Editor’s Note: This profile of one of our Home of the Year winners originally ran in May of 2012. We’re highlighting past winners in anticipation of the May 2013 release of the new Home of the Year winners. You’ll want to check back in May, because the new winners are awesome.
Picture a home that turns on and off lights automatically as you walk through it, delivers music everywhere through high-end speakers and is controlled by iPads and sleek and simple in-wall touchpads.
Cost a fortune?
It often does, but not here. A home systems package with an Apple-based Savant home control system, high-end Vantage lighting controls, whole-house audio and some very nifty tech tricks came to about $48,000—still a hefty price for many but well short of the Wall Street bonuses often required to enjoy this level of home automation. Perhaps even better, this high-tech home is green. An energy-efficient design, sustainable materials, lots of insulation, energy-saving LED lamps, and the Savant and Vantage systems combine to make this home comfortable and environmentally friendly.
Start with the hands-free lighting. Door contacts and motion sensors used by the security system identify when a room or hallway is occupied and turn on the appropriate lights to preset levels. After someone leaves the space, the lights switch off.
Even the stairway lighting is automated, only this time the sensors are in the form of pressure pads placed underneath the flooring at the top and bottom of the staircase. The lights go off when no one is detected there after 20 seconds. In addition, the lighting levels change depending on the time of day, via preset modes for morning, daytime, evening and late night, so lights come on only to dim levels in the middle of the night, for example.
“We designed the system so they could live in it day to day without touching any buttons,” says Eric Landis of custom electronics company All Sound Designs in Grand Junction, Colo. “It’s far beyond a convenience feature, but also energy
Landis and his company have been installing hands-free lighting for years, and implemented some other tricks to make this system simple and easy to use—while minimizing the number of wall-mounted switches and keypads ordinarily required to operate the lights—or other systems in the house, for that matter. A sensor buried in the ground mutes the whole-house audio system and broadcasts an alert through 16 Triad in-ceiling Bronze speakers inside and Polk speakers outside when a car enters the driveway (a different sounding alert is broadcast with the doorbell rings). The garage doors are also equipped with sensors so they can be controlled from the Savant iPad app, while a timer makes sure they are closed at night. Additional motion sensors trigger outdoor lighting.
The house has several thermostats, but rather than be ugly rashes on the walls, they’re located in the mechanical room; invisible sensors are hidden behind the plaster to monitor the rooms’ temps and pass those signals to the thermostats. Pet-friendly motion sensors are mounted at about the height of electrical outlets and point up so the owners’ dog doesn’t activate the lighting when it passes by. The only technology visible on the walls are simple, elegant keypads from Vantage, which control the home’s lighting and whole-house audio systems.
Music can be sent to 10 zones in the house, but you won’t find a mess of on-wall controls everywhere. The multiroom audio system is operated by Vantage’s EasyTouch II lighting control keypads—with colored LED backlighting to signify which music sources are being used. Press music 1, and a green light indicates that the Russound radio is on, yellow shows Apple TV and blue the TV. Press music 2 and the keypad lights up green for iPod, yellow for Squeezebox and blue for the Samsung Blu-ray/ DVD player.
The Savant system is actually controlling the Elan multichannel audio amplifiers, with the Vantage keypads providing a simple and easy interface. Even better, the Vantage and Savant interfaces sync with each other. Press a button on the keypad, and the Savant iPad app changes instantly to reflect the change. Choose an audio source on the iPad app
and the lights on the Vantage keypad change, too. The iPads can become wall-mounted controllers by sliding them into two iPad Frame docks.
Efficient By Design
Landis and his company packed a lot of features into this home. “By maximizing the resources of each [home system], we can build something that rivals even the highest budget systems,” he says. “We thought Savant to be expensive, but in this app and home, Vantage and Savant ended up being the same price as other big systems. And the interface is very sleek. The way Savant works to connect all the devices with two-way feedback gave us big-boy features at a really low price.”
But Landis says one of the features he likes most about this home is its design. “I really enjoy the architecture and building itself. The home is efficiently designed. It feels large with the way the natural lighting is used.”
Fellow custom electronics (CE) pro Lynn Hopffgarten, now of Bethesda Systems in Bethesda, Md., designed the home for a relative and took special care to make it as sustainable and energy-efficient as possible. The house is positioned on an east-west axis that promotes natural cooling and ventilation through windows to reduce air conditioning costs. In addition, much of the home is made from reclaimed woods and slate and other green materials, with tons of insulation
and tankless water heaters for energy and water conservation.
Hopffgarten also designed the lighting system. Nearly all of the light fixtures use energy-efficient LED bulbs, which have all been set at an intensity level of 75 percent or less.
More energy automation is in the plans. Added will be motorized shades that open and close in sync with sunrise and sunset, and Savant’s SmartEnergy Monitor that will measure and report to the owners the total electricity used by the home and by some individual circuits. All Sound Designs has already run wire to the electrical panel and some appliances to support this function, which will only add to this home’s energy efficiency—and cool factor.
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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