Integrating the High End of Home Control
McCulloch had been hired by Mounts to handle the integration of a home control solution in the house, a nearly-exact replica of an historic home previously on the same property.
The delay “gave us a few more opportunities to meet with the homeowner and find out what he likes and what he wants, and to show him how we envisioned the home control working,” McCulloch relates.
When work got started, McCulloch created a home control solution expressly designed for the 4,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house, and Mounts’ specific needs.
“He travels quite a bit and wanted to access his home security remotely,” McCulloch says of Mounts. “He wanted to be able to access lighting, security and video surveillance remotely through any Web browser to give his house a lived-in look.”
Additionally, McColloch’s work ensured that the upstairs master bedroom and bath would boast invisible speakers, and that all three bedrooms would have flat-screen televisions linked to the satellite television box in a rack in the basement.
The master bedroom has whole-house control featuring an in-wall touch screen. “Through that touch screen, Pete can do anything, including getting voice mails,” McCulloch explains. “Another feature just added allows you to record the cameras to an external hard-drive, to give you a record of who visited your home.”
The project did not pose many challenges for McColloch and the Link Your House team. Before a shovel of dirt had been moved on his home, Mounts convened all the contractors for a meeting, then took them out to dinner. As a result, each contractor understood his role and how it impacted other contractors’ work.
“We had ample time to preconfigure the system and get it bench-tested before it went into the house,” McColloch recalls. “We had all the components in the rack at our office and did the programming and testing there, to make sure everything integrated nicely.”
One of the most intriguing features of the house is what McCulloch calls its “fiber-optic backbone.” Today, the home uses traditional Cat 5 copper wiring.
“But the house is wired with fiber so once it becomes mainstream, there won’t be any sheet rock damage, and we’ll just be ready to plug-and-play,” he says.
McCulloch is used to a future that is continually in evolution. As he and other integrators can attest, change is the only constant in their field. The technology used in home control is continually evolving.
Swift Pace of ChangeSophisticated systems in installations everywhere now can link security and home control panels with lighting, residential video surveillance, whole house audio/video systems, home theaters, computer networks, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, environmental sensors that detect smoke, carbon monoxide, natural gas, basement moisture and much more.
The variety of proprietary and open architecture home control systems is still being sorted out in the marketplace. But one thing is abundantly clear. Manufacturers that compete in this marketplace are increasingly becoming broader in their product offerings, as one-time component makers begin offering controllers and vice versa.
For example, HAI, the acronym for Home Automation Inc., New Orleans, which has been in existence since 1985, began on the security side of the automation business and then grew into home automation.
The company does not consider itself a force in the high end of the business, instead positioning itself squarely in the middle of the marketplace, says Jay McLellan, HAI’s president.
HAI’s Omni Pro II, which is used by McCulloch in the Mounts house, offers homeowners the capability of determining who is at the door, adjusting the thermostat and selecting a slate of recorded options for a dinner party’s background music.
The HomeLogic control panels that are used in the Mounts house are from Elan Home Systems, Lexington, Ky. Originally part of the Square D Company, Elan Home Systems spun off in 1995 and started focusing on custom home automation and audio-video distribution, says David Moore, Elan’s product line manager for user interfaces and integration.
This provides Elan dealers with IT-based systems for houses like Mounts’ that have remote access and wireless controls via Wi-Fi and for vacation and secondary homes.
“HomeLogic allows us to take the core of Elan and offer an ultra-high end control solution,” Moore explains, adding that it is a hardware and software solution with an embedded Windows-based controller.
This device can be seen as a hub for monitoring all subsystems of high-end homes , such as lighting, heating and air conditioning, pools, spas, audio/video and security.
“Because it’s a Windows-based device, users can remotely access into this box from anywhere in the world with Internet access, including from cell phones, PDAs, or any Windows computer to get real-time status and home control,” Moore adds. “They can manage their homes remotely, and that’s a huge value, because many luxury homes are not occupied through part of the year.”
Scalability with the same hardware allows the HomeLogic system to offer a range of price points for levels of functionality required by different homeowners.
Without having to purchase additional hardware, the HomeLogic system allows future upgrades to enhance the level of integration. For example, homeowners can add a security system already in place simply by using the software required.
“The net-net is that because it’s a software-centered solution, once the hardware is in place, it’s very scalable,” Moore says. “The HomeLogics benefit is that we work with our partners, writing very intuitive, clean drivers to integrate with these third-party manufacturers.
“For instance, our drivers for security offer a tabbed field called ‘History,’” Moore points out. “With it, you can actually [remotely] monitor each door and window in the house. There’s no additional programming required.”
High-End SystemsThe security division of Honeywell, which had sought to add an infrastructure component to its security architecture, acquired FutureSmart based in large part on its expertise in structured wiring, says senior product manager Tim Trautman.
“Structured wiring is a fancy name for an organized way to deliver low-voltage services throughout a home,” Trautman declares. “What it involves is running wires from a central panel to end points, connected to a computer network, or TV jacks or telephone jacks.
“They’re all low-voltage -- as opposed to high-voltage – electric, and have their own sets of wires,” Trautman explains. “The wire can carry all kinds of signals, is relatively inexpensive, and because it is so flexible, builders and integrators like to use it so they can run one type of wire throughout a building to deliver all kinds of services.”
Honeywell soon rechristened FutureSmart as Honeywell Structured Solutions, and targeted the division toward builders and integrators seeking to add value to their homes in an effort to differentiate them from competitors.
The goal was to leverage that architecture to offer security features and market Honeywell as not only providing security, but offering all the features, components and parts to provide builders with easier ways to integrate technologies into homes.
As a result, builders have the opportunity to choose a Honeywell set of solutions, including security, HVAC, and air quality services, for example.
”We have a complete set of technologies that allow the integrator to put modules into the panel, to permit delivery of satellite or cable TV, analog or digital telephone signals, wired or wireless computer networking signals, and so on,” Trautman says.
Automation solutions can deliver the capability to control individual or integrated subsystems. “Let’s say you’re an integrator, and in 2008, keeping up with all the buzz about green technology and saving money,” Trautman suggests.
“We have the ability to automate our HVAC solutions, so the integrator has a green message to deliver to their prospects, and homebuyers can feel good about being respectful of their environment, as well as saving some money on their energy bills,” he points out.
Other modules could automate a security subsystem for those integrators whose customers are more concerned about the security aspect of a home’s operation.
“The real interesting and exciting part of the story is we can take these subsystems, automating them so they function together,” Trautman emphasizes.
“So when you go to work and push the button to arm your security system, it will also program the HVAC system to change the thermostat setting and optimize energy consumption,” he explains. “Then when you come home and disarm that security system, it will automatically change the thermostat back to the previous setting.”
That is the start of establishing an automated set of subsystems that work together, he notes. Lighting can be incorporated, allowing homeowners to “set the scene” for romantic dinners, kids’ homework sessions or home theater viewings.
Honeywell does not use a master controller. Instead, the company takes a modular approach, with one technology applying only to HVAC, another only to the security system, and so on.
“That’s because not everyone wants, needs or can afford the full boat of home control automation,” Trautman concedes. This modular approach allows the integrator to offer anything from a basic system to a comprehensive automation solution, he points out, and to pick and choose and really customize a solution for a particular buyer or new home community.
“And ours requires no programming skills whatsoever,” Trautman concludes. “In five minutes or less, the integrator can configure or reconfigure the system.”
Wired or Wireless?Dan Tarkoff, vice president of product development for On-Q/Legrand, Middletown, Pa., reports that when the term “home control” is used, it generally refers to the high-end of the market.
Lighting companies have become home control companies, and home control companies have added lighting. “It’s very broad at the high end,” he concedes. “Our sister company, Vantage Legrand, has moved from its initial business in lighting control into everything from pool to shade to home theater control.”
Another example is Questran, which started in the overall supervisory control business and was known for its touch screen and user interface integrating many different products, Tarkoff recalls.
Now Questran has developed its own lighting control and multiroom audio products. “They’ve broadened their business,” Tarkoff points out.
Will security products, audio/video devices, computers and Internet access primarily be linked through structured wiring, wirelessly, electric power lines, phone lines or fiber-optically in the near future? On this question, experts were unanimous that linkages will occur through wired and wireless connections for some time to come.
When system designers are seeking to move information from point A to point B, they must look at how much information they need to get across, in what time frame that information must be moved, and how that movement will best convenience users, emphasizes Scott Norder, executive vice president of business development with AMX, Dallas.
“Some things, like control, are easy to run over wireless bandwidth,” he notes. “Setting the temperature on a thermostat, for instance, requires just sending the command and confirming it happened. That’s not a lot of information. The commands are small when you’re talking to the lighting system, HVAC or telling the TV to turn on and to which channel it should be tuned.”
By contrast, data-intensive applications like media delivery and display, involving such tasks as delivery of high-definition content from a DVD player to a TV on the other side of the room, still are done over wired systems, he says.
“Wireless bandwidth is just not there yet, and it will be a while until it gets there,” Norder insists, although several companies demonstrated wireless high-definition television delivery at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. “Bandwidth you can use for this type of application is scarce.
“So you’re still going to see wires in the home to transmit high-definition content or transmit content over longer distances,” he thinks. “And you’ll also see wired solutions prevalent where delivery needs to be guaranteed.”
Agreeing with that assessment is Moore of Elan. “It still comes down to reliability,” Moore maintains. “There’s not soon going to be a wireless solution as reliable as a hard-wired solution. Reliability is a very important factor. We encourage never selling an exclusively wireless solution, because if a wireless router goes down, you would lose control of your home.”
McLellan says wireless is necessary because people love handheld devices. For sophisticated remote controls, he thinks 802.11, the wireless version of Ethernet, is rapidly becoming the standard.
“To see who’s at the door, adjust the thermostats, or select the music that will play during dinner, you use WiFi networking,” he says. “That’s what ultimately is going to connect computers and TV sets, audio systems and cell phones – anything requiring high data rate.”
At the other end of the spectrum, where the application calls for simply controlling thermostats, light switches and security contacts, 802.11 is much too power-hungry, expensive and sophisticated, McLellan maintains.
Here, the protocols are universal powerline bus (UPB), a power line carrier technology; Z-wave, a wireless mesh networking technology; and Zigbee, a competing mesh network technology. “The controllers are having to be like Swiss Army knives, responding to and controlling the various technologies out there,” McLellan observes.
He believes UPB has a much better range than Z-Wave or Zigbee, and is perfectly applicable to a situation calling for it to transmit to a light switch in a detached garage. On the other hand, Z-Wave and Zigbee are better suited to high-density environments, such as multifamily housing.
HAI’s controllers can use all three of the technologies – UPB, Z-Wave and Zigbee – employed for simple tasks like adjusting lighting, heating and security.
Plug and PlayAMX, a 26-year-old manufacturer, builds simple but sophisticated and powerful control systems for residential applications. Its solutions are found in the White House, Camp David and the homes of sports and film stars.
“Some are 50,000 to 60,000 square feet, and you can’t operate a home of that size without having a control solution,” Norder asserts. “There are too many lights, too many sensors, thermostats and overall systems that need to be managed for the comfort and enjoyment of both homeowners and their guests.”
AMX systems control lighting, HVAC, surveillance cameras, pools and spas, gate entry systems, multimedia systems, draperies and shades. In many of the most large, modern homes, the systems even provide energy-efficiency solutions.
AMX’s solutions encompass everything from user interfaces to touch panels and the controller, which represents “the brains of the system.” The job of the controller is to take input from users, translate it into actions in the electronic world, and then deliver feedback in return to the user, Norder explains.
The company’s systems are generally a mix of wired and wireless technologies. If, for example, a high-end house boasts a home theater room where the viewer will handle most of the control from a seated position, a wireless user interface device is used.
On the other hand, at any home entry point, a panel will be needed to arm the home security system, turn on the lights and handle other tasks, and that panel cannot be vulnerable to wireless and cell phone interference. It must be wired, Norder insists.
Simplicity represents the key benefit of the high-end system from AMX. A secondary benefit flows from the system’s leveraging of Internet standards for information transmission. That gives the system openness and flexibility, allowing for it to be easily modified and upgraded as technology evolves, Norder declares.
Device Discovery, an AMX initiative adopted by more than 100 different electronics manufacturers, allows for new products manufactured by Device Discovery partners like Panasonic to be plugged into AMX systems and operate flawlessly.
“It’s a plug-and-play technology that our partners have been adopting which when connected to an AMX system enables them to self-identify,” he explains. “When plugged in, the AMX system can take advantage of all those separate devices and features.”
Once the system is installed within a high-end home, the homeowner could replace a malfunctioning flat-screen TV with another without having the home control system reprogrammed, as long as the replacement had Device Discovery technology.
Bringing High-end to the MainstreamThe provider of structured wiring to the Mounts’ home is On-Q/Legrand, which is comprised of three founding companies that started structured wiring in the mid-1990s, Tarkoff relates.
On-Q was spun out of AMP, which had been acquired by Tyco, in 1999. Other companies – US Tech, Grey Fox and On-Q – were acquired between 2001 and 2007 by Legrand, and merged together to form the new business unit called On-Q/Legrand. The company became a home system business in the period of 2001 to 2002.
“Applications like home theater, multi-room audio, intercom and surveillance cameras are the ones we focus on and develop products for,” Tarkoff explains. “In addition, we are in the home control business because of the lighting control product developed by AMP, called ALC. We have controller products we call the home management system, or HMS. We run the gamut of home systems and home control.”
On-Q/Legrand is currently attempting to bring some of what is marketed at the high end of the market into the mainstream marketplace, offering the same kind of integration and simplicity for production home buyers.
“Typically, it’s the higher-end system that has the integration,” Tarkoff points out. “So when a doorbell rings, a touch screen turns to a camera and shows who’s at the front door. We’re bringing those downstream into the production market.”
Not much lighting, HVAC and shade control exists outside the market’s high end, because production homeowners cannot justify the cost. But at the mainstream price point, home theater, multi-room audio, intercoms and a few general security functions do exist.
The focus of On-Q/Legrand is on taking those applications already in existence and attempting the same kind of integration seen at the high end. “But it will be done in a more simplistic way, to make it affordable for the production home market,” he adds.
Another difference between the high end of home control and the more affordable mid-range is how dealers’ or integrators’ installers work.
At the high end, these individuals could be spending months on each home, doing the roughing out, planning, trim-out, installation and programming work.
In production homes, by contrast, teams want to handle the roughing-in in one day, the trim-out in another day and might visit five or 10 homes daily in assembly-line style, Tarkoff observes.
Often, they install these systems to earn security contracts. They try to do just enough to make a profit and sell security. As a result, the mid-range installer needs a repeatable, installation-effective product that does not require a lot of customization, he adds.
“Home control and automation is coming downstream, but it’s very different when it does, and you have to learn to apply it differently,” Tarkoff emphasizes.
“We would expect to have lighting control in the production home eventually, as well as shade and HVAC control, and be more integrated with the security,” he forecasts. “We compete somewhere between production and high-end in what we call the semi-custom or mid-end of the market.”
Although On-Q/Legrand has different products with different names, the collection of those products and product categories are referred to as On-Q’s Home Systems.
“If someone asks us in an elevator, ‘What do you do for a living?’ the response would be, ‘We make home technology products that do home surveillance, audio and intercom,’” he says. “There’s no standard word or term in the industry that consumers know. But the industry is evolving. Over time, there will be more consumer understanding.”
GE Security, Tualatin, Ore., offers two systems, SmartCom and SmartCommand. The former is audio and intercom only, while the latter incorporates lighting, heating, cooling, audio, intercom and a 7.8-inch LCD touch screen, says GE Security senior product marketing manager Jerry Switzer.
“GE Security offers an audio, intercom, heating and lighting product that focuses on all ends of the broad market, particularly on new homes being developed right now,” he says.
The FutureMcCulloch definitely sees changes ahead. He foresees the arrival of gigabit Ethernet, as well as Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).
Telephone companies are already laying the groundwork for these technologies, and this will pave the way for more competition among them and cable and satellite television companies, spurring better service, McCulloch believes.
“What it will do is allow the homeowner a little more flexibility,” he adds. “There will be more information through the pipeline.
“Through fiber cable, you will be able to stream TV, run your phone and Internet through there, and upload and download files,” he predicts. “The fiber coming through the house from the street will be converted to the right protocols within the home, to allow you to plug in all the different components.”
Sidebar: The Mounts' Home Uses:HAI OmniPro II home control and security system
HAI OmniStat thermostats
HomeLogic’s OneHome Connect control panels with all software tabs
Russound CAV 6.6 Whole-house audio distribution system
Russound SMS-3 digital music server
Denon surround sound processor and amplifier
Klipsch speakers and Stealth Acoustics invisible speakers
Pioneer and Panasonic plasma televisions
Simply Automated UPB lighting controls
Panasonic IP video surveillance cameras
On-Q Legrand structured wiring enclosure
Panasonic small business phone system
DirecTV High-definition satellite receiver