Each year the editorial staff at Electronic House reviews hundreds of submissions to its Home of the Year contest. The entries submitted by home systems integrators represent some of the smartest, most innovative home tech projects on the planet. Here, you’ll see our picks for the Best Smart Homes, $150,000 and over.
1. Smart Home of the Year 150,000+, GOLD Winner
Warm to the Touch: Automated fireplaces, snow melting system, and 96 window shades prep 8,000-square-foot mountain home for fabulous family retreats — with a touch of a button.
Tucked within a grove of evergreen trees stands a home so smart, the family that visits there occasionally for long ski weekends barely needs to lift a finger to ready their mountainside dwelling for their arrival. Well, maybe they lift a finger, pressing it to the screen of their smartphone — but that’s about as difficult as it gets. There’s no snow to shovel off the driveway, no thermostats to adjust to crank up the heat, no window shades to open, or lights to turn on. It all happens automatically during their hour-long flight from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe. Or, as is the case with the start-up of the hydronic heating system that warms the 8,000-square-foot home slowly yet efficiently from below the floor, the finger tap happens a few days before their departure.
The ability to monitor and manage nearly every electronic system in their new mountain home from afar is what ultimately sold the homeowners on a Savant control system — this and the fact that they were already intimately familiar with the system, having used it previously in their other homes, according to Marcin Przybylski from RAC Advanced Control, of Tahoe City, Calif. He and his team of home systems integrators were hired by the owners to handle the design and installation of the sophisticated technology systems that handle many of the home’s core functions, and won our coveted Best Smart Home of the Year award.
Placed on Automatic Pilot
While the house is vacant, the Savant home control processor puts all of the systems into an Away mode that was custom-configured and programmed into the processor’s operating platform by the software engineers at RAC Advanced Control. This setting was designed to help the home run at an efficient level and without any risk of freezing pipes or other potentially harmful events like extended power outages or an extreme dips in temperature.
The house is virtually problem-free, as the homeowners are able to monitor several conditions in real-time, from the water temperature in the hot tub and the status of light switches, to the current outdoor and indoor climate and log of anyone who may have stepped to the front door. Should the owners want extra assurance of their home’s well-being, they can tap into the video captured by several Axis surveillance cameras positioned strategically throughout the property and view it from the screen of an iPad no matter if they are five miles away picking up milk at the grocery store or 500 miles from the residence on a business trip. Remote access to real-time camera video is a great complement to the snow melting system, as the owners can visually determine just how much snow has fallen and if it warrants activation of the melting system.
“Sometimes all it takes is just a few flakes to set off the system,” Przybylski explains. “It’s a waste of energy, so the owners can choose to temporarily deactivate the melting system, and even when there’s enough snow, we set up the Savant system to trigger the melting system on a three-, six- and 12-hour timer rather than continuously.”
Finicky Fireplaces Learn to Cooperate
The real magic happens, though, when the homeowners arrive at the house. Like a virtual property manager, the Savant system has raised all 25 zones of hydronic heating to a prescribed comfort level, and follows through by signaling a Lutron QS lighting system to brighten several select LED fixtures, activating the snow melting system to clear the driveway, opening a few of the home’s nearly 100 Lutron QS motorized window shades, and switching on the gas fireplace in the family room.
The alterations are so beautifully synchronized it appears technologically effortless, but as Przybylski assures, getting the fireplaces (four total) to cooperate was no easy task. Manufacturers have been slow to warm up (no pun intended) the smart home movement, he says, and therefore their products can be tough to integrate with control systems without some very intricate engineering involved. “We had to actually get into the electrical schematics of each fireplace to engineer drivers that would allow them to be monitored and controlled by the Savant system,” Przybylski says.
RAC Advanced Systems rose to the challenge by tying not just one brand of fireplace into the Savant control platform, but four different brands of fireplaces, each with their own unique operating systems. “The homeowners had already picked out the fireplaces they wanted based on their cosmetic features; it was our job to make them work together technologically,” Przybylski adds. With all systems in sync and united under the Savant aegis, the house is warm, welcoming, and ready to cater to an active family who enjoys hanging out in their smart home just as much as they do hitting the ski slopes.
Multiscreen Sports Viewing
There’s just about nothing this home can’t manage to do on its own, or at least with a quick swipe and press on a tablet or smartphone. “The owner is a very tech-savvy guy and wanted to have every conceivable system in his home accessible from one user interface,” Przybylski says. “The Savant system sets everything in motion so that the environment is precisely to their liking.
One of the family’s favorite activities is watching sporting events. On a given Sunday afternoon, there may be a half-dozen games worthy of their viewing time, so rather than have to channel surf to the point of ridiculousness, the homeowner requested that RAC Advanced Control include a Savant video tiling system in the home technology plans. This advanced video processing technology, called SmartView, allows viewing of multiple windows, or tiles, of video on a single display — for this home, a maximum of six tiles per display. Using an app on an iPad the owners can switch video sources between the tiles and alter the shape and configuration of them; for example, expanding the size of a particular tile for viewing a big football game, and flanking that big window with five smaller windows for lesser matchups.
It’s an extremely sophisticated sort of system typically reserved for a home’s one main TV. For this project, however, RAC Advanced Control installed two SmartView units: One for 85-inch 4K Sony TV in the great room, and another for the 85-inch 4K Sony TV in the rec room. “Tiling for two TVs is something we had never done before,” says Przybylski. “It really raises the bar in terms of entertainment extravagance.”
Want your shades lowered? Do it in seconds from a smartphone. Not sure if you locked the door when you left the house or left the garage door open? Again, it’s as easy as pressing a button on your smartphone.
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Covert Tactics for Automation and A/V Components
The SmartView processors sit in a well-appointed equipment rack in a specially designed and constructed closet in a hallway, as do all of the home’s audio and video components, which includes an Autonomic Controls media server, three Apple TV units, four DirecTV satellite set-top boxes, and an Oppo Digital Blu-ray player. Each video component is connected via HDMI cabling to one of four TVs. There is no sharing of video sources among all displays, but all of these components connect directly to each SmartView processor so that every source can be accessed on the two tiling-enabled TVs.
Audio is another matter. Songs curated by the Autonomic media server travel to an interesting mix of speakers from Leon Speakers, Pro Audio Technology and Sonance. Each brand of speaker was chosen by RAC Advanced Control for certain performance and cosmetic benefits. For example, Pro Audio Technology was the speaker of choice for the great room, due to the awesome audio muscle of its bi-amplified design. Even though the speakers were installed 28 feet high on the cathedral ceiling, they are powerful enough to be easily heard and enjoyed from anywhere in the spacious room.
Speakers from Leon Speakers, meanwhile, were chosen for their ability to be customized to suit the style and dimension of each of the home’s Sony 4K TVs. Architectural speakers from Sonance round out the whole-house audio system, disappearing into the ceiling surfaces with their bezel-less grilles and small footprints. All meticulously installed, the speakers provide music to 11 listening zones, which include three surround-sound setups. From a menu on the Savant control app, the family can peruse their audio options, like favorite streaming Pandora, Deezer, Rhapsody, Sirius XM or Tidal channels, choose what they want to hear, and direct it to a specific zone or several zones.
From Control to Communication
iPads are the mode of control in this super-smart home, but in addition to their traditional role as an Internet portal, they were configured by RAC Advanced Control to also function as VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) telephones. When an incoming call comes through the phone system, the family can converse with the caller directly from an iPad or iPhone. It’s a slick setup that utilizes the full potential of the Savant home control system, making this mountain home a shining example of how technology can impact every aspect of a family’s life.
From the peace of mind it provides and energy it can help save, to the enjoyment of amazing entertainment options, the Savant system sets apart this award-winning residence as one of the most intelligent, technologically sophisticated, and simplest-to-manage homes around.
2. Smart Home of the Year, $150K, SILVER Winner
Control System Keeps Pace with Life in the Fast Lane
Automation systems often blend into their surroundings, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes, as was the case with the owner of this 13,000-square-foot Las Vegas home, technology deserves to be shown off. In this case the best place for Westport, Conn.-based Lifetronic Systems to showcase the brawn, brains and beauty of the Control4 system that manages the sights, sounds, lighting, shades, fountains, security and other elements, was a custom-designed racing simulator room. Created as a reflection of the owner’s passion for race car driving, the room features a high-tech simulator for track cars — as well as three racks of automation gear. The 42-space racks were designed to complement the theme, sporting black, yellow labels, and red fans. When the owner starts his race, the lights dim and the shades lower for effect.
This level of customization is carried throughout the house, where TVs disguised as artwork (Vutec ArtScreen) and mirrors (Séura), underwater swimming pool speakers (Clark Synthesis), motorized doors that can only be open with a code, and 40 surveillance cameras pervade the property. A Lutron HomeWorks system teams with the Control4 to command the home’s lights, window treatments, and seven gas fireplaces.
A total of 30 Control4 touchscreens provide the owner with plenty of control stations, and the mobile app can handle the same tricks when the owner is on the go. Naturally, Lifetronic Systems designed the automation scenarios around the homeowner’s needs and comfort with technology, but shifted customer service into high gear by creating a step-by-step instructional video on how to use the system for guests to view on an iPad.
3. Smart Home of the Year, $150K+, BRONZE Winner
A/V, Automation & a Sense of Adventure
In most home theaters, you settle into a seat and let the plot of the movie transport you to a different world. The 4K- and Dolby Atmos-enabled theater in the home of this active family certainly possesses this quality, but with a few extra perks. Designed into the space by Integrated Electronics, of Hollywood, Fla., is a karaoke system and a stage for theatrical performances. Likewise, the playroom for the kids is not just a playroom, but also a commercial-grade arcade and a dance floor complete with DMX lighting.
Even the already robust 38-zone Crestron audio distribution system was given a boost; Integrated Electronics integrated a centralized mixer so that the kids can sing along with the music from microphones installed in their bedrooms.
While A/V systems — including six surround-sound setups each with a 4K LED TV — chart a course for amazing at-home entertainment, the Crestron PRO3 processor ensures that the environment is comfortable and safe by
managing the operation of lighting, thermostats, security devices, motorized shades, a snow melt system, and three gas fireplaces. Integrated Electronics installed a Crestron touchpanel in nearly every room, giving the family on-the-spot control over everything and the ability to monitor what’s happening on the property. For example, each smoke/CO sensor is able to report the precise location of a problem, as well as the type of emission, rather than simply offering a general announcement.