DIYer Going Green with Help from a Pro


Hardcore DIYer is building a zero-energy green home, with an assist from a CE (custom electronics) pro.

Aug. 27, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Al Nieber is a mechanical engineer with three patents to his name. So when he retired after 32 years of building production lines and other machinery, he was ready for a project of his own: constructing a 4,000-square-foot, zero-energy home in New Bern, N.C.

The energy-efficient home will have geothermal wells, radiant floor heating, an array of high-tech insulation products, and other green technologies like a solar-powered hot water system. “You can imagine the complex array of water pumps, electronic valves, temperature and humidity sensors,” he says. “That’s why I need a home automation system.”

As handy as he is, though, Nieber and his son Ross couldn’t do it alone, so he enlisted the aid of Snap Audio & Video, a custom installation firm in Havelock, N.C.

While some custom integrators are reluctant to work with do-it-yourselfers, Snap jumped at the opportunity to design the system, supply the products, program the Control4 automation system, monitor the DIY installation and provide consulting services as needed.

Collaborating with a CE Pro
Snap Audio & Video charged Nieber $2,000 for the original design fee, which included schematics, a DIY-friendly explanation of the products, and detailed information on how and where to pull the low-voltage wiring. For example: “Trim the wrap off the combo cable [two Cat 5e and two RG6 coax] prior to it entering the structured wiring enclosure. RG6 goes into the top left, Cat 5 goes into the top right.” Additional labor was charged at Snap’s standard labor rate. (Click here to view a slideshow of the home’s wiring.)

“Before [Al and Ross Nieber] started pulling wire, I did a walk-through and marked where things would go,” says Snap Audio & Video president Jim Allsopp. “I gave him and his son ideas as to how to pull the wire, which path I would take and so forth. I made several free spot checks when I was in the area on other paid business.”

Allsopp also went through several times and pointed out mistakes that needed to be fixed before the walls went up. He estimates that his firm spent about two hours at the house initially, and made roughly three visits (one hour each) to the site during the prewire.

Snap Audio & Video delivered the cable as needed, and included an invoice that specifies the type and amount of wire in the order. Nieber paid only for the low-voltage wire he used and received a credit for any surplus returned. Nieber had a similar arrangement with a local electrical contractor, who provided product, guidance and site visits to ensure code compliance.

Automation with Control4
Nieber says he went with Control4 for automation because the company “had everything I needed at a lower price.”

As of this writing, the automation system had not been installed or configured, but Nieber plans to use Control4 to optimize the home’s energy-saving potential. He plans to incorporate heat sensors and other triggers for some of these automation scenarios:
-  Activate a small circulation pump to move hot water from the roof’s solar tubes through the radiant floor system.
-  If the roof gets too hot in the summertime, automatically turn on a circulation pump that sends water through a tube at the top of the house to cool the roof and reduce the air conditioning load.
-  If too much hot water is generated, the Control4 system triggers another circulating pump to dissipate the heat through a series of underground tubes.
-  Alternatively, the system could activate a different circulation pump to cool the hot water with up to 400 gallons of rain water, distributing it through tubes that circle the perimeter of the house.

The automation system will be configured initially by Snap Audio & Video, because only authorized dealers have access to Control4’s core programming software, called Composer. Control4’s Composer Home Edition ($150) allows end users to make adjustments to their systems after the initial programming is complete.

Even with the consumer software, though, Allsopp expects his company will perform programming tweaks periodically for years, and that’s something that can be done remotely. He estimates that the Niebers will require about 10 to 20 hours of professional programming every year to incorporate new gadgets. 

About the project
Electronics: $40,000 (projected)
Snap AV’s services: $5,000 to $7,000 (projected)

LOCATION: New Bern, N.C.

HOME SIZE:  4,000+ square feet

2–4 years

Snap Audio Audio & Video, Havelock, N.C.,; with assistance from Acoustix,

“There was one afterthought, and that was where to put the central rack. I did not consider it in the design of the house. The best place would have been in the great room, but it ended up in a storage area off the theater room. Still not a bad place, but it should have been planned ahead of time.”

Control4 HC-500 automation with 7” WiFi touchscreens
Control4 8-zone 16-channel amp, Multi Tuner
Card Access ZigBee sensors (valves, motion, temperature)
TruAudio CP-6 in-ceiling, OP-5.1 outdoor speakers
B&W CWM Cinema (3), CCM636 (4) surround speakers
Velodyne SC600 in-wall subs (2)
Velodyne SC1250 amp for subs
Pioneer Elite SC-05 receiver
Pioneer Elite BDP05FD Blu-ray player
UStec structured wiring
On-Q Inquire intercom system
Ademco Vista 20 security system with ICM Internet module
TruAudio Fat Cat Racks
TruAudio Fat Cat 200 and 400 series cables
TruAudio baluns for HDMI over CAT6
Panamax 5300PM power protection
APC 1500 UPS

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