What-Is-Automation begins to answer questions you may have about some of the embedded technologies that are appearing in many of today's new homes. This trend optimizes our energy savings, keeps our indoor air quality healthy, clean, & fresh, and makes life easier overall. It greatly enhances our resale value when that time comes.
What-is-automation will illustrate how Michael Chandler and partner Beth Williams at Chandler Design-Build in Chapel Hill, N.C. have built the homes that are recognized nationally for excellence in green, and aging-in-place design, and how the company has won numerous awards for sustainable business practices.
Did Home Automation Sneak up on us When we Weren’t Looking?
The "home of the future” has been floating out ahead of us for decades now with promises of electrically tintable self-cleaning windows, video monitors everywhere, and smart appliances all seeming sort of unattainable or at least unaffordable to the mainstream home owner. But, while we were distracted by the flashing lights, technology has slipped in around us.
The homes we’re building today have a lot of low-cost electronic implementation that is so unobtrusive that it is easy to overlook. As I arrived home tonight a motion sensor at the end of my drive illuminated the area around my mailbox with a discrete 25 watt lamp that welcomes me home whether in a car or on foot, and helps if I wait until after dark to get the mail.
Pulling up to the guest parking area or stepping from the house to the porch triggers the landscape lights leading to the front door. Pull through to the family parking area and motion sensors trigger rope lights in the trellis in front of the garage. Inside, occupancy sensor switches and dimmers give me affordable and programmable spot control of lighting and ventilation.
The homes we're building today have a lot of low-cost electronic implementation that is so unobtrusive that it is easy to overlook.
I can program the bathroom lights to turn on automatically with or without dimming, and I can have the fans turn on with a switch but turn off automatically with a 15- or 30-minute time delay to assure appropriate ventilation. Those lights the teenage kids always seem to leave on as they run out in the morning can discretely dim to 50% of capacity after 30 minutes or no movement and turn themselves off 30 seconds later.
If someone is in the room the clock gets reset to 30 minutes at any movement. The pre-dim warning and 30-minute delay gives the home owners security that they won't suddenly be plunged into darkness. With the auto-on and dimmer option I can use them in areas where I would think of traditional home automation but not have the budget for it. Rather than programming, I just allow it to respond to the occupancy.
I may not be able to provide pre-programmed lighting scenes or the “all-on-full” security feature where my client can flood the home with light from the bedside or car visor. But if someone comes down my drive their progress is warmly announced by the welcoming lights, giving the impression that their presence has been noted by someone inside even if the home is empty.
We also use programmable occupancy sensors to control the energy recovery ventilators we install in the master bathroom to provide fresh air and humidity control. Here the controller can be set to wait for the owner to push the button to start the cycle and to keep the ventilation on for 30 minutes before turning off. In auxiliary bathrooms we use bath fans that have programmable occupancy sensors built in.
These we typically set to start automatically and run 15 minutes post-occupancy in powder rooms and guest bathrooms. "Future proofing" our homes with "smart-wiring" has been rendered quaint by increasingly high-speed secure Wi-Fi that serves up streaming audio and video, as well as social networks and digital connectivity.
Some single-level aging-in-place homes may be spread out enough to require two or more Wi-Fi repeaters linked to the central Internet connection, printer, home data server, and home theater.
In rural areas with spotty cell phone service we encourage our customers to install cell phone signal repeaters in a central location in the home. These can be antenna-based with a receiver antenna on the roof or they can be Internet linked. Panel box power surge suppression is a good option for rural areas.
"Future proofing" our homes with "smart- wiring" has been rendered quaint by increasingly high-speed secure Wi-Fi that serves up streaming audio and video.
Some “green customers” have also asked us to address “phantom loads” by providing switched outlets in a centralized charging station in the mail sorting area or in the home theater to allow them to kill the power to these devices when they aren’t home. Every bit of energy saved is a benefit.
We use eMonitor breaker panel energy monitoring to confirm and document actual circuit-by-circuit performance of our energy conservation systems.
This product continually monitors and graphically analyzes the individual circuit breakers and can interface with thermostats so we can graph how energy is being used on a minute-by-minute basis and take corrective action when needed.
It's helped the "commissioning" process by letting us know during the season how the equipment is performing and alerting us to potentially underperforming systems with actionable data. It allows us to sort out and document the heating and cooling energy usage from the plug loads, laundry, lighting, and home entertainment uses and to take corrective actions when one of these systems is drawing more than the anticipated amount of power.
It used to be that home automation was an expensive add-on, but increasing use of occupancy sensors, wireless connectivity, smart HVAC controllers, and energy monitors has simplified the usage to the point that it’s an invisible part of the standard way we build.
By making it as transparent as possible, we also improve customer satisfaction by reducing their reliance on systems integrators to set their equipment up and provide ongoing maintenance. Economical, uncomplicated, energy efficient customer satisfaction—every part of the home should strive to meet this standard.
Author: Michael Chandler and partner Beth Williams run Chandler Design-Build in Chapel Hill, N.C. The company specializes in working with dedicated craftsmen having a great time building beautiful, high performance homes, for enthusiastically satisfied clients.
Their homes have been recognized nationally for excellence in green and aging-in-place design, and the company has won awards for sustainable business practices. Michael teaches the NAHB Certified Green Practitioner and Master CGP curriculum and writes for Fine Homebuilding and Green Building Advisor. Check out their website below.
*Reprinted with permission from "Tech Zone-Did Home Automation Sneak up on us When we Weren't Looking?" by Michael Chandler, 2012, Sales + Marketing Ideas, pages 40-43, Copyright 2012 by National Sales and Marketing Council of The National Association of Home Builders.
What-Is-Automation Photo Gallery
What-Is-Automation Example I:
"As I arrived home tonight a motion sensor at the end of my drive illuminated the area around my mailbox with a discrete 25 watt lamp that welcomes me home whether in a car or on foot and helps if I wait until after dark to get the mail."
What-Is-Automation Example II:
"Inside, occupancy sensor switches and dimmers give me affordable and programmable spot control of lighting and ventilation."
What-Is-Automation Example III:
"We also use programmable occupancy sensors to control the energy recovery ventilators we install in the master bathroom to provide fresh air and humidity control."
What-Is-Automation Example IV:
The Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) uses the stale (warm) outgoing air to heat the (cold) incoming fresh air. The two air streams pass through the core, exchanging heat but never actually mixing. The transfer isn't perfect - about 75% energy recovery is typical - but it allow the homeowner to save heat and keep the windows closed while still enjoying fresh air.
What-Is-Automation Example V:
"Some single-level aging-in-place homes may be spread out enough to require two or more Wi-Fi repeaters linked to the central Internet connection, printer, home data server, and home theater."
What-Is-Automation Example VI:
"We use eMonitor breaker panel energy monitoring to confirm and document actual circuit-by-circuit performance of our energy conservation systems."