EDITORS CHOICE 04.03.20

Award-winning project demonstrates the collaboration of technology & design

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Passion, commitment and determination are required to solve some of the issues outlined during this install. Winning a CEDIA Award for the project, the team were successful in resolving them. Amy Wallington explores the Cheshire home.

Aptly named, Lakeview House spans 12,500 sq ft of land overlooking a lake in Cheshire, UK. Integrators, Ultamation and Intuitive Homes worked together with Llama Architects and Janey Butler Interiors to renovate this existing property to create a fully integrated family home with the perfect synergy of architecture, interior design and technology. 

Named the Best Integrated Home Level II at the 2019 CEDIA Awards, the project demonstrates how co-operative work between different professions can create the most outstanding results. 

The brief given at the start of the project detailed that the client wanted to use the power and versatility of a Crestron system to integrate their media, security and general lifestyle requirements. Stephen Nevison, who is the director of Intuitive Homes, took charge of the installation. He explains: “We designed, supplied and installed a complete Crestron system that gave them full control of their audio, video, security, CCTV and heating systems. We also upgraded their old Lutron lighting system to take advantage of the advances in control options and integration since the system was originally installed a decade earlier.”

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AV distribution
Based around a Crestron CP3 processor, the system used DigitalMedia (DM) video distribution and Sonnex audio distribution, with two additional remote SWAMP expansion units for the audio system. A dedicated plant room houses most of the equipment in a Middle Atlantic rack. 

Oliver Hall, the managing director of Ultamation, and in charge of the programming side of the install, says they had to carefully consider the user interface and remote configurations to give the best user experience. They specified Crestron TSW-1060 touch screen panels, which are wall-mounted in the main open plan living areas, the gym and the pool area, as well as handheld remotes for full control of the home. 

“The TSWs default to the room they are in, however they can control any room in the house,” says Hall. “They also have a room linking feature to control groups of rooms as one. The handheld remotes are localised to the room they are in.”

A unified user interface can be accessed on all of the homeowner’s iPhones, iPads and the on-wall touch panels, giving users seamless access to everything in the system. In addition to the on-wall interfaces, the team specified Crestron HR-150 handheld remotes for every room with a TV to provide tactile control over the video and audio sources as well as the lighting. 

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Using a Crestron DigitalMedia system with six inputs and 12 outputs, the family had 4K video distribution as well as a standard Freeview system. To give the family as much broadcasted content and streaming services as possible, two Sky Q boxes were used, with the main box providing 4K content, as well as two 4K Apple TVs and a Kaleidescape Movie Server.

“All of these devices are IP controlled with in-house modules which avoided the need for IR emitters giving the front of the rack a clean look, but more importantly removing any reliability issues that can arise from emitters shifting slightly or even falling off over time,” Hall points out. 

“We also modulated the HD video signal for the gym DM output in order for us to tune in the TVs on all of the Technogym equipment so that the client can use the built-in screens or the 75-in TV on the wall.”

When planning the audio distribution, the size of the property posed a challenge. “We used Sonnex audio distribution for the switching and amplification,” states Nevison. “Due to the size of the property and the distances between the furthest rooms and the rack, we utilised remote SWAMP expansion amplifiers. This enabled us to cover the huge distances involved in this large property.”

An Autonomic MMS-5e was also specified, allowing the family to rip and play their CD content, as well as being able to listen to music through their individual streaming services and AirPlay from their Apple devices. 

Hidden TVs & cinema 
With interior design playing a big part in this project, there are a variety of Future Automation mechanisms throughout the house to hide large TVs in order to give a clean and modern look to complement the décor when TVs are not in use.

Lakeview_House_05In a previous installation, the clients had a cinema room put in, but as it was quite far away from the main living space, they found they did not use it as much as they would like. This time, the team wanted to give the client an experience more suited to them that they would get more use of. 

Nevison demonstrates: “We wanted to bring them a better big screen experience than they had previously enjoyed but all in the convenience of their primary lounge, which is open plan to their kitchen and dining room and where they spend most of their time. 

“We worked with Future Automation and a custom canvas maker to create a huge mechanism that opens two 2.5m square canvasses to reveal an 85-in 4K TV. The canvasses were sent to an artist who the interior designer commissioned to create the impressive diptych painting that looks just as good when split either side of the TV or as a large landscape painting when the TV is off. The surround sound is supplied by an Anthem AVR and in-ceiling Bowers & Wilkins reference series CCM8 speakers.”

Future Automation mechanisms didn’t only play a part in the main living area; it was also used in other rooms to hide screens. In a room the client calls a snug, installers used another Future Automation sliding panel system with custom Baltaup panels that match the kitchen units to hide a 75-in screen.

Similarly, in the attic apartment a Future Automation TV lift was used at the bottom of the bed to hide a 50-in screen when not in use. 

Networking
As has already been said, the property is very large, spanning 12,500 sq ft and includes a big garden with a hot tub area. Ensuring Wi-Fi throughout the property was another challenge that the team came across but managed to solve using a Ruckus Wi-Fi system. 

Hall explains: “We installed a complete gigabit wired network and a managed Ruckus Wi-Fi system to give full strength, full speed Wi-Fi throughout the property and outside to the garden and hot tub area.”

In every project that the team work on, they install a network monitoring and management solution as well as a power management system. This project was no different, with the systems notifying them if any device ever goes offline, which then allows them to reboot the equipment remotely before the homeowner even knows there is an issue. 

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Security
For complete home security, the team integrated the Texecom alarm system into the Crestron system to provide status and set/unset capabilities from the TSW panels. The homeowners can also view the main CCTV NVR on the screens via the DM video distribution. 

Upgraded lights
Previously, the client had a Lutron Illumination system installed throughout the house which has now been upgraded to a Lutron Homeworks QS system with a total of 112 circuits and 46 keypads. The upgrade was necessary to handle the homeowner’s requirements. 

Hall clarifies: “The property had a previous Lutron Illumination system installed but as the majority of light fittings were being upgraded to LED, the minimum load per circuit limitations came into play. We calculated the total load for each circuit and retained the old dimming modules where possible, replacing them with newer DPMs where required. We also upgraded the processor and added in a connect box to give the homeowners app control and remote access.”

The Lutron Homeworks QS system uses conditional programming to give the homeowner a single button on each keypad to switch the room on or off, while triggering either a day or night scene depending on the time of day. Hall continues: “We have found that having a smart single button is a good way to transition clients from being used to a single on/off switch.”

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Married with the lighting control, blinds and curtains can also be operated from the Lutron system in the main living spaces, entrance hall, hallway corridors, gym, pool and master bedroom.

It is common to have lighting and shading control through Lutron but this project features something extra that it unusual. Automated 18m Sky-Frame sliding doors from the main living space are controlled through the Lutron system, avoiding the need for the ugly ‘dead man’s switch’ in the room. 

Nevison recalls: “We enabled this from a control position in the room and retained the ‘press and hold’ functionality so the user still has to be in view of the doors to adhere to the safety regulations. But now, this can be done from a Lutron keypad with single engraved button pushes for ‘Sky-Frame Open’ and ‘Sky-Frame Close’.”

Added extras
Completely customer-led, the integrators have a number of ‘automated features’ built into their programming framework on every project they do. These are features that have been added and refined over time that have either been requested or utilised by clients to make the most of their versatile systems. 

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So not to overwhelm the client, especially if this is their first experience of home automation, the integrators tend not to enable these features on day one of the handover. Instead, they think a staged rollout is a much better way to ease clients in. 

“Each of our clients are different so we don’t have any set period of time from handover to when we enable some or all of the features, it is an organic process to ensure that any automated event that is not user initiated is completely understood and expected,” defines Hall. “The worst thing we can do for our clients is make them feel like the system has a mind of its own.”

Currently, the client has requested that the extra features are not switched on yet, even though handover was around five months ago. Hall continues: “The client is very busy and until they have time to fully digest what is possible, we all agreed it is sensible to hold off on implementing the more advanced automation.”

However, when the homeowners are ready, there are several advanced features that will be implemented into the system. Coinciding with circadian rhythms, the system will be programmed to implement a morning and evening scene in a number of rooms. The morning scene is linked to the alarm feature of the Crestron touch panels and raises the blinds 20 minutes before the alarm goes off and starts a 20-minute fade up of the lights which reaches its given level to coincide with the alarm.

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Similarly, the evening scene runs at sunset and checks if the lights are on or off in a room, and if they are on, it will trigger the evening scene for that area. This means that the light will be automatically lowered at sunset. 

Using the Crestron system for most automated events, integrators have set occupancy rules for each room. Hall explains: “We have an ‘Occupancy Room Off’ setting where we receive momentary triggers from the Texecom alarm system PIRs which we input into individual room occupancy modules within our programme. 

“We can then set room by room rules for the length of time without movement to be considered unoccupied. We then use this time to turn off everything in the room including the lighting. A cloakroom or WC might only be set to 30 minutes whereas the main TV watching room or snug would be set to three or four hours.”

User-initiated features
There are a series of user-initiated features that have been programmed into the system by the team. A ‘Home’ button on the two keypads by the main doors turns on a lighting pathway to the kitchen area when pressed. It is also triggered when someone arrives home, or if the Texecom system sends out an ‘alarm unset’ command. 

Similarly, a ‘House Off’ button can be used to turn off everything in the house when someone is going out. Again, it is automatically triggered when an ‘alarm fully set’ command is given from the Texecom system. ‘Bedtime’ buttons are also used in each bedroom to give the user an easy way to turn off the rest of the house except other bedrooms and ensuites. The ‘alarm part set’ command also triggers this to be actioned. 

Compromises
The majority of this project went well and to plan. But as with most installs, some things needed rethinking or compromises had to be made. 

Firstly, the master bedroom had an existing TV lift at the foot of the bed that the client wanted to keep. Nevison recalls: “The issue was that the lift mechanism would only accommodate a small TV when we would have normally looked to install a 40- to 50-in screen for this size of room, bed and viewing distance, but we could only fit a 32-in screen. Due to the size, we were limited to 1080p so we needed to install a scaler to maintain the 4K resolution in the distribution.”

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Another consideration was for the main living area with the cinema experience. Due to the nature of the moving canvas systems, the company could not use their preferred front speaker on or in the wall as they would have been covered when needed for music rather than TV. To get around this issue, the integrator opted for reference grade in-ceiling speakers from Bowers & Wilkins instead. 

AC integration challenges
The biggest challenge of the entire install was the air conditioning (AC) integration, and the issues were so complex that it was thought at one stage they were going to have to scrap AC completely. The issue became so intricate, the installers had to investigate the problem themselves between different companies in order to find a solution. 

“The main cause of the problem was that the integration requirement was a late addition compounded by the fact that the contractor responsible for the system was not experienced in any third-party integration so could not provide us with the information we requested,” says Nevison. “Even then, when we took it upon ourselves to deal directly with the AC manufacturer, their technical support didn’t have the crucial missing pieces we needed, and we struggled to find people with experience in carrying out the integration required.”

Lakeview_House_06Hall adds: “It was a large Daikin system that handled the main heating and cooling for the property, with the exception of the pool area, master dressing rooms and ensuites. In speaking with the specialist contractor, they had said that we should be using the Crestron LonWorks protocol, so taking their advice, we purchased the interface and set it up as we would any other third-party integration. 

“While we understood what was supposed to be happening on the Crestron side, we initially couldn’t find anyone (including Daikin technical support) who could tell us what was supposed to be happening on the AC system side. We had it all installed and we were sending commands and requests but getting nothing back.”

Frustratingly, this is where the AC was almost scrapped because, after calling as many BMS companies that they could find north of Birmingham with LonWorks experience, none of them had dealt with a Crestron integration. “We went to Crestron to find any other UK CEDIA members that had purchased their piece of equipment but that came to a dead end,” Nevison discloses. “Similarly, we tried to find any AC companies that had purchased the LonWorks interface from Daikin, but still no luck.”

Eventually, the team contacted the US corporation that created the protocol who put them in touch with a European representative and eventually a specialist contractor in London. “They suggested we return the Crestron interface and instead use their in-house intermediary piece of equipment,” says Hall. 

“What no one had been able to tell us was that the LonWorks protocol needs a binding process to ‘match’ the Crestron side with the Daikin side. So while both the Crestron and Daikin systems were doing what they were supposed to, there was a missing ‘binding’ required to make them talk.”

Hall concludes: “Once we received the pre-commissioned equipment, as per our technical requests, we installed it and gave the specialist remote access for a day. Everything was up and running and it was a very satisfying end to a long, and at times, incredibly frustrating process.”

The project was completed successfully following the complex AC integration with the Crestron system. With the brief fully met, the team are now looking forward to implementing the additional features that have been programmed into the Crestron system when the client is ready.