Want quality outdoor speakers so you can set the mood for your pool party? Consistent, throughout-the-house internet access that doesn’t require multiple login passwords? Televisions that don’t dominate your floor with a labyrinth of wires and cables? What about a universal light switch that can shut off every bulb on the property?
If you’re constructing your dream home, and these kinds of features are on your wish list, you better start planning for them early.
“Something that’s critical for everyone to consider: Do not think of technology as something that you can install at the end,” says Rusty Henderson, the owner of AVL Limited, a company that specialises in integrating audio, video and lighting control systems into homes and resorts. “This has been my mission for the last 15 years: To make sure that clients and architects consider technology at the very beginning.”
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Henderson notes that as a standard, architects weave in preparations for the plumbing, electrical and mechanical elements of a home early on in the design process. He says he still sees certain projects, however, that make significant headway without factoring in any technological aspects.
“It needs to be plumbed in the same way that electricity and water need to be routed throughout a home,” he explains. “We call it digital plumbing. It’s a construction process that you’ve got to go through. If you want to share stuff around, hanging the TV on the wall is the thing you do at the end.”
Henderson has been in the “smart home” business in earnest since 2009, and he’s worked on a variety of projects ranging from individual homes and villas to businesses to Oil Nut Bay resort properties.
“In the world of smart home technology, there’s multiple different disciplines within it,” the owner explains. “For example, one of them is audio/visual, one of them is lighting control, one of them is shades and drapes, and there’s also the world of Internet of Things, [where] you can have your toaster talk to your microwave that talks to your phone that talks to your car.”
AVL largely focuses on integrating different audio/visual and IT systems into homes and business, however. With that focus, Henderson notes, comes an emphasis on reliability: they want technology that looks and sounds amazing, and is “plumbed” into a space in a way that works seamlessly with the property’s aesthetic.
While cutting edge gadgets and devices can be fun and amusing, more often than not they end up being an annoyance, he explains.
“That’s an intolerance we all have with technology,” he says. “We love it when it works, it’s great, we’ll show it off, but the minute you show off say a voice command and you say, ‘Alexa, close the shades,’ and it says, ‘Tuning the radio to Jazz FM,’ you’re like, ‘No, no, that’s not what I said,’ – then it becomes really annoying. Our general strategy is we keep things as simple as possible – we only go with the most reliable, most proven technology and systems.”
Part of that reliability comes from choices in material, which can have a serious impact in the Caribbean.
“We’re far more sensitive to the marine environment,” Henderson explains. “As soon as anything goes outdoors, we’re using outdoor-rated everything: the speakers, the cables, everything gets treated as if it was on the deck of a boat, because the air is so salty and aggressive on components and metal.”
Outdoor speakers, for example, should be a resilient plastic – not metal, as they often are in the United States, according to the AVL owner.
Components should also be properly secured in case of a storm.
“We like to lock everything down and bolt it using stainless fixtures, using dielectric grease, some silicone whenever possible,” Henderson says. “We just seal it away from the elements.”
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Just choosing to use reliable technology is not, by itself, enough to ensure reliability in your smart home, however.
Power conditioning – especially in the Caribbean – is a necessity when it comes to protecting electronics, according to Henderson.
“Down here, what most people are going to be surprised about is the number of power cuts, the outages, the sags, the dips, the spikes, the surges – all these electrical anomalies, they just play havoc with our electronics, and even if a TV or something doesn’t blow up immediately, that bad power experience can sit redundant for months before it exposes itself and then goes ‘pop’ and one day something doesn’t turn on.”
Electrical “brownouts,” when an electrical output dips and sags, can starve your technology of power, Henderson explains. That lack of power can cause physical damage to small components in your television, leading it to eventually fail.
Power conditioning combats that problem with devices designed to ensure a certain quality of electricity is delivered consistently to your electronics, regardless of brownouts.
AVL installs a certain degree of power conditioning in all its projects, using an apparatus called a double-conversion uninterruptible power supply, according to Henderson. The device takes power from an outlet, which can lose voltage output during electrical dips, and – by lifting the power onto a battery and then off – restores the output to 120 volts before it enters whatever device it’s connected to.
Henderson notes that AVL installs UPS devices wherever there’s an intelligent system – like a processor, a router, or a switch – and, on more prestigious properties, behind every television.
“That’s your insurance policy right there,” he says. “We wouldn’t dream of putting any systems in without some sort of protection.”
AVL can also install intelligent surge protection into their systems, allowing their team to remotely assist with household problems through an app.
“I suppose what we’re specialists in is dealing with ultra-high-end clients in extremely remote locations,” Henderson explains. “Even though we’re up in the North Sound area most days, if we’re on the wrong island, and someone needs something, we’ve got to be able to respond as quickly as possible.”
The app can help with that, allowing AVL employees to monitor systems and devices and reboot them when needed.
If you plan on renting out a villa, having good internet is critical.
“You want to stay away from some of the clunky systems that don’t have an integrated smart system that’s working as one complete network,” he says. In order to do that, AVL equips homes with internet access points in practically every room.
Unlike sheet rock homes in the U.S., typical Caribbean building materials, like concrete, steel and wood, tend to block signals, so numerous access points are a necessity, the AVL owner explains. Even certain windows have polarizing material that can interrupt signals, so he recommends placing an access point outside if you want internet by the pool.