Can Home Theater Be Green?
The solar panels are good news for the house’s electronics systems. Because no matter how you cut it, electronics use energy. There are two surround-sound systems, in the family room and a kids’ playroom, and the home has four Sony flat-panel LCDs, which are Energy Star–rated for not drawing more than 1 watt of power when turned off. The deFreitases can access their DVD movie collection on a 400-disc Sony disc changer via the Control4 system. Wall-mounted Sony WallStations with DVD/CD players are used to play music and movies in the master bedroom and kids’ media room. The WallStations are connected to a PC to stream MP3 music files as well.
But the primary purpose of much of the electronics, such as the lighting, shading and home control systems, is to help make the house more efficient. “That’s where I think the smart house is going, where it’s doing things automatically while you’re not there, like shutting off the lights or closing the blinds,” deFreitas says.
The away mode, for example, turns off all interior lights, arms the security system and engages the energy miser mode. Once inside, preset scenes can save energy as well. “You hit one button when you come in, and it disarms the security system and illuminates just major circulation lighting to get you through the house,” says Merrill. A bedtime scene arms the security system, turns off the music, changes the set point for the air-conditioning, lights a path to the bedroom and turns off all the interior lights after a five-minute delay.
Even the irrigation system is smart. DeFreitas gave up on watering a lawn and installed 900 square feet of artificial grass in the back, and he used landscaping plants that don’t require much water. The system has bubblers only near the plants, and the setup is tied via the Internet to a WeatherTrax system that monitors local conditions, so if there’s morning dew in the area, no watering is needed.
“Water is our biggest issue in San Diego,” deFreitas says. “A lot of the reservoirs are way, way down. So there’s less to begin with. And our water usage in this house has dropped dramatically.”
What about electricity savings? “Without the audio/video, during the summer we were producing 100 percent of our own power,” deFreitas says. “Then we hooked up all the electronics, and we were using 700 kilowatt hours a month,” which is still below the average of about 900 kWh—and this for a family of six. “We use about the same amount of power as [we did in] our previous house, which was half the size,” he says. “Now we have a house that is incredibly livable and fits our lifestyle. We’re using way, way less power than if we had a traditional house or traditional office. To use the power that we use now seems pretty responsible.”
This architect/homeowner may not be done yet. He has been working with ONteriors on small fixes to the automated programming. As the family lives in the house and become veterans of the green movement, they’re seeing other ways they can be more efficient. “The whole discussion has changed, because green is no longer considered an alternative,” deFreitas says. “Green has an enormous amount of cachet now, and the public accepts it as a good thing to do.”
For more articles on green technology, check out Steve Castle’s Green Blog.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates