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Fast-Track Retrofit

No one likes to feel rushed.

No one likes to feel rushed. So when Dan Daker and his company MediaTech Intelligent Systems were tasked with doing a full AV install on a 12,500-square-foot, 1938 home in the suburbs of Chicago in just seven months–in time for the homeowner’s wedding–a lot of project management finesse was required.

The entire 12,500-square-foot home was renovated in just seven months’ time, and required careful attention to keep its technical appointments from spoiling the aesthetics of its original 1930s design.

“Usually a job like that is going to take 18 months to two years, with all of the trades and everyone’s other schedules,” Daker said. “It was a pretty major retrofit; it was basically the whole main part of the house, and then he added on a huge wing for the master suite that included an exercise room below it and a huge master bath, a huge master closet, and a huge master bedroom. And the trick for those guys from the building standpoint was to marry everything together so the final product looks similar to what the original house looked like.”

The finished home does indeed retain the aesthetics of the original construction, though its interior is soundly in the present day. The property is equipped with a Cisco gigabit network; has 4K video infrastructure throughout, distributed with a Just Add Power system; centralized Lutron lighting including numerous LED-lit chandeliers; Sonance in-ceiling and outdoor speakers all around; a high-end theater with a Da-Lite 140-inch screen, Sony 4K projector, and Bowers & Wilkins speakers; and everything tied together through Savant automation for simplified control.

The home features numerous low-voltage LED chandeliers, like this one in the master bedroom.

As one would expect, this level of technological overhaul required a complete replacement of the home’s wiring. “The cable infrastructure was so old; there was nothing reused in the house at all,” Daker said. “There was old coax that was tacked up crappily, that got torn out; all the old phone lines got torn out. So basically everything we did was brand new, all Cat-6.” In addition to the category cabling in the main home, the MediaTech team chose to use fiber optic cabling to carry the AV signals out to the pool house, located about 1,500 feet away.

Complicating things in this phase of the project was the fact that a lot of the home’s interior walls were plaster–necessitating a cut-and-cover approach to wiring–and the original building materials were unusually resilient. “The main part of the house was built in the ’30s, so drilling through those studs was burning up bits,” Daker said. “It was all old-world lumber; not like your pine two-by-fours now, that you could almost push a fork through if you wanted to. So that was a bit of a challenge.”

Throughout the project, things got a bit hectic at times, according to Daker, with as many as 70 craftspeople working on the property at any given time. “At the same time we’re there, the electrician’s there, flooring guy’s there, the tile guy’s there, the millwork guy’s there,” he said. “It all worked out, but it was a madhouse.”

The home features many amenities, including a fitness center and two bars, all equipped with 4K video.

One thing that was very helpful was that the homeowner was heavily involved with the entire process, and was onsite almost every day to help orchestrate the project. “He’d go through and answer questions, and he was good at expediting stuff,” Daker said. “He would actually help solve problems, but our stuff was maybe a little easier to coordinate because we knew exactly what we were going to do.”

Daker said the homeowner also knew exactly what he wanted out of his home’s AV systems, as he already had a few automated homes elsewhere in the country. “He was pretty well versed in what was needed to get needed to get done for control, audiovideo, lighting, HVAC, security, etcetera,” he said. “So he already had a really good knowledge base of what he wanted to use and how their family would use it, so that helped out as far as the scope.”

The theater features a 140-inch Da-Lite screen, Sony 4K projector, and Bowers & Wilkins speakers.

One of the things the homeowner and Daker were both very satisfied with is the way the home’s AV–particularly all of the 4K infrastructure– comes together with Savant. Also, the ability for the homeowner to set his own scenes with Savant is beneficial because he entertains a lot, he said. “He’s pretty technical, so he can learn stuff pretty fast, and he gets it,” Daker noted. “But just to have this old-looking house, and have 4K video in it everywhere, is pretty cool.”

Overall, Daker said, managing a successful project–even one as frenzied as this–comes down to having a good team and staying organized. “The main thing is just making sure the guys you have out there understand that it’s a team project, and everyone has the same goal, and they all work together,” he said. “And our whole team had the same attitude: once something came up, we jumped on it. We didn’t let anything linger or let a problem fester; we just attacked it. So we really didn’t have any main issues, and the builder was good at helping coordinate that too, so nobody was stepping on top of each other that much. It worked out pretty well.”

Matt Pruznick is senior editor for Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News. Follow him on Twitter @Pruznick.