Systems integration: I hate that term. It’s so technical and cold—so devoid of all emotion. Not so consumer-friendly. And yet so right.
We write a lot about home control and systems integration in our magazine articles, and in our Cool Homes section of this web site. And pretty much wherever we can. We cover how audio/video and lighting and security and HVAC can all be integrated into one control system—because let’s face it: it is way cool to be able to operate it all from one touchpanel or iPad or smartphone.
But it’s easy to lose sight of what that “systems integration” really means. It can be more than just tying various home systems into a common user interface. It can be a heck of a lot more—and unfortunately, much of that remains untapped.
I was recently reminded of this while perusing a press release for an “Energy Efficient Homes” research report by Pike Research. Hang on, I know I just waved a boring alert, but this does get interesting. …
Pike defines energy-efficient housing as built to exceed the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code by 15 percent on a kilowatt-hour per square foot basis. You don’t have to be able to comprehend that, though, because here is what caught my eye:
In order to achieve this level of energy savings … home builders and retrofitters must adopt a systems approach to home design and construction, integrating all aspects of home operation.
This holistic, systems-wide approach to home building is being embraced by green architects and builders, who more and more are designing homes and buildings with widely disparate systems—from insulation to HVAC to lighting—that are not intended to stand alone.
It’s About the Whole Systems, Silly
In true green building, every part of the house has an affect on another part. The amount of insulation will largely determine how big a heating and cooling system is needed. The roof and placement of the home to the south and west sun can affect heating, cooling, lighting, shading and ventilation. Lighting and cooling will have an effect on how much electricity is used, and that will have an effect on how large a solar electric or other energy source may be required. Everything becomes connected.
True systems integration can do the same. We’re already seeing this with systems like Somfy’s TaHomA (with stands for Total Home Automation), which operates on the “energy triangle” of HVAC, lighting, and motorized shading. The shades come down, and the HVAC system doesn’t need to run as much. The shades go up, and the lights can turn off.
In an off-the-grid home (one that is completely self-powered) we are now writing for the September issue of Electronic House and equipped by installation firm AVDomotics of Sedona, Ariz., a home control system commands well pumps and other big energy users to come on during the day, when the solar system is producing electricity. That’s an example of two completely different home systems working together toward a common goal: to provide a tankful of water and save enough electricity in the solar batteries for use at night.
In addition, one of our Home of the Year winners, with installation by Grand Junction, Colo.-based All Sound Designs, uses security sensors to enact hands-free lighting throughout the house. It also happens to be a green-built home that takes a systems-wide approach to its efficient design.
This level of integration is nothing new for control systems. We see it all the time with a security “Away” button that turns off lights and arms the security system, or a “Good Night” button that turns off everything. With really energy-efficient homes, though, we will see a lot more of it.
We have the technology in many home control and automation systems—and it’s becoming more and more affordable with basic home control of lights and thermostats being offered by service companies like ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and soon AT&T—as well as DIY systems like the many Z-Wave-connected devices available.
Technology should not be the magic elixir in a making a home more efficient or saving energy. Sealing air leaks, insulating and making sure heating and cooling systems are properly sized and operating well are the first critical steps to making a home more energy-efficient. But after that, it’s the systems integration that will make a connected home a smart and much more efficient one.
Many green homes are built with so various parts work together to enhance efficiency—and on the inside systems integration can add efficiency by enabling disparate home systems to work in harmony.
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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