Kevin Jonas can’t escape the life of a busy pop star. This year the oldest member of the Jonas Brothers has been traveling the country on tour with the hit band (and brothers Nick and Joe); releasing songs and generating buzz for the band’s new album V, their first since 2009; playing with his bros at special events like the Miss USA competition; leading the role of reality TV star on E!’s Married to Jonas; and, oh yeah, preparing for parenthood with this summer’s announcement that wife Danielle is pregnant with the couple’s first child. If there’s anyone who can appreciate the conveniences of a super-smart home, it’s someone with a whirlwind schedule like Kevin. The soon-to-be 26-year-old recently gave us a tour of his automated New Jersey home, where the star of the show is a control system that manages to bring a great deal of simplicity to the Jonases’ hectic lives—both when they’re there and, especially, when they’re not.
For someone who’s a self-described “tech guy,” living with a Savant home automation system and the myriad subsystems it commands has Kevin in high-tech heaven … even though the initial setup proved to be hellish. Thanks to a virtually complete overhaul of the original system, though, every intertwined piece of his connected home now hits the right note with this guitarist.
“You’d think it would be simple—you plug in a TV and it should work; but going into the nitty-gritty, there’s a whole world going on,” he says of the programming and installation brains behind his intelligent home. “The things I like most are that it works well and that it’s easy. I think people are surprised when they come over and think, ‘Oh, it looks like there’s so much,’ but really you just have a lot of options and [the system and its controllers are] the easiest thing you’ll ever use.” (Click here to view photos of Kevin’s home)
Turning a Flop into a Hit
Unfortunately, Kevin’s automation system was not always the easiest thing to use. Most of the pieces were in place, but it was a mess. Like any other trade, the custom electronics business has professionals whose work can range from stellar to subpar, and while the original setup in this 7,200-square-foot house looked okay on the surface it hid some serious issues underneath. With so many subsystems involved—home theater, distributed housewide video, distributed audio, surveillance cameras, security/alarm, lighting control and HVAC control—those issues were just waiting to be exposed.
When multiple aspects of the overall system began failing, Garfield, N.J.-based Intra Home Systems was brought in for a rescue. “Almost every subsystem had some sort of issue,” says Intra Home’s Steven D’Addone. “Every programming point had a problem, from the alarm system to the cameras. He had some lightning strikes, so he had some bad cameras; the door locks weren’t functioning; the alarm system wasn’t functioning; the lighting, some of the loads worked and some of them didn’t; the HVAC never really did work right. So it was really a top-to-bottom gut of the system, as well as the programming.”
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A trip downstairs to the equipment rack room gave the installer about all he evidence he needed to see why the original system was unraveling—what looked like a bad DIY job. The wealth of gear required for all of the systems was stuffed into a half rack rather than comfortably (and more suitably) configured into a full-height equipment rack. The wiring was a mish-mash and woefully hemmed together, with poor and inadequate power supplies fueling the components. The security system wasn’t even plugged in, according to D’Addone.
“There’s no new equipment in here, so this never should have been in a half rack,” he notes, pointing to the now-picture-perfect rack transformation done by Intra Home. “On top of that, there was a combination of custom-interconnected wire, prefab cables, Velcro, zip-ties, electrical tape, bubble gum … most of the Apple gear was literally dangling on a hammock of wire. There were Christmas tree extension cords plugged into strip outlets, plugged into power distribution centers with 1-by-3 splitters from Home Depot. In the original rack there was only a nine-outlet strip. Also, in those extension cords the hot water heater, the HVAC system and the lighting control were plugged in.”
It took D’Addone and his team about two weeks to first decipher the entire road map of where everything was connected and then re-design, re-wire and re-program the entire system, including subsystems such as the Lutron lighting, Honeywell security and IC Realtime cameras that had already been installed but now needed to play nicely with the overhauled Savant installation and all of its control options—iPads, iPad minis, iPhones. They outfitted the new Middle Atlantic BGR rack and prettied it up right down to the custom screw covers (for more on the savvy equipment rack redux, see sidebar at the end).
Singing the Praises of Automation
It certainly doesn’t take much to get Kevin Jonas talking about all of the daily benefits he enjoys from an automation and A/V system that’s now fully functional. For someone who has spent a great deal of time on stage and in front of the camera, he’s got a natural charm when demonstrating how he uses various aspects of the home technology. Asked about the motorized scissor-lift that can drop his living room TV into viewing position at the touch of a button, Kevin gleefully grabs an iPad from the kitchen island and about two seconds later—presto!—the big flat-panel screen is on the move. He has fun showing off the cool technology because his enthusiasm for it is genuine; as noted he’s a tech guy, and part of an iPod generation that’s grown comfortable using touch-capacitive controllers, swiping through screens and tapping colorful icons to get things done. Heck, that ComfortVu TV lift installation was a DIY project, for Kevin and his father-in-law (“We got up on a ladder, but we had to drill it twice because we didn’t have it level the first time,” he says) and he’s shared a video of it with his 3.5 million Twitter followers.
It’s this attraction to, and comfort with, technology that led Kevin to Savant’s Apple-platform solution in the first place, having researched various home automation systems and eventually visiting one of Savant’s showrooms where he saw firsthand the integration possibilities and the familiar control options. “I had some ideas, and I really enjoy the whole automation functionality, especially in a home like this and the size,” he says. “I hated walking around—and I hate to be the lazy guy for a second—flipping off all the light switches when there’s a much more efficient way to do it; not only for you, but for an energy efficient [standpoint]. I knew how easily Savant was integrated into iOS and everything that was already going on with my phone, with my tablet, with my computers.”
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.