In the Field with Fraser Campbell of HTI
Fraser Campbell talks to our editor about his move to Scotland, starting HomeTech, and what North American and UK integrators can learn from each other.
HomeTech Integration (HTI)
Specialises In: Specifying and installation of data networks, HVAC, lighting, and blind Control
You are originally from the North America. Where did you grow up and when did you become interested in AV integration?
I grew up on the West Coast of Canada about four hours’ drive from Vancouver, way out in the sticks. My father was a building contractor and I grew up spending plenty of time and gaining practical experience on constructions sites. My first career after graduating took me into financial services, and I spent a number of years overseas, working in Australia and Hong Kong. During this time, I became a technology nut – it was hard not to be in South East Asia – and deeply interested in entertainment gadgets and control. A friend of mine had the idea of beginning a company that took technology and integrated systems into developer builds back in the UK, and started the original Hometech. Back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s everything was disparate. We worked on the proposition together, and, with my business experience, love of tech and knowledge of the construction sector, I headed up the Operations role.
What prompted your relocation to Scotland?
It’s where my business partner was based and where our network of contacts existed. Edinburgh also has a vibrant and resilient property sector, so we felt that we could make an impact with the business here. There’s also a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in Edinburgh that we felt would be receptive to our business approach.
What does your role at HTI encompass? What is your main focus at the integration firm?
I’m Managing Director, so responsible for making sure the business runs efficiently and profitable, since, ultimately, the buck stops with me. HTI is a technology integration firm with a suite of services available to developer and private clients. We offer a wide range of pre-wire options right through to complete integration. Our involvement can be as narrow in scope as providing simple consultancy during the project specification definition stage, or as wide as providing a turnkey operation, from design through to client handover and aftercare management.
What sector of home AV integration is HTI’s biggest earner? Why is this particular kind of integration so popular with your clients?
The developer business is our biggest area. Typically, developers think in very traditional build models that have barely evolved in the last thirty years. They still see TVs in the corner of the living room and thermostats in the hallway. We’ve been able to work with them to encourage greater flexibility in how they can design the home for technology and customise it for their clients. We’re their technology partners. The developer isn’t put upon to learn about everything to do with the technology, that’s our responsibility. We can give them options around a low-cost structured cabling platform that make it easy for them to build, and then we collaborate to customise homes for their clients. It’s an easy way to design, supply, integrate and then maintain the home entertainment, data networking, heating, lighting, security and blind control systems in the home. We make sure that we match and exceed the level of customer care that developers themselves provide. Our business has taken us to projects as far south as Portsmouth, up to Inverness and abroad to Continental Europe, too.
Tell us about one of your recent projects. What were the main challenges? How did you overcome them?
We recently worked on a penthouse flat in a contemporary new build development in a prestigious area of Edinburgh known as The Grange. The 1500-square-foot flat has amazing views to the east and south through near floor to ceiling windows in the open plan kitchen/dining/living room.
We installed home cinema in the lounge, multiroom audio throughout the home and lighting and heating control with remote monitoring. The client was also looking for us to provide an Occhio alternative to the developer provided light fittings. Most importantly, they were asking us for blind control – an increasingly popular option for clients.
In this case, a solution was required to minimise the impact of large windows and the potential solar gain and privacy issues that these would create. Initially, they were also struggling to decide whether to get blackout blinds to provide the maximum protection from the sun or get translucent blinds that would allow for light to get through but provide privacy from other buildings.
Given the style of the property, the requirement for both a blackout as well as a translucent fabric, as well as the lack of electrical pre-wire in the main living area, we suggested that Qmotion Dual blinds would be an ideal solution, by offering both fabrics in a single unit. Even when it came to selecting fabrics, they liked the idea that if they decided to redecorate in the future, they could swap the fabrics without having to change the entire blinds.
We provided a total of 20 automated blinds for this project, 17 in the main open plan living room alone. All the south facing blind locations are dual blinds. We also provided an RF control to each of the bedrooms and a multi-channel control for the main living area, as well as iPad based control.
For a client who was keen to have control over his blinds, to have both blackout and translucent blinds on their south facing windows, who didn’t have any power pre-wired to these position, who wasn’t keen to re-wire his brand new home, and who wanted a large selection of fabrics and styles to choose from that suited the rest of the interior design, Qmotion was a natural solution that we felt very comfortable offering and supporting.
In this project, we had a multiple of systems (Cinema, HD distribution, multiroom audio, lighting, heating, network, and blinds) each capable of their own independent control. To avoid confusion and make the system easy and efficient to use, we captured all this control under a single RTI processors, so now only is the entire home controlled via a single app. This allows us to incorporate the blinds into more of the whole home scenes, like when they leave home, the ‘Home Off’ button by the front door turns off the lights, turns down the heating and lowers the blackout blinds to minimise solar gain. When they arrive home, ‘Welcome’ button on their light switch lights a path to the living area and brings up blackout blinds and lowers the translucent blinds to brighten the room but ensure privacy.
There are a wide range of benefits to the client. Since they didn’t have to re-wire and redecorate their new home, the entire system could be installed quickly and without any follow on costs. They have an aesthetically pleasing solution that retains the contemporary look and feel of their property. They have an open plan living area that doesn’t suffer from overheating from solar gain during the summer, and they have the privacy they were aiming for. And most importantly, it’s easy to use and maintain.
The client absolutely loves the completed system. Not only is their new home very easy to live in and understand but they really enjoy a lot of simple and very useful features we’ve incorporated.
Having worked in the US and Europe, what do you think are the main differences in how integrators approach residential AV integration?
The main difference is that in America, clients are much more open and proud about integrating technology in the home. It’s not unusual to find homes where the racks are actually visible through smoked glass so that room occupants can see the lights blinking away. There is a much greater reticence in the UK. Clients tend to be much more discrete. Here, we’re also much more focused on delivering a solution rather than ‘bigging’ up particular brand names that might have greater resonance and appeal within a North American installation. In North America, the market is also much larger, deeper and broader than it is in the UK.
What can both regions learn from each other?
For North American integrators, I think they can see how we meet the aesthetic challenges better with a solution based more broadly on performance, integration and concealment rather than brand reputation. The UK market can learn to understand that these systems are not just limited to the high end of the market. Technology can make every property better, and improve the experience of homeowners and their families. The UK is catching up fast, by the way!