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Home Automation Expands the Use, Function, and Enjoyment of all Your Outdoor Spaces


Not so long ago, you fired up the grill, turned up the music and partied until sunset. But let’s face it, sometimes sunset can be an abrupt end to a good day. Today’s home automation technology gives you better choices, literally at the touch of a button. You can keep partying into the night, enjoying the vibe of the bright and the rumbling rhythms of samba.

Or you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the company of friends in a softly lit outdoor den suitable to your favorite smooth jazz ensemble…with outdoor audio that puts you at center stage. Football game or favorite movie starts at eight? Stay right where you are. Any of these options fit that moment where the day-ending sunset of the past melds into a sea of stars. And instead of cleaning up after a good time that ended too early, you transition day into night at the most exclusive club in town…your own back yard.

Homeowners of all ages are frequently taking on the challenge to renovate their homes and dramatically update their outdoor living areas. One of the biggest reasons many homeowners choose to renovate is to either make a newly purchased home really feel like their own or to make the place where they plan on living out their later years, a place that their families and social circles can all enjoy. Whatever the reason, outdoor living renovation is a wonderful way to personalize and express yourself with design.

According to the 2014 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, 98.3% of architects reported that their clients are requesting outdoor lighting systems and 97% said outdoor living spaces — kitchens and entertainment areas — are in high demand.

Outdoor living areas offer the most diverse yet practical real estate to upgrade. These areas are most often enjoyed by everyone and are a natural for personalization. Instead of debating the merits of one shade of paint color versus another, one simply highlights and adds to the existing beauty of their landscape design. Compared to the complexity of a kitchen or bath, you really can’t go wrong when you’re working with your own outdoor landscape.

“In Houston, we’re seeing the trend in outdoor living design really pick up momentum,” said Wynne Walker, Vice-President Gulf Coast Lighting, an installer of high-end outdoor LED lighting and outdoor entertainment electronics. “We’ve learned that our clients really enjoy spending time outside cooking, dining, entertaining or just relaxing. Anything that can help extend the use of their space, make them feel more secure or simply make it better is a worthwhile investment.”

A great addition to your outdoor living area is television and wireless networking. Sports fans, movie watchers, video gamers and Netflix addicts all will love being able to entertain in their own yard among their pool and landscape areas. The best part is that now anyone with an Apple TV and iPhone can wirelessly stream content direct to the television. No wires and no extra components means sharing a YouTube video or an entire movie is little more than a touchscreen away. Between outdoor rated flat-panel televisions, high-definition projectors and an array of invisible speakers, there are a myriad of choices available that weren’t even a possibility a few years ago.

Listening to television outdoors doesn’t mean cranking up the volume on a single TV speaker either. Truly immersive audio is available outdoors with weatherproof, outdoor speakers and subwoofers. By creatively using an array of smaller speakers and one or more central subwoofers, you can create the ambiance of a comfortable family room all the way up to an outdoor booming home theater. In fact, the more speakers you add to your system, the lower the volume required for everyone to be able to experience the full audio track. It’s like your own private Disney World. The possibilities are endless.

One of the most dramatic additions to any outdoor living areas is LED lighting. Featuring low-voltage technology in fixtures that stay cool to the touch and illuminate with energy-efficient LEDs, this addition to your yard is the most compelling upgrade available. For perspective, it would take at least 35 different LED landscape lights to equal the energy use of a single 100 watt conventional bulb!

Landscape lighting on the surface often seems to be no more complicated than pointing a light at a tree or path. However, in the same way that interior design is much more than matching paint and fabric, landscape lighting design can best be thought of as an art. The design starts with identifying each layer of outdoor activity and assigning an intricate level of lighting to it based on how bright the light needs to be; how large of an area to be covered; whether a spot light of flood light effect is needed; and even the color of the landscape to ensure that the color of white light (is it more yellow or more blue) is complementary.

For example, depending on the tree height and shape and foliage color and density, specific techniques of lighting may be used either alone or collectively to create either an expansive backdrop that establishes the boundaries or to create focal point and draw the eye in. These various methods of lighting from uplighting, downlighting and canopy lighting all create different effects that your lighting designer will address during your consultation.

Normally, your contractor would have to run separate electrical and signal wires for each run of audio and each run of lighting. Depending on the size of your yard this additional work could have big implications on your budget. Wynne Walker of Gulf Coast Lighting has an innovative solution: “We feature patented technology manufactured by Coastal Source that allows us to use the exact same wires that power your outdoor lighting to power all your outdoor audio. The benefits of this system mean that clients have the freedom to add lighting and audio simply and easily without the additional worry of damaging their landscape.” According to Walker, the use of the same wiring and power hardware for both audio and lighting ensures that the systems installed will be problem-free and easy to upgrade as the homeowner expands their entertaining footprint. This type of efficiency is something to be mindful of as you start to plan your outdoor living design.

Once you’ve added television, lighting and audio to the mix of outdoor enjoyment, controlling these additions is the next logical point for consideration.

Control of the outdoor space is something that can range from completely passive to fully integrated and automated. Fortunately, advances in home automation and outdoor technology have simplified the ability to expand interior spaces into exterior living. Savant Systems is a well known innovator in how people can manage their homes.

According to Ben Hildreth, President of Symbio Lighting + Control, a local design and install specialist in high-end home automation, “Sophistication and ambiance are two of the most often mentioned items when collaborating with clients on integrating outdoor lighting with home automation. Being able to comfortably work with the best names in lighting, such as Lutron, and in home automation with Savant Systems is important to the success of the technology for the client as well as their satisfaction with actual day-to-day operation.”

With Savant Systems control, sophisticated no longer means “complicated”. Savant Systems is the leader in ease-of-use and customer satisfaction for controlling your home. A peek inside a Savant System explains why: At its core is hardware and software from Apple Computers, both of which are unparalleled in keeping customers happy with their intuitive approaches and powerful capabilities. “By harnessing the ubiquity and power of your existing array of smart phones and tablet computers, controlling everything is as simple as touching a photograph and as intuitive as using your phone,” said Hildreth.

With the advent of energy efficient, low-voltage LED lighting, innovative new electrical connection and integration techniques and robust wireless networking, adding full dimensional television, audio, video, home automation and lighting for outdoor enjoyment has never been easier. It’s the most exclusive club in the town…and it’s waiting just outside your door. All you have to do is imagine it and design it.