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Home Is Where the Smart Is

Home is where the Smart is

Four years after helping his NFL team win Super Bowl LII and then retiring from professional football in 2018, former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek is alive and well and living with his wife and four kids in a modern smart home among the rolling hills of Chester County, just outside of Philadelphia. Powered in large part by Loxone — the home and building automation company based near Philadelphia since 2017 with roots in Austria since 2008 — the house (with adjoining barn) features a fully connected (but cloud-free) set up that spans from lighting and shades to alarm systems and speakers for music inside and outside. While the bulk of the space consists of seamlessly interconnected Loxone products — the company makes 150-plus different products from lights and alarm system doorbells to speakers and water leak sensors – Celek’s home also integrates with several third-party lights and speakers. It’s all tied together with a central Miniserver that connects to everything via a Tree topology system of interconnected modules – all local with no need for a connection to the cloud. 

We spent an afternoon at Celek’s house to see how this system worked in the field; in the process, we also got a glimpse into the enthusiasm, dedication and depth of involvement that Celek has for his Loxone-powered smart home, which was created together with Scott Hirst of Christiana, Penn.-based Hirst Systems. The Loxone level of personalization is so robust that the experience is just better for clients who are involved.

Achieving True Total Automation

One of Loxone’s unique advantages is its promise of a true smart home that’s completely automated and doesn’t require any human intervention for it to function: total home automation. Thanks to an unparalleled level of versatility and a coterie of sensors, everything turns on and off automatically based on time of day, movement, and the like, with little direct voice or smartphone app required from users.  

Homeowners choose unique modes to be programmed by their Loxone Partner (installer). These modes can either be flipped on and off manually, or also activate automatically depending on the time, season, motion sensitivity and even temperature, requiring almost no manual control, even voice control, from the user. Even so, manual commands can be carried out with Loxone’s distinctive touch- and tap-sensitive Touch Pure controllers, which are externally wall-mounted, as well as on the Touch Surface Tree, which is embedded directly into any hard surface such as kitchen counters, tables, desks and shower tile surfaces. Greater levels of customization and control can be carried out via the smartphone app or with wall-mounted iPads.

True home automation was the main draw for Celek when he first came across the company, which initially rented office space from the former Eagles tight end in a building that he owns in Media, Penn.

“I like to have a true smart home. I don’t think you should be on your phone all the time switching stuff,” said Celek. “That’s why I love Loxone. There’s nothing I have to do, and unless I want to turn on music, I don’t go onto the app. The best kind of technology is technology that frees you from technology.”

There are up to 8 programmable house modes. One is the party mode for “Eagles,” which turns the RGBW lights under the cabinets to Eagles midnight green. All third party lights can be dimmed. Sound can be programmed to be whatever he wants it to do on “party mode,” like mute the TV’s or play the local radio broadcast of the game if the game is on.

Moded Out

All that said, the automation doesn’t quite set itself up. Homeowners will want to participate with their integrators in setting up Loxone’s robust system of “modes,” which are personalized presets that can be customized in unparalleled detail. Full RGBW control over lights means they can be programmed by tone, brightness and more. In Celek’s open-plan kitchen, dining and entertainment area, there are 15 third-party ceiling lights, each of which can be customized for specific levels of brightness – all that in conjunction with music and other controls. 

As we walk through the house, lights turn on and off based on our movements. In the bathroom, for example, ventilation fans run automatically whenever the sensors register that someone is in the bathroom. “Let’s say you’re sitting in there for 30 minutes as my dad does,” Celek joked. “The thing will run for an hour to clear out the air, but you don’t have to worry about that stuff once you go in the bathroom.”

Celek is particularly enthused about the various “night modes” that he has personally set up. These are pre-determined dim lighting scenarios that are optimized for middle-of-the-night bathroom runs, reading and even waking up in the morning. Among the features of night mode are dim lights that automatically go on in the common areas and bathrooms when the sensors detect movement initiated out of the bedrooms. Also blackout shades automatically unfurl and cover the windows as soon as night mode kicks in. When it’s time to wake up, lighting slowly gets brighter, mimicking the sunrise, for a more gradual alarm scenario. There is a specially customized version of night mode for the kids that is a bit more absolute. Once Celek taps the wall controller three times, the lights automatically go off in the kids’ rooms and the sensors stop working until 9 a.m. the next day. 

“Let’s just say I wake up and I want to go get a glass of water; the last thing I want to do is be walking through the dark,” said Celek, “but I also don’t want to have to turn the lights down to a point where they’re dim, because if they go on full bright, I’m awake now. What’s great about Loxone is you can just create whatever vibe you want in a room. I can customize exactly how I want something.”

But it’s not just sleep-optimized lighting that Celek appreciates about his customized night mode. “I would say the biggest advantage of this whole system is at night more than anything,” he says. “For example, turning on the exterior lights. Do I want to have to turn on my exterior lights every day? No. But I don’t have to worry about that because they just automatically go on when it gets dark and turn off when the sun comes out, and the setting can change automatically for sunrise and sunset depending on the season.”

The automation extends beyond the actual house. There is also a smart barn. Celek and his wife, Celeste, have several alpacas that live in the barn, which is of course outfitted with motion sensors for lighting. “If the alpacas are in the barn, the lights turn on,” said Celek. “If they’re not, then they go off.” 

Getting the Party Smarted

Back at the house, the patio features seven in-ground outdoor Bose FreeSpace 51 environmental speakers and two Russound AW10-LSUB-BR landscape subwoofers installed around the pool, patio and garden. These are all powered by four Crown 1200 amplifiers, and the sum total of these outdoor audio components provides consistent sound and bass oomph no matter where one stands. “I’m very proud of what Scott did,” said Celek. “We can basically turn this into a nightclub—you can walk anywhere out here and the sound is going to be the same.”

Speaking of entertainment, music is premium among the entertainment categories for Celek. Inside in the main entertainment, family-room area, there is quite a setup, with several TDG speakers built into the wall and ceiling and RGBW LED lighting under the kitchen cabinets and shelves which, as Celek says, are controlled from the phone. (There are also TDG speakers in all the bedrooms, gym, garage, patio, pool, and garden.) Usable inside the kitchen or out on the patio, the house features a portable Loxone Touch & Grill barbeque food thermometer that doubles as a full-fledged Touch Pure controller. This allows for real-time notifications in any speaker in the house but also the ability to control everything from music to lighting to, say, the doorbell right from the patio.  

Celek also has two Samsung Frame TVs in the open-plan living area, but interestingly, none of them are connected to the Loxone-controlled sound system. “I like having music on sometimes when I’m watching TV, and so to keep that separate from the music to me was big because once you start integrating some of those things, it can be complicated,” he says. “Besides the speakers on the TV are definitely loud enough and there’s no need to have another system involved. It would just be another layer to figure out.”

There are three different house modes in this main room, including a “party mode” that adjusts the RGBW lights under the cabinets to different colors and tones, including midnight green or old school kelly green in what Celek calls “Eagles mode,” which is for watching sports on TV. In this mode, music plays through speakers under the kitchen counters and cabinets, but the TVs are on mute or in picture mode. “Is this room a theater? No, it’s an entertaining space, and when we’re entertaining we usually have music on with the TV on in the background, often in picture mode,“ he says. “We use these TVs more as picture frames than as TVs. I hate TV. I only watch sports games.”

Deep, Accessible and Secure

According to Hirst, a prime advantage of Loxone’s Tree topology setup is its flexibility in the ways that it can connect so many first- and third-party devices. He also calls out the company’s support team. “If a customer says, ‘I want to do X, Y or Z, I usually have to figure out how to make that happen,” said Hirst, for whom this was the first time implementing Loxone technology. “With Loxone though, I can call support, tell them I need to know how to program something from A to B, and they’ll give me four different ways to get from point A to B along with the pros and cons of each way.”

In some ways, the setting up of Loxone for professionals mirrors the seamlessness of the Loxone experience for smart homeowners. “The biggest value for our Loxone partners and electricians is to get the support directly from the manufacturer of the hardware and the software,” said Loxone trainer and coach Andreas Falkinger, on the next day when we toured the company’s showroom apartment located inside its 9,000-sq.-ft. U.S. headquarters in Garnet Valley, Penn..“We produce the hardware and the software, and we have a lot of interfaces to integrate with other systems, and they get imported directly from us. So we don’t have a long chain of things getting in the way.”

Another plus of the Loxone system is that it does not depend on the cloud. Everything operates locally, so if there is any loss of Internet connectivity, everything will continue to work. This also makes Loxone systems secure and private; no data is getting sent to a central server at risk of a security breach. 

Smart homeowners don’t have to have played professional football to see the benefit in that, but just as Celek played loyally only for the Eagles for his entire pro football career, and then settled down in the Philadelphia area, they have to commit to the idea of total automation, because it’s based on precisely what they want.  

“You have to be all in,” said Celek. “If you’re into this stuff and you really want to have a connected home and want to be a part of it, then go all in and get Loxone.”