Smart Home Building Requires Smart Collaboration

February 5, 2013
Smart home exterior

There are plenty of seats at the table, or poolside, for smart home design collaborators. Photo courtesy of Eco High Fidelity

Editor’s note: Building in the 21st century requires holistic building practices—and not just in constructing a sustainable or smart home where the materials and build quality can affect design, heating and cooling, energy needs—you name it. All the subsystems, from HVAC to security, audio/video, lighting and more, should also work in sync. And so should the various trades on a project. Guest blogger Tommy Kissell of Eco High Fidelity in Carrollton, Texas, relates the following story of a sustainable integration project currently underway.

We recently started a project from a referral, and by the time of our first face-to-face meeting, the new client had seen our work and wanted to replicate the system in a turnkey process. This involves controlling and automating a variety of subsystems in the home, in addition to audio/video, and all with sustainability in mind. During the walkthrough to mark the prewire, the builder arrived and did not appear to be fond of the “A/V guy.” Before we made it to the second room, he proclaimed that he would not be responsible for subcontractors.

Smart Home Automation

Growing up in the integration industry, I’ve found that builders are generally either enthusiastic about working with the electronics integrator or reluctant because of bad experiences. Today a paradigm shift is occurring in construction to meet the standards of architectural sustainability and the growing influence of technology. A smart building relies on automation to control and monitor its systems, and this requires collaboration between the builder and all the other trades involved. Most system integrators are no longer just “A/V guys,” but control and automate a variety of interconnected subsystems. Because of this, a smart building requires an evolution of the relationship between the builder and the systems integrator in order to apply holistic, systemic building principals.

Smart Home Elan g!

An Elan g! home control touchscreen brings all subsystems together in a previous Eco High Fidelity installation. Photo courtesy Eco High Fidelity

I replied to the builder’s declaration of not being responsible for subcontractors with a joke to break the ice. “Then how are you going to build the house?”  He did not find this funny. I explained we have a very detailed process, allowing us to control the variety of subsystems that would be interconnected and rely on each other.

“I thought you were doing the audio/video?”

I really freaked him out when I told him my work would be controlling the HVAC, security, pool, communications, network, cell booster system, energy monitoring, cameras and irrigation, much like some other projects we’ve worked on.

“I am not responsible for any of that,” he said.  “You have to talk to all the subs yourself.”

“No worries. We will handle everything from prewire to programming.”

This did not seem to ease his mind, so I showed him a working version of an Elan g! program, with pictures of a prewire, final distribution and rack examples.

Evolving Smart Perspectives

Most builders are not acclimated to the automated smart home and the detailed process required to complete a system. It’s a long process, but ultimately becomes very reliable. Most of us control and use a variety of technological subsystems in our lives every day—and consolidating them into a single control system and interface can be an enlightening and pleasing experience. Control and sustainability form a great relationship, and when a builder sees the end result it usually changes his perspective of the “A/V Guy.”

Smart home living room

The results of holistic building and smart home collaboration can be rewarding. Photo courtesy of Eco High Fidelity

New home technology evolves as we enter the next stage of automation. The subsystems we are using to control systems like HVAC and security are now evolving to include more details, monitoring and sustainable features that make the home even more efficient. When we begin a project we collaborate with each of the tradesmen that will contribute. Opening our resources and knowledge this way allows for a smooth integration process and a firm hardware handshake between the systems. It also helps evolve the automated subsystems, because the collaboration often involves engineers at the manufactures who take part in the conversations. We also have developed lasting relationships with other trades, because automating their subsystems allows them to market their own products in new and sustainable ways.

This builder may be reluctant and frustrated to work with a very involved “AV Guy” at the beginning, but with our approach to collaborative and sustainable integration, by the end he will either be singing our praises or applying some of the solutions in future projects. Either way, everyone wins.

Automation, the smart home, and sustainability bring all the trades involved together in the process and make the home sustainable—with or without any green intent. The required collaboration of integrating subsystems with technology makes the building and the process itself more efficient, too.

As the building process continues to evolve, builders will rely on electronics integrators more. We belong in the process from blueprint to programming—and the integrators and builders are the ones who remain after everything is complete.

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