As a follow up on my April article, Simple Interfaces, some of the most common questions from a prospective client regarding the installation of a home automation system, are: “Is it complicated to use?, Does it integrate well with my other systems?, Will I know how to use it?”, and the smartest one of all, “Who will be responsible for a system malfunction?”

All of the above are very good questions, and should be asked by each prospective client. All too often, the client has no idea of even what integration is, who does it, who is responsible for what, and what the actual final look is.

Many times the architect or designer for the project actually leaves these decisions up to the client, who leaves these decisions up to the GC, who leaves these decisions up to the individual electrical, telephone, audio/video, alarm system, heating & air conditioning contractors.

Big mistake!

The following is actually a photo of the integration of lighting, audio/video and heating & air conditioning control for the living room in an over 15,000 square foot custom home.

Yes it does work. You do have control of each system from the LCD screen, and if anything goes wrong with one system, you do have independent control from the thermostat and from multi-gang switch station, but it looks like s#%&!

The only thing you are missing is the cockpit!

The controls in this important area should have been something more like the like the following:

Actually with proper planning, you can accomplish control of lighting, audio/video, alarm, and temperature control from a single interface. No clutter, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use.

Our preferred interface for multilevel control is a hard button/touch screen as shown above left, although you can get a medium amount of control from a switch station above right.

In no case do you really need to have 3 or more separate controls from different companies at any one location. One does suffice.

The touch screen pictured above can ‘flip’ from page to page to control lighting, drapes, electric gates or garage door openers, a CD player, radio, DVD, VCR, heating, air conditioning, radiant heating, pool, spa, alarm system, etc., anything electrically or electronically controllable. Or for faster control, the hard buttons can be programmed for a specific lighting or audio/video function.

In the above triple interface photo, with the proper coordination between the installers, the Crestron touchscreen alone should control the Vantage dimming equipment and also an Aprilaire remotely located thermostat with a locally mounted under the plaster sensor (see below), so that in this location, only the touchscreen would be installed and visible on the wall. We would utilize the smaller touchscreen (with the 5 buttons on each side), but that is our preference.

Most high-end companies provide cross platform communications via RS232 transmissions. So one company’s devices can control and be controlled by another’s.

On many projects, we now find that the architect and/or general contractor has enough savvy to require equipment cuts or samples of the actual devices to be used, and the proposed locations for same, and will coordinate exactly where they go. Sometimes all it takes is a simple meeting with all prospective contractors that are involved to provide the proper control. If the contractors have worked together before, they usually can eliminate unnecessary devices.

We feel that even if we eliminate our own company’s switches, (which obviously means our price decreases), we feel that the client benefits from a better-looking, more aesthetically pleasing project.

Of course we insist that safeguards be provided. What if the touchscreen fails, how will you control the lights or heating or air conditioning in the room? We always plan on installing at least one of our switch stations in each room, usually at an exterior door, bedside, or at a window behind a drape. Thus, incase of a failure of the touchscreen, this alternate switch controls our system. This switch is also useful in controlling the exterior yard lights, exterior wall lights, etc. You also have the capability in case of touchscreen failure of going to the actual room’s thermostat location and raising or lowering the temperature.

The above always assures that the client has control of each room’s features.

We also have worked on projects where the electronic communication between the systems is done improperly, or very amateurishly. This is usually done by a company or individual working on a project, and way in over-their-heads. As we must work closely together in any case, in order to satisfy our client, we try to make recommendations and communicate effectively with them.

Sometimes they are not very well acquainted with the system they are installing, how it interfaces with other systems, or even how to set up the visual interfaces. Many installers assume they know how. In these cases we install our system, and hope for the best.

Custom residential work is very difficult, but can be very rewarding in the satisfaction of knowing that you have provided the client with the best working and best looking system for their home.

Close coordination between contractors is a must, and you must be able to ‘work well with others’. There is a lot of planning involved, both before the project starts and during the installation.

Again, a well-designed system is one in which the only time the homeowner calls, is to invite you to dinner.

If you have any questions or comments about home automation, please feel free to e-mail me at the address below.

Westco Electrical

Jack Goldberg, president of Westco Electrical, in Los Angeles, California, is an electrical contractor specializing in the sale and installation of Vantage Home Automation and Dimming Systems. He is a registered Professional Electrical Engineer active in the industry for over 30 years. His projects have included special residences spanning from the New York Olympic Tower penthouse of Adnan Kashoggi (the richest man in the world), to huge estates for the highly discriminating West Coast entertainment industry elite. Many of these projects are highly visible and have been profiled in Architectural Digest, and various other periodicals. He has also had the pleasure of working with many architects and designers of world renown on award-winning commercial buildings. A native New Yorker, he thrills to the challenge of concepts, applications and installations that others say “can’t be done”.