Automation systems are often perceived as luxury items for homes owned by people blessed with huge bank accounts. It’s something that’s nice to have, but not really necessary. The owners of this award-winning home can attest that automation systems can, in fact, offer real value to the families that use them. And, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Unfortunately, this realization came a little too late … after a fire had nearly burned down their 5,000-square-foot house to the ground. Had there been an automation system in place, says Daniel Hong, co-owner of Global Custom Integrations (GCI), Hawthorne, N.Y., the homeowners and the fire department could have been notified in time to possibly prevent some of the damage.
During a major recover and rebuild, the homeowners contacted Hong and GCI co-owner Chris Ulacco for what they thought would be an installation of a basic fire and burglary alarm system. They got far more than they originally bargained for, thanks to Hong’s recommendation of an affordable system whose modular architecture and wireless topology would enable the homeowners to start with a few basic automation features—including security—and add new capabilities to the system one step at a time.
Naturally, one of the first elements of the recommended Control4 automation system to be implemented was security. “The owners specifically requested that the system be designed to alert them to emergencies no matter where they happened to be at the time—at home, at work or on the road,” says Hong. To accomplish this, GCI tied all of the home’s smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, door and window contacts and a Panasonic IP surveillance camera to the Control4 HC-800 processor. The connection between the devices and processor is facilitated by wireless ZigBee technology, so a minimal amount of new wiring had to be installed. Not that it couldn’t have been, says Hong. Nearly all of the walls were torn down and rebuilt due to damage, which left open avenues for fishing cabling. “In the end, though, the homeowners wanted a system that was wireless,” says Hong. A wireless architecture will allow them to easily add new ZigBee components to the Control4 network easily whenever they want.
(View images of this whole home here)
With the security portion of the home automation system set up, the owners now know exactly what’s happening at home… even when they aren’t there. For example, every time a door opens, they receive an email or a text message. From their iPad or iPhone, they can access the Control4 system remotely for more information … and peace of mind. Tapping the camera icon, they can view real-time video captured by the surveillance camera in the nursery and peruse a log of who entered and exited the house and at what time. From the iPad they can set up passcodes for the ZigBee-based Kwikset doorlock; for example, one passcode for the babysitter, another for the housekeeper, and so on. When a passcode is entered into the keyfob on the doorlock, the Control4 system makes note of it. The codes can be changed and new ones added at any time.
Through the use of ZigBee-based Control4 dimmer switches, some of the lights in the house were woven into the security settings as a way to draw attention to the property. Should a smoke alarm trip, for example, lights flash automatically so that emergency crews can find the house, which sits on a narrow, secluded road. Engaging a panic button on one of the Control4 touchpanels in the house initiates the same response.
With a security system tuned in to the family’s needs and expectations, it was time to focus on something that would bring additional enjoyment to their time at home. GCI blended together a variety of audio products to create a whole-house music system that would deliver songs to eight independent listening zones. Again, the goal was to make it wireless, says Hong, so the team selected two wireless Sonos Connect players as the family’s main source of audio entertainment. Although the system comes with its own easy-to-operate remote, GCI meshed the Sonos pieces to the Control4 system so that the owners could navigate their streaming music option from the same interface that they use to operate the lights, thermostats and security features. The audio travels to in-ceiling Paradigm speakers, which are connected to a Control 4 amplifier.
Paradigm is also the speaker of choice for the surround-sound system in the living room. Here, the Control4 iPad app operates a 55-inch Samsung LED flat-panel TV, a Samsung Blu-Ray disc player, a Denon receiver, an Apple TV and an Xbox 360. These components reside in a closet, and are shared with another Samsung LED TV in the master bedroom. Of course, no matter how wrapped up the family gets in a movie or music, they know the Control 4 system and its connected detectors are continually monitoring the house for trouble. And with their iPad or iPhone close by, they’ll know the second it happens.
A Strong Backbone
The feasibility of building a home automation system out of wireless components is a real boon to homeowners. As the owners of this award-winning home discovered, it’s simpler to install and often less expensive than a comparable wired system. Plus, it offers the benefit of being able to update and add on to your system gradually, without having to break into the walls to add new cabling. However, the more components you add, the more important a strong, reliable wireless communications network becomes. For this project, the custom electronics pros and Global Custom Integrations, Hawthorne, N.Y., used Luxul Wi-Fi routers and access points—good components, says Hong, but interference on the network was preventing it from performing well. To find and eliminate the cause of the interference, GCI used a tool called Wi-Spy from MetaGeek. Composed of computer software and hardware, it troubleshoots and identifies Wi-Fi problems and interference. In this case, the culprit was a baby monitor. It was immediately removed and a Panasonic surveillance camera put in its place, says Hong. Problem solved.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.