Most of the hard work in building a smarthouse is the job of a professional home systems installer, but it pays to understand the building process and the lingo to help you do some clever planning.Most of us want better things for our houses. A bigger kitchen, a home theatre room or home office, right through to new security network or lighting systems. These structural modifications add conveniences and comforts to our domestic lives by offering a larger, more modern living space in which to relax, entertain or just go about our daily grind.
But space is only one factor in a home design. A home must also possess a certain level of intelligence to truly accommodate the needs of a 21st-century family. Intelligence for a home comes in the form of technology components and systems.
There are security systems that flash the lights when an alarm trips; there are lighting systems that adjust the exterior lights gradually as the sun sets; there are entertainment systems that fill the home with digital-quality music and video. These and thousands of other electronic functions and features are the cornerstones of ultimate comfort and convenience and the keys to a smarter home and lifestyle.
Building or renovating a house follows a certain process. You hire an architect, they draw up the blueprints or architectural drawings, your contractor gets his subs together – and building begins.
The integration of new generation tech-nology adds a completely different dimension to the construction of a home. It requires certain system design and installation spec-ialists, and just as you need to be careful in selecting finishes likes tiles or carpets, you also have to pay as much attention to the choice of smarthouse technology. Doing research, surfing the Web or reading books and articles like this one on the subject are all helpful.
This feature is the first in a six-part SmartHouse guide designed expressly to help you through the electronics maze by explaining the steps and technologies involved in creating a smarter, more efficient house.
· Step One. Deciding to invest in a smart house is often the most difficult. Once this is out of the way, it’s a case of gathering information and finding the right partners. The only way to feel confident about your decision to integrate sophisticated technology into your new home is by understanding the benefits and value these systems can provide. This series will be an essential guide for anyone wanting to build or renovate, or for a property investor looking for a commercial advantage.
· Step Two. Of course, your home building budget will influence your decision on including certain electronic amenities to your home. In this feature, we also offer some financial advice on how to roll systems into the mortgage.
· Step Three. Now the real work begins. Depending on the types of systems you decide to integrate into your new home, you or your builder will need to contact specialists to design and install those systems. The skill level of each specialist is ultimately what affects the performance of the house, so finding and hiring the right people is one of the most important steps in the process.
Building a Smarthouse
There’s no way around it. Building a home equipped with state-of-the-art technologies adds time to a construction schedule. There’sadditional wire to pull and gear to install. Of course, there’s also more decision-making involved. How many speakers and where should they be installed? What about security cameras? A big-screen TV?
Most of the work may be handled by the builder in conjunction with a professional home systems installer, but it never hurts for a home owner to understand the building process and the schedule of installation.
By far, the easiest way to build a high-tech home is by hiring a builder who offers technology packages as either standard or optional amenities or finding a builder who has a close working relationship with a qualified CEDIA installer (see page 98 for a full list).
This type of builder understands the value of technology and will already have his own subcontractor to handle the installation, which is one less thing for you to worry about. Most smarthouse technology installers carry only select brands of equipment and will deviate very little, if at all, from the preconfigured setup that they have agreed with a builder of a display home. A home theatre system, for example, might consist of one manufacturer’s components exclusively.
In a custom-built house or apartment, you get custom work – technology included. You can select precisely the brand of equip-ment you like, choose as many sensors as your house warrants and expand at will (at a price, of course). Going the custom route will require more work and involvement from you, however. You’ll probably need to hire your own systems installer and with his help create your own technology package. This can be fun for some and just one more headache for others.
Whether you go production or custom, the installation of electronic gear follows the same basic steps: planning, blueprint markup, prewire, rough-in and fit-off.
Even if you opt to build a house or apartment, you may still be faced with making a few important decisions. Builders who specialise in high-speed wiring systems (for functions such as computer networking, video on demand and whole-house music), for example, may ask you where you’d like the termination points (that is, telephone and cable TV points) located. Before you blurt out a quick “over there and right here”, think carefully about where the desk, bed, TV and easy chair may be placed. These will be the best spots to place the jacks.
It’s completely your call when determining the types of equipment, the equipment locations and the functions of electronic systems for your custom-built home. Because it’s extremely difficult and costly to reroute a piece of wire or reposition an in-wall speaker once a home is finished, it’s crucial that most of the decisions be made before the blueprints are completed. Do this with your family members so that everyone has some input.
Your desires for certain technologies may call for certain structural accommodations. A home theatre setup that’s built into the wall, for example, will require a dedicated space behind it that offers access to the backs of equipment. The ceiling might needadditional structural support to safely hold a heavy video projector. It’s best that you inform your builder of all your ideas so that he can design the house accordingly.
Your builder marks out on the blueprint or architectural drawings exactly where you would like equipment placed. This serves as a road map for every tradesperson involved in the project. By referring to the blueprint, each tradesperson knows precisely where to pull the wire and mount the receptacles that will eventually house the outlets, keypads, speakers, security sensors and other equipment.
After your intentions are identified, the found-ation is then poured, the walls framed, and the doors and windows of the home are set. You can breathe easy during this part. Using the architectural drawings as a guide, your builder or home systems installer identifies equipment locations by double-checking against the plans. If there are any potential troublespots, these will be identified by mark-ing timber studs or some such method.
Prewire and Rough-in
The first tradesperson to install mechanical equipment into the home is the heating/cooling contractor. He’ll need to know the thermostat locations. Next is the plumber, followed by the electrician and finally the home systems installer who routes low-voltage cabling from a central spot in the basement to every planned equipment location (prewiring). Although no equipment is installed at this time, the home is prepared for the installation or ‘rough-in’. Here the boxes that will eventually house speakers, keypads, light switches and other devices are mounted to the framework and the wiring pulled through. Down in the basement, the controllers that manage the various systems of the house are also roughed in. The construction crew is usually building the roof during the prewire and rough-in phases.
After the plasterboard is up, the equipment you ordered is attached to the wiring that was installed earlier. Grilles are applied to the speakers, faceplates to light switches, and keypads and fascias to built-in audio/video racks. Make sure the painters stick around to handle any necessary touchups. Finally, the home systems installer performs several test runs of the equipment to make sure every-thing is operating as planned.