Home electronics are great for entertainment and convenience, but can today’s high-tech goodies also allow you to save energy?
Absolutely. Home electronics can even be a part of a green home that uses solar and geothermal power and is built using environmentally friendly materials. The electronics in this green home aren’t just a part of the supporting cast, however: They’re an essential element of a cutting-edge system designed not only to provide energy savings but also to monitor how much is saved.
This Atlanta home, called EcoManor, was just built by Rutherford and Laura Seydel in the city’s prestigious Buckhead neighborhood. The house has already captured some attention for its use of alternative energies and green building materials, such as floors made from quick-growing bamboo and counters made with recycled glass. But perhaps the most innovative aspect of the earth-friendly house involves its electronics.
A Crestron home control system is used with an innovative Building Dashboard from Lucid Design Group that shows on a wall-mounted Crestron touchpanel how much, in dollars and cents, is being saved by using solar panels to produce electricity and geothermal energy to heat and cool the house.
(Click here to view images of the EcoManor)
The savings are based on standard energy usage calculations. Local utility Georgia Power buys back the electricity produced by the solar panels, so the savings can be displayed on the Crestron screen via the Building Dashboard. The geothermal system consists of 12 wells dug 220 feet deep to tap warmer subsurface water that can help heat and cool the home. “I’m able to heat, cool and light up the house for half as much power as a normal house would require,” says Seydel.
There are also rainwater collection tanks that distribute water for use in toilets and for irrigation, and “gray” water from sinks and such is also collected and reused for irrigation. “Forty monitors throughout the house read all the systems, measure the amount of water we have in the tanks, the amount we send to the city for waste, the amount we produce for solar, what we use and where, floor by floor,” says Seydel.
The systems were installed by David Hardy of Interior Media, who had to pull all the different home systems and contractors together to provide one easy-to-use control system for the entire house. Hardy was assisted by Synpros, which combined all the sensors together in the programming of the Crestron system. That was challenge, because a program like Building Dashboard was made for commercial and industrial applications. “The magic is in getting industrial automation language to talk [to the home systems],” Hardy says.
Hardy also installed several Watt Stopper/Legrand sensors that can automatically activate lights when someone enters a room and shut them off when he or she leaves. For example, a vacancy sensor in the master bathroom shuts off the lights a half-hour after detecting any motion, and an occupancy sensor in the catering kitchen comes on as soon as someone enters. The Watt Stoppers take the place of regular light switches in these areas. “We replaced light switches in closets, baths, everywhere where we weren’t using Crestron lighting,” Hardy says.
Home entertainment wasn’t left out. A whole-house audio system routes music throughout the house via a bevy of Niles speakers, and several surround-sound systems feature Philips plasma screens. All that can be taken care of by the Crestron panels. “I can control everything in the house,” says Seydel. “I can look at security cameras, turn on the TVs and audio—and I can do all that remotely, too. I have to admit, it’s fun.”
The Seydels had been active in environmental movements in the Atlanta area, and they’re pretty high profile. Rutherford is a prominent businessman and part owner of the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers pro sports teams, and Laura is the daughter of media mogul Ted Turner and very active in the community. They had talked about building a green home, and when they purchased a house behind their own and a tree fell on it, they had a chance to rebuild from the ground up.
Rutherford had been studying up on environmentally friendly building and home products and had been buying some items, but the building of an all-green home, right down to paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can cause respiratory problems, was an education in and of itself. “It’s an ever-evolving process,” he says. Then I went to a trade show and saw some software guys who were producing the Building Dashboard. We had meetings about how the Crestron system could be the brain of the system. And now we’ve created software [for Building Dashboard] and adapted it to a residence.
“Our idea was to put everything in this house, so the next person could see that or go to the web site (www.ecomanor.com) and get ideas of their own.” The Seydels like the home so much, they’re going green full time by moving their family in.
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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