montalvo_gw

Is a 'smart house' a dumb idea? Some impressions...

montalvo
October 12, 2007

I thought folks might gain some insights from my experience with a "smart house" that I built five year ago. This was our dream house, a 7,100 square foot house on an acre in a very exclusive gated community outside Sacramento. It was paid for using the proceeds of some very lucky bets placed on my Silicon Valley employers stock and I was determined for it to have all the conveniences that high tech could offer.

Well, after five years, I have to say that all our high tech ideas have been a mixed blessing at best. Despite the many conveniences, weÂve encountered significant and on-going problems with reliability, user-friendliness and basic functionality.

First, an overview of my home. ItÂs on three levels: a garage on the first floor, a guest room and game room on the third floor and everything else on the middle floor (which is at ground level in the back yard). The house is U-shaped and is virtually one-room wide around the U, a distance of about 300Â. A covered patio, pool, spa and koi pond are in the center of the U. It has a living room, formal dining room, bar, kitchen with nook, four bedroom suites, two powder rooms, pool bath, exercise room, game room with bar, project room, laundry room and large, fully covered outdoor lanai and kitchen.

During construction, I had a Crestron home automation control system installed. CrestronÂs system can control virtually everything youÂd care to throw at it: audio, video, HVAC, security, pool, lighting, curtains, etc. But for everything that you add, it makes the control interface that much more complex, more time-consuming to use and more user-unfriendly, especially for guests (which were a major focus of our home). Consequently, we control only audio, video and the pool/spa/koi pond with the system. The audio/video includes TiVo and DirecTV boxes (a total of six, serving 12 TVs throughout the house), an AudioRequest box (basically, an iPod-like system that allows remote control of a 60 Gb hard-drive that stores thousands of songs), a DVD player and a VCR. ItÂs programmed to also accommodate an AM/FM radio and three security cameras, all yet to be installed.

The systemÂs controls can be accessed through RF remotes, touch panels built into the wall and our PCs via internet protocol. This system can do some really cool things. From my PC or any of the seven rooms having a touch panel, I can designate which rooms IÂd like to play music and then make selections (songs, albums, playlists) from the AudioRequestÂs music library. I can watch a TiVo recording in the family room and then adjourn to our bedroom to watch the end of it. The "public rooms" (family room, lanai, exercise room, etc.) and master bed/bathroom all have access to both the single TiVo unit and another DirecTV box (shared, except for a dedicated one in the family room), providing flexibility in accessing programming. The RF remotes permit control of the TiVo, the other DirecTV box and the centralized DVD player and VCR from all public rooms. And they also eliminate the need to point the remote at a device and the need to have a slew of remotes.

But despite my best efforts to ensure an intuitive interface, my tech-challenged wife only feels comfortable with about five percent of the systemÂs functionality. For the first two years, the systemÂs installer was at our house several times a month, doing reprogramming, system upgrades, etc. The TiVo hard drive has failed, as has the entire (pricey) Denon DVD carousel player. Initially, the system installer gave us a cordless touch panel remote for the family room ($2,400!). It was awfulÂslow, confusing interface, cumbersome to use and required frequent recharging. We returned it in favor of a more modestly expensive ($400) RF remote like those in the other public rooms. The entire system cost well over $100K (not counting TVs) and although we shuddered to see our $8,000 50" Panasonic plasma now selling for $1,800, well thatÂs to be expected when youÂre an early adopter. Just ask the first iPhone buyersÂ

Our lighting system employs home-run wiring, meaning that all lighting wires come to a centralized point in the house and are connected to relays that can then be controlled by low voltage programmable light switches. This means that any light switch can be programmed to operate any light or group of lights in the house. And all of the switches can be labeled with a PC-generated paper label and can be re-labeled if you decide you want a given button to operate something else (something that happens quit a bit when you first move in and begin to assess what works for you). The system also controls my ceiling fans (eleven), several wall outlets and two gas heaters in the lanai.

My system is made by NexLight which I selected over Lutron, the primary manufacturer for home lighting systems of this type (at the time). The Lutron system offered incredible functionality (e.g., push a switch once and the hall lights come on, a second time and the lights dim to 30%, a third time and the porch lights come onÂwhatever you want) but obviously created the potential for substantially more confusion among the uninitiated (like house guests). NexLightÂs system still permitted us to program a switch next to our bed that we labeled "All Off", turning off every light in the house. This was a godsend, given how spread out our house is; no trooping through the house each night to see if you might have left a light on. And it worked great until the first time we had house guests complain about the curfew we imposed when they came down for breakfast the morning following the "blackout" they experienced while brushing their teeth the night before. Fortunately I could reprogram the switch to turn off all lights except the guest bed/bathroom lights.

But this system, with all its many benefits, also has its drawbacks. First, while you have the OPPORTUNITY to decide the function of each light switch in the house (in my case, all 310 of them), you also have the OBLIGATION to determine what each switch will do. Yes, you can just let the electrical sub-contractor decide (much as you would delegate that decision to the architect or builder with a conventional lighting system). But since itÂs YOUR house, you want it to work for YOU. And you find that youÂre spending quite a bit of time sorting through all the various possibilities to optimize the system for your use. Also, installing things such as an astronomic switch for outdoor lights, while possible, are far less straightforward than picking one up at Home Depot and popping it into the outlet box. And despite all the switch labels and 310 switches, my wife regularly uses no more than ten switches in the entire house, claiming the system is "just too confusing" for her.

AppliancesÂweÂve got a bunch! Four dishwashers (two in the kitchen, one in the lanai and a dishwasher drawer in the upstairs bar), eleven refrigerators (including three bar refers, two wine refers, two freezers, SZ refer drawers and a Scotsman ice maker), three microwaves, Wolf cooktop, Jenn-Air BBQ, warming drawer, two trash compactors and two ovens. And in addition to a scary electric bill, weÂve had lots of problems: a Freon leak on the 36" SZ refer, an ice-maker leak on the 36" SZ freezer, exploding soda cans in one of the bar refers (three times...even after the repairs!), door replacement on one Miele DW and a software problem on another, replacement of the control panels on both Dacor ovens, replacement of a trash compactor and two new compactor drawers and LED display problems on the Dacor microwave. Some of these were covered under warranty and only entailed the inconvenience of waiting for a repairman. But many involved inconvenience due to loss of use and a significant expense. And in addition to repairs, we discovered features we really didnÂt like, despite the care we exercised in making our selections. For example, my gourmet chef wife found the Wolf range to be excellent to cook on but a royal pain to keep clean. The lessons: 1) The more toys, the more repair headaches. 2) High-end appliances donÂt guarantee high-reliability. 3) Carefully compare expected benefits of your appliances with the cost of running, maintaining, stocking, cleaning and ultimately replacing them.

The house has an elevator connecting the garage to the main floor. This has been indispensable, primarily for conveying groceries and other purchases, luggage and handicapped guests into the house. But weÂve had several problems with reliability, one involving several guests who were stuck between floors. It was quickly resolved but they were more than a little unnerved. Service and maintenance are a significant expense.

We wanted hydronic radiant heating because we have about 4,000 square feet of limestone tile which, even in our relatively mild California climate, can be cold to walk on in winter. In addition, we have high ceilings (for which radiant is more efficient) and weÂre getting old (hate when that happens) and radiant keeps your extremities warmer. Plus, you can put a thermostat in every room, heating only those rooms that you use. We need air conditioning in our area and so we went ahead and installed furnaces, too. Radiant takes a long time to bring a cold house up to temperature. WeÂre retired and travel a lot in the off-season, turning down the thermostats while weÂre gone to save energy. When we come home, it might take the radiant system eight hours to bring the house up to a comfortable temperature so we can just turn on the forced air system instead.

But while having all that flexibility is nice, there are, of course, downsides. Among the first: wall acne. We have TWENTY thermostats (14 for the radiant system). It seems like thereÂs a thermostat on every wall in the house. And in addition to the aesthetic impact, you have to continually adjust them for the various circumstances: vacations, house guests, season changes, daylight savings, etc. Each has two batteries which must be serviced. When I consider the cost of those, plus batteries for the 12 smoke detectors and myriad other handheld devices, IÂm ready to buy stock in Duracell. The radiant system was heated with water from a 100 gallon water heater that also supplied hot water for half of the house. It failed after five years (out of warranty) because it turns out that hot water heaters are a bad choice for radiant systems. They fail early because of the load that radiant systems put on them. I replaced it several months ago with a boiler-water heaterÂfor $12,900! And the installer put in the wrong flue piping which now has to be completely re-done.

The forced air system has been equally problematic. There are four A/C-furnace units, two divided into two zones, for a total of six thermostats. The installer didnÂt compute a reasonable register balance between the zones of the two-zone units, creating all kinds of problems. While working on one of the units, a repairman broke a condensate pipe in the attic. When the A/C was turned on five months later, condensate dripped onto the sheetrock ceiling, causing it to collapse. Now wasnÂt THAT fun?

The security system has been relatively problem-free, except for a number of false alarms attributed to insects, faulty window switches and the inevitable operator error. And the automatic sprinklers have worked well, except for the lawn sprinkler that failed to shut off while we were traveling in the south of France, causing a flood in my neighborÂs yard and an additional $400 charge on my water bill. And the solar pool heater has worked great, except for the leaks that inevitably show up in the panels at the beginning of each season (despite careful winterizing the prior fall). And the Jandy pool controller has been terrific after spending countless hours talking to tech support reps trying to program it to control our four pumps and numerous electric valves.

For those of you with the patience to have read through this long saga of triumph and tragedy, I can only leave you with one conclusion with regard to house technology: Technology provides no free lunch, even after purchase. Yes, it adds a ton of money to your construction cost but it entails significant monitoring, maintaining, repair and replacement costs. For every benefit you'll enjoy, there are on-going costs that must be paid. You just have to decide whether itÂs worth it to you. I might add that I rather like working on home repairs and IÂve become pretty handy over the years. IÂm an engineer by training and IÂve likely found it easier than most to address the various challenges of my so-called smart house. IÂm financially secure and IÂm retired, so I have both the time and the money to keep things running. So I still consider this my dream house and IÂd likely to incorporate these same features if I were stupid enough to build again. But I certainly wouldnÂt give anyone an unqualified endorsement of the various features that IÂve included. And despite the technological advancements since we built our house (hey, we donÂt even have hi defÂimagine!), I have to believe that the downsides with the latest cool stuff are every bit as troublesome.

Hope this has helped provide some perspective for you.

Bob

Comments (76)

  • bevangel_i_h8_h0uzz

    Montalvo, I do like the way you think. Seems like the engineering geeks would be happy to bring in some "end users" and think about the "human factors" when they design new high-tech toys because that ought to vastly expand their markets. I wonder why they so often don't?

  • lorraineal

    My house has many of the same features as montalvo's and I have to agree that they are high maintence insofar as being able to get everything working the way you want it to.

    There are so many different ins-and-outs to all the different systems. So far, I have figured out most of them by trial and error or by the fact that I was there when they were installed. I've been joking that if I ever sell the place, the new owners will have to hire me as a consultant!

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  • dallasbill

    Wow!

    Montalvo... what tells you where you last put put down your beer and your reading glasses?

    Tell me where I can buy that and my life will be complete bliss. We already have the feral cats and the Harmony universal remotes... ;-)

  • sweeby

    Thanks for the enlightening post!

    I was very lucky to have lived in a house that was just a little too big and a little too automated once -- so I was able to learn my lesson much less painfully. Keep it simple for me!

  • montalvo

    OK, I've probably said more than enough on this subject but I just remembered one more story that illustrates the lunacy of some high-tech design engineers.

    The NexLight lighting control system we installed has red and green LEDs next to each switch. Since the switches are simply buttons which don't indicate the status of the switch (i.e., on or off), the LEDs serve this purpose and also make it easier to locate the switch in the dark.

    When the system was initially developed, the designers used the green LED to indicate that a switch that was "on" and red to show "off". To my wife (and I suspect most of us who were raised in an environment of traffic signals), this made imminent sense: green-go-on and red-stop-off. But to the electricians installing the system, this was WAY wrong. For electricians, red is a code for a hot wire, meaning electricity is flowing, and green indicates safe, meaning the electricity is shut off. So the NexLight folks reversed the LEDs, making the switches more user-friendly to the electricians...and, of course, thoroughly confusing to the end-users.

    My installer had actually installed two of the old switches (since replaced) which is how we discovered the history on this "product improvement". My wife delights in showing guests this red-green contradiction as an introduction to her tirade on the intellectually-challenged "smart house" her husband built for her.

    Bob

  • anthem

    Hmm, Interesting thread. I think placing the blame on 'smart homes' is probably misplaced. More focus should be placed on the implementation/development/engineering of the application than the entire spectrum.

    I've seen some well done automated houses that were a joy to use, some 'tricked out' houses that would be annoying after awhile and some bad to ridiculously bad automation. Since there is no best practices, standards, regulations, or anything else in this space - you have absolute chaos in terms of skill level in this space. I would venture to say that half(or more) the people installing network cable don't know how to terminate it correctly (TIA-568B ansi standards) - thats how bad it is.

    Anyhow, in terms of a smart home or automated home - I think people get overzealous in terms of what they want to do with it. Whether that's the husbands and the geek comes out, or the wife who thinks that something would be convenient to have. What people lose site of is that you want operational simplicity in front of all the technology. What happens is that they want to 'control' everything and the implementation group tries to accommodate that - and everything goes to the crapper from there.

    The truly good systems have an amazing amount of capability behind all a very slick, simple and user friendly facade. They might have touchscreens, but not at the expense of keypads/switches for lighting. They try and replicate the way someone would use something. Touchscreens are good for a purpose - but not for the simple things around a house. Unfortunately I've seen too many times when a touchscreen was placed in an area where people just want keypads. . . It isn't about intuitive or not, in many places it just isn't necessary. For places where there is a need - then it really starts getting into how intuitive things are, but even then - the simple stuff should be simple to operate. If that means 4 choices on a screen for the majority of things - then it should be 4 choices.

    In terms of the other stuff - security - fairly straightforward these days. It generally works and works effectively. No real reason to get cute with it. You can implement cameras (IP and baseband) w/o much of a problem, but no real need to go overboard.

    In terms of some of the other comments. Theater builds are notoriously costly if they are 'invasive'. If its just a media room - not a big deal. Theaters - big deal. At that point it can range from very little to 2m+ (yeah, there are million dollar home theaters). The high dollar stuff could be in the labor, could be in the electronics, and could be in the furniture. You can get a 200K projector if you want, 8k chairs, and 1000/yard fabrics - its just where do you want to go with this.

    Someone mentioned open systems and then followed up with lifeware and control 4 (neither are open systems either but they do utilize things from other vendors). Neither of these are any improvement over amx/crestron in terms of functionality simplicity. One is a cheaper version of the other and uses other components because it doesn't have its own, and the other is what I would still classify as an experiment to work. There is a huge advantage in not having hard drives being part of the critical equation in a critical home environment. Neither make things any easier/simpler to use as they are still both tied to the implementer.

    basically, what it all comes down to is what relative things do you want. Some people believe that wireless can satisfy everyones requirements (they can't), and some believe in absolute simplicity. Nothing beats a wired connection, but the question is whether you'll have the corrected wired connection in the right place when you need it (big if). For the non-technically inclined, I'm not sure if the large amounts being spent on 'structured' wiring are worth it now, or ever in the future if its not going to be used.

    One other thing that people should separate - lighting automation vs the rest. Lighting automation is what I would consider as pretty mature and almost bulletproof. You can do Lutron/Vantage/Crestron etc lighting and not be hounded by all the other issues that surround 'automation'.

    Enough rambling. What difference is there when the husband spends 100k on automation on something he uses 10% of or the wife that spends 100k on the kitchen and uses 10% of. Both are equally wasteful and useless - but its not all about 100% usefulness these days and never will be. I don't think either side has it right in these debates.

  • talkingdog

    That OP should get a prize or something.

    Here's a very good 60 Minutes piece along the same lines.

    http://60minutes.yahoo.com/segment/36/get_me_the_geeks

    First thing I'm gonna do when I get MONEY is, rather than buy a bunch more cool stuff hire my own full time geek to take care of all my tech stuff, keep my computers and network optimized, updated and backed up and also to follow me around the house and press the right buttons for me.

    http://60minutes.yahoo.com/segment/36/get_me_the_geeks

    Now, on the flip side, there is a quiet movement in tech in the opposite direction to this escalating complexity: the retro interface, with just one button. One example of this is the new Rolls Royce cockpit. Not more options and buttons but less options and buttons. You can also see this in some consumer gadgets, cell phones and what not.

    The one button interface. So old it's new.

  • pinktoes

    User interface is the issue that determines my choices these days. Because I'm simply tired of spending time learning to use the devices that were supposed to save me time. I no longer watch TV when DH is not around to manage what the satellite system has managed to over-complicate. All I wanted was good TV reception. Then I discovered a couple of cable stations I really enjoy, so that was a bonus. But the satellite TV has managed to complicate things to the extent that if I press the wrong button, I can't access the TV at all.

    Actually, I was happy with the manual, mechanical dial on the TV that occasionally required me to get off my duff and walk across the room. And it never wore out or required me to learn a sequence of buttons, all of which are too small and too close together (on the remote).

    I'm not a Luddite. I'm a user who thinks interface in its current state stinks. Can any of the geeks out there say "user-friendly"?

  • sniffdog

    I like anthem's response. Just would like to add that for those who have some basic knowledge of wiring - or have kids who these days learn how to program at very young ages - there are some ecconomical solutions that provide a reasonable level of automation and simplicity of use. I wired up my home for about $10K and learned a lot - mostly from posts on the GW. Here are some tips:

    - security systems are a good investment. you can add them after the house is done with wireless , but it is much cheaper (and probably more reliable) to use wire during rough in and use wireless to augment if you need to beef up the system later. If you have ever wired up a toy train set or played around with any low voltage lights you probably have enough skills to do the job. A good source to purchase security parts and learn about how to install is www.aesecurity.com. I put in a 32 zone system for under $2500 and a few days or easy wiring. The toughest part is programming the controller - the manual was good but if you are not computer inclined, find some teenagers who would find it very easy.

    Whole house audio can be done very simply or you can go hog wild. The very best digital systems with lots of control were just way too expensive for me. I went with a very simple analog system - but I used conduit everywhere so I can upgrade later. Conduit is very cheap (about 20 to 30 cents per foot) and can be purchased at HD or Lowe's in 100 to 200 foot rolls. The most important part was running good speaker wire during rough in, and I also made and installed my own speaker boxes (you can buy these too). My entire pre-wire cost was under 1000 dollars. Add on top of that the cost per room for an 8 room system with speakers, volume control, and amplification & distrubution is under 200 dollars per room. Very afforable - simple - upgradeable.

    I ran wire for a future surveillance system. I have no idea if I will ever need this or do this, but I figure in 20 years it might be a standard thing that people want. Again - very cheap to run RG-6 cable plus 18 guage power/ground to each potential camera location. Total cost of pre wrie for a 6 camera system was under 400 dollars.

    The technology for controlling lights is, as anthem stated, very mature. It all boils down to how much you want to spend and how much functionality you really need. I wanted to make sure that whatever lighting control I put in had a backup - so that I could always operate lights even if the contollers crapped out. I looked at Lutron and Contol4 - just too expensive for my taste and had the single point of failure which was unacceptable to me. In the end I went with a product called Insteon - which you can add after the house is done. It is both a a wireless and over wire system (uses the electrical wires to send signals) and is very affordable - and you can add incrementally. The dimmers run about 45 dollars each and an 8 button contoller is about 50 dollars. Each dimmer can be remotely controlled BUT also works as a regular dimmer too. So if the contoller goes out you can still tun lights on and off. In then end, I will have spent about 3000 dollars on Insteon products and can control just about every light (interior & exterior) remotely. You can find these products at www.smarthome.com.

    The voice and data network was very simple. I hear a lot about wireless networks but during the rough in stage, it is very cheap to run Cat 5e or Cat6 cables to the places where you know that you will have a computer or phone. I also used conduit to those locations where I might have a need some day, but not when we move in. Total cost of pre-wire was under 500 dollars and included networking equipment and tools to make the cable connections.

    I hope this information is helpful.

  • anthem

    Pinktoes - not sure if you want to know this answer - but if you really want to walk to the control box to turn the channel, almost all of them still have front panel buttons that indicate channel up/down that you can still push.

    On top of that - once you are on a channel and watching (on satellite), you don't have to use the sequqnce of buttons to get to your channel (my guess is that you are selecting "guide" and then selecting the channel and then "ok") - you can do it the old fashion way and push channel up/down until you get to your channel. You can do this on the remote or on the set top box itself. . . Now, because there are a lot of channels and you want to take a shortcut and can't handle the shortcut, well. . . . can't help you there.

  • sierraeast

    I think one of pinktoes points is that automation has made us a lazier generation, so to speak. Kids are getting overweight playing video games when in my day, we did sports or invented games outside well after the sun went down. I remember well changing the black & white manually and when remotes and color came out, we still had the old b&w for years to come because we couldn't afford a color w/ remote.

    Im the first one to admit that it would be a drag now days w/o remote controls, but being techno challenged, i hope that automation and technology will get simpler for the common person and hope that the one button trip that talkingdog mentioned becomes reality.

  • pinktoes

    Anthem: thanks, but I'm worse off than that. If I push the wrong button while gearing up to select TV, rather than VCR or DVD, then I can't get TV and I end up with some message onscreen that wants to guide me through some nonsense with the buttons. At that point I turn it off. I can always read. As long as I keep the lamps with twist on/off switches and don't automate those too! Or, just light the darn candles and do an Abe Lincoln.

  • talkingdog

    This morning, as usual, I could not find the two remotes required for the TV, they were buried under children's toys somewhere.

    What I would like would be a "find remote" button on the mother device, with which, by pressing, the remote would let off a homing signal so I could find it easily.

  • montalvo

    OK, talkingdog, I think this website has what you need. Obviously, your problem isn't unique...

    Bob

  • talkingdog

    Ohmygod I gotta have it!

  • pinktoes

    Oh, irony! My favorite form of humor. An electronic gadget to help you keep track of your OTHER electronic gadgets. Can Hal be far behind? (Warning....)

    It could be useful for teenagers, maybe--what's the range on that gizmo?

  • talkingdog

    Come to think of it, though, the homing device itself will just get lost in the clutter.

  • pinktoes

    NO!! I can't bear it anymore. Now one needs a homing device for the homing device. We shall drive ourselves totally insane with this.

  • juniork

    I wish this were like other forums where you can vote green on favorite posts. This would definitely be one. I also remember your website and photos of your gorgeous home! Thanks so much for sharing your insights...greatly appreciated!

  • bevangel_i_h8_h0uzz

    re changing channels on TV without using the remote...

    Actually, even that can be easier said than done.

    I admit to watching TV when it is on because it has a tendency to grab my attention if I am in the room and it is turned on but I am NEVER the one who turns it on. (I actually hate that it grabs my attention so easily... even when the shows are not intrinsically interesting or entertaining!) Anyway, DH left the TV on one day while he went to the store for something and a friend dropped by to visit while he was gone so I went to turn the thing off. I couldn't find the remote and it took my friend and me several minutes to find the on/off switch on the TV itself.

    Turns out the on/off button was totally camoflaged behind a little spring-loaded door that only opened if you pushed on it in just the right way. I was about to decide that the only switch was on the remote when we finally happened across it. Talk about tech-challenged! LOL

  • talkingdog

    It's a little ironic that this thread should end with a call for "smarter" forum software, but I tend to agree with you. They really ought to upgrade to some software that is more userfriendly, given the volume here. This is the dumbest piece of forum software I've ever seen.

  • dim4fun

    There are a lot of misconcpetions and partial understandings in this thread. Too many to quote.

    Anthem is correct. Who you hire to build your smart home is the most important choice. There are top people in every field. Use them. The other guys are giving these systems bad reputations due to poor design and implementation. Many of the OP comments are about this. Top installers have extensive product knowledge on what parts work and interface best out of the hundreds of possibilities. You need to find these top integration companies for top quality results. This isn't like buying a product in a box and bringing it home. You are buying the integrator's knowledge and experience. The stuff is secondary.

  • kemptoncourt

    We've budgeted 5K for 12 zone whole house audio, cat 6 wiring to 4 rooms, 2TB of networked storage to stream to an HTPC in the family room. I'm sick of spending 15-20 a pop for DVD's that get destroyed going from home to SUV and back again. We're going to archive our entire DVD/CD collection in networked storage for on demand entertainment. We'll do the work ourselves so I believe we'll be at or under budget.

  • montalvo

    I have to take exception with part of dim4fun's proclamation, "Who you hire to build your smart home is the most important choice." I believe an earlier decision is significantly more important: Decide if a smart house is really for you.

    Once you get a vendor involved, even the "top people" to which dim4fun refers will find it difficult to say to you, "Actually, I don't think you'd get sufficient benefits from a smart house based on your (pick one...or more) lifestyle, home size/layout, aversion to technology, desire for simplicity, financial constraints, etc. so I'd rather not install a system for you."

    A point I tried to make with this post is that a smart house won't necessarily make everyone's life easier, even if installed and optimized by the very best people in the field. There are issues with flexibility, reliability and maintenance that can make a smart house far more inconvenient and labor-intensive for its residents than a conventional house. As I said, I like the smart house features that I've installed and don't mind the burden they impose on me. The same would DEFINITELY not be true for my wife or for many, many others. Yesterday, after yet another problem with one of our dishwashers, my wife said, "The day you die, this dream house goes up for sale because I couldn't keep all this stuff up and running!"

    And while it's undoubtedly a good idea to get the best possible installer, identifying who that is can be a daunting challenge. I chose an installer who was being used by all of the other builders of multi-million dollar homes in my neighborhood. His staff could put all the equipment together and make it work perfectly. But his capacity for making it user-friendly was abysmal and his ability (or willingness) to preview the possible problems I might encounter was non-existent.

    I don't think a smart house makes sense for anyone who is unwilling/unable to engage in sufficient self-education on the system alternatives required to interview installers and make an informed selection. And the work necessary to do just that will rule out a smart house for a large percentage of the population.

    Many of the respondents on this thread spoke about doing lots of things "on the cheap", using off-the-shelf components to achieve a great deal of what I have installed in my house. Their solutions were decidedly low-tech and simplistic. More power to them! I think that's likely the best decision for the majority of folks seeking a house that's easier to live in.

    Bob

  • dim4fun

    There are different levels of smart.

    The better integrators take considerable time interviewing potential clients to determine and design for things like spousal acceptance factor and guest usability. Just because you can do something cool doesn't mean that you should. Good designers know how to say," no, you shouldn't, because... and instead we can ..." The designer/programmer of these systems is wholly responsible for the user interface. The user interface is THE SYSTEM to the user. If there are errors or problems within the interface then the system is perceived to be flawed. Many guests won't touch a touch screen but are willing to touch an engraved keypad with simple and understandable words like "Hall" or "Kitchen".

    Your original comments on lighting controls:
    "But this system, with all its many benefits, also
    has its drawbacks. First, while you have the OPPORTUNITY to decide the function of each light switch in the house (in my case, all 310 of them), you also have the OBLIGATION to determine what each switch will do. Yes, you can just let the electrical sub-contractor decide (much as you would delegate that decision to the architect or builder with a conventional lighting system). But since its YOUR house, you want it to work for YOU. And you find that youre spending quite a bit of time sorting through all the various possibilities to optimize the system for your use. Also, installing things such as an astronomic switch for outdoor lights, while possible, are far less straightforward than picking one up at Home Depot and popping it into the outlet box. And despite all the switch labels and 310 switches, my wife regularly uses no more than ten switches in the entire house, claiming the system is "just too confusing" for her."

    The above paragraph is the lighting system designer and programmer's fault. It is not the fault of the lighting system. If tomorrow someone magically replaced the lighting system with 310 standard unlabeled light switches in the required huge multi gang wall plates would your wife be grateful for a "simple system". The larger the home, the more floors, the more rooms, the more zones of lighting in each room the more you need a lighting control system to simplify. Regular switches are only simple when there are two or less zones of lights in a room in a small single story house. Having the All Off button turn off guest quarters is, as you admit, a programming mistake. Your wife's problems with the "complex" system are all design mistakes. Your programmer threw something together and you are trying to adapt. This is just wrong. These systems are completely customizable. There is no reason you can't have friendly. The programming hours to provide friendly can add up to weeks of work for Crestron and AMX and be a substantial part of the contract cost. Maybe that part was scrimped on by your integrator? It is a line item that looks bad on a bid since it can make a bid much higher than one with the same hardware but less programming.

    Assuming you stay with the major brands, (never heard of NextLight) lighting control systems are very mature and capable. The main deciding factors among the top brands can be as simple as the keypad style that appeals to the user and the particular brand offered by a dealer of high caliber in your area.

    I can't stress enough that the programmer is key to satisfaction. People such as yourselves when exposed to a well designed and programmed system can and often do pay to start from scratch and have their systems completely reprogrammed by someone more capable.

    It wasn't necessary to have 20 Tstats out in view that you have to adjust. You missed the wall acne removal feature where invisible or small remote sensors are used. The designer/programmer would have the house find out if you have guests or not, what season it is, if you are on vacation or not and deal with setting them.

    Comments about broken dishwashers, refrigeration, sprinklers, DVD players, elevators and Jandy pool controllers have little to do with Smart Home. These are all parts of non-smart homes and have been for decades. When you have a lot of mechanical stuff you have a lot of stuff that can break. Much of your list seems to be installer error.

    This is not a Smart Home problem. You just have too much poorly designed incorrectly installed stuff.

  • montalvo

    dim4fun, I agree with everything you said in your most recent post. Smart houses CAN be made user-friendly, although you failed to mention exactly how someone might find that installer who has both the capability to tailor a system to the tech-challenged customer as well as the discipline and ethics to avoid including every costly, sexy new system available.

    Yes, I was offered sub-plaster sensors that could eliminate all those ugly thermostats: $150 each times 20 = $3,000. And then when you want to manually adjust temperature in a room, where do you go? Why to a Crestron touchpanel which now must accommodate yet another function (thermostats), making the interface for all the other functions that much more cumbersome. Maybe we need to await the development of rectal sensors that detect when our body temperature requires a change in the thermostat. Now THAT would be a truly smart house! (Might be a bit uncomfortable, though.)

    As for appliances, you're correct in noting that many of my problems simply reflect the notion that the more toys you have, the more things there are to break (which I noted in my initial post). And proliferation of appliances in and of itself doesn't typically meet the definition of smart house. But my intention was to address the larger issue of technology's downside, i.e., while it can make life simpler, it can add a level of complexity that is often unanticipated by folks who get wooed by vendor promises of a carefree house.

    Case in point: I found the problem with my dishwasher last night. My $1,500 Miele Incognito dishwasher has a "smart" control which detects a water leak from either the water supply or drain hoses. Bet your Kenmore can't do that! But maybe your Kenmore also wouldn't have a drain hose that LEAKED! It appears to be a manufacturing defect and it only leaked intermittently, making it that much more difficult to diagnose the problem In addition, the light on the control panel showed "Intake/Drain", meaning either a clogged drain, insufficient water pressure OR a water leak. A truly smart dishwasher would have had a digital display that read, "The drain hose under the sink is leaking due to a manufacturer's defect. We've already called a repairman and he'll be here between 2:00 and 4:00 on Friday."

    Bob

  • badin

    "A truly smart dishwasher would have had a digital display that read, "The drain hose under the sink is leaking due to a manufacturer's defect. We've already called a repairman and he'll be here between 2:00 and 4:00 on Friday." "

    Bob, if someone would make that $1,500 Miele d/w do what you described, it would be worth $15K to me! ;-)
    Thanks for a great thread. I shared it w/ my dh this weekend, and it led to a long, thoughtful discussion.

  • montalvo

    Happy to hear that this thread has been of value, badin.

    I just came back on-line to deal with yet another problem, created while fixing my dishwasher drain leak. While under the sink, I bumped against the EverCold water chiller, causing one of the copper tubing fittings to start leaking water. It appears that I've fixed the D/W drain leak, only to be faced with yet another leak. I just talked to a tech at EverCold (in CA, not India...amazing!) and he's sending out new fittings for free (even more amazing!). But it means that I'll be without both the hot and cold water dispensers for a week or so.

    Did I mention that technology can be exasperating?

    Bob

  • essential

    sniffdog,
    i would love to get more details on what equipment, etc you installed in your lower tech version, particularly the music controls.

  • dallasbill

    Essential... the easiest way to accommodate wiring for music is to have it all dead-head to a wiring closet from each room. That way, you can easily install analogue speaker selectors there to route it from where you want to where you want. Your A/V source feeds to there, and then the selectors route it out to rooms from the closet. Change the room your A/V eqt is in? it's easy to change the wiring at the selector. You can have all locations or any one playing. Keep in mind that this flexibility is only maintained if you do not use in-wall/ceiling speakers. If you do, then those rooms no longer become a potential target room for a relocated A/V system. We chose not to -- we wanted the flexibility of using speakers of our choosing in target rooms. We had no real use for whole-house audio -- and I am an music nut, too!

    The best, cheapest switch equipment I have found is at HTD. They also make exceptional outdoor speakers for the price. If I have 2 outdoor sets and the A/V room speakers going, I have "whole house audio." ;-)

    Lastly, if you choose one music source/room, you may be wondering "how do I conrol volume?" Easy... buy a universal remote (that takes AA or AAA batteries) and then by this RF converter for it:
    http://www.audioholics.com/reviews/remote-controls/wireless-rf-remote-control-extender

    It's the most ingenious thing you have never seen advertised. Use it from anywhere in the home to control volume (or any other function, if your system remotes can do the same).

    Cheap, flexible, and ready for the next person who buys the place to spend thousands if they want to.

  • sniffdog

    Mostly what dallas above said above. I am not sure I understand the comment on the speakers and flexibility though.

    Here is specifically what I did:

    1) I made my own speaker boxes out of 1/2 MDF. My research indicated that it doesn't make any sense to buy a really good speaker and then stick it into a ceiling cavity that provides crummy acoustics. I made the boxes so that they would fit between the joists - lined them with 1 inch yellow insulation, and then bought decent speakers whcih I purchased from www.hometech.com. I plan to upgrade these over time.

    2) I used a high quality speaker cable which I purchased in bulk from Mid South cable. It is 16 guage, 64 strand, 4 color conductors, CL3 rated, in a single sheath and was easy to pull.

    3) I ran the speaker cable from a wall box (I used blue ENT boxes available at Home Depot which work great with conduit) to the first speaker, then left a 3 foot loop, then ran to the second speaker. In each ENT box will be an analog volume controller which also provides impedance balancing. You can get these for about 30 dollars each on the hometech website.

    4) I ran conduit tubes from my basement to each ENT box. I purchased the conduit at Home Depot in 100 foot rolls. I used the snap connectors which make connecting the conduit to the box very easy. I left a few feet of tubing in the basement for ech run so that the spray foram guys would not cover up my tubes! Watch out for this.

    5) I selected a central location for my audio equipment which is a built in cabinet in the family room. At that location, I installed 3 double gang ENT boxes and ran 2 conduit tubes from the basement to each of the boxes. I did this to make snaking all the wires easier.

    At the family room built in, I will be installing my audio reciever - which is tied to my TV and Satellite receiver, and also has the CD and Ipod connected to it. One of the pair of RCA outputs of this receiver will be connected to a 200 watt amplifier which I need to purchase. The output of the amplifier will be connected to an 8 zone autio distrbution box whci I also need to purchase. Now from each of the 8 zone outputs, i have to run another cable of 4 wires (using shielded 16 guage wire) over to each of the ENT boxes that has the volume controllers. That is where all that conduit comes into play.

    For each of the 8 pairs of speakers, you have a total of 32 wires (+ and - for for left and right). I used a Leviton easy connect system (also available at home depot) to provide the 32 terminals make the connections cleaner. Each double gang box can terminate a total of 12 connectors - that is why I installed 3 double gang boxes.

    The the toal cost for all of this was around $2000 total for 8 rooms. Someday I will change to a digital system and I can replace everything but the speaker wire that is in the ceiling.

    I went this route because the lower cost digital systems do not generate enough power to drive a decent speaker and would have been roughly the same cost (maybe a little cheaper). The higher end digital systems that I really like were just too expensive for me at this time.

    Hope this helps.

  • dallasbill

    Nice setup!

    What I meant about the speakers is this: we ran speaker wire for 2 channels from each room location (and outdoors) to the closet. Thus, the A/V system can be set up in any room (potentially) and those wires can be used to feed back to the closet switch and then out to the other rooms. Or two A/V systems can be set up in 2 different rooms to feed 2 other different rooms, etc.

    If those room locations were in-wall speakers, then you could not do that -- easily, without tearing something apart.

  • sniffdog

    ok dallas - I see what you mean. I have in wall and in ceiling speakers - but the speaker wires are run to the locatios where I have volume controllers. Then I home ran separate cables from the volume contollers to the central location in my family room where the amplifer and disribution system is.

    I could have home run the speaker wires all the way to the location of the amplifier (and eliminted the volume contollers all together) and then used an RF remote to control volume and other functions as you suggested.

  • galore2112

    I am wondering: With 11 refrigerators, how do you keep track of spoiled products?

  • rileysmom17

    I was wondering: does anyone else think the OPs house is practically immoral? If you have enough money for 11 refrigerators (just had to have each and every one of them, huh?) and 4 dishwashers, it is time to think seriously about the less fortunate around you. Unlike India our premium gated communities don't have beggars with sores outside them, the untouchables are kept in a different part of town...but they exist and they suffer.

    Oh yeah and were I in the housing market, I would never pay for the previous owner's elaborate wiring scheme. So enjoy the 100K investment while it's yours, cause you'll never see it back unless you sell the home to someone as techno-feely and indifferently wealthy as yourself.

  • rockmanor

    "I was wondering: does anyone else think the OPs house is practically immoral? If you have enough money for 11 refrigerators (just had to have each and every one of them, huh?) and 4 dishwashers, it is time to think seriously about the less fortunate around you."

    ABSOLUTELY NOT! How the heck do you know that the OP does not think of the less fortunate and does not donate more in one year than you have in your lifetime? Perhaps the OP has set up a charitable foundation or in other ways is very generous with his time, talent and treasure. Maybe his tax return gets red flagged for an audit every year because he donates more than the norm for his income bracket. Before you go making assumptions and slandering someone because of what he's earned the ability to purchase, why not think twice? The only immorality I see is the sin of calumny.

  • mizjiff

    Bravo, Rockmanor. And, might I add that Montalvo has been very generous in offering his advice on this forum! In his original post, he was not bragging about how wealthy he was. He was sharing what he learned from his build so that we might make more informed decisions. I've even emailed him directly and asked him some questions and he was very generous in taking the time to provide a detailed response. I appreciate Montalvo sharing his knowledge and experience with us.

  • phoggie

    You asked if this was a "dumb idea"...well you asked...and YES, I do think that it is. Sometimes a person gets so caught up in "gaggets" that life loses its meaning. And I for one agrees with another post....this house is immoral..even if you can well afford it....I think your life would be more meaningful if you would take off a day and work in a homeless shelter to appreciate what you have and maybe your home wouldn't seem nearly as important to you.

  • rockmanor

    Phoggie, you state, after excusing your rudeness with "well you asked..." (although the OP did not ask for a character critique) that you think the OP's "life would be more meaningful if you would take off a day and work in a homeless shelter to appreciate what you have..." So I ask you, how the heck do you know that the OP doesn't do that, and more, already? Do you know what the OP does, or does not do, with his time and money? No, you don't. Yet you judge him and find him morally lacking because he has earned the ability to pay for a larger and nicer home than yours.

    Thank goodness I live in the USA where one can retain one's own earnings (or about half, after AMT and other taxes) and enjoy the rewards of hard work. People didn't use to tear down those who'd achieved success. Now it seems to be open season on anyone who dares celebrate his achievements.

    Even though this is an anonymous forum, I would feel uncomfortable detailing all of our donations, gifts, volunteer work, etc. Sometimes I feel as if I need to do that before discussing my own home, because I know that there will be at least a couple of posters who will jump in to admonish me that we should have given away even more. They seem to have appointed themselves the arbiters of what is a sufficient size and level of finish for others' homes, and anything beyond that is somehow immoral. There are some who probably would not be happy unless we all lived in something akin to a Habitat house with second hand furniture. Fortunately, those people are not running the US government. So I am going to celebrate this Independence Day in a house that is ten times the size of the first home we bought decades ago. I relish having space for my FIL to come live with us, for my grown children to return home to visit or even stay if they desire, for the around-the-clock nurses we needed not too long ago, for friends to gather for special events, etc. I won't let any malcontent ruin my enjoyment, and I hope that the OP doesn't either.

  • anthem

    I believe I've gotten into it with rileysmom before on her ignorant statements regarding what people spend and what they do. Let's see, Bill gates has a house assessed at 125M which most people believe is worth about double that. He has automation systems and electronics that easily exceed 10's of millions of dollars in his residence. I am sure that he easily has more than 11 refrigerators. Let's see the other side of the equation - he's donated 35B (yes that is BILLION) to his foundation to give the money away. He has talked to Warren Buffet who has also donated 35B( again Billion) into his foundation. They give away hundreds of millions to over a billion dollars a year to health and other great causes. How is the tens of millions he spends on his automation "immoral"

    I said this before, rileysmom, you need to get off your high horse and stop judging people. Until you have walked in other people's shoes, given more than they have to good cause, done more for the world than who you are criticizing (or at least know that you have) - then you just need to crawl back under the rock whence you came. There is nothing wrong with stating an opinion - but you're so judgmental on what you don't have and others do (whether by choice or ability) that you need to have a basis from where you are coming from. You have no idea what others have done and are declaring what they have done as immoral. Well, I think before you start declaring people immoral - you better know who that person is. And even then, its better to withhold judgment.

  • vancleaveterry

    I am a Libertarian and a former Republican who thinks a person's money is theirs to do with as they see fit. But one does look at the finances of some of the Super Rich and wonder, why don't they do more for charity?

    Occasionally the news gives some figures of a "Philanthropists" charitable giving ... and foolishly their net wealth as well... and with a little math you quickly see that many are not giving even a tithe.

    Compared to so many middle class Americans, who give 10% to their church and other charities, while struggling with a mortgage, putting their kids through college, etc; it does seem that perhaps a few derisive looks could be cast in the direction of some of the Super Rich.

    Not trying to start a fight. And not suggesting the original poster is of this type. Just throwing in my two cents.

  • kateskouros

    thanks for your .02, vancleaveterry. it was certainly worth that. i recall this thread from last year and will happily bookmark it now that we are moving on our build. the post provided some very useful info for us and i'm grateful. in fact this OPs insights were far more useful than having to suffer through all the holier-than-thous.
    we were just introduced to a creston system (along with a few others) since we have a "friend" who sells these systems. we'll stick to light switches and remote controls in the hopes of becoming one of the "super rich". we're well on our way! ...how much does it take to be "super rich" in the minds of some of the respondents? i just have to know...

  • anthem

    This is getting way off topic, but still worth a healthy discussion.

    I haven't seen the latest giving reports, but the last time I checked, the numbers are a bit surprising. In terms of "tithing" - the numbers are a lot worse than you think. Yes, you are "supposed" to give 10%, but the reality is vastly different. In terms of major denominations - the mormons are the best. Almost 80% gave the requisite 10% or more (probably to do with their church accountants who do tax returns for their group). After that, the next largest group was less than half of that. So it is less than the majority, with many groups in the 20 to 30% category giving the 10%.

    Now, on to more "philanthropic" giving. Many people don't define church tithing as philanthropic but as charitable giving. It's a gray area for sure, but many consider philanthropic to be for a 'cause' or to improve quality of life. But the reason many exclude religious giving is that philanthropic giving (vs say charitable giving) is usually classified as given without getting anything back in return. Most religious tithing is to ones own church and while you don't directly get anything back, it is indirect in the support, salaries, infrastructure of the church (there is others like when the money is for the welfare of others outside of the church, but that plays a much smaller portion of the tithe) which indirectly benefits the giver.

    Anyhow, getting back to societal giving. If you remove the portion of giving that people give the church, the amount of charitable giving is heavily skewed to the wealthy. I with it wasn't so, but the numbers are quite startling. Now we can always argue over what charities should be given money as people always differ over whether something should be classified as a charity or not - but nonetheless it is what it is.

    Don't forget that many "announcements" that you see are only one of potentially many others that they also give. Also, in terms of estate giving - more wealthy people give a large amount (both percentage and dollar) of their estate to charity than most "average folk".

    I would love to be in the super-rich category, but I can't find fault in others and how they give - nor do I think people should judge how or whether others give or not. What is it to you to "cast derisive looks" at someone who gave more than some will give in an entire lifetime just because it equates to a measly x% of their total net worth ? You could argue that they could have given more, but they may have just did more good for society than you and 1000 people combined may in your entire life ? Scary thought isn't it. Think about it in those terms and then I think things look in a much more favorable light.

  • frog_hopper

    The OP's money is his to spend as he sees fit. Money spent is money that has purchased goods and services. Those goods and services provided employment for others.

    On the other hand, Bill Gates is the worst possible example of charitable giving. He got his money by running an illegal monopoly. The courts said so, and the Supreme Court upheld the finding. He's giving away money that he essentially stole.

  • anthem

    While I'm not the biggest Gates fan, I can't argue with his success. He was the wealthiest individual before the internet and the antitrust action. Also, I'd hardly call antitrust action to be something that is to be frowned upon. If you can create a company big enough that dominates the market that requires monopoly supervision - you're doing something right. (Whether that's John D. Rockefeller or otherwise). Gates/Microsoft unfortunately just has a bullet/target on their back.

    if you want to look at some serious laws that are broken in monopolies that get conveniently overlooked - look at the Debeers diamond and OPEC cartels. Their is market manipulation, market control/settimg and every other illegal aspect of running a cartel that gets conveniently overlooked by our wonderful government. Not only do we not do anythinga bout it - we actually sanction the governments that are part of it.

  • rileysmom17

    Hi Anthem, and Happy 4th!

    You don't know how much money I have. I have a lot.

    You don't know what kind of house I can afford. Maybe nicer than yours!

    My reasoning has nothing to do with "libertarian" principles. You don't sound like a libertarian BTW you sound like a Republican...if only these terms weren't so boring and narrow. I'm an unaffiliated voter myself.

    I think you lack imagination. I don't believe humans cause global warming but I do believe in finite resources. My objection to the OPs post wasn't actually related to his elaborate (and evidently dysfunctional) wiring scheme, but to his personal environmental footprint. Try really hard to imagine the moment when technology development stops keeping up with rampant overconsumption of non-replenishable resources.

    If he'd added a paragraph or so about using ICF construction (do you know what that is?), low VOC finishes, or even...energy star appliances (for all 11 refrigerators and 4 dishwashers and maybe 2 laundry rooms) I'm sure his megamansion wouldn't have chapped me quite so badly.

    Note this has nothing to do with how much it cost to build and how much it is appraised for now.

    Well, I do get a laugh out of something I read somewhere at some time...maybe The Economist? predicting that these whopping huge houses eventually will all be subdivided when the gated communities become the gated slums. Probably this subconscious thought prompted my comment about the poor and downtrodden.

  • anthem

    "Hi Anthem, and Happy 4th!"

    Same to you.

    "You don't know how much money I have. I have a lot."

    Good for you. All relative I guess. Glad you have a lot, buf if you have a lot, why do you fret over supporting other people ? If you have a "lot" why don't you give away most of it to the beggars with sores that seem to be so important to you ? Why are you asking others to forgo their desires when you yourself have "a lot" ?

    "You don't know what kind of house I can afford."

    You are correct. Nor did I ask or care to really know.

    "Maybe nicer than yours!"

    To each their own. Again subjective, but I seriously doubt it.

    "My reasoning has nothing to do with "libertarian" principles."

    Good.

    "You don't sound like a libertarian BTW you sound like a Republican"

    OK. . . So what difference does what I sound like ? I never said I was a libertarian, democrat, or Republican. What relevance does my political leanings have ?

    "...if only these terms weren't so boring and narrow. I'm an unaffiliated voter myself."

    Good for you, but I fail to see why that has any relevance or why you it enters this discussion.

    "I think you lack imagination. I don't believe humans cause global warming but I do believe in finite resources."

    Finite resources, yes. Humans don't cause global warming ? You're kidding right ? Maybe not directly but absolutely indirectly. Without humans, there wouldn't be anywhere near the carbon footprint that we have now.

    "My objection to the OPs post wasn't actually related to his elaborate (and evidently dysfunctional) wiring scheme, but to his personal environmental footprint. Try really hard to imagine the moment when technology development stops keeping up with rampant overconsumption of non-replenishable resources."

    rileysmom, your stated immoral objections have been noted before. It appears that anyone who spends (or apparently capable of spending) more than what you think is a reasonable amount is immoral - and that you feel the need to tell others that their are needy people in the world. I'm not sure it has to do with environmental footprint either as you don't really know his environmental/carbon foot print and/or otherwise. But seriously I don't see your concern for environmental footprint as you don't mention it anywhere. You started off as you did before over the fact that someone else spent more than what YOU consider acceptable and called it immoral. Here, let me refresh your memory "I was wondering: does anyone else think the OPs house is practically immoral? If you have enough money for 11 refrigerators (just had to have each and every one of them, huh?)". . . . Now its environmental ?

    "If he'd added a paragraph or so about using ICF construction (do you know what that is?)

    I'm quite familiar with ICF. ICF works really well for "simpler" houses and is a nightmare with more complex houses. Complex houses might be immoral to you, so that would preclude that issue for you though, right?

    Besides there are quite a few diverging opinions on using concrete and by extension ICF. While less wood is used, it isn't any more energy efficient than a well built/insulated house. I think the discussion of "green" revolves more around energy efficiency than the actual material being used. It's just that people choose to use insulated concrete forms because its cheaper to attain the same level of energy efficiency than its counterpart - but again with significant drawbacks (especially when it comes to flexibility or automation, which the original poster did do (or attempt to do)).

    "low VOC finishes"

    low-voc is definitely human healthier, but it remains to be seen if it has any real relevance to environmentally healthier. The majority of low or no voc paint has enough enviro-unfriendly ingredients that no matter what you do it isn't environmentally better. It's just less voc's being emitted into the household.

    "or even...energy star appliances"

    I don't know his appliances or items, but usually anyone who is into automation is going to have fairly high-end appliances which almost certainly are "energy star" appliances. By the way, energy star is a MINIMUM standard. It's such a poor standard that I am not even going to get into it. It's meant to establish a minimum standard so that the average consume shopping for a refrigerator isn't going to be ripped off by an energy inefficient refrigerator. Most anyone who spends big bucks on autmation is going to be buying in the subzero, viking, GE monogram, Liebherr type of level which are all well beyond energy star minimum ratings.. . .

    "for all 11 refrigerators and 4 dishwashers and maybe 2 laundry rooms) I'm sure his megamansion wouldn't have chapped me quite so badly."

    And that gets back to the basic question - Why does someone doing beyond YOUR levels dictate them being immoral ? People can spend what they want. If you haven't walked a day in their shoes - why are you calling them immoral for building their house ?

    Hey, you only need one toilet in a house. How many do you have ? Is it immoral for you to put more than one in your house ? It's all relative depending upon where you are coming from. I just don't get where you think everyone who does a bit more than you, or spends more than you, or is less energy efficient as you is "immoral".

    "Note this has nothing to do with how much it cost to build and how much it is appraised for now."

    Not what you said earlier. Should I refresh your memory again ?

    "Well, I do get a laugh out of something I read somewhere at some time...maybe The Economist? predicting that these whopping huge houses eventually will all be subdivided when the gated communities become the gated slums. Probably this subconscious thought prompted my comment about the poor and downtrodden."

    I really doubt it in our lifetimes or the next. Most of these won't last beyond a generation or two. And even then, it gets much more complicated with property lines. You're more likely to see teardowns than you will of change of use. The reason you see "mansions" (true sense of the word) in the past being used for multi-tenant is in high-density areas. You don't see today's megamansions in high-density areas. you might call them high-density, but even if everyone bred like rabbits and doubled the current population - it wouldn't change suburban america. Perhaps if you increased the population 10 fold, but we're talking many more generations beyond now.

  • vancleaveterry

    Alot of good info in these posts. Hate to see it go over the edge....

  • srercrcr

    IMO I dont think any 7100 sf house is a smart house.

  • stinkytiger

    Dear Mr. Montalvo,

    Thank you for a very informative post. it is rare that someone takes the time to post the information. I also admire you candor, in commeting that some stuff really does not work all that well.

    Thank you again.

    warmest regards, Mike.

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