There are ‘smart’ homes and then there is the imaginative and interactive home of Christchurch couple Wayne and Aimee – where home control meets giant transformers, a tree house and a submarine themed home theatre room.
Christchurch homeowner Wayne is a big fan of home automation. Ten years ago he installed PDL by Schneider Electric’s C-Bus Home Automation system to automatically switch and adjust lighting as well as audio in the lounge of his property. Back then, at the push of one button Wayne was able to turn on the TV, his surround sound, and dim the lights.
“I didn’t want to have to wander around the house switching stuff on and off. So with Barry we automated a bunch of switching that made things effortless.” – Wayne, Home owner
At the time, Wayne’s first foray into automation was almost considered a Star Trek moment. But it turned out to be just the beginning, and he decided to expand on his existing system by building a new home entertainment area with a bit of wow factor.
In what has recently been described on television as Christchurch’s “most impressive man cave”, Matrix Automation electrician and installer Barry Neil has worked with home owner Wayne from the very beginning. Together they are a formidable team, showing what can be achieved when innovative minds combine.
“The only question is: what do you want to do?” said Barry.
“Smartphones and tablets are your remote control. As time goes on and technology evolves you’re able to change settings and add new functions, because the C-Bus backbone is backwards compatible. The days of rewiring are over.”
After being given an extraordinary project brief, Barry’s expertise and experience with the system came to the forefront. After getting a clear understanding of Wayne’s vision and requirements, Barry translated that specification into the system and programming, bringing the automation side of this project to life.
What has been achieved is both extremely clever and very simple at the same time.
Wayne, an engineer who co-owns an aluminium joinery business, originally envisaged a big screen mounted in a faux rock wall. Looking to test his ideas, he got together with long-time friend and special effects artist Dean Johnstone – the owner of Dream It Limited and a former chief signwriter for Peter Jackson’s King Kong film. Dean also made the mammoth bones for the movie 10,000 BC.
But after a few beers with Dean, Wayne’s initial entertainment room idea took on a whole new direction – as a submarine wreck themed theatre room on a deserted island.
“We wanted a point of difference. At the time the house was modern, new, but quite sterile. The submarine is just another whole world,” said Wayne.
Submarine wreck themed theatre room
The 9 metre by 6m home theatre seats around 20 people inside the hull of a decaying submarine. Not just for the kids, the submarine also has a themed bar constructed of materials suggesting they were scavenged from an ocean beach.
Wayne and Aimee’s submarine-themed home theatre features a periscope, sonar ping, and torpedoes, which in the right light appear to be leaking plutonium.
The submarine interior is fashioned from materials which have been laminated and treated, creating the impression of the steel being ripped apart when the submarine ran aground. It’s this amazing attention to detail that really showcases the effort that has gone into this space.
But Wayne wanted to take it to another level, to make the space come alive. He decided to add dramatic effects that he could pre-programme and control. Wayne contacted Barry from Matrix Automation who installed the C-Bus system initially, to bring the automation and technology side of the project to life, in a way that was easy to operate.
Automating a Submarine
Inside the submarine, Wayne and Aimee use a remote to activate simple pre-programmed commands that orchestrate approximately 60 switchings controlling DVD players, SKY TV, sound effects, the bar fridge, heating and ventilation. They can activate a sonar ‘ping’ and spotlights that illuminate the point of impact where rocks have penetrated the submarine’s main body. Accompanying sounds of waves spilling through the wreck add realism to the pending doom of being caught in a stricken submarine.
A ‘break-glass’ fire switch plunges the room into total darkness and activates a smoke machine and emergency alarm, simulating a fire emergency. Hundreds of LED lights are programmed to change sequence every four minutes, adding flashes of surrealism to the whole experience.
“Everything we’ve done is different – I hate copying,” said Wayne. “We wanted to introduce the element of surprise and wow factor. But with that, the technology has got to be easy to use when you’re entertaining 20 people and you’ve got a few drinks on board.”
The submarine-themed room is the centrepiece of Wayne and partner Aimee’s modern two storied home, showcasing just what’s possible when imagination meets clever automation. And all of this was created for fun and family enjoyment.
“We did it mostly for our family. The kids have grown up with this stuff, and they love it. I just love seeing them and their friends in there having fun.” Wayne
Classic cars, transformers and aliens
More recently, Wayne and Aimee rebuilt a new building after the 2011 earthquake, a 350 sqm showroom and car workshop, which houses a fleet of six classic cars and a retro garage-themed bar, complete with dilapidated petrol bowser. It’s the ultimate venue for Wayne and Aimee to host friends and fellow motorsport enthusiasts for the Bathurst 1,000 race.
Four eight-foot replicas of movie icons the Alien, the Predator, and Transformers stand sentinel in the bar and showroom. Crafted from car and motorbike parts and each weighing in at 500kg, these monsters are wired into the C-Bus system, which sequences animation, including LED eyes, a laser gun and other lighting effects, providing a new focal point at different stages of the evening.
Security is an important feature of Wayne and Aimee’s home. More than simply protecting what they’ve worked so hard to create, smart security also keeps a lid on insurance premiums. C-Bus technology plays a key role, connecting a recently installed gate sensor with CCTV. A unique iPhone ringtone alerts Wayne and Aimee to vehicles waiting at their gated entrance. Answering the call streams live video of the waiting vehicle to a nominated mobile phone. If it’s someone they’re expecting then a simple touch-screen command opens the electric gate, allowing the vehicle to drive on to the property. Wayne and Aimee can close the gate remotely, too. The setup is especially useful for granting site access to tradespeople (and closing the gate behind them when they depart) when the family is away on holiday. There’s no messing about with passwords.
“We’re not trying to be big brother. But when you’ve got so many people working on the property it’s good to see what’s going on and who’s on site,” said Wayne.
Wayne and Barry are already plotting the next extension to the project. Drawing on inspiration from the way smartphones have redefined the way we live to push home automation in surprising directions.
“The ability to customise and expand via the continuous innovation and development of the C-Bus system has solved problems, and created an extraordinary home for an engineer with an imagination.” says Barry.
Over the years Barry and Wayne have extended C-Bus controls to outdoor lighting, windows, house lock-up, underfloor heating, gas fires and even some basic lighting control in the kids’ treehouse.
Having the ability to switch on his underfloor heating and heat pumps remotely, so that the house is warm when the family gets home adds comfort and convenience,. But also having the ability to turn them off again when they’re unused, saving time and money. Wayne describes these tasks as “housekeeping”.
The bar, submarine, garage and even the tree house are unique environments and C-Bus offered a solution that would allow Wayne and Aimee to programme these spaces in a distinctive way. This installation has been expanded upon over 10 years, thanks to thought from the engineers, and now focus shifts to the future, with plans to expand and evolve this amazing site. This technology opens doors to new possibilities and a framework that ensures homeowners can run wild with their imagination.
C-Bus is a home automation system. The system can be interfaced with sensors, home security systems, AV products and other electrical items to manage and automate a broad range of functions.