The Retro Perspective - ResidentialSystems.com

The Retro Perspective

Custom Integration for When Drywalls Up and New Construction is Down
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Theres no denying that theres been a change in the market, and many a custom integrator is wondering whether an adjustment in tactics might be appropriate. With existing homes representing a vast and largely untapped market, many are considering or are already involved in retrofit opportunities.

Case Studies
Among those finding rewards in the retrofit segment is Jamiesons Audio/Video, an integration firm based in Toledo, Ohio. The companys vice president Ric Clark estimates that over the last year 70 to 75 percent of its business has been retrofit, citing slowing new-home construction as an influence in that shift. The people who had perhaps been considering a move up have decided to stay where they are, and fix up [their existing homes], he said. Weve been real lucky that weve been involved with a lot of theseeither additions or remodels.

Sonos is a wireless, multi-room digital music system that plays music throughout the home. Pictured: The Sonos Controller top left, while the Sonos Player sits bottom left.

Jamiesons Audio/Videos business has also come from what Clark describes as the intense interest in flat-panel television sets. While not all of these buyers are looking for a home theater, in many cases they do want the TV wall-mounted and the wiring out of sight. Its brought people to us who might otherwise have hooked up their own TVs, but feel uncomfortable doing their own installation of a wall-mounted flat-panel.

True to its name, Naples, Florida-based Wireless Home is heavily involved in wireless technologies and retrofit. In distributed audio, we use Sonos, said the firms president, Matt Peters. Thats 100 percent of our distributed audio. The company has also used KEFs wireless speakers, to good effect, as surround options.

Were a Media Center-based company, Peters continued. As such, Exceptional Innovation was the clear choice of partner for us to pursueto extend our home entertainment vision to include home automation and control. Peters found EIs Life-ware a good source when integrating with third-party products, including approximately 10 lighting companies and wireless window control companies like Lutron and Somfy. The firm usually completes its lighting packages with dimmers and switches from Vantage and Lutron.

Lots of our dealers are completely retrofitting whole systems into homes, said Mike Seamons, VP of marketing for Exceptional Innovation. You can take our Life-media server, which is at the core of a system like that, and distribute entertainment to multiple rooms through HomePlug and 802.11n. The distribution endpoints would be media extenders, Xbox 360s, ultra-mobile PCs, and other wireless devices like that. Then you can also make it be a host for control. Our software will talk to many of the wireless technologies that are out thereInsteon, Z-Wave, or ZigBee, as well as Lutrons Homeworks RF and RadioRA.

Although Jamiesons focuses most of its retrofit work on fishing wires through the home, rather than on wireless technologies, one big exception is the Sonos wireless audio system. Weve been overwhelmed by it, Clark said. Even if its a house that we could get wires around, were taking advantage of how well Sonos works, wirelessly, and just cutting down the installation time, and keeping the cost under control for our customers.

Control4s Concept
Count Control4 and its CTO, Eric Smith, as ardent supporters of the retrofit opportunity. The foundational premise of Control4 was to make all of our capabilities available either wired or wireless, Smith said. We really focused from the beginning on having retrofittable technology, so that dealers could go after the broader market.

Every single one of our user interface devices, every single one of our audio devices, all have a wireless option on them, Smith added. As a matter of fact, you cannot buy a wired lighting product from Control4. We only make wireless. So, our lighting system can easily be installed in any house, anywhere, very easily. As can our temperature controls.

For lighting control, Control4 utilizes ZigBee. The company also leverages WiFi. But weve done some unique things with it, Smith said, to stream audio around the house, and to allow access to different user interfaces around the housewireless touch screens.

Lutrons Wireless Answer
With three different wireless lighting control product lines, Lutron offers a wealth of wireless options, ranging from the top-of-the-line Homeworks RF, to RadioRA, to AuroRa. With three different wireless lighting control product lines, Lutron offers a wealth of wireless options, ranging from the top-of-the-line Homeworks RF, to RadioRA, to AuroRa. Phil Scheetz, Lutrons home systems product manager, described AuroRa as a very simple, easily installed product that doesnt require any programming. Both RadioRA and Homeworks RF require some incremental knowledge, in terms of programming. Because integrators stock-in-trade is that incremental knowledge, these two product lines are likely to be of most interest to them.

Like AuroRa, RadioRA (and, for that matter, Homeworks RF) requires no incremental wiringyou simply replace existing wall switches with RadioRA dimmers. RadioRA is suitable for a medium-sized house with up to 64 different controlled lights.

By contrast, the Homeworks product line can control up to 4,096 dimmers. Where AuroRA and RadioRA are wireless-only, Homeworks devices are available in wired and wireless (Homeworks RF) versions.

One thing thats likely to impact those working in retrofit, Scheetz noted, is that many light switches in existing homes lack a neutral wire. Controlled dimmers and switches need some means of obtaining power, and many thus require a neutral wire. Scheetz explained that Lutrons engineers have found a way around this problem, and thus, most of Lutrons products do not require that wire.

Colorado vNet Meshes It Together

Unlike systems that use a central processor to control everything, Colorado vNet's system-whether wired or wireless-is completely distributed processing notes that are spread throughout the system within the devices.

According to Colorado vNet product manager, Scott Stephenson, his companys wireless lighting control line of products utilize ZigBee mesh networking for communications. Unlike systems that use a central processor to control everything, Colorado vNets systemwhether wired or wirelessis completely distributed processing notes that are spread throughout the system within the devices. Colorado vNets wired and wireless lighting controls can be combined into a seamless whole, using the companys MultiLink module. Dimmer and keypad are combined in one, so theres no need for two separate devices, which cuts down on wall clutter. Also, dimmers function as switches, if so programmed, eliminating the need to stock two different parts.

Honeywells Security Solution
Honeywell Security & Custom Electronics offers a wide array of wireless window and door sensors, glass-break sensors, smoke detectors, motion sensors, and wireless keypads. Model numbers for these typically fall under the companys 5800 series. According to senior product manager of sensors, Kevin Piel, these devices utilize a proprietary RF system that operates in the 345 MHz band. The success rate for our 345 MHz system, as far as freedom from interference, is off the charts, he noted.

Sensor product manager Mike Garavuso highlighted one key product, Honeywells 5800Micra, a wireless magnetic-type window sensor, which the company bills as the smallest recessed wireless transmitter on the market. Designed for use with vinyl windows, the 5800Micra can be installed without voiding the window manufacturers warranty.

Honeywell's 5800Micra is a wireless magnetic-type window sensor, which the company bills as the smallest recessed wireless transmitter on the market.

This is important, Garavuso said, because, After a window is installed, if an installer drills or otherwise modifies that window and water damage occurs down the road, the manufacturer wont necessarily cover the homeowner with the warranty, because you drilled through it.

The 5800Micra is installed by boring a small three-quarter-inch diameter hole only in the inside face of the window, and press-fitting the sensor flush into the window. No holes are made in the outer face of the window, so the windows watertight integrityand its warrantyare maintained.

Russound Goes with HomePlug
While not wireless, Russound recently unveiled a system for distributing audio throughout a home, using the existing electrical wiring. Known as the Russound Avenue, the solution uses HomePlug AV networking technology and consists of the Avenue Hub and six Avenue Points.

Russound Avenue uses HomePlug AV networking technology and consists of the Avenue Hub and six Avenue Points.

The Avenue system works in conjunction with Russounds RNET CAV6.6 Multi-Zone Controller. Outputs from the CAV controller are fed to the Avenue Hub, which packetizes the audio signals for up to six separate zones, and transmits them digitally over the buildings electrical circuits, for reception by the Points. A Point can be located wherever an audio zone is desired and wherever theres a nearby electrical outlet. Points contain 20-watt/channel stereo amplifiers to drive speakers.

A Passion for Fishing
The traditional approach of fishing wire through existing walls is still in use and, at times, can be the preferred approach. Running wiring through existing buildings is more an art than a science, said Todd Adams, CEO and founder of DIpartner, a training and curriculum development firm focused on home integration companies. Theres a bunch of tips and techniques that we can use to retrofit.

In Adams opinion, the most important thing you need to know is the homes construction. Construction styles and techniques have evolved over the years, and vary by region. As an example, If youre in a particular neighborhood in Chicago, Adams said, having an electrician or someone whos done cabling in those homes is really valuable. Hell know that local type of construction. Hell know all the pathways. Houses in a given region tend to be built the same. So, hell know exactly where the chases are, and things like thateven though he hasnt been in the home.

Adams recommendation: Find an electrician whos worked in that neighborhood for a long time, and let them do the retrofit cabling. Theyll be a lot more efficient than you would, if youre new to retrofit, or if youre not familiar with the local construction practices.

In a similar vein, Jamiesons Clark noted that some of his companys best employees have had a background as security installers. They were really top guys in their companies, but they just got bored with it. They wanted to goof around with more technical thingsallowing Jamiesons to add to their staff by offering a wider and more interesting variety of work.

Alan R. Frank (alanfrank@embarqmail.com) is a networking consultant and freelance writer.

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