Note: This article was originally published at Herald Tribune.
State-of-the-art system features intuitive, accessible controls
One in an occasional series about the region’s growing technology sector.
Smart homes have graduated from a collection of complicated remote controls for each device, cluttering tables and frustrating residents. Today, homes are far more intelligent.
Voice control, preset programs and a central command gadget such as an iPad raise the bar on homes equipped with automated shades, lighting, temperature, security, video and indoor/outdoor audio. Speaker volume can be increased with the wave of a hand.
This is the high-end stuff of dreams.
Mark van den Broek, the founder and chief executive of SmartHouse Integration, located in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, installs the ELAN Entertainment and Control System for his clients here and elsewhere in the country.
SmartHouse is off to a bang-up year on revenue. “This quarter we’ve already done more than we did last year and last year was a record year,” van den Broek said, declining to cite specific gross-income figures. “I don’t want my competition to know exactly what we’re going. But it’s delicious.”
Van den Broek and his seven employees do not lack for work. “We don’t sell anymore. We don’t market anymore. Clients come to us,” van den Broek said. “All of the manufacturers’ websites have our projects on them as examples of what it’s supposed to be.”
So how many clients do you have? “I don’t know. Seriously.”
His home-automation and systems-integration company has won more than a dozen national awards from the Consumer Technology Association. The association’s TechHome Division has given 11 Mark of Excellence awards to van den Broek’s company. He recently added to that collection with the 2018 Mark of Excellence Award for Home of the Year up to $50,000 for a custom ELAN installation in a local island home.
The trophies that adorn his office solidified his reputation for high-quality technology and installation.
Robert Archer, the publisher of ElectronicHouse.com, an information center on integrated home technology, said the TechHome honors “mean more than any other industry association award, and they represent the best the technology and installation professional industry has to offer.”
Nick Melone, a Sarasota homebuilder, real estate investor and restaurant owner, works on high-end commercial and residential projects. “We were just really looking for a good operating, smart home system,” he said. He found one in ELAN, which has been in the home-technology business since 1989 and is based in Petaluma, California.
“I’ve been through multiple renovations where I’ve ripped out” other systems, he said. ELAN “is everything you want; it’s everything the other systems are not. … It works.
“It’s simple, easy, not complicated. Other systems I’ve found you go into it and all of a sudden you’re in five or six windows, and you forget how to get back.”
Three years ago, when he built a house for his family on Siesta Key in the Sanderling Club, Melone had SmartHouse install an ELAN system at a cost of $70,000 to $75,000. “Our whole family loves the system. … I’m very happy with it.”
Melone now has SmartHome install ELAN in his residential projects.
Lights, cameras, automatic action
SmartHouse Integration custom designs a system that fulfills a client’s desires using ELAN’s intuitive and accessible controls. Motorized window shades rise and fall with the sun. Interior lights automatically power up to preset levels as the sun sets. Blue lights illuminate the pool. The ELAN mobile app, remote or wall-mounted touchscreens allow temperature changes in any of the home’s climate zones. Speakers spread throughout the interior and exterior in one of a home’s audio zones deliver surround sound without distortion at high levels. Irrigation control and electronic door locks are other options.
Numerous cameras record video from a host of vantage points, and the scenes can be viewed on mobile devices, computers and televisions in the home or anywhere in the world. When someone rings the doorbell, all the touchscreens in the house light up and play video of the front porch.
For waterfront homes, infrared sensors on seawalls trigger outdoor lights and send alerts to the owner’s mobile devices when a boat or individual approaches from the water. Voice control is also available.
During a tour of a SmartHouse project, a 17,000-square-foot mansion on Sarasota Bay, van den Broek described what his team had accomplished there. The ELAN Entertainment and Control System serves as the home’s central network hub. The hardware includes eight 7-inch in-wall touch panels, four smaller touch panels and three HR2 remotes.The HR2 devices, like the panels, control everything in the network and features 46 hard buttons to operate the media system alone.
This project alone won three 2016 Mark of Excellence Awards.
Van den Broek integrated Lutron Homeworks Lighting and Shades with the ELAN Entertainment and Control System so lighting could operate automatically or be set by the homeowners from anywhere in the world. Numerous security cameras alert residents to visitors with video, and homeowners can talk to arrivals from their kitchen or hotel rooms. The smart lighting highlights the art aficionado’s extensive collection and changes at specific times to best enhance the art it emphasizes.
SmartHouse also installed 15 LED fountain lights in the pool’s overflow that shine up on the overflow wall. The lights are programmed and synchronized to the outdoor music system to create an amazing light show, Van den Broek said. The homeowner has 25 buttons he can press, and each launches a unique show, from AC/DC to Alicia Keys.
The company has worked on three projects for this client for a total cost of $350,000. “He just keeps coming back for more,” van den Broek said.
Van den Broek’s most expensive job to date exceeded $500,000. “I’m still surprised at how much money people will actually pay,” he said.
The move to Sarasota
His 20 years of experience in the field began in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He sold that company to his employees and opened in Sarasota in 2005 after a client here sought his work. It was February. While sitting on a dock at a rental place on Siesta Key, the warmth convinced him to move. Plus, he was able to sign up some big clients.
“In the late ’90s and early 2000s, we really started to take off and helped the industry a little bit in terms of future proof of wiring and setting up infrastructures in homes that people would take advantage of,” van den Broek said. Today’s cable networks are stout enough to handle the coming increase in broadband speeds, from the current 4G to the launch of 5G — which is expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G.
“And that was one of the things we really sold to our early adapters was, ‘Hey, your house will be future proofed,’” he said, and can handle emerging technologies that use higher data speeds.
“Homes that were wired back then with Category 5 cable (which handles networking, Wi-Fi, high-definition video and cameras) are still legitimate today. We can still run the newest, latest technology in homes that we wired 20 years ago.”
Van den Broek is a major proponent of cabled homes since wire can pass much more data much faster than wireless systems, though the latter dominate the current buzz in the smart-home industry. Structured, wired connections afford greater stability, add flexibility for future technology and increase a home’s resale value, he said.
Complicated and outdated home-automation systems frustrated homeowners, van den Broek said. The ELAN system does everything, a very usable, reliable, simple network, he said.
“I’m jacked every day to create something really cool for my clients,” van den Broek said.