Connected AV – Specialists in Home Automation Systems
While planning and budgeting for your Self Build project, you’ve probably had a good think about what you want it to look like, how it functions as a home for you and your family, and how it performs in terms of energy efficiency. Many Self Builders also like to have the latest digital technology incorporated within their homes – from heating and lighting, to audio visual systems. These devices are all designed to make life easier, and give the homeowner more control of variables commonly found in the home. What’s slightly ironic about these ‘smart’ systems, however, is that they all have their own controls – whether it’s an app, a switch, remote control, or motion detector – and when these systems fail to cooperate with one another, it can be slightly inconvenient to homeowners!
So, what if there was a more convenient way of controlling these systems, and improving the efficiency of the technology in your Self Build?
Home Automation Systems
Well, several of our clients are beginning to discover that there are now innovative ways of integrating these digital appliances and systems together. Back in October 2015, ACA visited the Homebuilding & Renovating Show in Edinburgh, and had a chance to network with some experts in this new ‘Home Automation’ field. Edinburgh-based Connected AV specialise in the installation and maintenance of audio visual, lighting, and heating control systems, with one particular solution they supply turning a few Self Builders’ heads. With the help of the Loxone Miniserver, you can integrate everything: lighting, heating, and security systems; audio visual devices; ventilation; appliances – even your property’s access control.
We wanted to learn a bit more, so we put our home automation questions to Nick Thomson, director of Connected AV, and we were impressed with what he had to say…
How Does the Loxone Miniserver Work?
Loxone’s Miniserver is the centre piece to their modular home automation system.
It is a programmable logic controller that is used to tie together the many, usually independent, subsystems of the house, so that they can all be controlled through one, easy to use interface.
The Miniserver comes with a variety of input and output connections that give you a starting allocation of relays – which you could use to control some light circuits, an electric heater, an actuator or a pump, for example – and digital inputs for switches/PIRs etc.
Link connections allow you to expand the home automation system, and there are many “extensions” that Loxone offer which can be added to give you more relays, dimmable lighting circuits, or control modules for air conditioning, as required.
Once you have your various extensions installed, connected and addressed, how you interact with them is down to you and your installer. With the flexible nature of the Miniserver’s logic, it is up to you to decide how the switches in your house will control things: Do you want a keypad that turns lights on, reads temperatures, controls your music, and boosts the heating if it is a little cold for you? It’s up to you to decide (and then let your installer know!).
The important thing to realise is that by centralising the system, you have greatly increased your ability to adapt your new home to fit your requirements, rather than the conventional method of wiring the home, which means that you are restricted by the physical connections around the home.
The Miniserver offers access to its interface in a few different ways – there is a Loxone app which allows tablets and smartphones to connect. It is also possible to connect via a browser, meaning PCs and Apple Macs can both be used. Connection to the home automation system can be done both internally via Wi-Fi, and externally, as long as your Miniserver is connected up to your broadband network – meaning you know what is going on with your house at all times. This home automation system can also send notifications to your phone – such as “a window has been left open”, or can even call you to let you know if there was, say, a water leak which had been detected.
Loxone also has a range of wireless or “Air” products, meaning that retrofitting is an option on older house – but also in newer builds, when new devices become available that perhaps haven’t been cabled for. It certainly adds a level of future proofing.
What are the benefits of a Smart Home Automation system?
A well planned and executed smart home installation should bring many benefits, but primarily the aim is this – Comfort, Convenience and Control, but also… Fun!
A common connection between all the various systems in the house should allow more global control; for example, an “Away” button on a switch at the front door turns all internal lights and music off, but illuminates the drive and porch for 5 minutes until you have left. Equally a “Home” button could illuminate the pathway through the house to the kitchen for when you are arriving home carrying shopping bags.
A home automation system can also cut down on the amount of switches/sensors/controls that are on your wall (See “Wall Acne” photo). If you have many independent systems, traditionally, they will all come with something that needs installed to allow you to use the system. The difficulty with this is that it can lead to a rather clustered look, and can be confusing to operate. In the picture, you can see a thermostat for the room, a keypad to trigger the lighting scenes, a controller for the heat mat or towel rail in the bathroom, a music controller and a light switch for the bathroom, all inhabiting the same space.
These could all potentially be replaced by one switch to do the lighting control for both rooms, read the temperature, turn the music on – and the schedule for the floor would be done in the app. Overall, it is a big gain in aesthetic appeal, particularly when most manufacturer’s controls all look vastly different.
Another benefit of tying systems together is that they might be working against each other, unless closely monitored. Take, for example, a home with a UFH heating system, and also an AC system. Without a common link between them you could have the heating on and also the AC running at the same time, depending on what setpoints have been selected. Why not have one system that decides if the room needs heated, or cooled?
Going away on holiday? Smart home automation can be really advantageous. After selecting “Holiday Mode” on the system, as you leave the house you know that the UFH is off except to protect against frost; the AC is off; the towel rails won’t turn on; and all the lights and music are off. Presence simulation is taking care of switching on/off lights in the evening as if you are living there, adding to the security of the house. Of course, at any time you can remotely connect to it, look at your CCTV cameras – and when you are heading home, you can turn the house back on so that it is warm when you walk through the door.
A smart home is also a smart choice if you choose to sell the house. With a good cable infrastructure and a home automation system that is upgradable and easily reprogrammed, options are available to potential buyers and can help differentiate your house from others on the market.
What are the most common systems and appliances that customers integrate with Home Automation servers?
The main applications would be:
- Scene setting within rooms to change the mood: Homeowners can modify the scenes as the seasons change, to make sure that they have the desired light levels.
- Greater use of LED tape, to highlight features: e.g. kitchen units, bookcases, ceiling beams, and also colour changing tape to completely change the ambience of the room.
- Passive infrared sensors (PIR) that work depending on the hour of the day – e.g. Hallway lights that only illuminate at night.
- Turn the lights on, if the burglar alarm is ringing.
- Zoned heating: whether it is underfloor or radiators, with temperatures from the room’s keypad or thermostat. Rooms not being used aren’t heated, thereby saving money.
- Towel rails and underfloor heat mats set on timer schedules that can be easily set via the home automation system. Variable boost times mean that they can be quickly heated up for that unscheduled bath.
- Remotely turning on the heating when you are coming home early to make sure the house is warm on your arrival.
- A ‘Learning’ heating system or thermostat means that your desire for 21 degrees at 9am is met by the system understanding what time it needs to turn the heating on to achieve that.
- There are both wired and wireless options now for electric blinds.
- Blinds are a great way of utilising the sun to heat rooms and blocking it to keep rooms cooler. As part of a smart home they can be timed to open at sunrise and close at sunset.
- A centralised audio system allows all of your music to be stored on a server and played throughout the house to individual rooms, or in “party” mode.
- Use your broadband connection with the home automation system to stream music services, such as Spotify or radio, independently to audio “zones”.
- Discrete speakers in the ceiling can blend effortlessly with the room design.
- Use the audio system as your alarm in the morning, and also to alert you of somebody at the door.
- Garage doors and gates can be opened remotely to allow access.
- Notifications can be received to alert you to these being left open.
- Projector lifts and screen drops can add to the “home cinema” experience, while not compromising the interior design.
f) Audio Visual (AV)
- Sharing sources, e.g. Sky boxes/Blu-ray players, can mean less subscriptions – as well as keeping TV installations free of visible wires.
- Watch HD all over the house via a Matrix. This is usually a 4 input, 4 output (4×4), or 8 input, 8 output (8×8) choice.
- Universal Remote controls can greatly simplify a complex AV setup. Why have five remotes, when you can use just one?
g) Smart Appliances
- More appliances are now offering connectivity, from kettles to ovens and washing machines. These can often be integrated, depending on the manufacturer.
- Smart switches can be useful additions to allow you to just remotely turn on/off the power to certain appliances without the need for full integration.
How much might the average server cost the Self Builder, including installation?
It is very difficult to estimate the cost of a smart home, as each home has a unique design, and each client has their own ideas. Quotations can be quickly devised from the architect’s plans to give a rough estimate of the cost of adding the technology to make your house “smart”.
There are many factors to consider when devising a smart home, but the most important factor is the cabling infrastructure.
Not all elements of the smart home installation need to be done straight away, but it is important to get the correct cables in place, so that you can do it in stages, if necessary.
There can be a sizable cost to the cabling as more devices are connected within the home. While wireless connectivity has improved greatly, a wire between devices is still the preferred option. Cabling required can range from Cat6 for data points, satellite cable for aerial cables, potentially KNX cable for light switches as well as all the required mains cable for lighting channels etc. The cost for all the cable as well as the installation will probably be upwards of £2-3k. It is generally advised to agree the cost of pulling all the required cables from your electrical contractor once the specification has been agreed.
A central patch panel, where all the cabling is labelled and terminated, is the best way to deal with all the required cabling. A separate equipment rack can house the audio and AV equipment, while a lighting enclosure provides a safe setup for the dimmers and controllers.
Each of these components depends very much on the amount of equipment required, but would generally be around these prices:
- Patch Panel – £300 plus installation
- Rack – £600 plus installation
- Enclosure Frame – £500 plus installation
The control system, using Loxone as an example, starts with a Miniserver at £429, plus you add the power supplies, 4 Channel dimmers (£387), relays (£399), and control modules (£150 to £200 each), as required, plus installation and programming.
KNX Switches, our preferred choice, generally start around £180 per switch, but if you offset the cost of not requiring thermostats etc. they are good value for the functionality they provide.
Can Smart Home Automation help with a Self Build’s energy efficiency?
There are many energy efficiencies that can be gained from a “smart” Self Build home.
Dimmable lighting brings immediate savings as less energy is being used, and lamp life is extended. There isn’t a huge difference in what we see when a light is at 90%, but that 10% saving can be significant over a year.
Zoned heating, according to Ofgem (2014), could save up to £400 off the annual dual fuel bill of £1385. Compared to the £150 offered by single smart thermostats, this seems an attractive prospect and helps the home automation system pay for itself to an extent over its lifetime.
Many more people are now opting to add Solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) inverters to their houses. What happens with the generated electricity is a perfect fit for a “smart” home, as the logic can be built around the appliances in the home – so that even the electric car can be charged once enough current is being generated (Loxone even have a new integrated car charger available now!).
Occupancy sensors are a great way of reducing energy usage, as they can be used to turn off lights if they haven’t detected presence after a period of time.
Generally, a smarter home can be used to add intelligence to the decision making in the system. If you have window contacts and the system knows a window is open, it could be programmed not to turn the heat on in the room. Much of the energy efficiency can be about using the information fed back to the controller to make smarter choices.
As well as Loxone, what other Home Automation systems/brands might you recommend?
We would recommend the following brands:
Control4 – a large, AV focused, home automation system that provides an interface via TV screens as well as via apps and panels. www.control4.com
KNX – A standard for high quality European products, which we often use with Loxone to expand the range of switches available and to provide the best infrastructure for home automation. www.knx.org.uk
Sonos – The market leader in multi-room audio. www.sonos.co.uk
Sonance – Our preferred choice of speaker for multi-room audio and home cinema installations. www.sonance.com
Blustream – A great range of products for HD video distribution. www.blustream.co.uk
Logitech Harmony – Very price competitive universal remote controls. www.logitech.com/en-gb/harmony-remotes
Pictureframe.TV – Art or Mirror TV’s that transform a feature into a HD TV. www.pictureframe.tv
Our special thanks go to Nick Thomson and Mark Hardie from Connected AV for their fantastic contribution to our blog. If you would like more information about how to integrate a Home Automation system into your Self Build project at an early stage, please don’t hesitate to contact ACA.