When Tony Harper, the managing director of T & T Automation Ltd., was hired to handle all the a/v and automation for a sprawling 35,000-square-foot residential compound in Vancouver, Canada, it’s fair to say that the word “imposing” crossed his mind.
Thankfully, with T & T’s roster of highly trained professionals and its vast resume of elite technological and installation experience, the word “impossible” did not.
“At the time, this estate was one of the biggest projects we had ever worked on,” Harper says. “The design process for the overall automation system took three full months.”
The client’s mandate, he continues, was “if it could be integrated, automated or controlled, it should be included in the plan, but not just included—it had to be executed well with the best technology available.”
This extraordinary estate home—loaded with 31 touch screens, 48 zones of audio, 32 zones of video, more than 1,000 lighting circuits, 240 window coverings, 24 flat-screen televisions and more than 100 keypads—has consumed the energies of seven T & T employees for three years to date (the completion for all of the estate’s external buildings is estimated to take another year).
“The coolest thing was that the client wanted the project done properly—there were no compromises,” Harper adds.
From the get-go, the client had his wish list in hand: He wanted numerous touch screens and wireless remotes throughout the house, as well as extensive voice and data networking, a full-blown home theater, and an elaborate security system so he could reference the status of any window or door on the property with ease. After all, only two people—the client and his wife—reside in the capacious home.
So if each spouse is working on opposite ends of the property with thousands of square foot in between, the husband can, for example, communicate with his wife via the home’s extensive intercom and paging system. In addition, he can also ensure that his wife is safe by monitoring the security cameras and checking to see if any locked doors have been breached.
Not surprisingly, the monstrosity of this estate dictated the complexity of the huge, complex behind-the-scenes automation system. “Because of its size, the house is constructed in commercial-grade building techniques and electronics,” Harper says, adding that his team connected all of the inner-building technological workings via fiber-optic cabling. “It’s a massive automation system—the residential equivalent of a building management system.
“Because the house is so big, the client wanted to perform intercom and paging functions from any touch screen, and he wanted to be able to check for open windows anywhere in the house,” Harper continues. “The system lets him have a constant watch over the status of the entire residence from any area—without the need to physically check every window, door, gate or HVAC zone. This is truly an automated home on a vast scale.”
Integrating hundreds of window coverings and doors, a complex HVAC system with more than 1,000 points, and an extensive wireless voice and data network required meticulous attention to detail—both major and minor. So to do it right, the T & T team carefully mapped out every facet of every technology-involved area in advance. In fact, they spent 800 hours designing and documenting all of the major technological points in the home with detailed drawings so there would be no question about where to put what.
“[Those drawings] became the glue that held together all of the technologies, and also the technology contractors,” Harper says. The company invested 2,500 hours of programming for the elaborate system and more than 3,000 hours of installation time.
More daunting than documenting and designing the system was making hundreds of automation controls extremely easy to use. “The touch screen’s user-interface had to be nothing short of outstanding,” Harper says, adding that the firm’s custom creation is based on icons instead of word-driven directions.
For example, click on any of the touch screen’s icons—the television, curtains, a light bulb or a security camera—and then select the area of interest, from the carriage house to the conservatory, the guest house or any of the main home’s three floors. From there, you can do what you want: turn on or off any television; determine which windows are open and which doors are locked or unlocked (green indicates closed, red is open); check on the status of the radiant heat or forced air; lock specific doors with the touch of a button when leaving the house or entertaining guests; or determine when a locked door has been bypassed.
“The interface is designed to constantly provide the home’s status across all major sub systems,” Harper says of the icon-driven system. “The idea was not to fill the screen with traditional buttons or words, but to make it precise to navigate. It’s a lot of control in a very complex system.
“The client wanted the system to run the house for them,” Harper continues. “What we bring to the party is how to make it all work. T & T is particularly good at integrating complex systems and providing simple, intuitive interfaces to our customers.”
By Brooke Lange/Home Entertainment
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