Smart Controls for a Complicated Home

A cleverly designed automation system gives a home the smarts to operate all by itself… almost.


Touching a button on an MX-900 remote from Universal Remote Control tells the Draper screen to roll down from the ceiling, a Runco video projector to rev up and a rack of A/V components to activate.

Automation systems have a way of taking on a life of their own. A system might start out by controlling a few light switches and a basic thermostat but eventually end up operating the swimming pool pump, driveway gate, even the feeder in your fish tank. Getting multiple devices to adjust on their own is the goal behind any automation system. But it takes the skill and ingenuity of a seasoned home electronics professional to get those devices to work in harmony with a homeowner’s unique lifestyle and design tastes.

Expert Integration
Choreographed by the experts at Fergus, Ontario–based Station Earth, a combination of sophisticated lighting, audio distribution and home control processors keep this custom-crafted Canadian beauty humming. “In an ordinary day, the homeowners touch no more than five buttons,” says Station Earth sales manager John Stumpf. That’s quite an accomplishment, given the fact that the residence measures a whopping 20,000 square feet and contains nearly 200 individual light circuits. “If you had to control each of those switches manually, you’d be flipping switches all day,” Stumpf continues.

Thanks to the Vantage/Legrand lighting control system he and his team installed during construction, the homeowners can operate dozens of switches by pressing a single button. For example, when the owners enter the house from their four-car garage, they can touch the home button on a sleek wall-mounted keypad to illuminate the hallway and kitchen. The arrival setup typically only happens in the evening, however, per the owners’ request for a system that would help them be more energy-efficient. The Vantage system’s internal astronomical clock tells the lights to ignore the home command during the day when there’s enough sunshine to brighten the space.

The Vantage keypad at the home’s entrance is just one of more than 70 keypads and touchpanels around the residence that can cue a variety of lighting sequences, including one that turns off all the lights before bedtime and another that opens the drapes and illuminates the en-suite bathroom and kitchen in the morning. To the pros at Station Earth, it wasn’t enough to simply have the lights turn on and off. They also made sure that every switch in every sequence was set to the perfect brightness level according to the needs of both homeowners. The lights and drapes involved in the good morning scene, for example, perform differently based on whether he or she is getting up. The good morning button by his side of the bed turns on only the bathroom and kitchen lights so that she can continue sleeping; her good morning command turns on the bedroom lights and opens the drapes. Other lighting scenarios happen automatically, eliminating the need to press any buttons at all. A special christmas command, for example, turns on the tree lights automatically at 5:30 p.m. and turns them off at 4 a.m. every day from November 15 through January 15.

If the owners want to change the on and off times, or modify the settings of any other scene, a quick call to Station Earth is all it takes. From any web-connected computer, a Station Earth designer can reprogram the Vantage system remotely. According to Stumpf, many of the lighting scenes used in the home today were programmed like this. “[The homeowners] travel a lot, so it was much more efficient to program parts of the Vantage system via the Internet than it would have been to dispatch a van to the residence.”

Lights, Music, Action
Being able to touch one button to turn off all the lights before bed, illuminate pathways and light up entrances has simplified life tremendously for these jet-setting homeowners. But it’s the entertainment aspects of the Vantage system that has them “doing back flips,” says Stumpf. Known for throwing elaborate dinner parties, the owners wanted to make sure that the lights were not only simple to operate but that they would also set the ambiance for the occasion. Several scenes were designed, each evoking a slightly different effect. Some of those scenes, like entertain, also kick in the Elan System whole-house music system. In this mode, the owners’ favorite jazz music plays as the lights dim in the main hallways, dining room, kitchen and great room. The jazz compilation is just one of hundreds of audio options available through the Elan system. The owners can use either Vantage or Elan touchpanels to scroll through their audio choices, which include satellite and cable music stations, digital files stored on the hard drive of an Elan VIA DJ media server, or good ’ol FM radio.

The distribution system was divided into 23 distinct listening zones and subzones, which allows different songs to play simultaneously in different areas. The music travels from a rack of components in the main hallway to more than 23 pairs of Elan speakers mounted inconspicuously into the ceiling of each listening zone. In one zone, the Vantage system goes a step further to ensure a wonderful listening experience. The noisy compressor that cools the owners’ 500-bottle wine cellar shuts off automatically when the entertain button on the Vantage keypad in the adjacent tasting room is engaged. The same command brightens the room’s chandelier and wall sconces and waits for the owners to select a song to play while they sit back and sip from their own private stock. When the owners are finished, another button press reactivates the compressor.

Hollywood Heyday
In addition to great wine and music, the homeowners love classic movies. Their home theater was designed as a tribute to all the old-time favorites, including “Gone with the Wind,” “Bridge on The River Kwai,” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” Large film reels and movie posters of Hollywood’s biggest legends adorn the dark-blue faux-painted walls, creating a casual yet engaging environment for big-screen viewing. While the room decor screams screening room, no display is visible—until the owners press the movie button on the Universal Remote Control MX-900 remote. This one command triggers a sequence of events that transforms what appears to be a glamorous theme-inspired living room into an honest-to- goodness home theater. Within a matter of minutes, a 110-inch Draper video screen descends from the ceiling, a Runco video projector hidden inside a ventilated bulkhead revs up, the lights dim, and a rack of audio and video components tucked behind the bar prepares to play the movie of choice.

Pop-Up Video
The ceiling offered the perfect hiding spot for the theater room’s 110-inch motorized screen. In other areas of the house, Station Earth coordinated with the interior designer and architect to conceal flat-panel TVs inside cabinetry or blend them into the wall surface by framing them with custom millwork. “Of the 12 displays in the home, only two are visible when they’re not in use,” says Stumpf. Just as they do to control their lighting, music and home theater systems, the owners need only touch one button on a keypad or touchpanel to bring a flat-panel TV out of hiding. In the library, for example, a 43-inch Pioneer Elite plasma TV rises out of a custom-built motorized lift enclosure. When the owners are finished watching TV, another button can lower it back into the cabinet. Stowed away from sight, the TV lets the real magic of the room shine through—the elegant decor, the soft, subtle lighting effects, the beautiful background music, and of course, a touchpanel that lets the owners control their entire home with just a few taps on the screen.


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