EDITORS CHOICE 09.07.19

Branching out with home control

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This install proves that home automation doesn’t have to be confined to just the house – and is also not just for adults. This mansion situated in the north-west of England features Lutron controls which extends beyond the walls of the home, into a treehouse in the garden. Amy Wallington takes a look around.

This project, which came from a recommendation from another industry professional, led to integrators SONA winning a CEDIA Award in 2018. The accolade recognised the install as the Best Integrated Home EMEA in the Level III category. 

Costing just over £300,000, this job included a full Lutron install across the entire estate, including the garden and kids play area. Simon Fulstow, technical and design director for SONA, recalls some of the areas they worked on. He explains: “This particular project has quite an expansive garden. As part of that, they have a really nice treehouse with a big adventure playground attached to it, including zip lines, sandpits, big trampolines and a rope bridge. It’s pretty impressive.”

Fulstow continues: “There’s a fairly comprehensive system in the home of the property: audio distribution, video distribution and full lighting control. As part of that, the clients were keen to include basically all elements of the property, including the greenhouses, garage door and treehouse. There is also an annex building with offices and a private cinema. The cinema was also a finalist in the 2018 CEDIA Awards.”

Treehouse adventure

Not all kids are lucky enough to have a treehouse but this one is particularly special. Pictured below and explained by Fulstow, the treehouse extends across part of the garden into an adventure playground. The treehouse ‘hut’ is used as more of a relaxation room where the family can sit and listen to their music.

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“We extended all the systems into the treehouse so there is Lutron lighting in there and also a Sonos music system,” clarifies Fulstow. “There is no TV in there because it’s more the kind of space where they can go and sit and relax of a weekend and listen to music. But it is prewired to be part of the video distribution system if they ever wanted a TV in there.

“The music extends all around the treehouse and the play area. What you can’t see from the photo is a big wooden seating area to the side of the treehouse, so the whole area is used heavily for entertaining and relaxing.”

The treehouse was fabricated offsite by a specialist company – the same people who create some of the themed scenes at Alton Towers. Having the treehouse as part of the integration did not cause too many issues, as Fulstow clarifies: “The treehouse company took control of all the electrical cabling. We had to produce drawings for them in the same way we would normally for electricians and builders. That allowed them to run cables within the treehouse.”

Lutron was chosen to provide the lighting for the overall install across the entire property. Fulstow continues: “Traditionally, the electricians provide their own lighting using conventional switches, but the client wanted the treehouse to be integrated with the rest of the house’s lighting control system using Lutron.”

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Aside from the treehouse and adventure playground, there is also exterior lighting across much of the estate. The treehouse was a great place to base the power for the exterior lighting. “There’s a space on the back of the treehouse that we have used as a store cupboard where we have housed fibre optic and comms connections,” explains Fulstow. “There is a Lutron panel in the store cupboard to control the lighting for the treehouse, but also a lot of the exterior lighting around the property. We provided the electricians with dimensions and detailed drawings for this space and the requirements. They ran cabling within the treehouse to match our design which we then terminated and connected equipment to.” 

Former vicarage

This project came indirectly through a CEDIA CPD course when Fulstow did a presentation to an architect in Liverpool. Off the back of the CPD presentation, the company ran a project where the M&E who was also working on this project, recommended them to the client, which in turn secured the deal. 

Originally a vicarage, the main house was gutted allowing SONA to design a completely new infrastructure package for the entire property. The comprehensive cabling infrastructure is spread across multiple buildings throughout the estate, including the treehouse, annex and other outhouses. They also benefit from a wireless network that covers the whole site including interior and exterior spaces. 

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“We had to install quite a comprehensive infrastructure because the garden is fairly large and there are essentially four separate buildings on the estate,” illustrates Fulstow. “We used fibre optic cables between each building. Most of the audio, video and control was distributed over the network.”

The size of the estate did pose some challenges during the design phase of the project, as Fulstow points out: “The client wanted everything to operate as one seamless system, but the fact that there were separate buildings all distanced from each other created a few challenges in the initial design process. But once we had decided that we were going to have to use a network-based system, it actually gave us a lot of flexibility. We made sure there was a very robust, solid network in place between the buildings and that allowed us to hang the equipment we needed off that network to make mini systems for each area.”

He continues: “Each main building has a rack in it with the network equipment to support that building. The main house, for instance, has a little equipment rack in it with the audio and video distribution for that building. And the annex building also has its own rack with network equipment in it to support the equipment in that building.”

Although it’s a large property, the integrators came across challenges when trying to find space to house the equipment. Fulstow adds: “It was a bit challenging space wise, especially in the main house because we literally had nowhere to put an equipment rack in. It was finding space for that and ensuring that it was serviceable and reliable and still fit for purpose that was most challenging.”

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The property looks very high-end; however, it does not have that high-tech look to it, something that SONA always tries to achieve. “The family are not really a ‘high-tech’ family, and as part of our approach for most of our clients, we try to use technology where appropriate to make the house a better place to be,” Fulstow explains. “When you look at this house, it doesn’t strike you as being a high-tech home, and this is exactly what we wanted to achieve. 

“There’s music distribution to pretty much every corner of the house but through plastered-in speakers so they can’t be seen anywhere. However, there are a couple of rooms where we have used sound bars to supplement the TV audio, but all other music distribution is through completely invisible speakers, including the library, the kitchen area, all bedrooms, and office spaces.”

Video distribution throughout the estate was quite limited to specific rooms. SONA prewired all rooms in case the family decide to add more TVs to the rooms that currently do not have one. “None of the bedrooms have TV’s in them currently,” says Fulstow. “There is a TV in the children’s play room and a TV in what we call ‘the snug’ or ‘the family room’, and there’s a TV in the main lounge. There is also a high-spec private cinema in the basement of the annex which obviously has video distribution.”

Although rare, there can be issues with technology after completion of the install. SONA have remote monitoring systems to enable them to keep an eye if systems are down and allows them to access it to try to fix the issue. 

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“The client has our digital service plan agreement on this property, so we are proactively monitoring for things like media boxes and TVs freezing, etc,” adds Fulstow. “This means we can respond to any issues pretty much instantaneously, that’s part of our standard package on all projects. It also means we can reboot things and do things remotely without having to send an engineer out, saving time and money and keeping the clients happy.

“Technology is technology – sometimes we have hiccups. But the whole point of having these systems is there shouldn’t really be anything the client needs to do to manage the system, certainly not on a daily basis. They should be able to pick up a controller, press a button and the system does what it should. But it’s important that we put these remote monitoring systems in place to make us aware of issues so that we can respond proactively rather than waiting for a client to phone us and tell us there is a problem.”

At the time of the install, the client did not know how many motorised curtains and blinds they wanted so SONA prewired every room in case the client decided to add to it at a later date. Since the install, there have already been quite a few motorised window treatment additions. 

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Lutron was chosen for this project through SONA’s recommendations. “I have been installing Lutron for almost 20 years,” reveals Fulstow. “As a brand, it has great recognition and clients are usually familiar with it. It also comes with an eight-year warranty which is very desirable to a client. Obviously, when it comes to such an integral part of a building, such as lighting, it’s got to be something that works 100 per cent. People accept that media boxes and TVs sometimes have issues, but it’s unacceptable for the lighting to not work. It’s important that we are providing systems that we are 100 per cent confident in. 

“I think in the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve installed systems on everything from houses to super yachts and I’ve only ever had one major failure in that time. So it’s the reliability and robustness that makes us have so much trust in the brand. And because we are so familiar with it, we are able to do a lot of advanced configuration and programming that we maybe wouldn’t be able to do with a system that we have less knowledge of.”

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Tech-Spec

Apple iPad
Apple TV
ACA-Apex 4 Way, 16 Port Phoenix Patch Panel 
Amina Technologies Backbox AIW Series
Amina Technologies In-Wall/Ceiling AIW Invisible Speakers 
Amina Technologies In-Wall/Ceiling Subwoofer
Artcoustic 40-30 SL 4-2 Speakers
Artcoustic Architect SL 4-2 Speakers
Artcoustic Spitfire SL 16-8 Speakers
Artcoustic Spitfire Control 3 Subwoofer & Amp
Artcoustic Multi Soundbar SL – S 
Comelit Entry Panel
Comelit Keypad
CQR Personal Attack Button
Danlers In-Ceiling PIR switch
Denon Blu-Ray Player  
Denon HEOS Multiroom Amplifier 
Denon HEOS Wireless Pre-Amplifier
Denon HEOS 7 Wireless Speaker
Denon Home Cinema Soundbar & Wireless Subwoofer
Desmond & Sons Custom Track & Stretch Fabric System – Wall & Ceiling
DNH 100V Exterior Speaker
Draytek Vigor 3900 Quad-WAN Router & Firewall
Draytek Vigor 130 Modem
Future Automation LCP-PD Lighting Enclosure
Future Automation LCP-RCBO Lighting Enclosure
Gewiss GW40028 Enclosure 
Hikvision Bullet IP Camera
Hikvision Dome IP Camera
Hikvision Eyeball IP Camera
Hikvision Network Video Recorder
Just Add Power HDMI over IP Transmitters & Receivers
Kaleidescape
Lutron Adaptive Power Module
Lutron HomeWorks QS Power Supply
Lutron HomeWorks QS Processor 
Lutron HomeWorks QS seeTouch Wallstation
Lutron HW Intl seeTouch 10 Button R/L Frameless Faceplate Kit Mica
Lutron Pico Scene Keypads
Lutron Sivoia QS Drapery Tracks
Lutron Sivoia QS Roman Blinds
Lutron Switching Power Module
Lutron QSE-IO Control Interface
Lutron QSE-CI-DMX Control Interface
Luxul 48x PoE Switch
Luxul SFP+ Transceiver
Middle Atlantic PPM-6 Series Rack
Netgear 28-Port Gigabit Stackable Smart Switch
Netgear 28-Port Gigabit PoE Stackable Smart Switch
Netgear 8-Port Gigabit Smart ProSAFE Switch
Pakedge Wireless Access Point
Pakedge Wireless Access Point Controller
Panamorph Anamorphic Lens System inc. Motorised Sled
Pyronix Detector 
RTI Control Processor
RTI SURFiR Remote Control
Samsung UHD 4K Smart TV – 40-in, 48-in, 49-in, 55-in
Screen Research Projection Screen
SONA Cinema Cable Package 
Sonance DSP Power Amplifier 
Sonance Invisible In-Wall/Ceiling Speakers
Sonance Sonarray SR1 Exterior Speaker System
Sonos Connect
Sonos Connect Amp
Sonos Connect Soundbar
Sonos Wireless Audio Speaker
Sony 4K 3D Projector 
Sugg Lighting
Texecom In-Wall/Ceiling Motion Detectors 
Texecom Premier Elite Control Panel
Texecom Premier Elite Expanders
Texecom Premier Elite Odyssey 3
Texecom Premier Elite Satin Chrome FMK Keypad
TOA 70/100V Power Amplifier
Wyrestorm HDMI Extender & Receiver
WyreStorm Matrix Chassis
Yamaha AV Processor & Receiver 
Yamaha Power Amplifier