Cozy Smart Home Features Snow Melting System and Automated Fireplace

Home of the Year Gold Winner for Smart Home over $150,000. Multiscreen sports viewing, snow melting system and 96 window shades prep 8,000-square-foot mountain home for family retreats with a touch of a button.


Tucked within a grove of evergreen trees stands a home so smart, the family that visits there occasionally for long ski weekends barely needs to lift a finger to ready their mountainside dwelling for their arrival.

Well, maybe they lift a finger, pressing it to the screen of a smartphone — but that’s about as difficult as it gets.

There’s no snow to shovel off the driveway, no thermostats to adjust to crank up the heat, no window shades to open, or lights to turn on. It all happens automatically during their hour-long flight from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe. Or, as is the case with the start-up of the hydronic heating system that warms the 8,000-square-foot home slowly yet efficiently from below the floor, the finger tap happens a few days before their departure.

The ability to monitor and manage nearly every electronic system in their new mountain home from afar is what ultimately sold the homeowners on a Savant control system — this and the fact that they were already intimately familiar with the system, having used it previously in their other homes, according to Marcin Przybylski from RAC Advanced Control, of Tahoe City, Calif.

He and his team of home systems integrators were hired by the owners to handle the design and installation of the sophisticated technology systems that handle many of the home’s core functions, and won our coveted Best Smart Home of the Year award.

Placed on Automatic Pilot

While the house is vacant, the Savant home control processor puts all of the systems into an Away mode that was custom-configured and programmed into the processor’s operating platform by the software engineers at RAC Advanced Control. This setting was designed to help the home run at an efficient level and without any risk of freezing pipes or other potentially harmful events like extended power outages or extreme dips in temperature.

The house is virtually problem-free, as the homeowners are able to monitor several conditions in real-time, from the temperature of the water in the hot tub to the status of light switches.

Should the owners want extra assurance of their home’s well-being, they can tap into the video captured by several Axis surveillance cameras positioned strategically throughout the property and view it from the screen of an iPad, no matter if they are five miles away picking up milk at the grocery store or 500 miles from the residence on a business trip. Remote access to real-time camera video is a great complement to the snow melting system, as the owners can visually determine just how much snow has fallen and if it warrants activation of the melting system.

“Sometimes all it takes is just a few flakes to set off the system,” Przybylski explains. “It’s a waste of energy, so the owners can choose to temporarily deactivate the melting system, and even when there’s enough snow, we set up the Savant system to trigger the melting system on a three-, six- and 12-hour timer rather than continuously.”

Finicky Fireplaces Learn to Cooperate

The real magic happens, though, when the homeowners arrive at the house. Like a virtual property manager, the Savant system has raised all 25 zones of hydronic heating to a prescribed comfort level, and follows through by signaling a Lutron QS lighting system to brighten several select LED fixtures, activating the snow melting system to clear the driveway, opening a few of the home’s nearly 100 Lutron QS motorized window shades, and switching on the gas fireplace in the family room.

The alterations are so beautifully choreographed, it appears technologically effortless, but as Przybylski assures, getting the fireplaces (four total) to cooperate was not easy. Manufacturers have been slow to warm up (no pun intended) to the smart home movement, he says, and therefore their products can be tough to integrate with control systems without some very intricate engineering involved.

“We had to actually get into the electrical schematics of each fireplace to engineer drivers that would allow them to be monitored and controlled by the Savant system,” Przybylski says.

Multiscreen Sports Viewing

One of the family’s favorite activities is watching sporting events. The homeowner requested that RAC Advanced Control include a Savant video tiling system in the home technology plans. This advanced video processing technology, called SmartView, allows viewing of multiple video windows, or tiles, on a single display — for this home, a maximum of six tiles per display. Using an app on an iPad, the owners can switch video sources between the tiles and alter the shape and configuration of them.

It’s an extremely sophisticated sort of system typically reserved for a home’s one main TV. For this project, however, RAC Advanced Control installed two SmartView units: One for the 85-inch 4K Sony TV in the great room, and another for the 85-inch 4K Sony TV in the rec room.

“Tiling for two TVs is something we had never done before,” says Przybylski. “It really raises the bar in terms of entertainment extravagance.”

Photos: Cozy, Mountainside Smart Home

The SmartView processors sit in a well-appointed equipment rack in a specially designed and constructed closet in a hallway, as do all of the home’s audio and video components, which includes an Autonomic Controls media server, three Apple TV units, four DirecTV satellite set-top boxes, and an Oppo Digital Blu-ray Disc player. There is no sharing of video sources among the displays, but all of these components connect to each SmartView processor so every source can be accessed on the two tiling-enabled TVs.

Audio is another matter. Songs curated by the Autonomic media server travel to an interesting mix of speakers from Leon SpeakersPro Audio Technology, and Sonance. Each brand of speaker was chosen by RAC Advanced Control for certain performance and cosmetic reasons. For example, Pro Audio Technology was selected for the great room, due to the audio muscle of its bi-amplified design.

Speakers from Leon Speakers, meanwhile, were chosen for their ability to be customized to suit the style and dimension of each of the home’s Sony 4K TVs. Architectural speakers from Sonance round out the whole-house audio system, disappearing into the ceiling surfaces with their bezel-less grilles and small footprints.

All meticulously installed, the speakers provide music to 11 listening zones, which includes three surround-sound setups. From the Savant app, the family can peruse their audio options, like favorite streams, and direct it to a specific zone or several zones.

Systems & Equipment

  • Home Control: Savant
  • Lighting and Shading Control: Lutron
  • Whole-House Audio: Savant
  • Speakers: Leon Speakers, Pro Audio Technology, Sonance
  • TVS: Sony
  • Surveillance Cameras: Axis
  • Systems Design & Installation: RAC Advanced Control, Tahoe City, Calif.,
  • Builder: Joans Corda Construction, Tahoe City, Calif.,

Next: See the Gold Winner for Best Smart Home Under $150,000