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One Question Leads to A Home Automation, Lighting, AV, and Security Project

Sometimes a little client education can go a long way.

An upstairs sitting room features digital artwork, presented at the highest possible quality via a DigitalMedia network. Sometimes a little client education can go a long way.

Dave Raines, president of New York home automation contractor Osbee Industries, went into a beautiful Manhattan townhouse to talk about a new intercom and started asking questions.

“I had never seen an art collection like this in a private home, but hanging next to the paintings were these ugly control devices–three-, four-, and even 12-gang light switches, thermostats, humidity sensors, and audio system controls. We asked the homeowner if he had ever thought about replacing them all with a single, integrated system.”

Raines client just thought that was the way it had to be, not realizing how much more elegant technology could make their home. “It’s like the lock on a car door. If no one ever showed you a keyless remote, you wouldn’t really think about it. You would just go on using a key,” Raines said.

He and his engineers began explaining what an integrated home is all about, and the homeowner liked what he heard. Osbee technicians, working hand in hand with a security contractor and various tradesmen, ended up tearing out the piecemeal systems. The new system they installed brings security, lighting, heating, air conditioning, audio, and video together with simplified Crestron controls.

The New Security System

Since security was the homeowner’s first priority, Raines says the integration design began with an upgrade to the home’s intercom and video surveillance systems. In addition to burglar and fire alarms, the townhouse now includes an automated surveillance system with several digital cameras.

Homeowners can see and talk to visitors at the front door from any of 10 touchscreens in the residence, then allow them entry via electronic door locks. When visitors ring the doorbell, their image appears automatically on 10 Crestron V15 touchscreens strategically located throughout the residence. Each V-Panel, which is tied into a Holovision video entry system, has a built-in microphone and speaker, so family members can see and speak to each other and to visitors. A Crestron quad-view video processor allows them to see visitors and what they are carrying from four angles at once, or view up to four different locations in the house.

Once they are satisfied that they want to let the visitor in–or if they need to monitor or activate the alarm systems–they can do so from the touchscreens.

Lighting and Climate

To eliminate the large number of individual light switches, the Osbee technical crew had to open the walls, remove the old switches, and much of the wiring, and replace them with a new system based on a Crestron PAC2 lighting processor. Now family members can turn on any or all rooms’ lights from any of the Crestron touchscreens, or they can control an individual room’s lighting from a single, engraved Cameo keypad mounted on the wall.

The wall-mounted 15-inch touchscreen in the vestibule makes it easy for every family member to control temperature settings–and every other system of the residence–the moment they arrive home. The floorplanbased interface was custom-designed to match the needs of the client and the aesthetics of the home. Because the homeowner is a serious art collector, the works he owns exceed the wall space available to display them. The homeowner (and his staff) are constantly changing what’s being shown, and the lighting needs to change accordingly. For that reason, Osbee programmers included simplified adjustment screens on the touchscreens, allowing staff without technical skills to fine-tune each fixture. Osbee also included a few wireless Crestron dimmers so that the homeowner can plug in temporary fixtures for specific setups, yet still control them from the central system.

In addition to the lighting, Osbee integrated seven groups of motorized shades and three motorized drapery tracks with pre-programmed settings for privacy and sunlight control.

Air temperature and humidity are crucial to any serious art collector, and so Osbee included a Crestron GLA-BMS building management interface to allow the system to monitor and control the heating and air conditioning systems. Technicians were able to use nearly invisible wall sensors, eliminating an ugly thermostat and humidistat from each of eight climate zones.

Audio and Video

Entertainment is part of any home, and this family especially enjoys music and movies. They also own a number of digital works of art that must be displayed on video systems.

Osbee technicians upgraded the projection system and its motorized lift, so a touch of a button on a touchscreen or remote control brings the projector and screen down out of the ceiling, where they stay hidden when not in use. The entertainment system now includes 16 audio zones, each of which can access any of five audio sources, plus six video displays, including a family room projection system with a 106-inch screen, flat-panel TVs in the master bedroom and gym, and three more flat-panels in an upstairs sitting room dedicated to digital artwork. Osbee technicians upgraded the projection system and its motorized lift, so a touch of a button on a touchscreen or remote control brings the projector and screen down out of the ceiling, where they stay hidden when not in use.

Because today’s video sources are digital and must be compliant with HDCP copy protection and other requirements of the HDMI digital standard, Osbee based the video system on Crestron DigitalMedia technology. In this house, DigitalMedia carries high-definition video and audio on a high-bandwidth IP network, together with the internet and computer network traffic. At the homeowner’s request, Osbee programmers added news and weather websites to the touchscreens, keeping the family constantly up to date without the need to go to a computer.

A Challenging Time Window

The biggest challenge of this project, according to Raines, was not the integration of the technology but the time available to install it. “The homeowner asked if we could install all of the new systems during a 10-day period when the family would be on vacation.”

A period of 10 days is not a lot of time for a project of this scale. The construction phase, including removing the artwork, opening the walls, rewiring the lighting system and repairing the plaster, all had to be completed in the first four days. Crews then had just six more days to paint, install monitors, speakers, touchscreens, and other electronic components, then re-hang the artwork.

Raines says they finished on time for three main reasons. First, because he had as many as 25 people on site, each with his own carefully planned task to perform. Second, before the crews assembled, Osbee technicians pre-wired, pre-programmed, and pre-tested all of the major systems.

At the center of the system is the equipment rack, tucked away in the mechanical room, with five control processors that drive three flat-panel displays, six HD video sources, five audio sources, 16 audio zones, eight HVAC zones, 98 loads of lighting, plus doorphones, security cameras, drapes, and shades. “For example, we prestaged all of the dimming systems in metal enclosures, then transported them to the townhouse already wired up, so we could just drop them into place.” As importantly, the crews found any problems before going out to the site, debugging software and replacing any faulty components prior to the main install.”

Third, they relied on the expertise of their main automation vendor, Crestron. “We knew we were pushing the envelope on these systems, so we were prepared for problems. Crestron sent their own technicians to our office, to help us get the automation systems working perfectly before we took them out to the townhouse for installation.”

Raines says the homeowner has been very happy with the new systems and has asked for several minor upgrades in the year since it was first installed. “This is someone with very high standards,” he said. “If it did not work perfectly, we would have had to replace it by now. For that reason, our team pushed the envelope to the point where we asked Crestron to write new firmware for the touchscreens to meet the unique needs of this installation–and they were glad to help us.”

The fact that the project changed from a simple intercom upgrade into a houseful of new electronic systems came down to client education. “Nobody had ever presented the fact that you could integrate this all into one system, but once he understood that, the homeowner was really happy to have us do the work.”

Don Kreski is president of Kreski Marketing Consultants in Mt. Prospect, IL.