Smarthouse Blog

Get Ready for Your New Smart TV

If it’s been a few years since you have bought a new TV, well, a lot has changed. No longer is it enough to go into a store and simply look for the best picture and sound. The advent of smart TVs has turned the typical display device into an all-in-one media center. This is good news, because you now get a lot more functionality for your money; however, it also means there are many more features you need to learn about and consider.

What is a Smart TV?

For the past two years at least, nearly every HDTV on the market has also been a smart TV. When these products first started emerging, we called them Internet TVs or connected TVs or a few other terms that have fallen out of use to be replaced by Smart TV. In short, a smart TV is any television that supports an Internet connection and online content services. Often, smart TVs include advanced features such as voice or gesture control, voice search, social media integration, app control and universal search features. The more features the TV has, the smarter it is.

The most popular feature on a smart TV is online media streaming. Services like Netflix, Amazon Video, VUDU, Cinema Now, Pandora, Slacker and more offer instant gratification for people who like a wide assortment of content available at their fingertips. A smart TV with media streaming and an Internet connection requires no extra hardware to be a complete entertainment hub. This has traditional cable companies a little upset because many customers have decided that directly-streamed Internet content is all they need, so they forgo those expensive cable subscriptions. Along with that, it’s important to remember that every HDTV sold today includes a digital over-the-air tuner for broadcast television networks. An inexpensive TV and a broadband Internet connection can often provide all the television content a family could ask for.

Where do you start?

When selecting a new TV, you’ll first need to decide how you plan to use it and what you want to watch on it. If you’re convinced that online streaming services are not for you, and you don’t want to learn how to use any new features, then look for a very basic smart TV. These days you’ll have trouble finding them, but some of the less popular TV brands still offer barebones TVs at bargain prices.

TIP: A smart TV with multiple streaming services is a good choice for a bedroom, den or kitchen,where installing an additional cable box would be difficult.

SIZE: TVs have gotten bigger and thinner over the years. There are several rule-of-thumb approaches to selecting the appropriate size TV, and most of them suggest a larger size than you had originally anticipated. This is because they’re based on field of view, and sometimes resolution. Instead of calculating the TV based on your field of view, instead consider how much space you have. You probably have more space than you believe. Today’s TVs have almost no bezel around the picture screen, and that lets you fit more TV into the same amount of space as your older TV. The average viewer sits about 10 feet from his/her living room TV. At this viewing distance, a 60- or 70-inch HDTV is not out of line. THX recommends a 40 degree field of view, which means that if you sit 10 feet from your TV you should be watching a 100-inch screen. If you opt for a new 4K Ultra HD TV, then your eyes wouldn’t even notice pixels if you were five feet away.

TIP: Our rule of thumb is to get the biggest TV that your wall space can accommodate. For a family’s main TV nothing smaller than 55 inches will do.

DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY: The selection of display technologies available on TVs today is a lot simpler to comprehend now than it was just a couple of years ago. There are two main choices among 1080p resolution TVs: LED LCD and plasma. Just a few years ago you’d need to decide between LCD and LED LCD, plus DLP rear projection. The LCD and DLP options are largely gone. In fact, plasma TVs have also mostly been phased out, much to the disappointment of a lot of TV enthusiasts. Only Samsung and LG still make plasma TVs (and Samsung won’t for very much longer), and just a few at that. So essentially you have a choice between a few models of plasma and a lot of LED LCD TVs. If you’re looking for the best picture quality, especially if you plan to watch TV with the lights on and the window shades open, then check out the better plasma TVs. Other than that, LED LCD is the way to go.

There are two different types of LED LCDs: edge lit and backlit (sometimes called full-array). Unlike a plasma TV, an LCD panel doesn’t actually produce any light itself. It requires a light source to create the picture—that’s the LED part (light emitting diode). TV manufacturers can either put the LEDs on the sides and then use a system of light channels to pipe the light behind the TV, or they can place the LEDs directly behind the TV. Edge-lit TVs have the benefit of being thinner (centimeters in some cases) and often cheaper than full-array models. Because of the placement of the LEDs, often edge-lit TVs will produce some uneven distribution of the lighting—this is usually seen in the form of brighter spots around sides or corners during very dark scenes of a movie. Full-array or backlit LED LCD TVs usually make up a company’s line of premium offerings. In a full-array model, the LEDs are divided into multiple zones behind the LCD screen. If the TV has a feature called Local Dimming (different manufacturers may call it slightly different things), then the LEDs have the ability to dim or turn off individually for dark sections of a picture. This produces a better contrast ratio (the difference between the TV’s blackest and whitest picture) and better black reproduction. The more dimming zones the better. Some edge-lit TVs also include local dimming features, and while they work, they’re not as effective as dimming on true backlit TVs.

What about OLED? OLED (organic light emitting diode) TVs may be the next big thing in TV display technology, but there are only a few models on the market now, and for most people, they’re prohibitively expensive.

What about 3DTV? Around 2009 3DTV seemed to be on a rocket ship trajectory. But like the exhaust of a rocket ship, the fad quickly faded. While now almost every TV over 32 inches is a 3D TV, it’s now just a standard, rather than a premium feature. The number of 3D movies and 3D Blu-ray releases has also dropped as viewers have pegged 3D a gimmick they don’t much care for. Still, if you like TV, then you have two choices of 3D: Active or Passive.

Active 3D TVs use battery operated glasses ($50 to $100) with built-in LCDs that act like shutters in sync with the alternating frames of a 3D video. Passive 3D puts most of the work in the screen, rather than in the glasses, so they use simple and cheap ($10 to $20) polarized glasses, similar to what most 3D movie houses use. Both systems work pretty well, but in a 1080p TV, the passive 3D method reduces a video’s resolution by half.

EH Staff  •  May 6, 2016  •

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Art Collector Controls Waterfront Home With ELAN

17,000-Square-Foot Home Uses Smart Lighting to Highlight Art

With exquisite artwork, a comprehensive wine collection, and a keen eye for modern design, two Sarasota, FL homeowners decided to push their smart home beyond industry convention. To enhance the home’s art, architecture, and interior design with modern technology, they put their 17,000-square-foot home in the hands of SmartHouse Integration’s Mark van den Broek to install a complete home management infrastructure that fuses new-wave design with modern smart home functionality. At the center of it all is an ELAN Entertainment and Control System that serves as the home’s central hub to guarantee complete control and remote accessibility.

“Beyond installing the usual smart home functions, such as temperature, lighting, audio/video and security control, I was called upon to utilize lighting to emphasize and highlight the homeowner’s displayed art collection,” van den Broek said. “This project showcases how technology integration truly merges with interior design.”

To serve as the backbone of the entire smart home infrastructure, van den Broek installed an ELAN System Controller, accessible through eight ELAN 7-inch in-wall touchpanels, four smaller ELAN touchpanels, and three ELAN HR2 remotes, all of which are positioned strategically throughout the home. “Selecting a reliable smart home control system was essential to a project of this magnitude,” van den Broek said. “None of the critical design or functionality elements would be possible without a reliable controller.”

When developing a design-centric home management system, van den Broek made lighting his number-one priority. To sufficiently marry functionality and design, van den Broek integrated Lutron Homeworks Lighting and Shades with the ELAN Entertainment and Control System so that the lighting could function automatically, or be controlled by the homeowners from anywhere in the world.

“I used lighting as a design element in the same capacity that I use it as a functional element,” he said. “Throughout the home, the lighting evolves and changes to best enhance the art it emphasizes. Each application, depending on the exhibit it highlights or room it illuminates, is specifically catered to that space.”

To emphasize the homeowners’ art collection, lights were strategically placed underneath or above them to enhance each piece. While art-enhancing light found in traditional galleries is usually stark white, van den Broek strived to stay away from harsh hues and rely on light more conducive to a residential setting. To do so, he played with the light’s consistency and power, automating them to fade and ramp up at specific times throughout the day. By doing this, he achieved an art gallery-like atmosphere. “When the sun begins to set, the lights slowly ramp up, incrementally highlighting the art as the sunlight continues to fade,” he said. “It’s a truly stunning effect.”

One of the home’s most distinctive art pieces, the Orb—a kinetic aircraft aluminum sculpture designed by Chuck Hoberman—utilizes light as part of its playful interaction of electrical engineering and design. Positioned from the ceiling of the home’s grand salon (or living area), the Orb shifts and expands, giving the illusion that the fixture is alive and breathing. To complement the shifting nature of the piece, van den Broek installed RGD LED controllable lighting in a circular configuration around the piece. Through ELAN, the homeowners can initiate the Orb’s movement or change the color and frequency of the lighting. “The effect is quite hypnotic,” one homeowner added. “The lighting is spectacular and sets the mood of the room. With the touch of the button, I can change the lighting or the speed of the Orb’s movement from anywhere in the home.”

As avid wine connoisseurs, the homeowners asked for a functional and well-lit wine cellar that was both fully automated and discreetly located. Thus, van den Broek installed a network of security, lighting, and temperature control elements, all of which are accessible to the homeowners through the ELAN app. When the wine cellar is opened with a password, white light illuminates the wine bottles’ labels. Additionally, temperature control guarantees that the room remains between 56-59 degrees Fahrenheit; if it strays outside of that range, the homeowners will receive an email notification. “The wine cellar’s interplay of light, security, and temperature control truly represents the marriage of design and function,” van den Broek said. “This micro smart system, set within the confines of a much larger system, improves the user experience by giving very close attention to detail.”

To tie the home’s functional lighting in with modern décor, van den Broek worked closely with interior designer Pamela Hughes of Hughes Design Associates to ensure that certain accent areas were sufficiently highlighted. According to Hughes, the interplay of lighting and design is crucial for the home’s interior décor. “Beautifully designed lighting highlights my work,” Hughes said. “You could be the best interior designer in the world, but if the lighting isn’t good, the project will fall flat. I worked closely with SmartHouse Integration to ensure that all overhead lighting served as a design element in its own right.”

In a home of this magnitude, a modern and sophisticated security system is a must. Utilizing infrared technology, van den Broek installed a laser beam-based security system. “We made sure to equip the home with an extremely advanced security and camera system,” van den Broek added.

The homeowners also love to entertain. That’s why van den Broek designed and installed a whole home, multiroom, indoor/outdoor audio system with the audio power to potentially “blow the doors off the place.” With 18-foot ceilings in the grand salon, van den Broek chose to forgo in-ceiling speakers to avoid the risk of sounding faint. Instead, he relied on two Sunfire Atmos Subwoofers to get the job done and achieve the powerful system he was looking for. “Even without in-ceiling speakers, small and compact Sunfire Atmos subwoofers propel sound to create an impactful and entertaining audio experience,” van den Broek said. “They may be small, but they pack a lot of punch.”

To protect the home’s extensive smart home infrastructure from power surges, van den Broek installed four Panamax M4315 Pros with BlueBOLT remote energy management as well as two Panamax MB850 and two Panamax MB1500 Uninterruptible Power Supply units. “BlueBOLT allows me to manage the home’s power as well as service the home remotely,” van den Broek added. “For example, if the cable box isn’t working, I can reboot it from anywhere in the world with the touch of a button. This product is optimal for maintaining network health.”

Overall, the homeowners are thrilled with every element of the home’s technological design. “I have used smart home control systems before, and ELAN is by far the easiest and most reliable,” one homeowner concluded. “Between ELAN’s reliability and Mark van den Broek’s superb design skills, my home embodies the ultimate ‘wow’ factor while still maintaining a high degree of user-friendly efficiency.”

RS Staff  •  March 2, 2017  •

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Congratulations to the Winners!

Congratulations to all the winners of SRQ’s 2017 Home of the Year awards. SmartHouse Integration is proud to have been the technology partner on these projects:

Best Overall Home – Over $2 Million

Platinum – Compasshaus, Josh Wynne Construction

Best Remodel / Renovation

Platinum – Donnelly Condo, Haflants + Pichette Studio for Modern Architecture

Gold – Melone Residence, Architura, Inc.

Best Kitchen

Platinum – Compasshaus, Josh Wynne Construction

Silver – Donnelly Condo, Haflants + Pichette Studio for Modern Architecture

Best Bathroom

Platinum – Compasshaus, Josh Wynne Construction

Gold – Donnelly Condo, Haflants + Pichette Studio for Modern Architecture

Best Landscape Design / Pool / Outdoors

Platinum – Melone Residence, Architura, Inc.

Silver – Compasshaus, Josh Wynne Construction

Best Sustainable / Green Project

Platinum – Compasshaus, Josh Wynne Construction


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SmartHouse Integration Wins Electronic House’s Silver 2016 Home of the Year Award for “Best Unique Space”!

SmartHouse Integration, southwest Florida’s leading commercial and residential technology integration firm, today announced that the Sarasota Modern home has been named the silver winner of Electronic House’s 2016 Home of the Year Award in the “Best Unique Space” category. According to SmartHouse Integration Founder, President and industry veteran, Mark van den Broek, the Sarasota-based team is very proud to be recognized for their innovative work on the project.

“We are honored that the Sarasota Modern home was named the silver winner in the ‘Best Unique Space’ category,” van den Broek said today. “This project fuses home automation with design to create an extremely unique space. By working closely with the interior designer, we ensured that the smart home technology made just as much of an impact on the overall aesthetic as any traditional design element does.”

Controlled by ELAN Home Systems, the Sarasota Modern home met the homeowner’s functional requirements while also amplifying the home’s dramatic design features.

For example, to emphasize the home’s stationary art, lights were strategically placed underneath or above the piece to enhance aesthetic. While art-enhancing light found in traditional galleries is usually stark white, van den Broek strived to stay away from the harsh hue and rely on light more conducive to a residential setting. To do so, he played with the light’s consistency and power; using the ELAN system, each light was automated and set on a schedule to fade and amp at specific times throughout the day. By doing this, he achieved an art gallery-like atmosphere within the home.

“When the sun begins to set, the lights slowly amp up their yellow glow approximately 1 percent per minute, therefore incrementally highlighting the art as the sunlight continues to fade,” continued van den Broek. “It’s a truly stunning effect.”

What’s more, one of the home’s most distinctive art pieces, the Orb – a kinetic aircraft aluminum sculpture designed by Chuck Hoberman – utilizes light as part of its playful interaction of electrical engineering and design. Positioned from the ceiling of the home’s grand salon (or living area), the Orb shifts, morphs and expands, giving the illusion that the fixture is alive and breathing. To complement the shifting nature of the piece, van den Broek installed RGD LED controllable lighting in a circular configuration around the piece. Through ELAN, the homeowner can initiate the Orb’s movement or change the color and frequency of the lighting.

Electronic House’s Home of the Year Awards showcase technologies and systems for the whole home. Each year Electronic House picks the best homes, submitted for judging by professional home automation and home theater integrators in several categories.

For more images of the Sarasota Modern project, click here.

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SMARTHOUSE: Featured in Palm Beach Illustrated!

SmartHouse is in the press again for it’s renowned Sarasota Modern project!

Click below to check out the article on page 97!

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A Harbor Acres House Showcases the Latest in Smart-Home Technology

An ultra-modern local home is packed with cutting-edge tech.

The new owners of this ultra-modern Harbor Acres showplace never have to fret that their 2,000-bottle collection of fine wines will go bad. A built-in monitor in their floor-to-ceiling glass-walled wine cellar keeps the temperature at 56 to 59 degrees; they’re notified immediately by email if it varies by a degree.

They never have to wonder, either, if their visiting college-age kids are helping themselves to a favorite chardonnay. A series of secret keypad codes gains entrance to one of the wine cellar’s four doors—each door allowing access to a different level of wine—all of them controlled via magnetic locks, and all of them on camera. “There’s a guest door, the wife door, the master of the house door, etc. The minute one of those doors opens up, he’s notified and he can go to the camera to see who’s there,” says Mark van den Broek, president of Sarasota’s SmartHouse Integration, who designed the tech system that transformed the residence into a house that’s not just smart but a certified genius.

It seemed like sci-fi a few short years ago, but 45 percent of all Americans either own some smart-house technology or plan to purchase some this year, according to a recent poll by Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. And more than a third of them say they don’t consider themselves early adopters of technology. The technology is getting simpler to use almost by the minute. And it’s also getting more affordable, says van den Broek. “For $5,000 you can get a single-room setup—audio, video, security, a little bit of lighting, temperature control. That gives you a foundation you can build on later.”

HGTV’s 2016 Smart Home, a new house in Raleigh, N.C., is packed full of devices that control lighting, temperature, home security and even toothbrushes—yes, that’s right, a company named Kolibree makes an electric toothbrush that monitors how long your children brush and reads them short stories while they’re doing it. It was introduced in 2014 at the CES global consumer electronics and technology trade show in Las Vegas.

SmartHouse Integration won three big awards for its Harbor Acres project at this year’s CES show: Innovation Project of the Year, Lighting Control Project of the Year and Retrofit Project of the year over $50,000. Actually, it cost well into six figures for the entire tech scheme for the home, which was purchased for $7 million three years ago, then gutted and reimagined with bright, bold colors in a collaboration with interior designer Pamela Hughes of Hughes Design Associates.

Besides its state-of-the-art security system, a landscape lighting system recalculates sunrise and sunset daily to time the outdoor lights. When the sun goes down, a system for lighting the owners’ contemporary art collection kicks in, each light illuminating each painting and sculpture at the appropriate level to avoid shadows. The centerpiece of their living room, an Orb—a giant aluminum sculpture hanging from the ceiling designed by architect-engineer Chuck Hoberman (the owners saw it at the big auto show in New York City and had to have it)—contracts to 18 inches and expands to a full six feet in response to computer commands that also control a Lutron lighting system that surrounds the Orb with changing colors. It’s a piece that has to be seen to be believed.

The living room audio zone, with its high-end JBL system, is “nightclub-ready; it rocks,” says van den Broek. “The owner is good friends with [a superstar rock ’n’ roller who lives in Sarasota], so his directive to me was, ‘When he comes over, I do not want to be embarrassed by the music.’”

It’s important to integrate systems so they work together, says van den Broek. “For example, when they open the garage door, the interior of the home lights a path so they never come home to a dark house.”

Van den Broek used an Elan Entertainment and Control System, which controls everything from wall-mounted touch panels and the homeowners’ computer tablets. “It’s a common-sense approach,” he says. “A monkey with a stick has to be able to use our system, otherwise people won’t use it. They’ll be discouraged and unhappy with it.”

The owners were so pleased with the results that they brought van den Broek back for one more showstopper. He’s been working with the people who designed the fountains at Disney World to create a set of scenes with DMX-controlled LED lights to be projected on the big, white overflow wall of their infinity pool. “We can paint the wall with color, movement, all kinds of fun stuff,” he says. Cool.

ILENE DENTON  •  July 29, 2016  •  Sarasota Magazine

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Common Smart Lighting Scenes

MOST PEOPLE THINK of their home lights as things that get turned on, off or dimmed as needed, but not as a design and lifestyle element that can be programmed to fit your moods, activities or schedule. That’s what smart lighting systems do. They can light your home and yard, but they can also turn a dull standard glow into an integrated part of the home environment.

One of the fundamental tools in lighting control is the scene. Scene controls or scene settings allow you to illuminate an area based on the lighting needs and activities you do there. Lighting scenes are not one-size-fits-all like the way that standard lights are used. Using lighting scenes in a smart lighting or home automation system also simplifies your routine by allowing you to activate multiple settings with one-button commands, or even better, based on preset schedules, or responses to installed sensors.

Scenes are commonly used in custom-programmed automation systems. Even some do-it-yourself smart home systems allow varying degrees of scene creation. One of the bonus elements of creating scenes in a home automation system is that they’re not restricted to lighting alone. You can combine lighting scenes with temperature settings, security systems or home theater activities.

Scenes can be activated from touchscreens, tablets or smartphones, handheld remotes or wall-mounted keypads. Keypads with engraved labels are particularly practical because they require almost no instruction to know how to use them.

A key factor with lighting scenes is that the home’s lights must be integrated into a control system, that way you can operate multiple lights, in different rooms and on different circuits, with simple programmed commands. It doesn’t really matter if the smart lighting system is wired or wireless.

Here are some of most common and practical lighting scenes used in homes with lighting control or automation systems:

Night. A night scene (a lot of programmers call it Goodnight) turns off the entire home’s lights at bedtime. You or your home automation installer can decide which lights go all the way off, which stay fully on (maybe a porch light or the light over the kitchen sink) and which get dimmed down. You might set a hallway or stair light to dim so late-night walkers can still see their way to the bathroom. You can combine the Night scene with your thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature for sleeping.

Morning (or wakeup). Do you want your lights to snap on to full brightness at 5:30 a.m. or would you rather they come on slowly to ease you into the day? A morning light scene might also turn on kitchen lights and turn off any outside lights. A home automation system could also turn on the TV to your favorite morning news channel at the same time.

Dinner. Do you need every room in the house lit up at dinner time or just the kitchen and dining room lights? A Dinner scene might light the dining room wall sconces and turn off the living room lights so the kids come in from watching TV. You could also use the Dinner scene to send an alert to the household, such as flashing the lights on and off quickly, to remind people (without having to shout) that dinner is ready.

Party. The scene could dim the lights in the family room to the right intensity level for conversation (or dancing) but not bright enough to expose all the dust you didn’t get to wipe up. It might also illuminate countertop lights where the party food is located (or the bar).

Movie Time. Does your family like Friday movie night at home? Activating the Movie scene turns off all distracting lights around the TV or home theater screen (but keeps on a dim light near the fridge for snack breaks).

Vacation. Vacation or Away scene could be programmed to mimic the way the lights would operate were you at home. This is a great way to deter criminals. The Away scene can be integrated with the temperature controls and the home security system.

Reading. I have a Read scene in my media room, because when I’m not watching Star Trek movies I’m enjoying a book. The Read scene turns on the sconces closest to my chair but turns off all the room’s other lights.

Lighting scenes are practical and creative, but you’re not locked into them. If you want the room a little brighter, it’s easy to just press the wall dimmer until it’s set the way you want it.


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Houzz Study: Automated Outdoor Lighting Is Hot for 2016

Houzz study reveals nearly two thirds of U.S. homeowners (57%) who are planning outdoor renovations in 2016 are looking to upgrade their exterior lighting.

Automated outdoor lighting is one of the hottest exterior technologies among homeowners today, according to new data from Houzz, a leading consumer home improvement website.

The 2016 U.S. Houzz Landscaping Trends Survey interviewed nearly 1,000 U.S. homeowners who are in the midst of, are planning, or who recently completed an outdoor project. Nearly two out of three (57 percent), plan to make upgrades to their exterior lighting in some fashion.

Specifically, a quarter of outdoor upgraders are installing motion-sensitive lighting (24 percent), while 11 percent are installing outdoor security systems, 8 percent are installing precipitation-sensitive irrigation, and 2 percent are installing smartphone-connected plant sensors.

Upgrades in exterior lighting to LEDs, for example, rose to 32 percent of homes compared to 28 percent last year. Also, 10 percent of homeowners report they are adding outdoor media (audio or video). Nearly one in four (23 percent) are installing solar lighting.

Among the outdoor features that homeowners plan to illuminate are:

• Pathways — 60 percent
• Decks/Patios — 57%
• Trees/Shrubs — 53%
• Steps — 32%
• Home Architecture — 28%
• Driveway — 26%
• Water Features — 24%
• Outdoor Structures — 24%
• Pots/Plants — 21%
• Swimming Pool — 10%
• Art/Sculpture — 9%

Homeowners are not shying away from hiring professional help when tackling an outdoor lighting project. More than half of homeowners (52 percent) plan to hire a landscape contractor or designer/architect. Specifically, 5 percent plan to hire a lighting designer.

Nine out of every 10 exterior upgrade projects this year will cost less than $5,000; however, among those homeowners planning “complete overhauls” of their yards, 40 percent plan to spend more than $20,000.

The Western states are the hottest place for exterior lighting upgrades this year, with 35 percent of Western households planning to add LED lighting, followed by 31 percent in the South, 29 percent in the Northeast, and 27 percent in the Midwest.

Overall, the technology offerings in outdoor environments paled in comparison to the percentage of homeowners making upgrades in places like flower beds and borders (80 percent), structural elements (72 percent) or irrigation systems (40 percent).

Houzz is a visual platform for home remodeling and design, bringing homeowners and home professionals together. The website, which has more than 35 million visitors monthly, is the No. 1 home and garden consumer website. Check out SmartHouse on Houzz!

Jason Knott • April 12, 2016 •

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25 Terms & Tips for Choosing and Using Speakers

Your home theater will only sound as good as your speakers, no matter how solid your other audio components are. Bad speakers will produce bad sound, period. And when you have bad sound, you won’t want to listen to your home theater as much.

There is a type of speaker to fit nearly every need. There are large freestanding or floorstanding loudspeakers, bookshelf-size models, in-wall and in-ceiling models, newer on-wall ones, subwoofers and even a new family of speakers called audio transducers. Some units are simply functional, like a good car that gets you from point A to point B. Others are sculptural art, like exotic sports cars or classic roadsters. And many are somewhere in between. What you don’t want is something that looks fancy but underperforms.

  1. Freestanding, floorstanding, cabinet-style or box speakers are just what their names suggest: speakers that stand alone on the floor or are housed in their own cabinets. Included in this category are traditional boxy wooden speakers. Freestanding speakers typically provide the best sound, whether for music or home theater. Freestanding speakers are often used in particular rooms, such as a media room where there’s enough space and where you may want the best quality of music, movies and more. But they can be used anywhere.
  2. Large freestanding speakers can take up a lot of space and generally be a nightmare for the aesthetic-minded homeowner. However, freestanding speakers no longer have to be drab boxes. Some models are slender tower speakers that can add a unique design element to your space. Some cabinet-style speakers feature beautiful wood veneers, while others come in high-gloss finishes such as piano black. Many freestanding models need to be placed a couple of feet from the walls, or a “boomy” sound will result. You can also place some freestanding speakers in home entertainment cabinets, concealing them behind fabric grilles, but you’ll likely sacrifice some of the product’s performance.
  3. Some freestanding speakers use technologies other than traditional round speaker woofers, tweeters and midrange drivers. Electrostatic and planar (or ribbon) speakers produce sound from electrical charges created along thin films or ribbons. These tower speakers are well suited to reproduce classical music and vocals. They often appear as beautiful sculptures and include woofers in their bases to reproduce the lower audio frequencies.
  4. Small bookshelf speakers can be very effective when placed on speaker stands. And with today’s technology, many bookshelf speakers perform on par with some floorstanding behemoths. So don’t disregard them because of their diminutive size. They are a great way to get the sound quality of freestanding speakers without sacrificing much space.
  5. Left and right freestanding speakers often need to be toed in, or angled toward the listen area, for the stereo image to properly blend and sound best.
  6. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are often a good choice when you don’t want the devices to be visible or don’t have the space for freestanding speakers. These thin units are placed in a wall or ceiling (as you might expect), with their grilles flush mounted to the surface. They sometimes can be ordered in a custom color or can be painted to match the wall. In-wall speakers are generally rectangular in shape, while in- ceiling speakers are almost always round to blend better with lighting receptacles and other ceiling fixtures.
  7. Many models of in-wall or in-ceiling speakers may look alike, but they are not all created equal. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers may have two or three speaker drivers and may come with “back boxes,” enclosures to which the speaker drivers are specifically tuned for the best performance.
  8. Because of their small size, in-ceiling speakers are often compromised when it comes to producing high-quality audio. Directionality of the sound, especially in surround-sound setups, can be a problem, as well. Seek an in-ceiling speaker that has a moveable or pivoting tweeter, which allows the sound to be directed toward a particular area of the room.
  9. On-wall speakers are designed to be attached to the wall and are often sold to complement a flat-panel TV. Soundbars usually are used as on-wall speakers.
  10. Be sure an on-wall speaker sounds right to you. The thin enclosures can limit the sound and performance of these speakers, although some manufacturers have overcome this technical hurdle quite well.
  11. Subwoofers produce the low-bass sounds you hear in music and movie soundtracks and are responsible for shaking you up with explosions and the like. They add a visceral element to your enjoyment of different media. There are active subwoofers, which include built-in amplifiers to power the woofers, and passive subwoofers, which draw power from an outside source such as a power amplifier or audio/video receiver.
  12. Subwoofers typically come in square, boxy cabinets that can be placed in a corner on the floor, behind a piece of furniture or inside a large basket, for example. These days, however, you can find in-wall subwoofers, although definitely check for back box enclosures and dampening features. Some subwoofers are now as thin as a few inches.
  13. Subwoofers produce their low sounds by moving air, so the bigger the woofer, the more air it will move. Subwoofer drivers range in size from about 5 to 18 inches in diameter, with the majority falling in the 12-inch range. Some of the enclosures are ported, meaning they have a hole on the side or the bottom of the cabinet for air intake. The port helps add thump to the bass.
  14. On the other hand, don’t base your subwoofer selection on size alone. Some newer technologies allow very small subwoofers to produce extremely deep and accurate bass.
  15. Where one subwoofer is good, two is often better. Subwoofers can create peaks and nulls in a room, resulting in uneven distribution of the sound. Adding a second subwoofer will help even out the sound across the room.
  16. Wireless speakers are untethered to your audio/video rack and free you from dealing with unsightly wires or difficult speaker cable routing. Wireless speakers are powered and need to be plugged into a wall socket, although some also operate on batteries. Keep performance in mind, however, as wireless technologies are prone to pick up interference.
  17. Loudspeakers tend to come in two-way or three-way configurations. Two-way speakers use both tweeters for the high treble sounds and woofers for the low bass sounds, while three-way speakers use tweeters, woofers and midrange drivers (for sounds in the middle).
  18. A three-way speaker with a woofer, midrange driver and tweeter is not necessarily better than a two-way speaker. Be wary of this if the speakers are comparable in price. Chances are the two-way speaker uses better drivers than the three-way model. So don’t be seduced by multiple drivers.
  19. Contrary to popular belief, most speakers don’t “blow” because they are overpowered. Rather, they can be damaged because they don’t receive enough power from the amplifier, causing the amp to overwork and “clip,” or produce spikes of power that can cause the speakers to fail.
  20. Speaker frequency response is the range of sounds a speaker can reproduce, from low to high.
  21. Match the power requirements of your speakers to your audio/video receiver or power amplifiers. It’s more dangerous to underpower your speakers than to overpower them.
  22. Internal bracing in a speaker helps reduce vibration from the soundwaves.
  23. Match the impedance rating, which is usually 4, 6 or 8 ohms.
  24. Remember that sensitivity is more important than power in a speaker.
  25. After your speakers are hooked up to your audio system, it’s important to balance them. Use your receivers built-in test tones (if it has them) or a test disc or download, and balance the speaker volume by measuring the output with an SPL meter or SLP meter app (there are several available).

EH Staff • February 25, 2015 •

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Eco Minimalist Smart Home Makes Its Mark

This peaceful Sarasota pad borrows and blends the best from modern design and energy efficiency.

When you enter this house by stepping across concrete pads that appear to float over a lotus pond, you know you are in for a modernist Zen experience. Expanses of clean white walls and polished concrete floors are highlighted only by art and sculptures from Asia and India.

The 2,569-square-foot home is minimalist for sure, a kind of descendant from the owner’s notable family Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic, which is now a historical site to showcase the modern International Style of architecture popularized by its famous designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who believed “less is more.”

This more modern grandchild of that design style stands in Sarasota, Fla., and is infused with California influences, as well as the Sarasota School of Architecture, with its large windows and innovative ventilation systems. Its personality is splashed with some color and warmth from the lotus pond to the Oriental carpets, cypress woods, terrazzo tiles, and bamboo panels, with lots of windows to bring the outdoors in.

“The warmth of materials and key pieces give it some quality and color and character,” says Mark van den Broek of Sarasota’s SmartHouse Integration, the home systems design and installation firm that equipped this modern house for modern times.

Keeping with the modern theme, the house is green. Boy, is it green. Tightly built and heavily insulated construction by local green builder Josh Wynne gives it net zero status and a negative HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score, which means it produces more energy than it uses, as well as earning the highest in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum designation. The house is also built to mitigate sound from a busy street.

A minimalist and very green design does not leave much room for high-tech home systems, although the owners still wanted some–with a minimalist theme, of course–to control lighting, security, heating and cooling, and audio and video components. And, of course, the technologies could not interfere with the clean and streamlined aesthetic.

Instead of a more flashy home control system, the owners opted for a functional and practical HAI (Home Automation Inc.) by Leviton system (Leviton bought HAI in 2012). They use a single HAI 7-inch in-wall OmniTouch panel mounted in an unobtrusive spot near the kitchen and HAI’s Snap-Link app for iPhones and iPads to operate most of the gear, including Leviton’s UPB (Universal Power Bus) lighting system (the residence is illuminated entirely by LED light fixtures), Omni IIe security system, OmniStat thermostats, and HAI’s four-zone HiFi audio system.

The two OmniStat thermostats are wall-mounted behind corners to go unnoticed, and the HiFi audio distribution system is designed to fit into a structured wiring panel and deliver 40 watts of audio to Niles 7-inch CM7HD in-ceiling speakers in several listening zones. A single round Niles dual-coil speaker that delivers two-channel stereo sound is wall-mounted in the bedroom, and befits the minimalist mid-century vibe.

Audio from a Sonos music system is routed through the HiFi system. It’s a setup that precludes the need to outfit each listening zone with its own streaming component: another score for the minimalist design goal. The system also enables Bluetooth connectivity so that the family can stream tunes from a smartphone or tablet to speakers throughout the house, including those in the lanai, complete with swimming pool and gas firepit.

This area, as well as the landscape and interior, is illuminated by energy-efficient and long-lasting LED fixtures, some of which have been programmed into the special
lighting scenes that are choreographed and controlled by the HAI home automation system. “If it’s dark and you walk into the home, a motion sensor will trigger the foyer and kitchen lights to ramp up to welcome you. In the Evening mode, terrace and veranda lighting in the kitchen and dining room, and living room, and lanai come on,” says van den Broek. A motion sensor in the master hall also actuates a program to raise the intensity of the lights to 30 percent for four minutes between midnight and 5 a.m. to create a safe but not blinding pathway for middle-of-the-night trips to the kitchen and bathroom. While the HAI system lends convenience to the control of lighting, van den Broek made sure to provide the homeowners with a quick and easy mode of manual operation, courtesy of simple, basic, unobtrusive rocker switches mounted to the walls throughout the house.

As this home proves, technology can help create a greener footprint and maintain a minimalistic appearance. It just takes the right products, a thoughtful design, and innovative installation techniques to pull it off. Streamlined, smart, and eco-friendly, the home creates a unique environment that pays beautiful tribute to architecture and amenities both old and new. EH

Steven Castle  •  December 1, 2015  •

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Smarthouse Integration