Cool Homes
Early Adoption: Worth the Risk
In this EH featured home, a homeowner chooses an unproven control system over established ones and saves big money.
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The touchpanel mounted to the wall on the left side of the windows (grey box) lets the homeowner operate the lights and music system from one place. Photography by Kenneth Rice.
August 01, 2006 by Lisa Montgomery

It’s not easy being a trendsetter. Sometimes, you end up falling flat on your face; other times you come out looking like a hero. Andre Walker fits into the latter category. He had the guts to install a relatively untried control system into his renovated 4,000-square-foot Southern California abode, a move that ended up saving him thousands of dollars in materials and labor.

A self-confessed technology enthusiast, Andre had spent years researching electronic systems—how they worked, how they needed to be installed and the benefits they could offer his young family. He was familiar with and fond of systems from companies like Crestron Systems that could allow him, his wife, Ann, and their kids, Neil, 12, and Evan, 9, to control everything from the lights and audio and video equipment to the thermostats and lawn sprinklers through sleek wall-mounted touchpanels.

“Unfortunately, I found out that the Crestron systems are really, really expensive,” Andre recounts. “My budget was about $30,000, not a half-million dollars, so I needed to consider other options.” Back to the Internet he went to search for other systems. During one particular session, he stumbled onto the site of a newish company called Control4. As Andre discovered, the systems under the Control4 umbrella use standard Ethernet cabling (also called Category 5 cabling), wireless WiFi technology and the Internet to communicate with various electronic devices in a home. This IP (Internet protocol)-based infrastructure enabled Control4 control systems to be installed more easily and affordably than those that Andre had been considering. As appealing as the Control4 solutions sounded, however, Andre knew there would be risks involved when dealing with a start-up company.

Benefits of IP-based Control Systems
Given the reasonable price of the system, though, it was a risk Andre was willing to take. “I called Control4 directly, and they put me in touch with one of their dealers, who coincidentally lived right down the street from us,” he recalls.

When cyberManor’s Gordon van Zuiden (an Electronic House contributor) visited the Walker home, it was in the midst of being gutted—a perfect time to rewire the residence with the requisite Category-5 cabling. “We pulled the cabling to every location where Andre thought he might want to put a keypad, a touchscreen or a light switch,” says van Zuiden. To keep costs down, the Walkers decided to start with a modest setup of five wall-mounted touchscreens and one wireless WiFi touchscreen, six zones of controllable lighting and a whole house music system. A home theater and wireless communicating thermostats would have to wait.

“That’s the beauty of using an IP-based control system,” van Zuiden explains. “You can start with just a few products, then add on later without having to run new wire.” For example, when the Walkers are ready, their existing thermostats will be removed from the walls and replaced with wireless Control4 models. A simple modification to the home control software, which resides on the Control4 Home Automation Processor in the basement, will marry the thermostats to the network, enabling the Walkers to operate the devices from any touchscreen, just as they currently control their wireless Control4 light switches and whole house music system.

Upgrade-Ready Audio and Video Distribution

For now, Andre and Ann are perfectly happy with the few systems they selected. “There were some bugs to work out in the beginning,” Andre admits, “but overall, the system delivered what it promised. We have synchronized music in multiple rooms, several lighting scenes and a media room that can be managed from the touchscreens or from a Control4 handheld remote.”

One of the Walkers’ favorite features is being able to access their extensive music and movie collections from anywhere in the house. Andre kept his Sony 400-disc CD changer, but most of his beloved music now resides on the same processor that relays commands back and forth between products. Built into the Control4 processor is technology that converts CDs to MP3s, and an 80 GB hard drive that stores them for easy retrieval. Using a touchscreen or a remote, the family can view the album covers, select a song and have the tune play in any room they want.

“I’m a very visual guy, so being able to see the album covers jogs my memory better than seeing just the song title.” Andre says. “Plus, it makes it easier for my 12-year-old and 9-year-old to get to the music they like.” In addition to the 150-or-so CDs on the server, tunes stored on Andre’s iPod can be distributed to the home’s 20 in-ceiling speakers. He simply plugs the portable player into either the 50-watt Control4 Speaker Point amplifier in the downstairs game room or an amp in the A/V rack, and the tunes can be accessed from anywhere.

Video is also an important part of the Walkers’ entertainment network. Programs from a high-definition satellite receiver and DVDs stored on a video jukebox can be viewed on a 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV in the upstairs media room or a 65-inch Panasonic plasma the Walkers plan to put in their home theater. Simply connecting the receiver and the jukebox to the Control4 processor is all it took to make the shows and movies available to multiple TVs, van Zuiden says.

Having the guts to take a risk and deal with a few bugs paid off handsomely for Andre Walker. His home has the high-tech features he desires, plus the ability to take on any new technology that comes its way. A robust wiring infrastructure combined with IP technology gives it the strong backbone to carry digital music, video and command signals wherever the Walkers want.

Equipment List

Installer Contact Information
cyberManor
Los Gatos, CA
www.cybermanor.com


More Photos

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This media room features a 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV, a 7.1 surround-sound system and a wireless Crestron touchpanel. The room itself doubles as a theater and a family lounge.

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Regardless of its circuit power, a stack of black and silver boxes never adds to a room’s aesthetics. An equipment rack like this one keeps gear out of view.


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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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