Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shades Part 1 (planning-prep)

This was the day.

I'd been planning it for weeks.

I wanted to install a significant amount of technology in the house. Partly because it will be a good learning experience but mostly as a way to have a technology showcase. Plus, it is really cool....

The idea started as just having Ethernet wiring in every room and some surround wiring in the basement and the great room. Then we thought we should have wiring for some speakers outside on the patio. Then that turned into the idea of wiring speaker runs in most rooms which quickly turned into making sure we could add a whole-house distributed audio system. What about distributed HD video to each room? We'll want lighting control and while we're at it, we should automate the shades in the basement so when we watch movies we could control the light and it would be way cool.

Guardian was the low voltage source for Fulton Homes and I thought I would have them do all of the work. I began to hesitate as their offerings were mostly lower end and when I started asking them about HDMI distribution they started talking to me about their “plasma pre-wire” offering. "uhm.... no, it's an interface... no, like a plug... a cable that carries HD and surround signals all by itself... Yes, really."

The real fun started when I specified a second subwoofer connection for the basement. This seemed really strange to them and I had to assure them that “Yes, I really really do want more than one subwoofer in the basement.” They still made me Pinky Swear.

But they looked at me like I had just shown them my Kuato when I started asking them about automated shades.


So we ordered what we could and I figured that I'd have to do the shades myself. The problem with doing this was twofold:

  • We didn't own the house yet
  • Guardian would normally be very unhappy that they weren't paid to run low voltage wiring.

I had a couple of things going for me on this last point but the best was that they had no "auto shade pre-wire" offering and got kind of scared when I asked them about it. There was no way they would do it and thus they couldn't complain about any revenue loss by me doing it myself.

We have three windows in the basement that were going to get shades. The other two were in enclosed rooms and light from there wasn't going to be a problem. The Lutron QED (quiet electronic drive) shades were the product we had settled on (really, what other product is there) and the shades require a seven-wire bundle to work properly. (Three wires for power and four wires for control.)

We could have just picked up seven wire-spools and run them all together to make a bundle but why do that when Lutron has partnered with manufacturers to make a bundle (Lutron Red) specifically for these shades? I'll tell you why, because that wire is freaking expensive, that's why.

In the end we decided that the Lutron Red was the best way to go as each wire has a different color, the power and control wires are separated and shielded from each other and it would be a lot easier to pull a single jacketed bundle instead of seven separate wires or even two different bundles. Wire was ordered arrived on time and today was the day.

Mark had agreed to help, which was good because he had ladders and tools. Hands + Brain were also a prerequisite but fortunately there were no issues there.

We figured we would follow the low voltage runs that were already there. Each window shade was to have a controller point at the window and be controllable remotely. This way, if you were near a window and wanted to just adjust a shade “old school”, you could do that as well as call up different “scene” settings via the master control boxes. We can have buttons labeled “Movie” or “Entertaining” or “Poker” to adjust the shades (and lights) accordingly.

Hole Rule
Guardian drilled a hole into the main floor to run their wire. Remarkably, (and I know this is hard to believe) the distance from this hole to the wiring cabinets stayed the same no matter how many wires we pulled through it. 40’ every time. How lucky is that? Once we figured that out we decided to pull wire in the basement from the hole to each window’s shade control box, and then add 40’ to the distance. Yes, we are geniuses. That's why we're in the biz kids, don’t try this advanced math at home.
next part 2 (Installation)

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