for a higher price tag.  

Looking at the price component first, the survey shows that nearly one in 10 (9.7%) outdoor projects last year had a price tag for more than $100,000. That is nearly double the 5% figure from 2020. At the same time, smaller outdoor jobs for less than $1,000 represented 6.5% of all 2021 projects, down slightly from the 10% figure the previous year.  

Dealers remain bullish in terms of pricing heading into 2022, with nearly one-third of them (32.3%) expecting the average price tag for their outdoor installations to rise.

Nearly two out of every three integrators (61.3%) anticipate prices will remain the same, while 7.4% expect a decline in price.  

In terms of number of projects, in 2021 about 6% of dealers did not do a single outdoor job.

On the flip side, 9% of integration companies reported doing more than 21 outdoor installations.

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Heading into 2022, CE pros expect to continue to be selective.

According to the research, integrators expect the number of outdoor projects to grow a modest 7.6% this year. That would essentially mean the average number of projects would remain the same in 2021 at seven.

However, nearly half of integration companies (44%) anticipate their outdoor work to increase by more than 10%, with 12.5% of those predicting a jump of 25% or more.  

As we have noted in many past CE Pro surveys, integrators often tend to be overly optimistic, usually predicting a few percentage points more in growth than what they normally achieve. We will see if that holds true of their outdoor business in 2022.  

The market for outdoor projects is not isolated to warm weather climates. Dealers across all parts of the United States, Canada and internationally are performing outdoor installations routinely.

Not surprising, dealers located in the Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska thrive the most in outdoor work because their clients will spend more time outside than in other parts of the country, driving higher demand.

But even the Upper Midwest states of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin have a strong chunk of integrators doing solid outdoor jobs, while the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico are also a stronghold for outdoor AV projects.  

Audio, Networking, Surveillance Are Most Common   

The outdoor market is becoming much more wide ranging from a technology standpoint. A decade ago, the outdoor market likely would have strictly involved surveillance cameras and speakers and that’s about all.

But in 2021, networking nudged its way to become the second-most common outdoor equipment type installed, behind audio. Meanwhile, video entertainment, landscape lighting, outdoor shades/privacy/insect screens, and even smart furnishings and structures are well represented in outdoor work.  

Looking specifically at outdoor audio, according to the data, 59% of outdoor jobs in 2021 involved audio equipment, which is down slightly from last year’s 65%.

Within that category, buried in-ground speakers (46% of projects) is the most common element, followed by under-eave speakers (45%), above-ground speakers/subwoofers (43%), 70V speakers (36%), rock speakers (41%) and staked satellite speakers (40%).

Two types of outdoor loudspeakers with big jumps in 2021 were planter speakers (36% of projects compared to just 13% in 2020), and in-pool/underwater speakers (13% of outdoor projects versus just 6% in 2020).  

Meanwhile, in a clear indicator of how much bigger outdoor projects are becoming, the percentage of outdoor audio projects with a dedicated outdoor amplifier rose to 43% of outdoor jobs, way up from just 13% the previous year.

Lastly, the use of outdoor-specific soundbars in combination with an outdoor TV has grown rapidly, with dealers noting that 37% of their outdoor projects included a soundbar outside.  

The top outdoor audio brands used, in order according to respondents, are: Sonance/James Loudspeaker, Snap One/Episode, Origin Acoustics/Ambisonic, Coastal Source, Klipsch, Sound United (Bowers & Wilkins, Definitive Technology, Polk Audio), Sonos, Harman (JBL, Revel), Bose, Paradigm, Leon Speakers, Nice/Nortek (SpeakerCraft, Niles), MSE Audio (Rockustics), MartinLogan, SoundCast, and Terra Speakers.  

As noted earlier, the deployment of networking equipment for backyards leapt up in the past year, with 54% of all exterior jobs including network-related gear such as wireless access points and/or cell phone signal boosters.

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Clearly, that jump is due to the increase in Work From Home and/or Learn From Home situations stemming from COVID-19 as the need for strong connectivity became vital for outdoors just as much as indoors.  

According to survey respondents, the top brands being used in outdoor networking/cell phone signal booster installations are Snap One (Access Networks, Araknis, Control4/Pakedge), Legrand AV (Luxul), Ubiquiti, Amazon (Eero), Cisco/Meraki, Netgear, TP-Link, EnGenius, SureCall, Wilson Electronics and Nextivity (Cel-Fi).  

Security and video surveillance remain a staple of exterior projects, led by video doorbells.

More than half of all outdoor projects in 2021 included the installation of exterior surveillance cameras, up from 46% of outdoor jobs in 2020.

The survey did not delve into other outdoor security equipment, including lighting, motion detection, or perimeter projection such as photoelectric beams, fence-mounted shake-detection, or magnetic driveway alarms.  

The top brands being implemented in outdoor video surveillance/security are Amazon (Ring), Snap One (Luma, Wirepath, Visualint, Control4), Doorbird, IC Realtime, Alarm.com, Axis Communications (2N), Google, Hikvision, ELK Products, Nice/Nortek (Elan), Sony, Honeywell, Clare Controls, Leviton, Vivotek, and GW Security.  

Looking at outdoor video, the category has certainly been bolstered in the past several years with the acquisition of SunBrite by Snap One and the entry of Samsung into the market with its Terrace TV.

According to the study, nearly half of all outdoor video projects (48%) last year included a video entertainment element, whether that be an outdoor TV, an enclosure or a video projector/screen. That percentage is up solidly by 7% from 2020.  

One of the most interesting results from this year’s study is the breakdown of the type of video being deployed.

For years, the category has been dominated by outdoor TVs, but the use of outdoor video projection has skyrocketed. Indeed, the split between outdoor TVs and outdoor projectors is nearly equal now.

In 2021, dealers reported doing almost the same number of projects with displays as with projectors.

In all, 42% of all outdoor video projects have TVs (not all outdoor projects but solely those that include a video element). Meanwhile, 40% of outdoor video projects have projectors. Just two years ago, the percentage of outdoor TV installations was more than four times as frequent than outdoor projectors.  

According to survey respondents, the top brands being used in outdoor TVs, projectors, mounts and enclosures are Snap One/SunBrite, Samsung, Peerless-AV, LG Elite, Séura, Stealth Acoustics, Screen Innovations, Draper, Planar, Legrand AV/Chief, Legrand AV/Da-Lite, and Apollo.  

Outdoor Lighting Shines Bright 

Clearly, the lighting revolution taking hold among custom integrators is happening in the landscape lighting category. According to the study, 46% of all outdoor projects included some form of landscape lighting.

That is s significant increase from the 32% figure in 2020. Meanwhile, the tide has shifted among clients to know that low-voltage integration companies can provide their outdoor lighting. 

Dealers report that 41% of clients never ask them about outdoor lighting, that is down significantly from the 67% of integrators last year who reported customers did not know to ask them about solving their landscape lighting needs.

About one-third of the time, the clients want landscape lighting for aesthetic reasons, while 17% of the time it is for security purposes.

Finally, most clients (92%) already have some form of exterior lighting in place before the dealer is brought on to the project.  

Digging deeper, the most common application for exterior lighting is security lighting, which was deployed in 44% of outdoor lighting jobs last year.

Accent lighting for plants, trees, fountains and other features was installed in 41% of outdoor lighting projects.

Pathway lighting (44%), exterior wall wash lighting on structures (41%) and staircase lighting (42%) are also commonly deployed.  

Lastly, motorized exterior awnings are becoming more popular as integrators help create outdoor living spaces. Some form of exterior motorization for either shades, bug screens or video projection screens were installed on 37% of all outdoor lighting projects.  

According to survey respondents, the top brands being used in outdoor lighting or shades are Coastal Source, Lutron, Somfy, Colorbeam, Holm, Amazon/Ring, Kichler, FX Luminaire, Garden Lights LED, and newcomers to the market like Lighting BOSS, Hinkley, Lumascape, Progress, Sterno, Targetti, and Profoto. 

Unique Set of Challenges 

The outdoor market may be strong, but there are still challenges. For the second year in a row, dealers voiced their disdain for the process of burying cable; it was by far listed as the most difficult element of doing outdoor work.

That difficulty could be influenced by many factors, such as rocky soil, having to navigate around existing structures such as walkways and concrete slabs, or even frozen terrain.

The nuisance of burying cable is likely why there has been a tremendous increase in the use of wireless outdoor audio technology.  

Weather was listed as the second-biggest headache regarding outdoor installations. For the first time, theft of equipment was listed multiple times by respondents among the biggest concerns for doing outdoor jobs.

Unlike a project inside the home, integrators will have various pieces of great unprotected from theft outside.

With so many contractors on a project, it can be easy for speakers, amps and even TVs to “grow legs” and disappear overnight on a new construction site.  

Maintaining waterproof gear is another common complaint, as is the lack of standards in outdoor projects. Many integrators discover the lack of conventional wiring in exterior audio and lighting is new to them and can create initial trepidation.  

Among the other challenges integrators indicate give them issues in outdoor projects are competing with other trades for the outdoor portion of the job, especially in landscape lighting and surveillance areas, as well as proper sound placement.

Of course, educating clients about the budget expectations is a universal challenge also. Lastly, hiding wires in outdoor environments is a skill, beyond just buried cable but also cable management for displays.  

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