September 11, 2007
| by Lisa Montgomery
The equipment rack holds not one media server but two. At the front door there’s a fingerprint scanner, a surveillance camera and an intercom nestled within a sleek, modern pedestal. Outside, a weather station instructs the draperies and thermostats to adjust. And those are just a few of the innovative high-tech features in Wolfgang and Cornelia Haerle’s 5,000-square-foot automated home. “We considered every possibility before we started building,” says Wolfgang. He and his wife even went so far as to place an LCD TV behind a two-way mirror in the powder room. The 15-inch monitor activates automatically when the door shuts and can be tuned to any video source by pressing a button on a wall-mounted keypad.
The Haerles had good reasons for going all out. First and foremost, they wanted a home that would be self-sufficient enough to free up more time to spend with their children Julian, 11, and Maja, 9. This meant investing in a system that could handle routine household chores such as locking the doors, turning off the lights and shutting the drapes. Also important to Wolfgang and Cornelia was that the house feel comfortable and safe. Last, but not least, the well-appointed home would need to serve as a living laboratory where Wolfgang could test new systems for his Gulfport, FL–based electronics installation business, MaJul Total Home Technology, and a place where he could bring prospective clients to experience a wide array of technologies in a realistic home setting. “It definitely makes a difference when people can see the systems working in a house rather than in a showroom,” says Wolfgang.
Embracing the Differences
That difference is apparent the second you step to the front door. Mounted adjacent to the entry is a stylish intercom station featuring a biometric fingerprint scanner. The scanner precludes the need for a traditional door lock and keys, as it grants access into the home by reading the pattern of a visitor’s fingerprint. If the device recognizes the fingerprint, the door unlocks; if not, the door stays shut. Wolfgang programmed the fingerprints of each family member into the Siedle door station and added a few lights and security sensors to the scenario. When the Siedle station trips the lock, certain interior lights flip on and the security system disarms.
Once inside, Wolfgang and his guests are presented with another control station, this one a security panel from Home Automation Inc. Here, touching a home button sets in motion a completely new sequence of events. Additional lights engage, motorized draperies open, music plays and the thermostats adjust.
Taming the Technology
From here on out, an assortment of Crestron touchpanels take over. Wolfgang peppered a combination of wall-mounted and portable units throughout the residence, and he programmed all of them to synchronize the operation of hundreds of devices, including lights, security sensors, audio and video components, motorized TV lifts, drapery tracks, and swimming pool and hot tub equipment. Remarkably, it takes only a few button taps to control them all. A spa command, for instance, activates the hot tub, the whole-house music system, and exterior lights. entertain, meanwhile, lights up the interior and exterior of the house to welcome guests. Engaging the play button on the office touchpanel lowers the shades, dims the lights, spins the ceiling fan, and powers up the Xbox 360 and the 50-inch LG plasma TV for a serious gaming session. The system is even on call during the wee hours of the night. Touching the midnight snack button, for example, instantly illuminates a pathway from the third-floor bedrooms to the kitchen.
Firing out a single command to control dozens of devices is certainly an efficient way to run a household, but there are some changes that happen automatically for the Haerles. For example, when the outdoor temperature reaches a certain point, the Davis weather station signals motorized draperies throughout the house to close to keep out the heat. The station also disengages the sprinkler system temporarily when there’s been a recent rainfall. Motion sensors, meanwhile, activate the stairway lights whenever someone approaches.
Even when the Haerles are vacationing the Crestron system keeps things in order. Having been fitted with special software, the system lets Wolfgang and Cornelia monitor the status of every integrated device and alter settings remotely from a laptop computer or a mobile device such as their Pocket PC–based cell phone. “Whatever I can do while I’m inside the house I can do while I’m away,” Wolfgang enthuses. For example, should the system show that the house is too warm, he can bump up the AC and close the drapes from anywhere in the world. “We’ll be traveling to Germany soon for three weeks, and it’s comforting to know that I’ll be able to log on and check on the house while we’re there,” says Wolfgang. During their time away, a housekeeper will tend to the plants and collect the mail. But even her visits will be supervised by the Creston system. “We’ve asked people to call us when they arrive, and we’ll buzz them in remotely from the system,” Wolfgang explains. “Then, we’ll give them a certain amount of time to be in the house before we reset the security system.”
500 Movies on Demand
With so much of the home being managed by the Crestron system, are the Haerles finally settling down for some quality family time? “Absolutely,” says Wolfgang. Mom, Dad and the two kids usually gather in the family room where a 42-inch Panasonic plasma TV and Halcro 7.1 surround-sound system are ready to entertain. The Haerles have access to more than 500 flicks stored digitally on a Kaleidescape media server. The list of movies can be presented on the screen of the TV or the Crestron touchpanel, and choosing a show is as simple as touching a button. Before the main attraction begins, the Kaleidescape system plays a few music clips, movie previews and advertisements. It’s a segue Wolfgang designed himself that “makes watching a movie feel more like a special event.” As the movie starts, the shades lower, the lights dim, and the ceiling fan spins.
While the well-appointed family room may be the favorite family movie spot, it’s by no means the only place to enjoy a show. A Crestron video distribution system can deliver video to any TV in the house from the Kaleidescape server, a TiVo receiver, an Escient FireBall media server (a less expensive server option for Wolfgang’s prospective clients) and a DVD player (for playing rented movies), all of which were stowed in a rack in the basement. Music from an XM Radio tuner and CDs stored digitally on the Kaleidescape server can travel housewide as well. The Crestron touchpanel invites the Haerles to choose a song and decide where to have it delivered. If Wolfgang and Cornelia are relaxing on the patio, they might tell the Crestron system to pipe the tunes to the outdoor audio zone only, leaving the house quiet for their sleeping children.
Sweetening the Deal
Still, there’s more in store for this technology candy shop. Wolfgang plans to transform the lanai into an outdoor movie viewing area. Of course, the entire setup will be integrated into the Crestron system so that one command can start the show. After living with the convenience and comforts of a home control system, Wolfgang and his family wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.