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The Luxury of Being Green

Ambiance Systems shows how homes can be lavish and environmentally friendly at the same time.

Yes Virginia, there is a sexy side to Green Building. The proof is inside a two-story, 3,600-square foot home called The Timbers near Saratoga Springs, New York, a craftsman-inspired house with a distinctive cupola crowning a central light well.

Built in 2004 as a spec home for the Saratoga Builders Association Showcase of Homes, The Timbers is a hybrid: a clapboard and board and batten house with a timber-framed second story and roof structure. Its Adirondack-inspired interior also is a kind of synthesis, incorporating the hallmarks of the Green Building movementenergy efficiency and air qualitywith high-end entertainment and home automation systems designed and installed by Ambiance Systems of Clifton Park, near Saratoga Springs.

The 20-year old company, the largest electronic integration firm in upstate New York, works primarily in a 120-mile radius that includes Vermont, the Adirondacks, the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley and as far south as New York City.

The Timbers was our first experience with a Green home and we began by looking at which elements we would best incorporate in order to design a luxury environment while staying true to the Green principles, said Marc Leidig, Ambiance CEO.

Leidig was approached for the project by Frank Laskey of Capital Construction, who had purchased a tract of land for a development and wanted to build upscale Green homes. The Timbers show home was built at a cost of about $900,000.

Typically in our market, in a new house where the client wants multiple disciplines, our projects are close to costing about 10 percent of the purchase price of the home, and up to about 15 percent, Leidig said. Thats the range we fall into.

The Timbers features a Crestron CP2E processor for central automation control, decora-style C2N-DB8 eight-button keypads for multi-zone audio in eight areas, with room for future expansion and a TPS 2000-L wall-mounted touchscreen in the kitchen.

We selected the Lutron Four Series and it was really amazing for this budget, Leidig said. We did everything we wanted. A house like this requires maximum benefit for the client, convenience and the right aesthetic choices such as getting rid of wall switches.

To do so, Ambiance installed four Lutron HWI-WPM-6D Power Modules that each handle six circuits of lighting, in the basement mechanical room, which also houses the Lutron processor, home networking equipment, CATV, and phone distribution, all neatly tucked into three On-Q panels.

Lighting control is one of our fastest growing markets, Leidig said. Lutron systems are very powerful and they are coming down in price. We couldnt have put in a system like this, in this project, a few years ago because of cost. In this marketplace, we typically do lighting control from 5,000-square feet and up. With the augment of the Four Series we can install it in condos of 1,500-square feet and in this house, which is compact. Its opened an arena of lighting control, and with Lutrons wireless companion product we have the ability to go into existing homes and install amenity-rich systems. The Timbers homeowner has the ability to upgrade to Lutrons wireless table lamp dimmer.

Ambiance programmed lifestyle-based set points to enable Goodbye, Goodnight and Hello buttons. The Goodbye button, near the front door, provides a fast energy-saving way to turn off all light in the home, to turn off the entertainment systems, and to change climate set points.

A Lutron HWI-CCO-8 was used to control motorized windows, Leidig said. We control four cupola windows and two Velux skylights with blinds via the Lutron low-voltage interface, the outputs close low-voltage inputs on the self-contained window controllers. We provided a cosmetically desirable way to control the windows.

The window manufacturers controller would have required four double-gang controls in the living space with only a single point of control. Ambiance located them in the basement instead, using the CCO8 to interface with them. So, now the client has a button on several of the see-touch lighting keypads, located throughout the house, which open and close the windows, another for the skylights as well as on the kitchen touch screen, Leidig said. They also can be controlled by temperature. We added temperature sensors in the cupola and outside.

All six of The Timbers radiant heating zones, and the one cooling zone, were incorporated into the system as well using Aprilaire communicating thermostats. The kitchen thermostat utilizes a remote temperature sensor so that it can be remoted to the basement, eliminating wall clutter.

Ambiance used the living and dining room, which open to each other, as a family/media room, engineering the space to be stealth. The system includes a Runco plasma with VisionArt frame and flush-mount SpeakerCraft MT-3 speakers. Exposed speaker grills were painted a pumpkin tone to match the color scheme of the room.

The dedicated theater in the basement, an afterthought by the builder, is an intimate two-tiered space with a 110-inch Da-Lite screen and a Runco CL-510 projector tucked into a soffit. Weve had fantastic performance and service results from Runco, Leidig noted. Theyre so responsive, and their projectors are specifically designed for the home market.

The theaters Triad flush-mounted speaker system has its own internal back boxes so the front wall can be wired to accept the speakers without concerns about fit. Triad has been a great line for us, Leidig said. Its a extremely flexible company, they offer conically, identical model, in in-wall and in-room variations and they offer custom finishes. They will even fabricate for custom applications, which we have utilized several times.

The Timbers project doubled as a marketing showroom for Ambiance, which didnt have a demo space for several years. According to Leidig, Ambiance was able to get manufacturers support and some co-op funds with the end result of 7,000 people coming to view it. Designing for a spec home allowed for a degree of freedom, Leidig said, beyond the typical homeowner relationship. We were able to showcase a variety of technologies, without losing sight of the end client, he explained. For example, to conserve the budget, we added the ability for the end client to add smart switches in less critical areas of the home, such as ancillary bedrooms and bathrooms.

The builder had envisioned empty-nest buyers, but the purchasers of The Timbers are a couple with small children. Challenges included blending systems into interior environments rather than letting them look like ears and noses in the room. There were no built-ins in the living/dining room which became a stealth family/media space, Leidig noted.

A fixed-in-stone deadline also was another challenge, and this led Ambiance to build the racks and test them off-site. Thats typical operating procedure for us; we do as much as we can off site as possible and The Timbers project exemplifies the reason why. We have 13 employees and everyone was on this. Pulling wires through timber frame required all hands on deck. You cant drill through timber frame, the wires had to be routed as the timber was going up, Leidig explained.

Part of the creative side of the business is adapting the technology to benefit clients, Leidig said. In The Timbers, it came down to programming and executing as to allow convenience, so the homeowner doesnt have to think about how their lifestyle affects power consumption. For example, if theyre running out the door they can use the Goodbye button to turn off the lights and save energy.
Clients own theaters to be entertained, he continued. Convenience is the name of the game with most people. Given the chance for them to do the right thing, to build Green, but not painfully, theyll do it.

Karen Mitchell ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Boulder, CO.