Living in a Model Home

"Arrested Development" comes to life as a builder uses the intricate systems in his own home to attract new customers.


A 42-inch Hitachi TV in the family room can access any cable TV program or DVD movie that's playing in the home theater downstairs. Photo by Larry Evans.

Chris Williams, his wife, Kristi, and his son, Zach, are accustomed to moving into a new house every couple of years. It’s a customary practice for most families who run a custom homebuilding business like they do. Their most recent residence, however, seems to have what it takes to finally keep the Williams family in one spot for a very long time. “This home has the best of everything,” says Chris, whose company, Town & Country Development in Bloomington, IL, designed and built the five-bedroom masterpiece.

In addition to a pair of freestanding circular staircases, 12-inch wooden moldings, tray ceilings and stately columns, there are enough electronic systems inside the home to put the nearest Best Buy out of business. Throughout the 6,000-square-foot space there are plasma TVs, interactive music keypads and touchpanels that can operate everything from the lights to geothermal heating and cooling system.

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A businessman through and through, Chris fully intended to use the residence as a model of his company’s commitment to quality craftsmanship. “We felt that by adding technology, we could definitely set our company apart from other builders in the area,” he says. His plan worked. More than 500 people have toured the home to see the marriage between Old World construction and 21st-century technology.

“Every inch of this house is for show,” says Chris, right down to a glass-covered wall panel in the hallway that displays the home’s well-organized and well-labeled infrastructure of low-voltage cabling. “But we also designed the systems knowing that we’d be living in the house,” he continues. That family-focused approach has been good for business. Even people who are skeptical about technology are won over once they chat with Chris. “It fits our lifestyle wonderfully,” Chris boasts. “And everyone in our family, including my grandmother, Kathleen, who is in her 80s, uses it every day.”

Day After Day
With the guidance of Mike Lockett and his integration engineers at STARDOT Inc., based in Lakeville, MN, Chris and Kristi chose electronic systems that had the sizzle to impress prospective customers but that were practical and simple enough for their family to use. The Crestron touchpanel that controls the theater was a no-brainer. Its colorful and engaging control menus grab the attention of anyone who strolls into the room, but they also make operating the theater simple. “We had Kathleen using the system in less than five minutes,” says Mike.

The theater may be the biggest head turner during a home tour, but the Russound whole-house audio and video system has become the family’s favorite item. By pressing a button on one of 12 Russound keypads, the Williamses can select a piece of music to play in whichever room they want. The ability to deliver different tunes to different areas simultaneously is especially important when there are three generations living under one roof. So while Chris gets his Fox News fix in the master suite, Zach can still use the system to hear his favorite CDs in his bedroom downstairs.

Finding a certain song isn’t difficult. Every CD has been ripped onto an AudioRequest hard drive, which organizes the compilation according to genre, artist and other criteria. Zach can call up this information on a CorAccess Companion 10 touchscreen in the rec room. Because the CorAccess screen is much larger than the display on the Russound keypads, Zach can easily scroll through a list of music choices. Whenever he buys a new CD, he simply loads it into the AudioRequest unit, and the tracks are added to the master music menu. The same information can be displayed on the Companion 10 touchscreens in the master bedroom and the family room.

Movies All Around
Because the Russound system also distributes video, the Williamses are able to enjoy their home theater even when they’re somewhere else in the house. For example, they can see the same DVD that’s playing on the big-screen on their 32-inch Hitachi TV in the master bedroom and their 42-inch Hitachi rear-projection set in the family room. Each TV also has access to digital cable, regular cable and two VCRs no matter what’s playing in the home theater.

But the video distribution system does more than feed entertainment to the TVs. It also lets the family view scenes captured by a couple of outdoor security cameras. “The video camera option is particularly useful to my mother,” says Chris. “By switching her bedroom TV to Channel 100, she can see who’s knocking at the front door and speak to the visitor through her cordless phone by pressing the # key.” Chris and Kristi also peek through the cameras to keep tabs on Zach and his friends. “Zach usually invites the whole football team over after a game, and sometimes we’ll turn on the cameras to see who’s coming and going,” Chris explains.

When Zach’s teammates get a load of the home theater, however, they rarely leave the place—at least not until the movie is over. A 60-inch Hitachi rear-projection TV, a 5.1 surround-sound system and all the movies you could ever want are controlled at the touch of a button on a Crestron touchscreen. STARDOT designed the control menu so that firing up the theater is a cinch.

Whole-House Control
This push-button ease pervades throughout the entire house. The same CorAccess touchpanels that display the titles of the family’s music library can be used to operate every electronic feature in the house, including the lights, thermostats and security sensors. For example, Chris uses the Companion touchscreen in the master bedroom every morning to disarm the security system and instruct the heating and cooling system to warm up the living room and kitchen. While he’s at the screen, he can also check the current outdoor temperature. Although there are only three touchpanels in the house, several TV screens can also function as home control stations at the touch of a button via a CorAccess Sidekick. “You just aim this handheld mouse at the command you want to engage and fire,” Mike explains.

For routine tasks like turning off the landscape lights and closing the garage door, the Williamses use no buttons at all. Instead, they let the brain of their home control system, the HAI OmniPro II, do the work for them. For example, 20 minutes before sunset, the OmniPro signals the outdoor lights to turn on. Should Chris or Kristi forget to turn off the lights at bedtime, the system switches them off automatically at midnight. The system also closes the garage doors if they are left open.

Ready for More
What started out as a way to drum up new business for Chris’s company has introduced the Williams family to a completely different way of life. They have discovered new forms of entertainment and a simpler ways to manage their busy household. In the process, they have grown into full-fledged technology enthusiasts. And like all fans of technology, Chris and Kristi are already planning their next purchase: a 400-disc DVD changer. When they take the plunge, STARDOT will upgrade their existing AudioRequest unit to organize the family’s DVD collection in addition to the CDs that are already stored on the machine. “With the additions in place, they’ll be able to use a CorAccess panel to view their library of DVDs just like they do with their CDs,” Mike explains. “We’ll have 400 DVDs at our fingertips,” says Chris. Now, that would make it hard for anyone who loves movies to leave the house. Perhaps the Williamses have decided to stay in this tricked-out house for good.

Project Time Line

  • 10 hours Project Consultation — Home systems installation company STARDOT arranged several customer consultations with homeowner Chris Williams to discuss the various components that would be integrated into his new home.
  • 40 hours Engineering Schematics — STARDOT prepared an estimate of equipment and labor costs to present to Chris.
  • 100 hours Prewire — The installation crew at STARDOT labeled and routed low-voltage wiring throughout the house as it was being constructed. All phone, cable and network wiring was pulled to the utility room where it was organized inside a special wiring hub.
  • 80 hours Trim-Out and Installation — After the first coat of paint was dry, STARDOT installed security sensors, smart thermostats and light switches, speakers and touchpanels.
  • 40 hours Rack Installation — The whole-house music and video system was installed as well as a system to control the home theater.
  • 40 hours System Programming — The various systems of the house were programmed to fit the needs and lifestyle of the Williams family.

Equipment List: Home Control System

  • HAI OmniPro II
  • HAI RC122 thermostats (3)
  • HAI outdoor temperature sensor

Equipment List: Home Theater

Equipment List: Downstairs Equipment Rack

Equipment List: Whole-House Audio

Equipment List: Master Bedroom & Bath

Equipment List: Lighting System

Equipment List: Stuctured Wiring

Electronics Design and Installation
Lakeville, MN


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