Home Control to the Extreme


Credit: Phillip Ennis

From audio/video to irrigation to hot tub and elevator control -- one system operates it all in this renovated custom home.

Jan. 06, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

No doubt about it, this is one enormous house. Measuring 12,000 square feet, it provides enough room for a dedicated home theater, a fitness center and a wine cellar. There is also plenty of space for lots of flat-panel TVs, built-in speakers and huge racks of audio/video equipment. Unfortunately, when the homeowners purchased the finished four-story residence three years ago, few of these amenities were included, save for a flat-panel TV in the family room and a modest whole-house music system.

That would all change, however. Over the course of several years, the family would give their plain-Jane house a complete overhaul, customizing it with new features, functions and tons of technology. (Click here to view a slideshow.)

Large and In Charge
Given the size of the residence, the family knew that managing it would be tough without some type of home control system. Their system would certainly need to provide a quick, easy means of operating the lights, thermostats, audio/video equipment and security sensors. But there were many other technologies the family thought their system should handle as well. “They figured if they were making the investment in a home control system, they didn’t just want it to operate one or two subsystems, but every single system in the house,” says Bill Charney of Advanced Home Audio in Shelton, Conn.

The AMX system recommended by Charney had the brains and the brawn to do just that. More than a dozen AMX touchpanels were installed inside the home to allow the family to operate the controls of their swimming pool and spa, an elevator, motorized gates and garage doors, moveable artwork, adjustable surveillance cameras and gas fireplaces. They would also be able to manage the watering schedule of a custom-designed irrigation system, the inventory of a computerized wine cellar and the fuel levels of oil and propane tanks.

In order to unite such a wide variety of systems under a single control platform, the Advanced Home Audio team installed a whole new highway of cabling throughout the already finished house. It was a tough exercise, given that the walls were already up, but “we were able to minimize the amount of Sheetrock we had to cut by fishing the cabling through closets,” says Charney. To that wiring backbone, the team connected nine flat-panel TVs, more than 30 pairs of speakers and 19 AMX in-wall touchpanels, and six remote controls, in addition to a slew of sophisticated processors that would turn this large home into a smart, sophisticated, well-managed estate.

Turn the Page
Given the sheer number of devices managed by the AMX system, the best way to describe this home’s amazing control capabilities is by discussing each subsystem. For many of its clients, Advanced Home Audio designs the control system to synchronize the operation of multiple devices, such as having the lights and music come on together as part of an entertainment scene or having the thermostats and motorized window shades adjust automatically at certain times of the day.

This family, however, felt more comfortable using the system as a dashboard, where they could gather information about their systems, set up their own schedules, and initiate the commands themselves.  To facilitate this process, Advanced Home Audio designed a specific page of controls for each subsystem controlled by the AMX processor. Each page can be displayed on any AMX touchpanel by pressing the respective tab on the screen’s main menu.

Audio & Video
In the audio/video menu, the homeowners can direct their AMX whole-house audio system to deliver music to any of 30 listening zones in and around the house or video to as many as nine flat-panel TVs, most of which are covered with motorized artwork that rolls up and away once the set is turned on. All of the audio and video sources, with the exception of an iPod dock, are located in a huge equipment rack in a well-ventilated utility room on the second floor.

The beefiest component in the rack is a Kaleidescape media server. Boasting 16 terabytes of digital storage, it holds the homeowners’ entire CD and DVD collection, which includes more than 100 home videos. Either from a touchpanel or the screen of a TV, the family can peruse the massive entertainment library—which has been organized by genre, artist, album title and other information—then enter their selection and choose where they’d like that movie or music to be delivered: the patio, kitchen, family room or throughout the entire residence, for example.

The AMX distribution system supports other types of media besides DVDs and CDs. The family can access content from a Blu-ray player, cable and satellite receivers, an AM/FM tuner, a phonograph, and any iPod that’s hooked into the in-wall docking station in the kids’ playroom.

A connection between a Vantage lighting control system and the AMX home control system allows the family to brighten, dim and turn on and off more than 200 interior and exterior lights via the AMX touchpanels. The lighting menu also displays a handful of scene commands, each of which triggers a specific group of lights to illuminate certain areas, like the outdoor sports court for a game of evening basketball or the theater for a night of watching movies. Pathways, which illuminate a route between one room and another, can also be engaged from a touchpanel.

The system maps out a course to the destination automatically, based on where the user is. For example, if the user activates the MOVIE path from the kitchen touchpanel, lights leading from the kitchen to the home theater switch on. The same command from the touchpanel in the master suite lays out a totally different path.

The settings also differ depending on who initiated the command. If a command comes from the push-button controller in his car, the appropriate garage door opens and a pathway illuminates from the entrance to the master suite. A command from her car, meanwhile, opens her garage door and activates the lights in the kitchen.

One of the most efficient ways to maintain a comfortable temperature in a large home is to divide it into individual heating and cooling zones. Each of the 10 zones in this house has its own AMX thermostat, but instead of having to set each one individually, the homeowners simply go to an AMX touchpanel where they can view the current temperature of each zone, set up a schedule, and make immediate adjustments if necessary. For an extra blast of warmth, the owners can use the touchpanels to activate, raise and lower the flame of several gas fireplaces. The panels also display the current level of the propane and oil tanks, giving the homeowners a heads-up when the fuel is running low. 

The AMX system provides basic control over the home’s Napco security system, allowing it to be armed and disarmed from any touchpanel. The owners can also tap into 18 surveillance cameras to inspect the house and yard. They can access the cameras of a particular area or floor, and pan, tilt and zoom in for a better look. Advanced Home Audio installed infrared illuminators at select outdoor locations so that the cameras can pick up images in total darkness.

Should a car pull into the driveway, a sensor triggers the AMX system, and video from the camera by the front gate appears on the touchpanels automatically. After that, the owners have several options: They can engage the touchpanel’s intercom feature and talk with the visitor, open the gate, close it and lock it immediately after the car has driven past. If several guests are expected, they can set the gate to stay open for a set period of time and have it close automatically. If they’d like to review the comings and goings, an entire month of video from the cameras can be recorded and played back.

This is no ordinary lawn. In addition to a well-manicured front yard and elaborate landscaping around the swimming pool, cabana and spa, there’s an apple orchard on the property and pathways that wind into the nearby woods. All of these areas are maintained by one custom irrigation system. Rather than having to fiddle with cumbersome control dials to set up special watering cycles for each zone, the family can program it all from an AMX touchpanel. They just select the zone, enter the start time and the duration, or they can set up a complete schedule for the entire season.

Pool and Spa
Being able to control the Jandy pool and spa controls from the AMX system saves the family a lot of time and energy. Instead of having to go to the poolhouse to adjust the water level, temperature and the colored underwater LED lights, the owners can monitor and control the pool and spa conveniently from the panels inside the house or from the 10-inch touchpanel mounted in the poolhouse. And like every system tied to the AMX control processor, the pool and spa can be operated from an Internet-enabled device. The owners can access the system remotely from a computer to warm up the hot tub and select either a “relaxing” or “massage” mode of bubbling action.

Elevator and Motorized Doors
An elevator was installed during the renovation of the home, so the owners made sure to integrate it into the AMX system. The elevator page shows the location of the elevator and a call button to bring it to the appropriate floor. “The owners don’t have to punch in which floor they want the elevator to come to; it knows where to go based on which touchpanel was used to activate it,” Charney explains. Advanced Home Audio integrated motorized doors into the setup. When the elevator reaches the lower level, a pair of wooden panels automatically opens.

Divide and Conquer
Managing all of the electronic systems in this home could have been a nightmare for its owners, had it not been for the AMX system. The custom-designed home management system consolidates the controls of every electronics device and makes them accessible from several strategically located touchpanels.

From any of those panels the owners can adjust the temperature of any zone, choose a particular song to play in a certain room, light a pathway to the home theater, choose a red wine for dinner and fire up the hot tub. It saves time, it saves energy and most of all, it saves the family from the day-to-day hassles of managing a humongous house. 

Systems Design and Installation
Advanced Home Audio
Shelton, Conn.

Jablonski Associates
Wilton, Conn.

Theater Design
Theo Kalomirakis Theaters
New York, N.Y.

Home Control: AMX
Whole-House Audio: AMX
Security: Napco
Surveillance: Speco, Panasonic and Extreme
Pool and Spa Control: Jandy
Media Server: Kaleidescape
Lighting Control: Vantage/Legrand
Heating and Cooling Control: AMX
Irrigation System: custom
Motorized Canvas Artwork: Media Decor
Propane and Oil Monitoring: Robertshaw
Wine Management: eSommelier
Flat-Panel TVs: Fujitsu
Video Screen: Stewart Filmscreen
Projector: SIM2
Theater Speakers: McIntosh Laboratory

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