Tackling a Tricky Installation

A custom installer takes on a challenging systems installation in his own home.


Systems designer Brad Smith mixes work with pleasure. A flat-panel TV accompanies the electronics in his home office. Photo by Tony Scarpetta.

Few homes are perfect. Just ask Brad Smith of Audio Video Design, a custom electronic installer in Newton, MA. He’s had some head-scratching experiences trying to fit electronics in quirky homes — and that includes his own humble abode. “I have a 30-year-old house that was built in two stages and was very difficult to retrofit,” Smith says. The construction of the house doesn’t allow for vertical runs of wiring to reach the different floors, and the attic and basement are finished spaces that further hinder running new wire. Nonetheless, the Smith home sports a Crestron home control system that operates whole-house music, heating and ventilation, security, door control and a partial lighting system for common areas such as the hallways and exterior. “It wouldn’t have been sensible at the time, a few years ago, to do a full lighting control system,” Smith says, due to the wiring difficulties and the limited reliability of wireless systems at that time.

Most rooms — including the master bedroom, master bath, home theater, recreation room, kitchen, family room, dining room, porch, living room and cabana — have Crestron’s TPS-2000 wall-mounted touchpanels to control electronic functions, such as calling up tunes from the ReQuest Multimedia hard-disk-based music server and operating the Aegis Lighting Control (ALC) system.

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The Smiths’ home theater consists of an ADA Cinema Reference and amplifier combination. “I’m currently trying to decide on new on-wall speakers that can handle the ADA gear,” Smith says. “And the projector, as crazy as it seems, is a product I don’t even sell: a low-profile LCD projector that’s necessary due to a very low ceiling.” The rest of the home also has a phone/intercom system and networked computers throughout.

Smith, his wife Bonnie, and two kids constantly use the Crestron touchpanels to call up music from the ReQuest server. “The music is mostly from CDs — lots of them,” he says. “I’m old fashioned. I like albums and I don’t have any interest in buying individual tracks online and downloading them.”

In the summer, the cabana system is in constant use. “We have a handful of dual-tweeter, dual-voice coil Stereostone SoundStealth speakers around the pool,” he says.

Convenience First
Besides entertainment, the HVAC and lighting controls are scheduled via the Crestron system to take place automatically. “We look at the keypads to make sure that doors are closed, particularly the garage overhead doors. If they’re not, we can do it from the keypads. The automation of common lighting and HVAC is very nice,” Smith says. “Being in the business and having most of what we do in my own house has taught me one very important lesson: Ease of use and reliability are far more important than the latest in cutting-edge technology.”

Tell that to Bonnie, who still believes the system could be easier to use. “She doesn’t like or dislike technology, she just wants it to work with minimal attention,” Smith says. “So we redesigned the touchpanels to make them more intuitive.”

There’s always room for improvement, even in the home of a custom electronics pro. Smith upgrades his home systems about twice a year, which he says is too often. He recently added XM Satellite Radio in the house. “I wanted it for the convenience. And no one has asked for an iPod yet, which is fine by me, but I’ll probably have to buckle under and add a docking station,” he reports.

Oh well, no home is perfect — not even your neighborhood electronics guy’s.


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