The Big House

Systems integration brings a gigantic residential install under control. 8/11/2009 4:00 AM Eastern

The Big House

Aug 11, 2009 8:00 AM, By Dan Daley

Systems integration brings a gigantic residential install under control.

When it comes to the size of a home, there is a tipping point between the ordinary and the extraordinary, a point that is a moving target in an age of deflated values and diminished expectations. But there remains another point that’s equally fluid but determined less by market fluctuations than by one’s internal set of scales, where a certain house is less a residence than a self-sufficient universe.

The Johnson residence in the downtown Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., falls into that rare category. At 19,000 square feet, it’s the single largest residence in the city. Spencer Ackerman, owner of Playback AV in Charlotte, lost count of how many miles of Cat-5e his company ran inside the walls of the house. When asked what sets a house of this scale apart from a commercial integration project, he thinks for a second, notes the dedicated control room with three

Middle Atlantic racks for AV sources and automation, then says, “Not much.”

But it is still a home, and AV systems are at the heart of how a residence of this size can be managed. A Crestron home automation system with an AV2 processor integrates 20 zones of lighting, five zones of HVAC, a front door intercom, five

Speco Technologies CVC770DN surveillance cameras including one at the front door, and a comprehensive home security system. The lighting control system is centered on Crestron dimmers with CNX-B12 keypads. Eight Crestron TPS-2000 5in. touchpanels in strategic locations around the home let users access all the systems from any of those locations. A TPS-4000 10in. touchpanel was chosen for the kitchen because of its central location.

Long time coming

Playback AV did the Cat-5e and coaxial (for component video) prewiring nearly three years ago, as the house was being framed and plumbing, electrical, and HVAC was being roughed out. That job alone took a month—the home includes 20-plus zones of distributed audio, a dedicated home theater, and a projection system for the indoor pool, and audio sources include a digital music server, FM radio, and Sirius satellite radio. As technologically edgy as the house is, however, there is no fiber-optic cabling.

“Fiber is really more of a speed issue than anything else, and the increase in speed is not cost-effective at this point; it would cost at least 50 percent more to use fiber,” Ackerman says. “The next logical step up would have been Cat-6, which would have increased the wiring cost by about 10 to 20 percent. But there’s nothing here that Cat-5 can’t handle.”

The Big House

Aug 11, 2009 8:00 AM, By Dan Daley

Systems integration brings a gigantic residential install under control.

Home automation

Standout features in this megahome include two Clarex Blue Ocean rear-projection screens. In the home theater/gym, a Sim2 D30 RTX55 projector provides video, and two 22in. Sharp LC-22SV2U LCDs mounted on either side of the screen offer additional video from other sources.

Nearly two years later, they returned to do the trim phase: systems installation and integration. However, in that timeframe, the homeowner, who wanted the house to be as technologically advanced as possible, had become intrigued by a projection screen technology he had read about. The Clarex Blue Ocean screen leverages technology developed by high-end commercial aquarium manufacturer Nippura into a rear-projection screen that sandwiches screen material between two sheets of rigid, optical-grade acrylic that expands the viewing cone and elevates contrast and color intensities. The owner chose the largest standard size available—100in. The home theater had originally been specified and wired for a ceiling-mounted front projector, so the switch to the Blue Ocean screen meant coming up with a rear-projection solution. In this case, a Sim2 D30 RTX55 projector. Directly behind the screen wall of the theater is what was originally planned to be a 15’x20’ home gym—a good size, but it had a window.

“Normally, with rear projection, you would want to put the projector into its own light-sealed room,” Ackerman says. “Any ambient light is going to dilute the quality of the projection. So we had to have the exercise room double as a projection booth.” That was accomplished by installing BTX 5060 motorized blackout shades and drapes on the window. These are automatically activated along with the shades and light dimmers in the theater itself when put into operational mode by the user. With the window uncovered, the room still functions as a gym. When the shades and drapes go down, the projector fires up.

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The Blue Ocean screen, is another one of the crossover points between commercial systems’ installations and high-end residential ones, Ackerman says. (There are also two 22in. Sharp LC-22SV2U LCD screens mounted on either side of the main screen. These can dial in any of the video sources independent of the main screen.)

The home theater has stone flooring, and several things were done to counter acoustical problems stemming from that including absorbent wall coverings. Triad Silver/4 Omni series loudspeakers are used throughout, with three for the LCR array in front below the screen, and six Silver/4 Omni loudspeakers in the ceiling in the rear for the surround channels. Two Triad Bronze/6 subs are mounted in the front wall and one side wall of the 10-seat theater, creating what Ackerman dubs a 9.2 system.

“The thinking is to use more speakers to get better coverage, and that way, keep the overall volume down,” he says, adding that the setup also helps minimize reflections.

Home automation

In the indoor/outdoor pool area, heavy-gauge chains support another Blue Ocean screen with material sourced from a Sim2 HT3000 projector recessed into the wall behind it.

The Pool

There is a second Blue Ocean screen in the home: a 72in. screen hung from the ceiling using heavy-gauge chains rather than an off-the-shelf mounting product at one end of the home’s indoor/outdoor pool. A Sim2 HT3000 projector is recessed into the wall behind it 10ft. off the floor, and it uses as dedicated Denon DVD-1600 DVD player as its source as well as cable TV. A pool area is naturally going to be damp and humid, so the projector box has a commercial-grade dehumidifier connected to it. Sixteen TruAudio CP-6 weatherproof loudspeakers are mounted in-ceiling in two stereo pairs and draw from an Escient Fireball E4000 hard drive loaded with music, though no one was really concerned about how good the stereo imaging was going to be.

“The pool area has a stone floor and a lot of glass surfaces, so there are going to be reflections,” Ackerman says, adding that they used the same approach as they had in the home theater with multiple TruAudio CP-6 and CP-8 in-ceiling loudspeakers distributing the sound without needing high volume levels.

The house has its own IP address, and the lighting and security systems can be accessed remotely—although one wonders why residents would ever want to leave. But the fact is, high-end residences of this size are only made manageable through systems integration, which cost a total of $210,000 for equipment and installation/integration in this case. But it still has its own unique necessities.

“When you design a system of this type in a home this size, you need to think a bit differently about cable management, space, ventilation, and power requirements,” Ackerman says. “The line between treating this as a residential versus a commercial space, from an infrastructure standpoint, is definitely blurred. What is clear is that a home this large really needs to have a certain level of integration and automation for it to be manageable for homeowners.”

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