December 20, 2010
| by Steven Castle
This 14,000-square-foot Tuscan-style house near Orlando, Fla., more resembles a European castle, with everything including hand-painted cathedral ceilings—we’re talking awe-inspiring cathedrals here—and hand-carved fireplaces and master wood craftsmanship.
The techno-savvy lord of this manor also gave the royal treatment to his home’s electronic systems, hiring aptly named Merlin Home Technologies of Lutz, Fla., to install two separate home networks—a gigabit network over super-high-speed Category 6 cabling for the owner’s office and guests, and another over Category 5 Ethernet cabling for the extensive Control4 home automation system. Commercial-grade network routers and switches were added, and a custom-built Dell computer in the office streams international Internet radio stations throughout the house.
“We found that network-based systems [like Control4] seem to work better with their own dedicated networks,” says Don Dunn of Merlin Home Technologies. Five or more access points help transmit Control4’s ZigBee-based wireless lighting signals through the palatial digs, and for the rest of the networking and control options, a whopping 16 miles of wiring were all “home run” back to one central location.
The Control4 system features 16 separate zones of audio, and five in-wall touchscreens that operate all of the audio and video, lighting, security, heating and ventilation, motorized shades and curtains, pool and spa and the front gate.
All of the Somfy motorized shades and curtains on the main floor, for example, open and close at certain times during the day via an astronomical clock that accommodates for changing sunrise and sunset times. This helps to cool spaces by closing them off to the hot Florida sun—and it also protects furniture and artwork from fading. Merlin plans to take the shading one step further by automating them to open and close via the readings of temperature sensors.
Motion sensors in and around the house automatically activate mini-scenes of lighting. For example, when someone approaches the front door four or more lights in the area come on. The same happens when someone steps onto the lanai at night.
A Control4 audio matrix and Sony video distribution system deliver audio and video all over the house from a 500GB hard disk music server, a 2-terabyte Fusion movie server, a 400-disc DVD changer, among other sources. There’s also a karaoke server that’s loaded with 10,000 songs, although singing along requires performing in the killer home theater. And yes, there’s even a dance floor. What self-respecting castle in central Florida would be without one?
Audio in the house comes through in-wall speakers expertly blended into the extensive woodwork and Stealth Acoustics speakers that sound from behind thin layers of Venetian plaster.
The royal treatment and craftsmanship is extended to the equipment room, where three OmniMount racks sit a regal 50 inches from the wall and are backed with a platform for workers to access the business ends of the equipment. The 16 miles of wire emerge from the baseboard and are neatly and organized, thanks to Merlin’s rack master, Chris Landry.
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