Modern Upgrades for an Old Home


The home’s stone walls presented a very hard obstacle, but with a lot of determination the owners now enjoy a very modern whole-house control and entertainment system. Photo by Scott Braman.

Think your remodel was difficult? Here’s how a 200-year old home, complete with stonewalls, was wired for whole-house control.

Sep. 28, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

This Maryland house has a whole-house control system, security cameras, 13 zones of audio distribution, a wireless computer network, geothermal heating, sensors for water leaks and humidity, a surround-sound system and a DVD movie server.

Must be a new home, right? Try 1781—as in the days of George Washington. That’s when the original structure was built. A renovation of the modest Quaker-style house was done in 1814, and a few years ago, the current homeowners added a wing with a family room on the first floor, a master bedroom above and a host of modern, high-tech accoutrements throughout the house. Electronics installer Gramophone of Timonium, MD, and builder Chad Neal of Whispering Meadows, in Freeland, MD, had to deal with many walls of plaster and lath construction (made up of thin strips of wood that support the plaster). Even worse, some walls of stone are 18 to 26 inches thick. So running wire was difficult—and this house received a complete electrical rewiring.

“They wanted an old house but with all the modern things,” Gramophone’s Lance David says of the homeowners. “The builder tried to save as much of the original structure as possible. It has all the same floors and walls, and refurbished material was used in the addition.”

To wire through those stone and plaster and lath walls, David explains that some channels had to be cut. It makes for messy, hard work. “It took half a day to bore a hole in the wall,” says Neal. “But now we don’t have all this stuff on the wall. When we were pulling wires, we made sure there was plenty Category 5 [high-speed cable] to every place we could so no one would have to knock down walls for another hundred years.”

A conduit that carries wire and any future upgrades was also run from the family room in the new wing to the rack of equipment in a former kitchen in the basement. Six inches of stone wall, floor to ceiling, had to be removed to accommodate the two racks of audio/video gear, Crestron whole-house control processors, a Kaleidescape hard drive–based movie and music server and more.

In other areas, the team had to penetrate stone walls to place lighting buttons and temperature sensors for the thermostats. All of the Crestron lighting system is wired. So would a wireless system have been a better solution? “The stonework in the house would have really cut down on the communication with wireless lighting control, and we wanted to minimize the interference created by the stone walls and heavy plaster and lath walls,” says David.

Many of the sagging ceilings, however, had to be replaced with traditional plaster-coated drywall. This made for easy installation of 14 in-ceiling speakers from Sound Advance, which hide behind the skim coat of plaster to remain invisible, yet still sound through their coverings.

Surround sound in the family room was achieved by using Artison’s Portrait DualMono speakers that attach to the sides of the 42-inch Runco plasma screen. Each of the speakers has two elements—one for the left or right front channel and another for a center channel—and they are angled a bit to create proper imaging of the center-channel sound to the screen. Two invisible Sound Advance in-ceiling speakers provide the surround channels, and low bass from a downward-firing subwoofer in the cabinet below the TV is ported through a toe kick. The only piece of audio/video gear in the family room is a Kaleidescape K-Player DVD reader and player that allows the family to put in a DVD and store it to the hard drive server in the basement.

In the master bedroom, Sound Advance speakers provide audio for the whole-house music system and the 32-inch Runco LCD screen.

To reduce wall clutter and maintain that old-house feel, the 16 thermostats in the house were hidden in closets, with temperature and humidity sensors located on the ideal places on the nearby room walls. “So now we don’t have all this stuff on the wall,” Neal says about preserving the centuries-old look and feel.

Controlling it all is the Crestron system with two wireless touchscreen controllers and several wall-mounted touchscreens. The Crestron system also interfaces with the security system, which consists of several cameras modulated to TVs in the house and a magnetic sensor alongside the driveway that tells the security system when someone is approaching. In addition, there are water leak sensors and temperature sensors located near pipes so if it gets too cold, the water automatically shuts off. And the homeowners can receive electronic alerts of security events via email or cell phone.

If only George Washington had something like that.


System Design and Installation
Timonium, MD

Whispering Meadows
Freeland, MD

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