Calif. Home Goes BIG Into Green
This huge house requires energy efficiency on a grand scale -- and a slick home control system makes the savings easy.
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Credit: Stephen Morales
October 11, 2010 by Steven Castle

Total Control

You can have all the solar panels that will fit on a hillside, and all the LED lamps to light up your home, and nine zones of HVAC and 17 zones of A/V and everything else, but it’s just a great big mess of energy-efficient maybes if you can’t control it from a central system that’s easy to use.

The Rizzones found their answer in a Savant system, which is an Apple-based home control network. “It’s a very intuitive and easy-to-use. It’s a one-time familiarity, and then you’re a master of it,” says Rizzone.

The Rizzone’s Savant system controls the heated floors, several thermostats, nine zones of heating and cooling, electronic glass doors, motorized shades, swimming pool, all of the lighting and serves as the front-end for the Kaleidescape media server, which distributes audio and video content throughout the house.

There are eight in-wall touchpanels that enable the Rizzones to operate the various devices that are tied to the Savant system, but the real fun is in using Apple iPads and iPhones to control everything “We have iPads throughout the house, and its so easy to have a total element of control,” says Rizzone. “You can do anything in the world. As long as you have access to the net, you can control this whole house.”

Let’s start with the Somfy shades, controlled by Lutron through the Savant system. At certain times of the day when the sun heats the rooms too much, the shades come down to block the sun and help defray cooling costs. Then, just before a dazzling sunset, the shades roll up to display the show. Pacific Digital plans to automate the shades even further by using solar sensors that will trigger the shades to lower when the sun hits a certain spot on the wall.

The motorized glass sliding doors—dual glazed, filled with argon for energy efficiency and framed in heavy bronze—are also operated by the Savant system. The Rizzones just press a button to open them—good thing because they are massive.

Lest we forget, the Savant system is used to control the distribution of audio and video to 17 areas in the home and 56 speakers, with sources including satellite radio, satellite TV, four simultaneous streams from multiple DVRs, Netflix and whatever music and movies are on the Kaleidescape hard-drive-based media server.

Savant even connects to the landscape irrigation system and controls all of the sprinklers—and users can pan and tilt security cameras just by sliding a finger over the screen of any touchpanel.

“The big problem with these [home control] systems has been the programming and the user experience,” Rizzone says. “But Savant has taken the programming and made it easy.”

Goold of Pacific Digital Home couldn’t agree more. “Getting it coordinated with weird things like the water systems has been really simple. Savant provides the platforms and pieces. It still needs programming, but you don’t have to write code.” That makes installation much less complicated and time-consuming, and programming costs go way down. Besides, Goold says, “Savant is fast and fluid, and does everything seamlessly.”

Goold has even rigged the system to cut power to certain devices to prevent unnecessary vampire loads, which occur when electronics continue to draw current even when they are essentially “off.” All of the TVs in the home are set to completely turn off, Goold says. “At the equipment rack, we can turn off things like amps with the APC power conditioner, but we won’t turn off the DirecTV/DVR receivers, because they are always recording something. And in the office we just put the loads on relays and just shut them off via the Lutron system. It’s much cleaner that way.”

All of this energy-saving on such a grand scale could only be made possible by a home control system that ties everything together and allows the homeowners to be green and energy-efficient—without becoming minimalist.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
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.

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