Married to Technology: Inside Kevin Jonas’ Automated Home
Photos: Matt Greenslade
Pop star Kevin Jonas lets sophisticated Savant automation system simplify everyday life, at home and on the road.
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.”
Related: How Epic Automation Installation Tames 42,000 Square Feet
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.”
He’s proficient enough with the system and his iPad that he can whip through setting up a customized user interface page, sliding in all of the desired icons for controlling whatever subsystems you’d want as shortcuts for a particular room, in mere minutes. And he’s not joking when he says he’d love to go through the same training and programming courses that Savant offers to its custom electronics pros. “The beauty of this system is you can customize it,” he says. “I just like having everything at my fingertips, but if I really wanted to I can add a new button, throw an icon in, then I can edit it.”
Gold- and Platinum-Selling Points
So besides triggering his TV lift by tapping an iPad, what are some of Kevin’s high-tech systems’ other greatest hits?
Security and surveillance: Video from eight surveillance cameras, in key areas such as the front door and front gate, can be fed to iPads and TVs around the house and viewable from portable devices. Alarm system functionality and scheduling can also be done remotely. Kevin’s home isn’t in some gated community, but in a residential neighborhood cul-de-sac; meanwhile, as both a celebrity and owner of a relatively large house he can expect any number of handlers, TV crew people, caretakers, workers, guests and others showing up. “The key piece for me was being away from the home as much as I travel and tour, being able to monitor what goes on here from anywhere in the world,” he explains. “There are times when I had to let someone in the home and I didn’t give them the key, but I was able to unlock the door, turn on the lights for them and disarm the alarm … from Brazil. We get alerts, so instantly I look at the camera feed to see who’s there—you can tell who should be at the house and who shouldn’t be. Another time at night the alarm went off and we got really nervous, because we thought we saw tire tracks in the yard. It ended up being only a ‘shout out.’ Luckily and the police came and everything, but for us we have to take it a little more seriously. The system has allowed me to feel way more secure in my own home.”
Related: Inside the Cake Boss’ High-Tech House
Phones: Phones aren’t exciting, are they? Don’t tell that to Kevin. Savant has a slick IP-based telephony system that allows people to make calls from their iDevices’ apps or operate room-to-room intercom essentially all as one integrated system over the “home” phone line; Kevin’s just as jazzed to demo iPad calling as he is showing off A/V systems. It’s an addition that Intra Home Systems incorporated, while also boosting the communications by using three Savant cordless phones that operate on cell antennas so the signal can bounce around seamlessly without dropouts as you go from one end of the house to another. “You can transfer calls and page from one room to another, regardless of whether you’re on an Apple device or wireless device, a cordless phone or the touchpanels in the rooms,” D’Addone says. “He also has the paging feature, where you can page through the home speakers, and it mutes what’s playing on the speakers.” Plans are in the works to remove the home’s old doorbells and gate control interface and replace them with the Savant IP phone interface to complete the telephony package and basically incorporate it with that exterior security.
Skype: Speaking of communications, there are televisions throughout the Jonas home, but one Kevin uses frequently is the Samsung TV in his office because it features Skype. “I do all my conference calls from here,” he says. “I chose to live in New Jersey because I love it here, but I need to be in L.A. so much, so instead of jumping on a flight, as you can see the camera up top on the TV, I can just Skype in a session and talk to anybody, which is unbelievable.”
Lighting Control: The Lutron lighting throughout the house, in tandem with being controllable and monitored under the auspices of the Savant system, provides a powerful way for the different areas of Kevin’s home to be both appropriately illuminated as well as energy friendly. As someone who’s eco-minded, he’s already thinking about switching to LED lighting and about the prospects of incorporating Savant’s energy management solutions in his next home. For now, he’s happy to extol the virtues of what lighting control is already accomplishing. “The amount of energy saved with a system like this is incredible. When you turn on a light switch it’s at 100 percent; none of my lights are 100 percent, my lights are all at 65 percent, which, it’s bright enough everywhere but the thing is people don’t realize [they’re dimmed]. But if I really needed it to be 100 percent, I could hit a button and it all turns to 100.”
HVAC: Heating, cooling and humidity control is intelligent and highly customizable. If you’ve watched Married to Jonas, you’ve probably noticed that the individual interviews take place next to Kevin’s extensive wine room (you can see some of Kevin’s huge guitar collection on the adjacent wall). A sensor in there monitors the humidity and temperature and will send a notification if the conditions rise above a certain level. Elsewhere, via the Savant interface, indoor and outdoor zones are a snap to schedule by temperature, time of day, season or other marker, and settings can be copied to other zones, created and edited not only by Intra Home, but by Kevin himself.
Related: Integrated Control vs. Multiple Apps for Home Automation
Audio and Video: Of course, being an entertainer Kevin spends a great deal of time using the multiroom A/V operations within the home. (Not to mention a dedicated theater room with a 110-inch screen and comfy seating for movie viewing.) The housewide system can access all of his and Dani’s tunes that have been stored on a 1.5 terabytes of space in Mac Minis and a separate hard drive, not only throughout the home, but anywhere they’re using iDevices thanks to the iTunes Match integration. Apple TVs route iTunes and streaming content to speakers and TVs, and individual music libraries and playlists can be quickly tapped into through the couple’s own personalized user interface pages. And if Kevin’s creative juices are flowing he can record some riffs into his Logic Pro demo rig or even connect his guitar pedals and amp and then play it back over the home audio system. One of his favorite aspects of the A/V system is that accessing pretty much any feature of the home tech subsystems doesn’t interrupt whatever audio or video the Jonases are enjoying on TV, because of Savant’s TrueCommand On-TV Menu system that simply overlays the interface features and navigation onscreen, allowing for lightning-quick transitions to viewing camera feeds, lowering the heat or anything else.
It’s smooth and seamless, like the operation of all things tech-related in Kevin’s house—which bodes well for this Jonas brother’s next big technology hit. “I’m a big kid at heart, and these are my toys,” he says. “[Dani] loves the system and she kind of let me go for it … she knows we’re considering moving now, and that in the next home it will probably be even more extensive.”
Related: 10 A/V and Home Automation Terms You Need to Know
Shifting Gear (sidebar)
Steven D’Addone and his team at Intra Home System spent much of their time dealing with an equipment rack and wiring scheme that required a complete overhaul. They filled a Middle Atlantic BGR full-height rack with the same amount of gear that was originally crammed into a half-height rack: items including Apple TVs, Mac Minis, Savant processor, Marantz A/V receiver, IC Realtime camera DVRs, Fios DVRs and more. D’Addone liked the integrated features of the BGR, a relatively new product in Middle Atlantic’s lineup. It features integrated side shelving, so he could mount HDMI converters and smaller devices with wire and power management—Intra Home installed a battery backup unit and two full-height strips with 12 outlets apiece, plus two more Middle Atlantic power distribution units with nine outlets each. The strip outlets in the back of the rack have surge and IP control, and Middle Atlantic’s power management allows Intra Home to log in and remotely control individual outlets. And there are lacing bars incorporated into the rack that aid the cable management, so only the minimal amount of wires and cables connected to the components remain in plain sight. Of course, most of the time if Kevin shows off the rack it will be the front, which features an attractive, curved Plexiglass door.
Also Check Out:
What to Expect During Your Home Theater or Tech Project
Who Are the Key People to an Electronics Plan?
Mass Market Home Control, Again
Intra Home Systems
Systems & Equipment
Return to full story:
Lighting Control: Lutron
Multiroom AV: Savant
Theater Projector: JVC
Theater Screen: Stewart Filmscreen
Theater Speakers: Totem
Theater A/V: Marantz
Surveillance: IC Realtime
Rack: Middle Atlantic