Total Tech Overhaul: Home Gets Automation Upgrade


A kitchen remodel evolves into a full-blown upgrade, including a sure-fire cell phone signal strengthener, a golf simulator and a dedicated theater.

Mar. 25, 2013 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

It all started as such a simple plan. Frustrated by the poor cell phone reception at his new beachfront residence, the homeowner sought a solution that would let his family roam the 13,000-square-foot home and Lake Michigan property without any communication glitches. Boosters from big-name box retailers didn’t work. Neither did a new service contract from his cell phone provider. Out of ideas, he called on the advice of local custom electronics (CE) professional, John Goldenne from Digital Home Technologies, Palatine, Ill.

Dead Phones Spur a Tech Makeover

Cell phone solutions were not in his company’s bag of tricks, Goldenne admits, but “I wasn’t going to give up until I found something that would work.” The fix-it would come down to the installation of a high-end, pro-grade system consisting of numerous antennas and boosters that would be situated strategically throughout the house (see how Wilson Electronics cell extenders were implemented).

The addition of this equipment couldn’t have come at a better time. The family was already in the midst of remodeling their 18-year-old home, primarily “because my wife wanted to update the kitchen,” says the homeowner, who requested to remain anonymous. “She told me that the kitchen was her only concern, but soon we were redoing the entire first floor, putting in a new heating system and replacing windows.”

The family was already living with the daily disruption of contractors working in the house, so the crew at Digital Home Technologies fit right into the workflow. And, it gave Goldenne and the homeowner a chance to chat about other possibilities for the house.

Getting Comfortable

As it turns out, “comfort was one of his biggest priorities,” says Goldenne. “It’s a big house with big windows that face Lake Michigan, so it can be tough to maintain a consistent temperature without running up the utility bills.”

The owners had already taken the first step by installing radiant heat in the main first-floor rooms and upgrading to high-efficiency windows, but as Goldenne explained to them, a whole-home control system could make an even bigger impact on the comfort level. “As long as we were already remodeling, we thought we might as well go all the way,” the homeowner relates.

Goldenne suggested the g! system from home automation manufacturer Elan. It would allow the homeowners to monitor, manage and regulate the temperature settings in eight independent heating and cooling zones from the convenience of an iPad, iPhone or one of several Elan TS7 touchpanels that would be mounted to the walls in several key locations in the house. And, if the family wanted, the g! system could be expanded easily to tackle other areas of control.

Once the owners saw how dramatically the system simplified the control of multiple thermostats, it wasn’t long before the pros at Digital Home Technology were configuring the g! to operate a Lutron RadioRA lighting system, motorized Lutron shades, a whole-house music system, a video distribution system, IC Realtime surveillance cameras and the electronics in a dedicated state-of-the-art home theater.

Updates to Old Systems

Linking the various devices to the Elan g! processor and touchpanels required the installation of a new highway of high-speed cabling, which Digital Home Technologies fished behind the walls and underneath the floors during the renovation. “We ran a bundle of two Category 5e and two RG6 quad-shielded coax so that the house could handle a variety of technologies,” explains Goldenne. As the fishing crew discovered, this wasn’t the first time the home had been extensively wired and outfitted with technology. Throughout the house keypads had been wired via low-voltage cabling to a now-discontinued lighting control system. Digital Home Technologies was able to use some of the old wiring for other purposes, but replaced the old lighting system with a wireless Lutron RadioRA system, “which could be easily integrated with the g! home control system,” says Goldenne.

Also installed previously—and still functioning, albeit very poorly—was a central vacuum system. Over the years the ductwork had cracked in a few spots, causing a dramatic reduction in suction power. Digital Home Technologies repaired the cracks and replaced the old central vac unit in the garage with two new units from M&S that would provide enough power to efficiently clean every square inch of the house.

Finally, Wi-Fi communication within the residence was strengthened with the addition of five Wi-Fi access points from Pakedge.

Analog to Digital, Plus Custom Soundbars

After the home’s existing technologies had been updated, the homeowner and Goldenne focused on new additions that made sense for the family. Motorized shades on the east side of the house would help optimize the efficiency of the home’s Aprilaire heating and cooling system by insulating the house from heat gain and cold outdoor air. Automating the shades to descend and rise on a schedule would also promote better sleep for the homeowners. “If the shades are up, the sun wakes me at 4:15 a.m. in the summer,” says the owner. “Now I can wake up at a reasonable hour because the shades are always down when then should be.”

New TVs were on the top of the family’s list of gotta-haves, too. “The owners had been watching analog TVs in their previous home, so digital was a huge eye-opener for them,” says Goldenne. Digital Home Technologies outfitted several rooms with either LG or Pioneer flat-panel, high-def displays, all of which are tied to a matrix switcher from Atlona. This component, which is located in an equipment rack in a lower-level utility room, delivers HDMI signals to every TV over Category 5 cabling from components including an Apple TV and two high-def cable boxes, which are also tucked neatly into the downstairs equipment rack. This arrangement keeps the rooms free of A/V clutter, as do the Artison soundbar speakers that were custom-sized to fit the width of each TV perfectly.

Each soundbar combines a left, center and right speaker into one slim housing. Designed to attach to the bottom of a TV, the soundbars saved Digital Home Technologies the hassle of trying to integrate three separate speakers into the architecture and design of each entertainment space. Three of the Artison soundbars are complemented by two in-ceiling SpeakerCraft speakers, placed at the rear of the room to produce a complete surround-sound experience.

Most of the media areas are designed for casual viewing or music listening. The owners can choose what they want to watch or listen to before they even sit down by touching a few buttons on a TS7 touchpanel mounted near each entrance. For on-the-couch control, handheld Elan HR2 remotes are always handy.

Golf, Billiards or a Night at the Theater?

When the family is in the mood for some serious entertainment, the lower level offers several options: a rec room with a billiards table and 70-inch Pioneer Elite TV, a state-of-the-art home theater and a pro-grade golf simulation room. The media system in the rec room has a slightly different arrangement than that of the viewing areas upstairs. There’s a similar Artison soundbar attached to the bottom of the TV, but instead of the typical surround-sound speakers to complement it, the space features six in-ceiling speakers, installed so that
the entire room is blanketed with sound rather than having the sound directed toward a specific seating area.

The home theater is where realistic, enveloping surround sound does its best work. Here, Digital Home Technologies went all Paradigm, tucking seven speakers and two subwoofers from the Canadian manufacturer behind a 133-inch Screen Innovations screen and Cinemacoustics acoustical wall paneling. Both the screen and fabric paneling feature a weave that allows the sound from the speakers to flow into the room without any degradation.

A JVC DLA-X9 video projector fires video onto the screen, mostly content from a local Samsung Blu-ray player. Simply turning on the player via an Elan HR2 remote also commands the Lutron switches to dim the lights, the Integra surround-sound receiver to activate and the JVC projector to starting working its Hollywood magic.

The third, and most unique entertainment area, is a golf simulation room. Starting as an empty 29-by-14-foot space, it was converted into a room where the homeowner can practice, play and perfect his swing year round. The room underwent a dramatic renovation, including the installation of specialty wall paneling that’s designed to absorb hits from errant golf balls, adding a slope to the floor and installing a high-tech training and simulation system. The system, designed by Foresight Sports (and ran just under $20,000 for the equipment), includes software that runs on a PC that’s dedicated to the room, a business-grade Epson video projector and a screen that was custom-sized for the room. A camera watches and records the owner’s swing for proper alignment and technique.

Staying Connected

Located in the far corner of the lower level, the golf simulation room is set apart from the rest of the house, but Digital Home Technologies made sure that the owner could still keep in close contact with everything and everyone upstairs. The same PC that runs the simulation software can bring up the Elan g! control menu, giving the owner full access to all of the systems in the house. A 50-inch LG TV mounted to the wall, meanwhile, ties into the same system that feeds video from a rack of components to every display in the house.

And, of course, there’s the owner’s cell phone. Thanks to the Wilson Electronics system that got this whole high-tech renovation started, there’s a strong signal on the course, outside on the beach or anywhere inside the house. Good communication, it seems, was the best precursor to all things high-tech in this comfortable, efficient, entertaining, automated home.

More photos inside the home here.

Ten Audio, Video and Automation Terms You Should Know
9 Things to Consider in a Home Control System
How to Plan Your Home Tech Makeover

Digital Home Technologies
Palatine, Ill.

Tom Stringer Design Partners
Chicago, Ill.

Eiesland Builders
Glenview, Ill.

Control: Elan
Lighting and Shading: Lutron
Audio Distribution: Elan
Video Switching: Atlona
Speakers: SpeakerCraft, Paradigm
TVs: LG and Pioneer
Video Projectors: JVC and Epson
Home Theater Screen: Screen Innovations
Acoustical Treatments: Cinemacoustics
Surveillance and Security: Ademco and IC Realtime
Cell Phone System: Wilson Electronics
Networking: Pakedge
HVAC: Aprilaire

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