We sat down with new Loxone Partner and CEDIA Member Scott McMurray of Epitome Living to talk about the reasons he chose Loxone, his advice on the best home WiFI hardware and the costs involved for a modern smart home.
Hi Scott. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to the world of smart home tech.
Hi Mark, thanks for having me. Where should I start? Clichéd as it probably is, I’ve been fascinated with tech my whole life. I don’t consider myself to be the typical computer nerd type, however. I’ve been interested in property, electronics, audio, cars and so on for as long as I can remember. I remember pulling in Cat5e to my Mum’s house when I was about 15 as I recognised how important a structured data network would be in the future.
Nearly 10 years ago, I started out my career in the software industry. I worked on bespoke web and native mobile apps. In parallel I started a part time business with good friend doing pro audio – both event production and installation, specialising in and focussing on working with local churches. This was, and continues to be, a fantastic insight into the different audio standards, particularly newer IP network based solutions.
In addition to all that, I’ve dabbled in traditional telecoms systems & computer networking over the years. I started to realise all of these technologies were easy for me to understand, and they were becoming more and more reliant on IP, which is convenient given my background. That’s what started to point me in this direction.
You’re one of Loxone’s newest installers. Out of all the home automation systems out there, what made you decide Loxone was the one?
It took me a long time… I remember, maybe 6 years ago, spending many, many hours reading through technical documentation for various other systems. In particular, Savant. I loved the concept of Savant. I’m a big Apple fan. Have been since I got my 3rd/4th generation iPod. So, the idea of a home automation system based on Apple hardware really appealed to me. I knew the software would have a stable base and I thought the UI looked great, at the time. The hardware was gorgeous and screamed quality. The modular AV matrices were right up my street, and I was constantly thinking of hypothetical complex problems that could be solved easily with the products Savant offered. This all came to an end though when I realised what the pricing was like, and thought about what the installation and programming costs would be. Other systems seemed to fall into a similar category.
Some time passed, I continued with the day job, and stepped away from the idea for a while. Around the middle of 2016, I felt really drawn to start looking into the smart home industry again, especially as there were bigger players starting to talk about the industry, such as Apple themselves. Attending ISE 2017 was probably the biggest kickstart I had in business and gave me an opportunity to talk to a couple of other Loxone installers, which was excellent. I had come across Loxone before, but had kind of disregarded it as is didn’t seem like a “proper” solution – no big racks of equipment needed!
I had a lightbulb moment when I realised that Loxone’s form factor and system design was actually what made it so great. It’s not big and in your face. DIN rail mounted equipment that can be hidden away like your traditional electrical circuit protection. The only time you need to get racks installed is for the networking and AV side of things, which means they can be smaller. Loxone works well in small spaces like apartments just as well as it does in big houses, requiring multiple cabinets. It scales to do what the big players do, yet retrofits so much better than many of them. In fact, the “retrofitability” is a whole reason to chose Loxone in itself – you can have a fully bespoke smart home, all integrated together, when you might think you could be stuck just using WiFi connected off the shelf “smart” lightbulbs or thermostats.
What would you say are the features that are vital for anyone building a new home in the next few years?
I recently wrote a blog post on a similar topic. The concept was about how we often specify seemingly important items for our homes when building and don’t think about the technology side of things, mostly because we don’t know the benefits it would bring us. For example, lighting control might sound unnecessary to some people, but when they realise it can change the entire feel and mood of a room at the touch of a button, without having to redecorate, they think differently. Turning off all the lights in the house with one tap is pretty great, too.
However, if I had to name one thing, it would definitely be a well designed network. We rely on WiFi so much. We put things on our WiFi networks which should really be on a wired network. We already have 4K video streaming coming into our homes from Netflix and Amazon Prime, and this will only increase and become more mainstream as Sky are supposedly delivering content via IP, without satellite, this year. Home builders now need to be getting in fast wired networks internally where it’s needed, and rock solid WiFi everywhere.
Finally, internal fibre should not be ruled out if people are building to stay in their homes for the next 20-30+ years…
Do you get involved in lighting design or is that something home owners need to employ a separate professional for?
To an extent. I would say this is usually customer led, however. For example, I was going through the plans with one client and they had plenty of their own ideas. I just helped plan something that could make their suggestions become a reality, from a technical and compatibility point of view. Lighting design is an art in itself. Whilst I understand the technical side of it, I’d rather work with a professional who lives and breathes lighting design, and help that become part of a client’s home. The worst thing that can happen is a client buys lights because they look good but hasn’t involved me to see if they’re compatible.
Has the Loxone Tree system really reduced installation time for you and costs for home owners?
One of the main advantages of Tree isn’t simply the reduced cable cost. Cat7 cable is cheap, relatively speaking. Although it’s possible to wire with minimal cable usage, that doesn’t sit well with me personally. I’d rather buy the extra box of cable and allow some extra “home runs” than skimp on it now and possibly regret it in the future due to a hypothetical change in system design.
Where Tree really shines for me, is termination and compatibility. It is quick to install Tree devices, whether you cable from one to the other, or each back to the board. The termination time is great. But my favourite feature is on the software side. That’s where you can save time/money. Things “just work”.
We often see claims that smart home systems can save you money. Are there real cost benefits from automated lighting and heating for example?
All the manufacturers give different figures. Another supplier, whose products I use, claimed 37% saving in energy usage in their most recent mail out to me. I think all these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt as they’re obviously part of their marketing campaigns. However, it’s clear that there will be cost savings to an extent.
I think the mistake people often make, is trying to reconcile those cost savings, by offsetting them directly against the installation cost of a full smart home. A full smart home is about so much more than saving a few litres of oil or saving costs by not having (already very efficient) LED lights left on. Whilst there are direct financial savings to be made, there are so many other areas which offer more value than simply financial saving.
Companies regularly talk about Home ‘Automation’ when to us they merely look like ‘remote control’ or ‘connected’ systems. How much autonomy can a Loxone system provide?
Loxone coined the term “Autopilot Living”. I’m a private pilot myself, and I think this is a great analogy, but then maybe I’m biased!
In aviation, much like in life, you have a certain workload at any one moment. Autopilot in an aircraft is not about being lazy. It’s not about taking it easy. A pilot is always responsible for the aircraft, whether using autopilot or not. It’s his or her job to ensure that everything that needs to happen, happens. That it all happens at the correct time, in the correct order, with the correct level of accuracy.
Some tasks, as we know, are best done by a computer if possible. The mundane and repetitive as well the accurate and mathematically precise. Holding a certain heading, altitude and airspeed is an example of a mundane task that can easily be done more precisely by the autopilot, leaving the pilot with more mental capacity to focus on route, planning and various other cockpit tasks.
It’s the same at home. There are things we do that are repetitive and mundane – switching all the lamps on in a room and turning dimmer switches to a certain level to achieve the lighting we want. Running round checking doors and windows are closed and locked, making sure lights, TVs and music are all turned off before leaving. That’s a basic level of autonomy – where you press one button and all those things are set or checked, but you’re still in control and can do what you want when you need to.
Loxone does that well, but the real Autopilot Living comes in to play when we think about events and actions. Your readers are probably familiar with IFTTT (IF This Then That), and the Autopilot designer is much like that concept. “If the sun goes down, turn on the outdoor lights” is something a lot of people probably do manually. More importantly, people often go around their houses putting down shades to for the purposes of fabric protection, or to stop the sun annoying them as it moves round the house. This can be automated based on time of day and orientation of the windows in the house. The blinds can literally follow the sun.
What other systems do you recommend, for example what home WiFi kit do you install?
As I mentioned before, I’ve good experience on on audio from the commercial aspect. Loxone do their own ceiling and bookshelf speakers and matching amplifiers which are fine. However there are plenty of times where higher performance or different form factors are required, and these are aways specified on a case by case basis.
You mentioned WiFi – I’m using the UniFi range from Ubiquiti Networks. I just don’t think it can be touched at the price point it’s at. It’s also reliable, looks good, and is a joy to configure.
Can you give us an example price for a Loxone system – lets say for smart lighting in a standard 3-bed semi.
It can vary so much. The advantage of the system is that it’s built to your spec. You can, technically, run a 8 room house from just the mini server without any extra equipment, allowing 1 switch and 1 light in every room. This would be very cheap – probably around £600 in parts, assuming light fittings and switched are provided by client. There’s obviously time required to set it all up and program, but again this scales with the size of the project.
In reality you want to be allowing a few grand to get a system which is properly smart and scale up from there.
For example, that would allow you to have motion detection in each room, (which gets you most of the way to a security alarm) as well as temperature sensors in each zone for your heating, built into your smart light switch. Your smart light switch could also control motorised blinds, and audio in every room if you wanted to add that in.
So smart lighting, smart blind control, a smart heating zone in every room, option for audio control and a very configurable security system could cost from around £7,000.
I think the key thing to remember when considering the affordability of a smart home, is that budget assigned to other areas should be brought into the “smart” budget. For example your security alarm budget, heating control budget and a good portion of your normal electrics budget. It also has added value by improving massively on the normal version of each of these areas, such as room by room heating control as opposed to just upstairs and downstairs.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Scott. What’s the best place for people to find out more about Epitome Living and the services you offer?
Head over to the website – www.epitomeliving.com. It’s not got a whole lot on there just yet, but hopefully gives a bit of an overview of what services we can offer, from setting up and giving advice on the simple off-the-shelf smart home products, right through to fully bespoke systems like we’ve been talking about today.
I’m also trying to be more proactive on social media and hope to start showcasing some work where appropriate, so keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.