August 27, 2007
| by Steven Castle
What are the most important spaces in a 6,000-square-foot home with 18 zones of audio and three surround-sound systems? They may well be the closets—and we’re not concerned about the amount of shirt and scarf storage (though that’s always welcome). We’re far more interested in some of the electronic goodies that can be housed inside—and why.
But first you need to know something about homeowner Gregg Schwartz. He’s a very detailed guy who doesn’t mind doing a lot of planning. And he works for electronics installer Trage Brothers Electronics & Appliances in the Chicago suburb of Forest Park, IL, so this two-year new home project was both work and play for Schwartz.
“I assembled the project on spreadsheets, with calculations of [electrical] loads,” he recalls. “It took several hundred hours of coordinating lighting and electrical locations.” Much of this work was attributed to an intensive Lutron HomeWorks lighting control system that governs 250 recessed can lights and fixtures ranging from low voltage to museum-quality projector lamps.
You could say this house is well lit. Even when the power goes out, a backup generator provides enough juice for basic room lighting while eliminating the architectural lighting—a setup carefully designed by our homeowner.
But this isn’t really a lighting story. To get at what’s in those well-lit closets, you also should know about the audio system. It’s from NetStreams, which makes IP (Internet Protocol) whole-house audio systems that deliver music signals over high-speed data wire like Category 5e (the e is for “enhanced”). This is the same stuff you plug into a computer for a high-speed broadband Internet connection. The audio signal is sent over the Cat 5e to each listening location, where a NetStreams digital amplifier boosts the signal and sends it over conventional speaker wire to the room’s loudspeakers. The advantages are not having to wire an entire house with speaker wire and hearing a cleaner sound due to the fact that the audio signal remains in digital form for longer and travels a shorter distance over analog speaker wire.
“[Trage Brothers] is looking for ways to do a standardized prewire for homes with structured wiring. The whole IP system makes things a lot easier,” Schwartz says. “We chose NetStreams because we’re technology-oriented guys, and we liked what NetStreams was doing with the user interface. These technologies are supposed to make people’s lives easier, and the NetStreams GUI [graphical user interface] was already done.” That meant no additional programming was necessary.
But Schwartz couldn’t make it too easy. “We started with a basic structured wiring program. But instead of a couple coaxial cables for cable and satellite and two Cat 5e cables for networking and telephone, I wanted satellite with TiVo, cable, off-air TV reception, telephone, computer networking and fiber optic wire. The easiest way to do all that was to buy a Banana Peel [structured wiring package] cable from Belden, which was bundled with RG-6 coaxial video cable, Cat 5e and fiber optic, and we doubled that at every location, with the exception of the fiber, for present and future use.”
This is where the closets come in. The big closet is the equipment room in the basement, which contains various NetStreams DigiLinx processors, a ReQuest audio server and a Polk XM satellite radio receiver. From that point, audio signals travel to various NetStreams amplifier locations, several of which are in bedroom closets. Schwartz explains, “closets became the central point for expanding all our multimedia in the home. Each bedroom becomes its own contained growth area. We can put a satellite or cable receiver in a closet or computer in each room.” Wire from the closets to the speakers and TVs travels via flexible wire raceways from Carlon that ride in the attic space above and allow more wiring to be added from the basement to the attic, because, as Schwartz says, “You never know what you’ll want to do in the future.” A variety of Energy in-wall speakers and Posh and Jamo in-ceiling speakers are the final stops on the audio highway.
“In the future, if we’re getting everything from the Internet, we’ll already have prewired pathways for digital and analog audio and video to locations in each room.” Each bedroom is wired for 5.1 surround sound, though presently only the family room, master bedroom and basement recreation room are equipped for home theater.
In addition, a component video distribution system allows feeds from security cameras throughout the home to show on the displays.
The vast majority of control happens through universal remotes. Three Universal Remote Control MX-3000 remotes are programmed to the family’s favorite XM stations as well.
“Our 5-year-old, Carley, can operate the NetStreams system from the KeyLinx keypad,” says Schwartz. “She knows where the rock, dance and Disney are on the preset buttons. And now our 21⁄2-year-old son, Cooper, can reach it, and he’s turning it on in his room. I have filtering, so they don’t have access to the rap channel or XM Raw.” That, too, was well thought out.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates