Sight And Sounds

980 David Road, Suite G

Burlingame, CA 94010







Sight And Sounds Newsletter

November, 2008

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Green is Good

How to Save Resources AND Money

It doesn’t matter where you stand politically or socially, lessening utility consumption makes sense. Electrical usage is measured in wattage, and the more watts you use, the more you are charged by the power company. Reducing your usage allows you to keep more of your hard-earned money. According to The California Statewide Residential Appliance Saturation Study, The average California household consumes roughly 8,000 Kilowatt hours per-year. Your home may be smaller or larger than the norm, and depending on your power usage, your gas and electric bill is most likely over $100. It is not uncommon to see power bills near $500/month, and we have seen customers with power bills over $3000/month.

Even if your power bill rides on the lower end of the spectrum, making a twenty-percent reduction in your power bill could represent some serious cost savings. Looking at a $250 monthly power bill, twenty percent is $50. Over the course of a year, the savings total $600. This is not chump-change. More importantly, it is sensible living that can also provide tangible benefits to your lifestyle.

Cost savings and improving your lifestyle? Sounds contradictory, but there are products and programming solutions that can achieve luxurious benefits while reducing your power consumption. I can state this with credibility, since I have employed many of these solutions myself, living a very satisfying lifestyle in my roughly 1400 square-foot home, with several HDTVs, stereo audio zones, artistic lighting, and pre-programmed wakeup scenes. My power bill is consistently under $100/month. I live like a king, but I pay like a pauper, and my local utility companies have to rely on other sources for their revenue.

In the column to the right, click on an image, which will open a product description brochure.


Lighting Control

Lighting is the first place to start. On average, 20 to 50 percent of home electrical waste comes from running lights longer than necessary. Suggestion number one: get your lighting under control. The simplest solution is Control4 wireless dimmers and switches at $99/each. By automating lights around the house, you can set lighting scenes to start and stop, based on daily demand.

By installing controllable lighting devices, you can create moods that better accentuate key architectural features. Simply blasting a room with high-intensity light will often lessen the sense of depth and space. Dimming and adjusting light levels can accentuate design details and improve a room's ambience. Here is an example.

Several years ago, a client in Napa purchased a Lutron GrafikEye system. When it was first installed, she made a couple quick presets with her electrician. I was up for the weekend, and my client was generous to invite me over for dinner. By chance, a well-known opera singer was also invited. While having a glass of wine, the opera singer and I adjusted the lighting system to create several dramatic and interesting lighting scenes in the living room. With the opera singer's exposure to quality stage lighting in his profession, he was able to maximize the use of light to greatly improve my client's living space, and the client was delighted. Since then, I have worked with electricians and clients in this same mindset to provide artistic lighting scenes in many homes.

With the addition of a control system, artistic scenes can be scheduled to have greatest impact during times when the areas are in use, then dim to a more subdued level during times with less occupancy. Modern electronic dimmers conserve energy, so the more you dim the lights, the more you save power. Here is an example of how a home could benefit with artistic lighting control while saving power.

Nineteen Dimmers and a Wireless Motion Detector: the foyer and entry hall have four dimmers controlling a chandelier, a set of sconces, and two sets of ceiling cans for the hallway that leads into the kitchen and family room. The kitchen and family room each have four dimmers controlling ceiling cans and fluorescent lighting. The living room and dining room have three dimmers in each room, controlling various lighting loads. In between these rooms is a Card Access wireless motion sensor ($149). The outside front door has a set of torch lamps on a single dimmer.

Start Scene: the front door torch lamps ramp up to full level at sunset over a period of fifteen minutes. The foyer and entry hall dimmers ramp up a little quicker over two minutes. The kitchen fluorescents turn on, and one dimmer in each of the living room and dining room ramps over two minutes to a low level of fifty percent. Family members can increase the light level at any time, directly from the dimmer itself, should they require more light in the kitchen, living room or dining room.

Dinner Scene: at 6:30PM, the dining room dimmers ramp up to a comfortable level, signifying that dinner should be ready soon. One hour later, the foyer and hallway dim, since dinner usually ends by 7:30PM. At 8:00PM, if there has been no movement sensed in the dining or living room, the lights are ramped down to the starting scene lower level.

Middle Scene: at 8:30PM, the kitchen dimmers ramp down to forty percent, then immediately back up to the previous level. If the bottom button on the kitchen entry switch is pressed (if Mom or Dad needs more time in the kitchen), the lights will remain on at their higher state for another hour. If the button is not pressed, then the lights will dim down to forty percent again and stay at that level for another hour.

Later Scene: at 9:00PM, the kitchen will dim off over 30 seconds, unless the bottom switch is pressed again. The under-cabinet fluorescents will remain on for another hour. The dining and living rooms will turn off unless movement is sensed in these rooms. The foyer and entry hall will ramp down to twenty percent over a fifteen-minute period.

End Scene: at 11:00PM the house will dim off over 30 seconds. Additionally, the master bedroom hand-held remote has a “house off” and “house on” preset, in case the owners want to turn the lights off earlier or need to turn them on immediately during the night.

This kind of programming takes an hour or two, and you can make scheduling adjustments on your own with Control4 Home Edition Software ($149) and a PC connected to the home network. This kind of programming substantially saves power, and at the same time, provides tailored lighting to match your unique lifestyle. Indeed, technology has made it possible for us to have our cake and eat it too.


HVAC Control

In summer, electrical usage increases with air conditioning. In winter, gas usage increases with heating. With controllable thermostats, there are ways of making improvements in both seasons.

Air Conditioning: The California costal area is fortunate with its mild summer climate. However, there are locations in our state that do get warm during the summer months. Many of our clients have second homes in Napa, Central Valley, and Sierras. In any one of these geographic areas, mornings are usually cool, since during the night, the evening air naturally cools the home. If your home has ceiling fans, you simply need to integrate the ceiling fans with your air conditioning. If you don’t have ceiling fans, you can purchase tastefully-looking room fans (see If possible, purchase a fan without a remote—keep the fan very simple, where either a Control4 Wall Switch ($99) or Outlet Switch ($129) will turn on the fan by the control system.

The Control4 Thermostat ($249) has the ability to send temperature readings to the Control4 system wirelessly, regardless of the fact that it also controls the Air Conditioning system. As the ambient heat increases during the day, the Control4 system can be programmed to turn on the room fans when the temperature reaches a preset level, for example 74 degrees. Additional programming can include the following:

If the temperature reaches 76 degrees for at least ten minutes, the Control4 Thermostat triggers the air conditioning to turn on for several minutes until the temperature drops two degrees, then turns off the air conditioning. The room fans continue to run, circulating the cooler air over an extended time period. In essence, the air conditioning is used to “juice” the cooling capability of the room fans, and when finished, the fans help circulate the cooler conditioned air and sustain the average temperature between the two-degree level. You can experience larger power savings by raising the temperature limit from 76 degrees to 79 degrees and the cooling temperature range from two degrees to three or four degrees.

The result of this application can be a full 75% reduction in your air conditioning system. A very lightweight version of this could easily save 20% on your monthly bill.

Heating: Most thermostats are difficult to program. They are the same species as the extinct VCR timer record clock—you know, the thingy that used to blink “12:00” all the time. If you are patient enough and manage to remember where you put the instruction booklet, you may manage to set scheduled temperature presets for your heater. If you are like most people, chances are, you haven’t slightest clue or inclination to delve into the frustrating abyss of programming a digital thermostat.

The Control4 Thermostat is constantly communicating with the system, and via the Control4 Home Edition Software, you can easily set heat and cool points for six different parts of the day. By clicking on the thermostat icon, a popup window will show “Wake,” “Away,” “Return,” “Sleep,” “Custom1,” and “Custom2” set point presets. Within each one of these set points, you can select whether that preset applies to the current day, a weekday schedule, or full-week schedule. Additionally, you can select different setting for each day. For example, if the family members are all usually gone for the entire day on Tuesdays, you can set the schedule differently than for Fridays, when family members are usually around the house after 12:00 noon.

By making your own custom schedule, you can maximize the effectiveness of your heating system, powering up the heat when it is needed most. For example, I personally like to sleep in a cool environment, so I have the heater always turn off prior to 9:00PM, since I know it will take some time for the heat to diminish before I go to sleep. On the flip side, I like to wake up to a warm house in the morning. I have the thermostat kick on at 5:45AM, so by the time I have the bedroom television automatically turn on to CNBC for my wakeup, the house is already warming up for my coffee and emails at 6:30AM. When I leave the house, I have a programmed button on a keypad that sets the alarm and turns the heat off.

Again, this is easy to accomplish. You do not need a computer science degree in order to have an effective heating and cooling solution that can provide comfort with savings.


Irrigation Control

Most customers don’t realize that water usage can be managed through a control system, further saving resources and associated costs. In fact, average water costs will likely increase 7% over the next year alone (NUS Consulting Group 2008 Annual Survey).

Many homes are equipped with a timed water system. These systems are very simple, even though the clunky dial, the complicated setting procedures, and delayed start/stop schedules from power outages may say otherwise. Timed irrigation systems rely on power-actuated valves that open with a standard 24 volt supply. A very simple application involves a 24VAC power supply ($40), Control 4 Wireless Contact/Relay Extender ($249), rain sensor ($40), and a typical set of irrigation valves. If you do not have an existing system, we can provide landscape contractor references for you to have a system installed.

The Control4 Wireless Contact/Relay Extender has the ability to open or close 4 relays. Each relay would be connected to a valve that feeds a set of sprinklers or other irrigation product, such as drippers and rain birds. Since the Contact/Relay Extender is wireless, there is no need to run wires to the Control4 system, as long as the location is within wireless range, which is commonly the case. Each relay would have its own unique name, such as “Front Lawn,” “Side,” or “Flower Bed.” On the Control4 Home Edition Software, you can set unique schedules for watering your yard. This is very handy when you want to lower your watering times while maintaining healthy grounds. Adding a rain sensor to the Contact/Relay Extender will tell the system to bypass the existing daily schedule. Additionally, monthly weather changes will result in different water requirements. For example, many plants have dormant periods like the months of January and February. If you simply follow this guide (, you can get an idea of how much time your lawn requires during specific times of year. You can create a year-long schedule for several irrigation zones and maximize your water efficiency.



Saving makes sense. When I first started to employ these practices, I discovered that my monthly bills were not only lower, but they were also more consistent. Prior to automation, I would see monthly power bills that fluctuated by $40 - $50. Now that most of my home is scheduled, I can anticipate my monthly utility bills with minimal fluctuation. Anticipating regular and consistent billing simplifies home budgeting. We can anticipate our utility bill to grow over the years, due to limited supplies, increased demand, and basic inflation. Stay ahead of the curve, and get on the conservation mindset. This will only provide benefits down the road.

Most importantly, these altruistic additions to your home can provide great benefits and pay for themselves with the cost savings gained.

Give us a call or send an email, and we can provide an evaluation with a cost estimate.   



We look forward to hearing from you. Here is our contact info:


September Newsletter Review

We took the time to produce a web video that describes our typical Central-Source HDTV system. How can you have your flat-panel HDTV look like it is floating on the wall like the pictures in fashion magazines? Take a look and find out how we make it happen.



Control4 Composer Home Edition Software

The Composer Home Edition Software ($149) allows you to quickly and easily set schedules. If you have ever worked with Outlook, you can set manage your lighting, temperature, and irrigation with the integrated calendar and associated tasks. This software can also be used offsite, so if you have a second home, you can manage your utility usage from across the state or across the planet.



Control4 Wireless Dimmers And Switches

Whether you have an existing home or plan to start anew, Control4 lighting switches and dimmers ($99-$129) allow you to set scenes, create schedules, and better monitor your power usage. Since Control4 dimmers and switches communicate on a wireless network, there is no need to run any control wires from your system. (click image for brochure)



Card Access Wireless Motion Sensor

The Card Access Wireless Motion Detector ($149) is either battery-operated or wired, so installation is a snap. You can have the motion sensor control lights depending on room occupation. Did you know that 20% of all wasted electricity comes from lights that are left on in unoccupied rooms? Think of this product as a knife that can slash big cuts into your power bill. (click image for brochure)



Control4 Wireless Thermostat

The Control4 Wireless Thermostat ($249) is a key product that should be in most homes. The Thermostat is constantly communicating wirelessly with the Control4 system, sending temperature readings and status of the HVAC System. You can control your Wireless Thermostat from any Control4 user interface, including the Home Edition Software, to create multiple temperature set points and easy programming flexibility. (click image for brochure)


Controlling Thermostats Via Software

This is an example of how you can create multiple set points on Control4’s Home Edition Software ($149). This is extremely powerful software; but since it is graphically-oriented, it is also very easy-to-use.



Control4 Wireless Contact/Relay Extender

The Contact/Relay Extender ($249) runs on the wireless network, so it can be installed in locations close to your landscape irrigation valves and related power supply. By connecting your various sprinklers and irrigation valves onto the Control4 system, you can create flexible watering schedules, thus providing healthy greenery for your home and savings for your bank account. (click image for brochure)



Controlling Irrigation Via Software

This screen shows various watering times that are infinitely adjustable. You can set times on time, day, date, month, year, day-of-the-week, day-of-the-month, between multiple days of the week, and between multiple days of the month. It is easy to set unique schedules, since the programming is drag-and-drop.



Water Savings

Experts predict that water costs will be the largest increase in utility expenses over the next ten years. By effectively controlling your watering schedule, you can save big money and maintain a green yard while conserving water supplies for our state.



Green Brochure

Download Control4's Green Brochure to learn more about saving money and resources.