The term “Smart Home” has become almost a cliché these days, but there’s no denying that technology’s role has become less about adjunct features and more an integral part of the infrastructure of new homes. In Florida, the appropriately monikered IQ-Home is constructing a residence that is both intelligent and unique.
The 4000-square-foot Mouse House near Orlando is designed to go beyond environmentally friendly, boasting features that actually make it environmentally proactive, like a low-energy footprint, solar-generated power and water, and technologically advanced, IP-based lighting control and digital audio systems.
The house’s rounded shape is hurricane-resistant, and combines Structured Insulated Panels (SIP’s) with interior light gauge steel framing construction with natural materials like soybean-based, closed-cell foam insulation, and a specialized high-efficiency HVAC system with dual compressor configuration. With a floor plan that features a circular main area and two smaller circular wings, the home’s highly integrated manufacturing process enables exceptionally quick construction. “We went from delivery of materials to a dry-in structure in less than 14 days,” reports IQ-Home’s President and founder, Skip Stein.
Each of the 1400-pound exterior wall panels is made from blue wood-treated pine, which is mildew, mold and termite proof, and the roof is engineered with free-floating trusses that rest on the exterior walls and require no interior support columns. The roof holds a two-panel, 120 gallon solar water heater. A grid-tied photovoltaic system is planned for the near future as soon as the energy loads of the operational home are computed. A bio-diesel generator will serve as backup, fed by a 280-gallon fuel tank.
For fire suppression, large sprinkler arrays cover the interior and penetrate the side panel soffit. A secondary water spray on the rooftop not only protects the roof from fire, but saves energy by setting off a water spray to perform evaporative cooling on the rooftop when its temperature exceeds 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Occupying nearly a quarter of the 2000-square-foot main module, the kitchen is a major focal point of the home, and incorporates a magnetic induction cooking surface boasting 90% electrical efficiency, as well as low-energy, high-efficiency appliances, a built-in downdraft for the grill, and a water-powered garbage disposal that uses no electricity.
The home’s incoming wateris fed from a local deep well that boasts a four-inch stainless steel pipe and is purified via aeration and carbon filtration. An advanced septic filtration system handles the outflow. The 4 and 1/2 bathrooms are equipped with motion sensors which turn on super-quiet exhaust fans when entered. Much of the flooring is made from bamboo, “except my wife’s studio,” says Stein. “She’s an interior designer, and wanted black and white checked tile.”
Perhaps one of the home’s most intriguing features is its uniquely designed low-voltage systems, including lighting and electrical control and whole-house digital audio. Stein has implemented a system utilizing digital control technologies whose touch-controlled whole-house lighting and audio systems have become a hot ticket item in custom and designer homes.
As Stein explains, his design and the unique technology was an optimal starting point for his prototype home. “The digital network does away with a traditional, centralized design in favor of a modular approach. The dimmer modules can be located anywhere in the house, so right away we’ve eliminated lots of expensive copper runs and replaced them with less expensive Cat5 cables. That’s just for starters.”
But it’s the digital system’s programmability that provides the system’s functionality and flexibility. The lighting modules can be programmed to perform a wide range of scenes and scenarios and, taking the concept a step further, Stein has implemented simple, low-cost voltage relays to control sources, connecting them to the control modules.
“The primary approach of the digital component is as a multi-functional control module, allowing you to dim lights, set scenes, etc.,” Stein observes. “What we’ve done is to use those dimming modules to control the scene and mood lighting. Each dimming module carries a 20 amp load and can control eight zones. Other lights, ceiling fans and convenience outlets that are used in an ‘on-off’ application, so we’re using a standard ten dollar voltage relay to operate those components.” Digital input and output modules are used to connect to the control the relays.
“We’re maximizing utilization of the system, using the digital switches to programmatically control the dimming modules,” Stein continues. “Other switches are wired into an input module, which signals the input/output module functions. It’s a typical open-closed relay scenario, but because the input module is an integral part of the system that signals the output module, this allows you to turn on or off any number of multiple devices, and set scenes, even ones that can vary with time of day.”
As Stein points out, implementing the technology as a communications and control base enables him to perform functions that would typically require considerably more hardware and connectivity. “We can virtually control every electrical device in the house – lighting, fans, and any kind of blinds or shutters – from anywhere in the house,” he says. “We’re using multiple dimming modules to create lighting and control sequences, and can create scenarios ranging from simple all lights on or off to complex sequenced events. We’ve set up motion sensors in nearly every room, so that entering a room will turn the light on, and leaving will turn it off. Under normal use, we should rarely ever need to touch a light switch.” In addition, the motion sensors will double as security sensors when the integrated security system is armed.
The house has additional sensors installed that detect the ambient lighting level in each room and adjust the lighting accordingly, Stein adds. “All that is within the programming and technological capabilities.”
In addition to the programmability and functional advantages, Stein points out that integrating the system saved considerable time and money during the installation process. “Using the dimmers and control modules, we don’t have to run expensive copper from every switch,” he says. “We can install dimmer modules close to most of the major loads, and run a single strand of Romex instead. It’s been a tremendous cost savings, even before we power it up.”
Stein is also integrating whole house distributed digital audio, an IP-based system controlled by the Touchscreen Amplifier, an eye-catching, full-color wide screen touch panel with integrated 70 Watt digital amplifier. The system’s central audio server holds over 1200 CD’s in uncompressed format, accessible from any connected Touchscreen Amplifier. The touch panel displays metadata, including album art and song information, and can also control any other audio device on the network, including iPods connected via the ID1-1 docking station, AM/FM radio blades, satellite radio pods and legacy audio components. More importantly, the touch panels offer full control of the lighting system, creating a single, integrated low-voltage control system. “We’re putting digital audio into the master bedroom, living room and kitchen, guest module and office suite,” says Stein. “And because each touch panel has 84 configurable buttons, each one can control anything else in the house – lights, fans, whatever.”
Programming the system. “It will definitely be a bit of an undertaking,” Stein muses. “But as complex as this system is – and it’s far more intense than most people would need for more normal usage – the digitals protocol makes it a lot less overwhelming to program.”
Stein concludes, ”For me, I love the challenge of taking a cleverly-designed product and finding ways to push the envelope and use it in ways people may not yet have considered.