At its core, smart home technology serves two distinct functions. The first is for the purposes of having a centralized platform easily accessing entertainment functions that serve to create comfort and ambience. The second is for the purposes of utility and situational awareness. Since 1997, I have specialized in building these systems for members of the UHNW world. In this article I will share the purposes of the utility and awareness factors giving examples in service of my full time Principal and a current consulting project.
Lifestyle Benefits in Smart Home Technology
In 2013 I was delegated the responsibility of designing a technology infrastructure for what will be the final residence of my current Principal. As an avid yachting enthusiast, he wanted to have as authentic of a home environment as what he experiences on the high seas. Top priorities in the design were the saving of space, simple operation, and elegance at his fingertips. In the interest of saving space from doors that would swing into a room, we opted for all 16 interior doors to operate as oversized pocket doors that were motorized.
The space saving improvement in optimizing the available square footage allowed me to save approximately 8 ft.² per door, or 128 ft.² overall. After researching the market, we decided to utilize a DC powered smart home system to control the doors. The challenge with using DC in a residence is the conversion process. Once I came to grips with utilizing a yachting type power supply and 120 volt AC converter over to DC voltage it set the course to create an entire smart home system run on DC power. After further research taking into consideration that all of the ceilings were to be leather, we went ahead and looked at incorporating not only the door controls, but also all lighting switches into one system shown in the photo below to my wife Sarah’s right.
The benefit of the control system used in this yacht inspired penthouse is that all switches were flush mounted into the robust trim work throughout the penthouse. A simple dual colored LED configuration allowed any circuit not activated to remain in a color of blue, and a circuit that was activated to remain in a color of red. For my Principal this color design was optimal due to the benefits of a nightlight creating pathways throughout the hallways in the penthouse. Utilizing a standardized programmable thermostat we were able to set the cooling and heating to the preferred temperatures based upon optimal cost savings and operation times.
The entertainment systems operate in a more traditional manner. Universal remote controls create macro functionality with one button press, sending programmed commands to activate power on multiple devices. This activation allows for the preferences of what the Principal would be characterized by enjoying whether it be a television program or music selection.
We are currently designing functionality for a large dining table to also serve as a conference table with laptop feeds plugging into a discrete television mounted over a fireplace. This example of a sophisticated and robust easy to use system took years of planning and research to dial in arriving at exactly what my Principal considers to be optimal for his use. Throughout my many hundreds of smart home technology consulting projects since 1997, I have retrofit existing environments to appear as original design. A specialty I am regularly delegated, is in optimizing poorly designed systems to operate at peak performance. I am proficient in Lutron and Crestron Smart Home Systems and bring in the best programmers for each to simply achieve complex operation and functionality.
Security & Situational Awareness in Smart Home Technology
Last week I was delegated the responsibility of creating a situational awareness smart home technology system for a remote estate not lived in or frequently utilized. My responsibility was to utilize technology to alert the owners of trespassers who could then deploy countermeasures whether it be local law enforcement contacted or specific security personnel who would respond with the appropriate use of force to protect the asset. For the average individual, having a property of this magnitude may make a little sense, but for the UHNW world it becomes a tax advantage.
Prior to the US Tax Reform Act of 1986 real estate investors took full advantage of depreciation and real estate losses to shelter other sources of income. This was so popular that many high-earning investors bought real estate simply for its tax advantages. Eventually, President Reagan, Congress, and the IRS caught on and the rules changed. As an example, the IRS does not describe what your IRA account can invest in. It only describes what it can NOT invest in. The “do not invest list” includes life insurance and collectables like artwork, rugs, and antiques. Non-traditional investments like real estate, private mortgages, limited partnerships, and tax liens are therefore allowed.
While self-directed IRAs are a wonderful tool, there are many pitfalls and strict rules to be careful of. Knowing that this property would not be staffed fully, my goal was to create a remote management platform allowing the technology to serve in a situational awareness capacity.
The following is an overview of how I would approach Smart Home Technology to manage the estate covering all areas of the property through the use of surveillance & lighting technology. A guideline that I use in an investment formula when adding infrastructure equipment to an estate that becomes real property is the following. Invest $1.00 receive $1.30 at resale due to the risk mitigation and management of liability that the infrastructure value offers.
Without this security and situational awareness infrastructure an estate has little to no awareness of breaches or the ability to appropriately respond. A security professional may argue for the benefit of having onsite staff monitor the property in even little use, but we hear of property breaches in the case of celebrities with full security staffs on a regular basis. When it comes to static monitoring of property, I trust technology over humans because the technology is programmed to serve a certain capacity upon my designed course of action unless power failure occurs.
(1) Surveillance Systems:
Although there is little difference between a security and surveillance camera system in appearance, having a 4K surveillance video recording system provides the ability to target by quadrant, email a video clip of the quadrant breach. In addition the system will simultaneously email the recording on a cellular backup allowing deployed countermeasures such as contacting local law enforcement and emailing a video clip that can be used for prosecution of anyone on the property. The need for a one time cost of a 24/7 surveillance system on a property such as what this Principal uses it for, is often times less than the cost of staffing an onsite manager for one year. In addition, the system becomes real property attached to the estate increasing the value allowing the investment to be recouped at a 30% at a time when the house is sold.
(2) New Wiring Infrastructure:
Utilizing the existing communications cabling in the main residence, I designed it to feed the internet to (3) distinct locations as allocated in red, green, and blue quadrants. From each of the three newly fed Internet lines, I would then install a network video recorder (NVR) with 2 TB hard drive and fish the appropriate communication cables feeding surveillance cameras. Each camera has a distinct IP setting and will email a 10 second video of the motion breach in each of quadrants listed on the residence map. The email account receives motion clips kept in allocated folders. If this residence was to be lived in, the surveillance system would be actively monitored as part of a larger security program. In the case of this estate which does not serve an active purpose, it allows an Estate Manager to receive the email notifications to help monitor the property. In addition, each camera will be labeled by corresponding quadrant provides easy tracking of activity in accordance with the attached map.
The three NVR’s with 2TB’s each, will only record when a motion event is triggered in a geo-fencing capacity. The NVR backs the recording time up close to 4 seconds before the actual motion trigger occurs and includes that pre-recorded event in the emailed video file. The benefit of this approach is to allow for a wider field of view before the motion breach occurred. An app showcases all cameras a shown and allows any user to manually access the surveillance system. Quadrants 11 + 12 on the map are long distance views and are not intended to zoom to the areas that the numbers 11 + 12 are placed. All main house cameras are discretely located under soffit areas tucked out of sight. The added benefit of this approach is to also monitor when grounds personnel are on the property providing a type of accountability to guarantee the work is being done and that there are no “non-work” visits.
(3) Remote Technology Access:
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, has been involved with security technology company RING’s startup for years. He led Ring’s $28 million Series B round in 2015. Branson was quoted in 2015 as having said, “What excites me about Ring is its efficient, convenient approach to crime prevention and home monitoring and also its entrepreneurial leadership team.” He later added, “I’m speaking as both an investor and a very happy customer.” The billionaire entrepreneur found out about the company after a visitor on his island spoke remotely with a delivery person who rang his doorbell. After getting in touch with the company, Branson offered to invest. The benefit of a RING video unit in this case allows an Estate Manager on the other side of the globe to remotely answer the door. This is important because anyone coming to a remote residence unannounced should be assumed trespassing and facial recognition aids in identifying who.
(4) Barn Surveillance Protection:
Although the property barn which serves as the groundskeeper’s HQ is cost prohibitive to place on the video surveillance system from the house it is an essential part of the surveillance system. There are many advantages in investing the capital to bring the barn quadrants on to the main system as the replacement cost of equipment for the commercial mower, all terrain vehicles, and other equipment are vast.
(5) Property Lighting:
The property lighting will be addressed in a three phase capacity. There are 66 existing landscape lights that need to be serviced, slightly relocated out of plant bed material, and better positioned to maximize light spread onto the residence vertical surfaces. The existing transformers are activated by timers with no battery backup to keep accurate timing; should power go out the timer loses its accuracy of dusk to dawn. We will replace the timers with photocells to run the lights dusk to dawn. The LED lighting fixtures are highly efficient and low cost to operate.
There are approximately eight different areas that are exterior or interior automated and require modification from a switch to timer for appearance of the residence being lived in. The strategy is to retrofit the existing switches at the front door, back porch, carport to studio, garage overhang, on the exterior with timers that sit in the wall replacing existing switches. There are interior locations that should also be applied such as both lower bedroom suites having lamp timers that would function during the normal uses of what a bedroom would be used in the evening hours.
Additionally, there is one light over the kitchen sink that we would program to serve in the same capacity of normal uses of a light during the evening hours, as well as four wall sconces in the office which would be timed for the evening hours of someone in a home-office.
The existing barn large inefficient high-pressure sodium lights on each end would be replaced with high intensity LED wall mount flood lights operating dusk to dawn. In a suburban setting light trespass is a serious consideration, but on a remote estate property it becomes an advantage. By rewiring the two barn end lights to a switch with dusk to dawn timer paired with the barn porch light being replaced with two LED bulbs, a perimeter is established running dusk to dawn.
The main entrance gate is cost prohibitive to place on the video surveillance system unless trenching the distance from the barn laying separate conduits adding power & Internet. There are many advantages in investing the capital to bring the main gate onto the system. In addition, by providing lighting on the gate entrance to brighten that up as well as placing audio video recording signs, we are warding off curious passers by who may travel down the remote drive. By utilizing common sense and sound judgement from my experience in both UHNW service and that of smart home technology design, I am able to provide reasonable, down to earth, reliable, and practical solutions with the aid of smart home technology.
If I can offer any recommendations or solutions please do not not hesitate to send along a message.
Written by concierge estate management professional, Lucien E. Boivin. You can connect with Lucien on LinkedIn