This post describes the systems in the house we completed in August 2002. I get quite a few people asking me about what I did in the house, and instead of re-typing it yet another time, I’ve decided to write it down completely.
[Updated October 5, 2011 with some new details.]
The first thing I did before starting this project was to think about my goals. Below are the prioritized goals I used to guide my decisions as the project progressed.
Whatever I did had to be not only usable by my wife, but couldn’t piss her off. The worst possible outcome would be to have me be on a trip and her not able to watch TV, use the phone, turn on/off lights, or set the security system.
[Update: 9 years later and I have to say, frankly, that I failed here. She calls our house “the stupid house”. Inevitably when I’m away on a trip is when something stops working. Things always seem to work fine when I’m around.]
The system should be componentized as much as possible into “sub-systems”. Each sub-system should be as autonomous as possible so that a failure in one system will not break the others.
All my sub-systems had to be programmable in an “open” way. That means they needed documented RS-232 protocols, etc…
In the end I wanted as much rich programmability as possible so that if I wanted to change something down the line, it would be as simple as writing a bit of code…not pulling or reconfiguring wires.
For the most part I succeeded. If you are building a house, here’s my 2 cents of advice:
- Run more wire than you think you should. If you even think you might want a TV, phone, speakers, etc… in a particular place, run the wires there before you drywall. Just do it. The 2 places where I said “Oh, don’t bother putting anything there” are the places where I realized I needed wires after we moved in.
- Run empty conduit from your crawlspace to your attic and anywhere else you will have difficulty reaching after drywall is in.
- In terms of low and line-voltage sub-contractors (low voltage guys do A/V, security, etc… and line-voltage guys do lighting and electrical outlets) find a firm that has a track record of doing both. If you plan on having any level of integration between lighting and AV or other systems you’ll want this. In addition, you’ll likely be ensured of minimizing RF interference etc… because they will coordinated in how they do wiring.
I went with Premier Home Theater (formerly Wireways) for my install. They do both line and low-voltage (although they are more known for their low-voltage work). We agreed up front that I was using them mostly as “wire pullers” whereas they are more used to doing tons of programming for clients. I let them do the initial programming on all the systems…just enough to ensure they worked and worked together. I then threw out all their code (not that it was bad, but I wanted to know it all!) and re-wrote it my way.
I’d recommend Premier to anyone building a house. They did a solid job for me. A bit sloppy here and there, but they were on time. I was way over budget with them…
[Update: all the above companies have gone out of business. The key people, however, now work for Integrity Home Integration. Tom Bright kicks-ass. ]
Here’s what I went with in terms of equipment and software.
Each room has one or more wall-jack ‘nodes’ with some combination of several CAT5e and coax. These all run back to my equipment room. I have something around 12 miles of wire in the house. I way over did it, but totally on purpose. I also ran empty conduit in some key places just in case I ever needed to run more wire (I already made use of one of them!).
Each node nominally has:
- CAT5e Ethernet
- CAT5e Phone
- CAT5e Crestron crestnet (see below)
- CAT5e Audio/Video
- RG59 Coax Spare
- CAT5e Spare
Some have less, some have more. In 2 places I ran multi-mode fiber but I am not using them and likely never will.
Some areas have speakers in the ceiling. These all run back to the equipment room, but the runs go right by one of the ‘nodes’ in the room so that if I ever want to drive the speakers with local equipment I can just splice in. This turned out to be very smart.
All home-runs go to my equipment room. The central equipment room is approximately 8’ by 14’. I found surplus raised-flooring material (12×12’ tiles) as and put in a drop ceiling. There are 3 19” racks. This provides tons of flexibility and just the right amount of space for being able to tinker. I can’t imagine having anything smaller for a house this size.
At the center of my systems, I have a PC software package called Premise Home Control Software (formerly SYS) from Premise Systems that orchestrates between all of the various sub-systems (Lighting, A/V, Security, Telephone, HVAC, Irrigation). SYS was developed by a bunch of ex-softies and is a very well done Windows server application. You use VBScript for most programming tasks and the latest version supports C#. SYS has “drivers” for most popular Lighting, AV, Security, Telephone, HVAC, and Irrigation systems making it easy to integrate. What systems SYS supported was a filter in my purchasing decisions…
I currently have NO touch-screens in the house. I may add them to the kitchen, garage entry (primary entrance/exit), and master bedroom. As I suspected, the need for these is not great. But I do want them primarily as they will provide quick summary status. I will probably use Mira/Smart Displays and the software generating the UI will be Premise (I may write my own VB/C# app).
My lighting system is Lutron HomeWorks Interactive. I have 5 Lutron panels, each with up to 32 lighting loads. I have something like 125 loads which is a lot for a 7000 sq foot house. I could have scaled back the lighting design by 10-15%. It’s ok though because it gives me more flexibility. I recommend you hire a lighting designer…it makes a big difference.
The Lutron system has a very rich bi-directional RS-232 protocol that is well supported by SYS.
I choose Lutron SeeTouch keypads. They have up to 7 buttons each, the buttons are fairly large, and the engraving is backlit. I still don’t have my keypads engraved. We are still getting used to how we use the house and I’m constantly tweaking scenes.
The lighting keypads are used for lighting only. I don’t believe I overloading lighting keypads for other functions (such as AV volume control).
All “fundamental” lighting programming is done in the Lutron system. This is accomplished by a PC based software package that is fairly easy to use but somewhat clunky. The Lutron system is capable of driving other systems via RS-232 or contact relays, but in my house I use it just for lighting (see my goals above).
I have a complete distributed A/V system in the house. The basic idea is audio and video signals are sourced from centrally located A/V equipment in the equipment room and distributed via a matrix switch to any of the “nodes” throughout the house. The basic design premise I was after was “any source from any room”. A key scenario I wanted to enable was the ability to watch either of my two UltimateTV units from any room. If the kids are watching Arthur downstairs on UTV#1, I can watch auto racing on UTV#2 in either the bedroom or kitchen.
I choose to go with a Crestron system for A/V. In many high-end houses, installers who use Crestron use it for everything. I choose to use it only for A/V. The primary reason I went with Crestron was they were the only company that had a matrix switch product that met my requirements:
– 16 inputs
– 8 outputs
– Distribution of digital SPDIF audio and component/HD video over CAT5 wiring.
The last bullet is really the kicker. The Crestron PVID8x4 matrix switch has 16 inputs and 8 outputs of 4 “levels” each. Levels 1-3 are for video and can be any combination of composite (level 1), S-video (level 1 and 2), or component (levels 1, 2 & 3). Level 4 is for SPDIF digital audio.
In each room where there is a TV I have a local AV receiver (I prefer the Integra receivers because they have fantastic bi-directional RS-232 support and sound great). A little box from Crestron called an RMC takes the CAT5 run from the PVID8x4 and splits it into S-Video/Component and SPDIF which are fed into the AV receiver. The RMC box also has IR and RS-232 out for controlling local devices (usually a DVD player, VCR, and the receiver). It also has IR in for sending the IR signals from a remote control back to the Crestron processor.
In order to control a Crestron PVID8x3 and RMC boxes, you need a Crestron processor. I went with the CP2e because it has Ethernet support. You program Crestron using a weird graphical programming language called SIMPL. There is a procedural version of it that is C++ like called SIMPL+ for advanced tasks (I’ve yet to have to use SIMPL+). It’s actually a very nice programming environment and it didn’t take me long to master it.
My AV design breaks the house down into zones. I have 10 zones. Some of these zones are audio only and some are audio/video (e.g. “TVs”). The audio only zones are driven by a Xantech 6 zone stereo amplifier.
Each A/V zone has an IR remote control. I choose the Home Theater Master MX-700 remote because it is completely programmable, has a combination of LCD display and tons of real, hard buttons (I hate using touch screen remotes like the Pronto for channel surfing!). The IR signals from these remotes get picked up by the Crestron RMC boxes in each room, sent back to the Crestron processor (over Crestnet), and interpreted by my program in Crestron. For example, pressing Volume Up on the remote in the master bedroom causes my Crestron program to send an IR signal to the Integra receiver in the bedroom.
Note that even though all AV programming is through Crestron, I can easily control AV from SYS. For example, when leaving the house if I press the “All Lights Off” button on the Lutron lighting keypad by the entry door, Lutron turns all of the lights off. An RS-232 command is sent by Lutron to SYS, which, via a small VBScript macro, causes another RS-232 command to be sent to Crestron telling it to turn off all the TVs and other AV gear that might have been left on.
My HVAC system is controlled via an Aprilaire control system. This sub-system runs itself, but I can change set-points, or get current temp values via SYS.
The security system I choose is the Caddx NX8e. I choose it because SYS had good driver support for it. It’s a pretty standard security system. With the SYS integration I can have events trigger off just about any of the door or motion sensors.
I went with the Panasonic KX-T1323 PBX system. Works great, although I have very little integration with other systems at this time. It’s pretty much standalone.
Instead of buying an off the shelf Irrigation controller (e.g. a Rainbird), I just have a set of RS-485 controlled relays (provided by an Adicon SECU16). My irrigation programming is entirely in Premise.