When a world-famous pinball and video-game designer like Brian Eddy builds a custom home, you know it’s going to be designed around technology and fun. And it is. Built in 2001, the 7,000-square-foot suburban Chicago home includes a sprawling basement for the iconic machines he created, like Attack from Mars and Indiana Jones.
All the whiz-bang technological features built into his machines would grace his abode as well. But not in 2001 when the place was built. He wasn’t impressed at the time with the current state of home automation, according to Doug Buchan of the CEDIA-certified home-technology firm Buchan Consulting LLC.
“He didn’t think they were refined enough,” Buchan tells CE Pro.
That’s not surprising coming from a guy who creates the ultimate in graphical user interfaces.
So Eddy installed a hardwired HomeWorks lighting-control system from Lutron back then, along with several zones of audio, but held off on a complete home-control system. Still, he had the foresight to run miles of cable behind the walls, waiting for smart-home technology to catch up with the ease and energy of a classic arcade game.
New Game: Elan Blends HomeWorks with Z-Wave
Buchan says Eddy looked at all the usual suspects in custom home automation but what “really helped seal the deal was showing Brian the live user interface on my tablet.”
Buchan runs a showroom with a full slate of connected gear — lighting, shading, cameras, thermostats, media, power management, and the rest of it.
“We’re proud of the interface we’ve created and we’re proud to show it off to clients,” Buchan says. In this case, the live demo paid off.
For Eddy’s 2018 remodel, Buchan had to assess the existing Lutron HomeWorks system – controlling all existing loads – and how best to integrate it with new lighting controls for additional loads.
After considering the many good options, Buchan and Eddy decided on Z-Wave (Nortek’s GoControl) for the retrofit loads, including lighting and garage door controllers. Z-Wave is also used for automated door locks.
Z-Wave?! With Lutron HomeWorks? Buchan says he’s lived with Z-Wave in his own house, and it’s easy to integrate into Elan with the addition of a Vera hub.
NuVo vs. Elan Touchscreens
$375 vs. $1,050
Eddy has a total of eight 7-inch touchpanels — five NuVo P30s and two Elan TP7s.
“Brian wanted to be able to readily customize scenes in the kitchen and master bedroom,” says integrator Doug Buchan, “so we gave him the Elan panels in those rooms.”
The Elan TP7 ($1,050 MSRP) allows the user to create and edit scenes on-the-fly, and offers features like an alarm clock (for bedroom) and motion sensors (for triggering pathway lighting to bathroom).
Where that functionality wasn't required, Buchan spec'd the affordable NuVo P30 Android PoE panel ($375 MSRP), enabling “almost identical functionality using the Elan app for one-third of the price.”
“What we've been doing is putting a Vera Z-Wave controller on all of our $20,000-and-under jobs with 10 Z-Wave dimmers to get the customer started on lighting control,” Buchan says.
Compared to other popular pro-oriented wireless solutions, Buchan says Z-Wave was about one-third of the price. He concedes that the device-enrollment process isn’t as seamless as competitive solutions, but “it’s been stable for us once it’s up and running.”
Elan integrates the HomeWorks and Z-Wave lighting as if they were all the same, according to Buchan: “They work seamlessly together and no difference was seen by the homeowner when controlling lighting through Elan’s interface.”
As for audio, the home already had 12 independent zones, but the music died at least a decade before Buchan arrived – as if the Eddy household was being punished for a tilt.
Buchan installed a pair of Elan’s 1616A multiroom audio amplifiers (see the rack), serving over 30 speakers in the house, including a home-theater zone. An Autonomic music server streams audio from Eddy’s PC as well as online services.
The Elan amps also tackle two of Brian’s special requests: door-chime audio (DoorBird) and alarm-zone announcements (Honeywell) played through his in-home speakers – a feature Elan pioneered three decades ago.
Buchan installed several Elan 7-inch touchpanels, allowing Eddy to navigate 360-degree views of the estate via Luma surveillance cameras from SnapAV. The touchscreens also allow room-to-room communications, access to the DoorBird video door station, and of course control of the lighting, audio, video, alarm and other subsystems.
Eddy’s entire system is protected using Panamax Bluebolt surge protectors and power-management systems. On top of that, Buchan offers remote system monitoring, diagnostics and service via Domotz, which integrates with Panamax, “so all of our Bluebolt power features are accessible via Domotz and on the customer-facing Violet [Domotz] app we give to our clients.”
Buchan says the system is well-designed to avoid truck rolls, much as he likes hanging out in the pinball wizard’s crib.
Through Elan, Buchan techs can program the system remotely. Blue Enables remote power management and reboots. And Domotz “gives us access to nearly anything in the system, from Autonomic streamers to Sony receivers.”
All Buchan projects include Domotz now. The company launched its customer-care offerings one year ago and has been tweaking it along the way. Prices for the service range from $10 per month to $55 per month.
“The foundation for pricing these plans was Best Buy's pricing structure for Geek Squad's Total Tech,” Buchan says. “We figured Best Buy probably did a lot more market research than we were capable of and must have decided that $199 per year was what customers were willing to absorb in terms of system maintenance costs. Their program was helpful in providing the foundation for our program, and of course we feel we can provide more custom care than Best Buy, justifying the 33% higher rate.”
The $25 plan became Buchan’s “Technology Manager Gold” plan. Above that is the $55 Platinum plan (outlined below).
“Every one of our service plan customers so far has chosen Gold or Platinum,” Buchan says. “We're thrilled that we have a way to monitor our systems and know, even if we can't fix the problem remotely, that we'll have to roll a truck on Monday morning when something goes down on a Sunday afternoon. It helps us prevent, fix, or anticipate problems.”
As for the pinball wizard, who continues his gaming career as president of Zynga’s Spooky Cool Labs, “I’m thrilled with the control, security, and entertainment,” he says. “This system had its foundation laid when I built the house and it’s finally literally at my fingertips.”
Buchan Customer Care
Buchan offers four levels of Technology Manager service for residential customers (and one for commercial), starting at $9.99 per month. The company borrows from Geek Squad's Total Care for its pricing model.
- Monitor your connection to your Internet Service Provider, like Comcast or AT&T, and notify you of any outages that may effect you.
- Run twice daily internet speed tests to ensure you’re being provided with the speeds you paid for. Don’t let your Internet Service Provide short you on valuable internet speed.
- Yearly report of Internet Uptime and Average Yearly Speeds.
- Monitoring equipment and plan transferrable to new home or business owner.
- Ability for technicians to remotely connect to system and troubleshoot or fix problems without dispatching a truck (Troubleshooting is not covered and will be billed at standard hourly rate)
+ Silver ($19.99)
- Smartphone App (iOS and Android) with Parental Controls for your network, ability to get notified when new devices connect to your network, and one-touch link to our
- Network Equipment Monitoring: Ensure your local area network (router, switches, and WiFi) remain up and running with remote monitoring and troubleshooting of your 4th utility: your internet.
+ Gold ($24.95)
- Secure remote access to select devices within your network, enabling our ability to remotely change settings and correct many issues without a service call.
- Annual On-Site Inspection of your electronics, including a WiFi signal strength test ensuring you have proper coverage and speeds.
- Professional glass television screen cleaning and dusting of your sensitive electronics, prolonging the life of your equipment.
- Extended Device Monitoring (Sonos, Roku, Sony TV, Apple TV, etc) allowing us to notify you of issues and remotely connect to many of these devices, correcting problems before you even notice them.
- Over the phone troubleshooting, technology consulting, and purchasing advice (limit 2 hours/mo)
- Priority Service Calls within 48 hours.
- 50% off price of on-site service calls
+ Platinum ($54.95)
- Remote network hardware (router, switches, WiFi) firmware upgrades. Keep your network hardware up-to-date, ensuring maximum resistance to viruses and hacking, helping you ensure the security of your network and data.
- Facilitation of the repair or replacement of any electronics that were installed by Buchan Consulting LLC. Never wait on the phone with tech support again, don’t worry about shipping back your broken electronics, and don’t worry about installing the replacement. We’ll do it for you.
- 10% discount of MSRP on any product replacement/repairs
- Up to 2 new items programmed into control system per year (URC, Elan, & Harmony). Add game systems, DVD players, and more without worrying about paying to have your remotes reprogrammed.
- Priority on-site support, ensuring your problems are addressed within 36 hours.
- Includes 2 hours on-site service per month
- Advanced replacement on in-warranty network equipment sold by Buchan Consulting LLC