The New American Home

[Winter Park, FL] Orlando-Area International Builder’s Show Showcase Home Relies on Partnership Coordination and Collaboration to Create Leading-Edge Technology Masterpiece

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For the past 29 years, the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) New American Home has showcased the industry’s most innovative construction technologies and latest building products. This home provides builders, and design professionals an opportunity to see first-hand the latest trends, techniques and products available in the marketplace. Built as a prototype of sorts, The New American Home is utilized specifically to demonstrate cutting edge concepts, designs, residential consumer electronics and construction technologies that can be replicated in current and ongoing residential construction projects. 

The New American Home 2012

An infill project in an older neighborhood, this 4,181 square foot home is located within walking distance of historic downtown Winter Park, Florida, and is reminiscent of the classic 60’s and 70’s white box-style designs made famous by Le Corbusier and Richard Meier. Designed and built by Phil Kean Designs of Winter Park, Florida, Kean not only honored past architecture in his New American Home design but also incorporated today’s consumer priorities of leading-edge technology and functional and transitional spaces that evoke calm and serenity. 

Fully-automated, the 2012 New American Home offers consumers and builders alike a glimpse into the near future of home technology. Showcasing 16 zones of audio, seven televisions as well as a projection system, six security cameras, 13 motorized shades, motorized sliding glass doors, lighting control and energy management technology all controlled by one of three in-wall iPads, Lutron Dynamic keypads and the homeowner’s own personal iPad, this home highlights leading edge technology designed as a result of months of intense collaboration and communication between the builder, homeowner and electronic systems consultant (ESC). 

Approached by NAHB during IBS 2011 to gauge their interest in participating in the 2012 New American Home project, Phil Kean Designs turned to plans that had already been created for company Principal Brad Grossberg’s personal home. With a homesite already chosen and initial plans created, Kean and his team contacted Peter Shipp, a CEDIA Certified Designer, president of ZIO, and recipient of multiple electronic systems awards, to design and install the home technology systems. 

“Given the fact that we were not only building a personal home for one of our company’s principals, but also a show home intended to demonstrate the latest advances in home technology, we contacted Peter Shipp and ZIO,”

 “Working with him in the past, we knew Peter as an electronic systems contractor (ESC) would provide insight into the industry trends and help coordinate with other trades to ensure as seamless a building process as possible. Incorporating Peter into the process early allowed us ample opportunity to move and add spaces as needed before the project left the planning stages.”

The relationship between the builder, ESC and homeowner is critical because every trade must rely on them to make the best home technology decisions based on their own expertise. 

“With an accelerated timeline and exaggerated demands due to its show home appeal, it was imperative to have a cohesive team on board to complete the project,”

“CEDIA members are the go-to experts for home technology. With ZIO, we knew that they would be up to date on all of the technology advances and be able to educate the team about the best ways to incorporate these advances into our overall plans.”

The Challenge: Creating a User-Friendly Fully Automated Home

Because every homeowner has his own idea of how to best utilize their living space, each home technology design and installation is different. Electronic Systems Contractors (ESCs) follow the best practices to keep to a timeline and ensure that the end product matches what the homeowner envisioned for their home: discovery, design and finally installation. During each of these steps, the homeowner and builder are consulted frequently to make sure that they are kept abreast of the status of the project. For The New American Home, both Phil Kean, the builder, and Brad Grossberg, the homeowner, were even more heavily involved due to the complexity and unique circumstances surrounding the project.   

Discovery

Working closely with both Brad Grossberg and Phil Kean, Shipp determined Grossberg’s lifestyle needs for home technology by asking specific questions about how he intended to use the space. 

“During our initial ‘discovery’ phase, Phil, Brad and I opened a dialogue to determine what systems should be included that went beyond what is beneficial to the homeowner’s lifestyle today,” stated Shipp. “We wanted to ‘future proof’ the home and include cutting edge technology that would appeal to a buyer of tomorrow.”

For this particular project, Brad indicated a strong need for security and specialized lighting for a downstairs art gallery, whole home audio and video, environmental controls through the use of motorized interior shades and exterior screens, multiple televisions for entertaining, and remote access due to frequent travel, all with a customizable, easy-to-use interface.  

Through the course of discussion about how Brad intended to use his space, Peter also suggested incorporating lighting control, interior and exterior motorized screens and, ultimately, motorized glass doors to allow a seamless transition from the courtyard into the kitchen and great room downstairs. 

“Educating homeowners and builders alike about the products available in the marketplace is a very important part of the discovery and planning stage for accredited ESC’s,” mentioned Shipp. “It was important to gain Brad’s trust and offer suggestions that would accommodate his requirements for the space while allowing ease-of-use as well. Due to the nature of this project, I actually wanted to go outside of my normal channels and incorporate some of the latest options, including leveraging cloud technology to not only keep costs down, but test the ability of the technology to handle a complex install such as this was going to be.” 

“As a builder, we have seen what works and doesn’t work,” said Grossberg. “The more complicated the interface, the less likely a non-techie homeowner like me is to use it. I wanted to be able to customize the systems based on my own needs, not what a programmer thinks I would like to use.”

“It became clear early in our discussions that Brad thought that the idea of technology was appealing but was apprehensive about incorporating too much into the home,” said Shipp. “He needed technology that melded seamlessly into the architecture while also being easily accessible, user-friendly and easily customizable.”

Design

Working with information collected in the discovery phase in terms of what the client wants the end result to look like, the design phase helps determine what steps need to be taken to achieve that goal. There is a lot of back and forth between the ESC, homeowner, builder, and, in this case, various vendors, to determine the end result. 

There is a perception in the industry that the current high-end technology is out of reach for the mainstream. With this project, we set out to show that there are solutions that meet the needs of a custom home but can also be scaled back to accommodate more modest requirements," said Shipp.
We were not trying to reinvent the wheel here; we were just looking for a turn-key system that could be customized for the homeowner in hours, not days."

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Because there was not a solution that precisely fit the homeowner’s needs in terms of scalability and homeowner customization, Shipp looked to ClareHome, a newcomer to the Home Automation arena for help. ClareHome’s flagship product, ClareHome is the first home automation system that is managed from the cloud and run on a Mac. ClareHome is a software platform used to tie all other reliable hardware platforms such as lighting from Lutron or security from Elk. Each of these systems are independent and do not require the ClareHome system to operate.  By utilizing ClareHome, The New American Home is configured, deployed, serviced and monitored from the cloud while the system runs locally in the home. 

As the design took shape, it became apparent that some walls would need to be moved and extra space incorporated to house the extensive equipment closet. Working closely with Phil Kean, Peter Shipp was able to help shape the new plans for the house, before the house was completely built. The final plans for the house added square footage to move the master bedroom upstairs, add an elevator and make room for the equipment closet off the master bathroom.

Taking into account the extent of Brad’s input about the intended use of the home’s space for entertaining, necessary security and remote access, ZIO designed this New American Home to feature structured wiring and control systems that provide a high-end experience — advanced lighting controls, motorized shading, a security system, video surveillance, two media systems, pool and fountain controls and a central vacuum. 

“The thing to remember about this project is that we were testing the limits of the new technologies capabilities, but most of our customers could not handle the price tag,” commented Shipp. “One of the best things we have learned from our participation with ClareHome is that when utilizing their app modules for system control, it becomes cost effective to scale the system. You can add as many or as few systems as you wish to keep in line with budgetary constraints.”

It is also during this time that ClareHome stepped in to assist with project documentation and engineering to ensure their new architecture was properly engineered and installed for the project. This allowed all of the trades involved to see what home technology systems were being installed and where in the house they would be located. Utilizing proper documentation during the building phase is imperative. It allows all of the trades and subs to execute individual parts of the process without affecting the project as a whole while it pulls together all of the information for engineering collaboration and coordination of the overall project.

Implementation

When the systems were designed by ZIO and approved by both Phil Kean Designs and Brad Grossberg, it was time to begin the installation stage, utilizing donated and discounted products from approved home technology vendors. 

“One of the most difficult things about this project was that everything was fluid, meaning that our vendor participation affected what the systems could do,” said Peter. “We could not put a definitive timeline together because we had to wait for the vendor commitments before we could design around what would be provided for the home. This really affected the overall project manager’s ability to keep to a schedule.” 

In a “normal” setting, the customer would expect the Electronic Systems Contractor to work within budgetary constraints and use standing vendor relationships to purchase actual products and install within a known time frame. In The New American Home, ZIO had to be sensitive to the vendor relationships already in place. 

The brains of the home are powered by ClareHome, utilizing 3 wall-mounted iPads and 2 wall-mounted iPod touch’s, secured by iPort mounts, to control the lighting, audio, TV’s security, motorized shades and screens, pool and climate, as well as track solar production and monitor overall energy consumption. Grossberg is also able to utilize his own iPad or iPhone to remotely control the home and customize many aspects of the system without having to call ZIO.

While ZIO worked closely with Grossberg to design “scenes” in the applets on the in-wall iPads, he was still a little apprehensive to use the new technology at first.

“Setting a ‘scene’ in the home for entertainment, night time or away mode is amazing, but until applications were available on my own, personal iPad, I was simultaneously intrigued, but uneasy about manipulating the systems,” mentioned Grossberg. “Now, with the applets on my iPad, I can sit on the couch and control the house with the push of one button. It’s almost like Hollywood drama to show off what the system can do.”

Said Shipp of ClareHome, “Utilizing ClareHome as the home automation and control system in The New American Home is as leading edge as it gets. We were literally receiving their product as soon as it was developed for use in this home.” 

Continued Shipp, “Because this was an untested entity, we knew that we would be working together to develop this new platform on behalf of future customers.” 

Given that ClareHome was literally handing over solutions to tie systems together as soon as they were developed, several problems arose during this stage. Primarily, there were limitations in the original way that the app was designed to function. A new piece of software, the application is a little buggy, resulting in somewhat slow programs and the necessity to restart the system every once in a while to make it work properly. Utilizing the New American Home as a “test subject”, ClareHome is constantly “tweaking” the app and has updated the software for Grossberg. 

“Although I trusted Peter and agreed with his suggestions for technology throughout the home, it was sometimes difficult knowing that my home was essentially a ‘Beta test’ for ClareHome. It sometimes felt like we had to wait an inordinate amount of time for products to be installed and work properly,” said Grossberg. “But, given that this was unproven technology, I am thrilled with the end result.” 

“At this time, the system is fully-functioning at 95%+, which is amazing given the scope of this project and utilizing a new company’s products,” noted Shipp. 

A major concern for the home owner was the ability to control and monitor energy consumption throughout the home. The entire home’s lighting, motorized shades and energy management system was provided by Lutron. This system replaced standard switches with smart keypads that create scenes of lighting that includes the motorized shades. This system intelligently adjusts lights and shades based on the time of day and sun location throughout the year to minimize electricity consumption.

Outdoor screens proved to be a bit of a challenge to incorporate into the home automation system. ClareHome’s team had to re-create the interface from the automated screens to write a new program that would allow control from any lighting keypad. This was the last piece of the automation puzzle that needed to be written. 

In terms of entertainment, there are 7 TV’s throughout the home, including an 85” hidden projection system in the family room from Digital Projection and Stewart and a motorized flat panel lift system in the loft from Future Automation. All of the equipment is located in the mechanical room upstairs, which allows all TVs to access 3 DVR’s, a Blu-ray player and an Apple TV, through an advanced digital video distribution system provided by Atlona. There are 16 rooms of audio provided by Speakercraft, Triad and Sonance which allow any room to listen to an endless stream of music from the Internet. 

An addition that was conceived jointly between ZIO and Phil Kean Design’s project manager, the projection system provided an opportunity for a creative solution. Draper provided an Aerolift for the project, but unfortunately, framing had been completed and they were left with only 20” between the ceiling trusses. Because of space limitations, the projector mount and closure panel were custom fabricated in-house to fit in the tight opening while disappearing into the ceiling with a panel that is literally flush to the ceiling and matches the drywall.

 “The actual lift mechanism, which is larger than the opening in the ceiling, only operates within the recess. The projector and custom closure panel are the only items that lower into the room,” commented Shipp. “Phil Kean was thrilled that this unique solution allows the projector and lift to completely disappear while having literally no visual impact on this key room when not in use. This is a great example of the close collaboration between not only the design team, but also the home’s project manager and is the highlight of the entertainment system in the home.” 

Due to the condensed timeline, some steps in the installation process took place simultaneously.

“Because of the condensed schedule of this project, we did not have the luxury of being able to work within our normal trim phase parameters,” said Shipp. “Working closely with the project manager, we were back on site as soon as drywall was installed to cut all openings for touch screens, keypads and specialty speakers where new construction brackets were not available prior to drywall finishing to avoid the possibility of having to repair the level-5 finish. This is a step that is not always included beforehand.” 

The advanced security system was provided by Elk Products and allows the homeowner access to the system via ClareHome. It includes an easy to operate color touch screen control in the Master Bedroom for quick, direct access to the system. 

Given the volatile nature of the Florida climate, an added level of surge protection was critical. All electronics throughout the home are protected by a SurgeX hard-wired surge elimination panel and all equipment in the mechanical room is protected by Middle Atlantic power products. 

Additionally, ZIO installed empty conduit from the mechanical room to almost every room of the home to allow future proofing since there is no attic in the entire home.

“By ensuring open, ongoing communication between ZIO and all of the trades, any potential problem that arose such as a donation that didn’t fit the original space, or by having to use a different model product than we originally planned, or adding to the original scope of work, was downgraded to a ‘challenge’,” said Kean. “With Peter, we never heard that a suggestion was impossible. We were able to develop new strategies to incorporate the end result of technology that we craved without being stuck with a less than stellar feel in the home.”

Conclusion

Although installing technology into a show home requires slightly different procedures to pull of the pieces together, the backbone of solid partnerships and open and frequent communication between homeowner, builder and ESC is paramount across the board when it comes to any home technology project. 

“There were definitely more moving pieces to this project than we had anticipated, hence more coordination and collaboration between the trades,” mentioned Kean. “Everyone must understand each moving piece because this one sub, the ESC, touches everything. They ensure that the end-result is what the homeowner wants.” 

“While this project has been among the more difficult I have ever undertaken, it has also been one of the most rewarding,” stated Shipp. “While working closely with Phil Kean Designs, Brad Grossberg and all of the trades, we have designed and installed a cutting-edge system, incorporating the best of what is available in the marketplace today. Without the cooperation and collaboration between all the trades during every phase of design and installation, as well as the amazing support from all of the vendors, we would never have been able to complete a job of this scope to this amazing result.” 

“After living with and using the system on a daily basis, I can’t remember how I functioned without the technology in the first place,” said Grossberg. “It’s a learning process and ClareHome and Peter are still ironing out some final bugs including the remote app for my iPad, but overall I love how this cutting edge technology has been folded seamlessly into the house and my everyday life.”

Speaking with a certified CEDIA member about potential home technology upgrades could unveil systems supported on cloud technology or pre-engineered products that will not only keep the cost down, but still allow them to obtain technology to support the lifestyle of their dreams. Based upon this successful design and installation, ZIO is currently working with several local and regional semi-custom and production homebuilders to deliver economical home technology solutions to their customers. 



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