Frank and his wife, Monika, had the 1970s house on stilts gutted and loaded up on blown-in Air-Crete insulation to reduce heating costs. They added energy-efficient Low-E windows that insulate as well. The solar electric and solar thermal systems were added, and a gas furnace was swapped out for heat pumps.
The house was also wired for home control, lighting control and whole-house audio, plus two media rooms with surround-sound systems. The electronics pros at SoundVision were charged with making the electronics as efficient as possible.
“Frank really challenged us to find ways to shut things off,” says Quisisem. “Initially, he wanted to turn everything [completely] off, without understanding that some of these devices have reboot times. The ReQuest digital media server, for example, can take 15 to 20 minutes to check the hard drive when it turns on, depending on how much you have stored on it. A satellite receiver with a DVR will take 10 minutes to come back when it’s turned back on.”
The original electronics system that SoundVision specified for the Levinsons’ house would have used a whopping 4.5 kilowatts while idling, Quisisem says. That was unacceptable, so SoundVision set out to find the energy hogs and eliminate as many of them as possible. “We redesigned the system to make the most efficient use of the equipment we had,” says SoundVision’s engineering manager, Kevin Frye.
Out went a Panasonic keyphone system with voicemail and six cordless chargers that used a total of 360 watts of power, 24-7, according to Quisisem. And in went more efficient systems like AudioControl whole-house music amplifiers. The process was difficult, because, as Quisisem says, “We don’t have a lot of awareness of how much power these devices actually consume in full use and in idle mode.”
The total electricity used now while all electronics are idling, or in standby mode, is about 1,200 watts (1.2 kilowatts). When the two media rooms and secondary Crestron touchpanels are put into sleep mode, that number goes down to about 800 watts.
There are still improvements that could be made. Ironically, for all its processing power in helping to regulate these energy loads, the Crestron home control system is a large user of energy. Even when the audio/video systems and secondary touchpanels are put into sleep mode, Levinson can shave another 250 watts by flipping the circuit breaker for the Crestron system. Part of the problem, Quisisem says, is that the Crestron touchpanels require dedicated power supplies, and they aren’t efficient in converting high-voltage AC power to the low-voltage DC required for their use. That means that much of the energy being drawn by the system is wasted.
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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