Big Rebuild Gives Owners New Respect for Home Automation

AMX controls over extensive subsystems and housewide A/V, integrated by Smart Homes of Texas, earn their keep.

Photos: Focus Photography

The owners of this luxury, custom-built house have regained an appreciation and fondness for home technology. Not that they every really hated it. “They just weren’t all that happy with it or believed that it added any real value to their house,” explains Justin Dohman of custom electronic design and integration firm Smart Homes of Texas, McKinney, Texas.

Hired recently by the couple to install electronic systems into their house, Dohman says it was their experience with a high-end home automation system years ago that had them questioning the usefulness of technology to their lifestyle. “The system they had been using did what it was supposed to do but was overly complicated and confusing to interact with,” he continues.

New Attitude
Those feelings of discontent would take an unexpected turn, though. After their home was destroyed in a major fire and plans for a rebuild commenced, Dohman introduced them to a new type of home automation system—one that could be monitored, managed and controlled from an iPad app, and would be carefully programmed to make interacting with audio and video components, the lights and thermostats as effortless as turning on the kitchen faucet. They decided to give home technology another try.

As the couple drew up plans for the 14,000-square-foot rebuild, not much would change design-wise from their previous house. “It was almost an exact replica,” says Dohman “except for the home control system.” Rather than follow in the unfortunate footsteps of the homeowners’ previous integration firm, Dohman chose a completely different control system; incorporated devices that would simplify rather than confuse the process of operating lights, thermostats and other gear; and integrated a more robust and versatile audio and video system. Dohman would top off the technology overhaul with a fresh, modern take on design.

Breaking into Song
This time around, the couple decided to focus much of their attention—and electronics budget—on a whole-house audio system. They wanted music to touch every part of the house, not so much for serious, critical listening but for background music to enjoy while cooking, relaxing or hosting a dinner party. “She [the lady of the house] especially likes to have the music on as she goes about her day,” says Dohman. “And her taste is very eclectic. One day it might be Top 40 hits, the next classical piano music.” Most of the time, the songs come from an iPod that’s docked in one of three in-wall iPort cradles. However, there’s also plenty to stream from an integrated Sonos system.

Music can travel to three independent surround-sound systems, as well as to 32 pairs of Focal IC 908 speakers. Recessed into the ceiling of every room, almost every speaker pair is accompanied by an in-wall Velodyne subwoofer. “Even though they listening casually, having the bass of a subwoofer really adds to the experience,” Dohman says. Each subwoofer is driven by its own amplifier, and backboxes for the speakers were built into the walls to maximize their output.

Related: Give Your Built-in Speakers an Audio Boost

Toys in the Attic
As important to the owners as their audio system’s performance, was its appearance and its ease of use. Every speaker grille was painted to match the surface of the ceiling, and custom grille cloth was applied to cabinetry custom-designed to hold the front left, right and center speakers of each surround-sound system. “The painter did such a good job, you’d never know there were $300,000 worth of speakers and subwoofers in this house,” says Dohman. And absolutely nothing gives away the power behind the audio, as every amp, processor and player was neatly tucked away in an air-conditioned attic. “The owners didn’t want to see the equipment or even be close to it, for that matter,” Dohman explains of their choice to utilize the attic for A/V storage.

AMX touchpanels and an iPad app put all of the whole-home control systems’ commands right in the palms of the owners’ hands. And they don’t have to go far to find one. If the iPad happens to be hiding, mounted to the wall in every room is a 7-inch AMX touchpanel for convenient selection and control; a few other portable AMX touchpanels float around the house too. From any of these devices the homeowners can choose a source, like Rhapsody on the Sonos system, select where they want that music to play, and adjust the volume. Dohman programmed the control menu to simplify the process, so that it only takes a couple of taps to get the whole house humming.

Related: Different Remote Controllers to Suit Your Mood

Black Boxes Banished … Almost
The only “black boxes” to infiltrate the house are Denon Blu-ray players in a few of the key viewing areas. The owners can pop in a disc on a whim, or there’s always that rack of gear in the attic that can feed video to any of 11 Samsung flat-panel LED and plasma TVs, including 61- and 55-inchers in the surround-sound areas and a 55-inch display at the outdoor bar.

This all equates to some significant travel required of video signals. A fast, open highway was essential, therefore, to ensure that movies, TV programs plus video from 18 surveillance cameras could reach their intended destinations without any degradation.

Fiber-optic cabling, the crème de le crème of high-bandwidth cabling, was routed throughout the interior and exterior of the house. A total of almost 18,000 feet of fiber is able to carry multiple streams of high-definition video to whichever displays the homeowners select by touching the appropriate icons on their AMX touchpanel or iPad. A fiber-optic video distribution system doesn’t come cheap, but Dohman says it definitely prepares the house for any type of technology that comes its way. “Currently, the most common video resolution is 1080p, but 4K is coming, and the cabling and switcher are there ready to handle it. The owners can just update their displays and they’ll be able to distribute 4K content to any and all TVs, just as they do 1080p now.” Another advantage: If and when the homeowners add TVs to the outbuildings on their property, the fiber-optic cabling will be able to easily pipe clear, crisp video to the far reaches of the yard. “I tried out a TV in their shed a half-mile away from the house and the video quality was as perfect as if the TV was right next to the equipment,” says Dohman.

Beyond Audio & Video
Although Dohman refers to the house as an “audio and video lover’s masterpiece,” there’s a lot more beneath the hood of the AMX system that just an entertainment engine. Packed with processing power, it also handles the home’s six-zone heating and cooling unit, the lights, motorized window shades and 18 high-def surveillance cameras.

Related: Basics of a Home Security System

Rather than fiddle with individual thermostats to get each area comfortable—or to cut back to save energy—the homeowners can control the climate in one fell swoop from a touchpanel or iPad. They can view the current temperature of each zone, including the air-conditioned equipment area in the attic, before making a change.

The touchpanels and iPad app also display the status of the lights. Again, the homeowners can make adjustments on the fly, or engage one of several scenes that were programmed into the Lutron HomeWorks system and also integrate other systems. Some of the owners’ favorites are Good Morning, which brightens select lights and pipes audio to the bathroom and bedroom speakers; Goodbye, which switches off most of the lights; and Party, which feeds audio throughout the entire house and back yard, and triggers fixtures to highlight pieces of art.

True Believers
No matter where the owners happen to be in their house or what they’re doing, it’s simple to operate the music and video systems, lights, thermostats and surveillance cameras. And with iPads, portable touchpanels and more than 20 wall-mounted touchpanels peppered throughout, the customized controls are never more than a few steps away. It’s a setup that’s made the once-skeptical homeowners true believers in the value of home technology, and in this case the second time was the charm.


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