Married to Technology: Inside Kevin Jonas’ Home Automation
Pop star Kevin Jonas lets a sophisticated Home Automation system simplify his everyday life, at home as well as on the road.
Kevin Jonas can’t avoid the life of a busy pop star. He has been traveling the country on tour with his brothers, Nick and Joe, in their hit band, the Jonas Brothers; releasing songs and creating buzz for the band’s first album since 2009, V. He’s also been performing with his brothers at special events such as the Miss USA competition while leading the role of reality TV star on E!’sMarried to Jonas; and, oh yeah, getting ready for parenthood with his wife, Danielle, who is pregnant with their first child. If there’s anyone who can be grateful for the comfort of home automation, it’s someone with a hasty schedule like Kevin. The Jonases’ home automation system manages to bring a considerable amount of simplicity to an already hectic life- both when the couple is home and, more importantly, when they are not.
Self-described as a “tech guy,” living with a home automation system and the countless subsystems it manages has Kevin in high-tech heaven … even though the initial setup proved to be monstrous. Thanks to basically an entire overhaul of the original system, though, every piece of his connected home now hits the right note with this musician.
“You’d think this would be simple. You just plug in a TV and it should work. But really there’s a whole other world happening,” he says of the masterminds behind his smart home. “What I most enjoy is that it works well and it’s easy. I think people are amazed when they come over. They think, ‘Oh, it looks like there’s so much,’ but really you just have a lot of choices. The home automation system and its controllers are the easiest thing you’ll ever use.”
Turning a Flop into a Hit
Unfortunately, Kevin’s home automation system was not always the effortless system that it is. Most of the equipment was in place, but it was chaos. Like any other industry, the custom electronics business has professionals whose work can range from oustanding to below par. While the original setup in this 7,200-square-foot house looked fine on the surface it hid some major issues underneath. With so many home automation subsystems involved—home theater, distributed audio and video throughout the house, security/alarm, surveillance cameras, lighting control and HVAC control—those issues were just waiting to be revealed.
Another A/V company was brought in when multiple aspects of the overall home automation system began failing. Almost every subsystem had some sort of issue, from the alarm system to the cameras. Kevin also had some lightning strikes, so a portion of the cameras were bad, and the door locks and alarms weren’t functioning. Part of the lighting worked and part of it didn’t; the HVAC never really did work right. So it was really a top-to-bottom makeover of the system, as well as reprogramming everything.
A trip downstairs to the equipment rack room is all the proof you need to see why the original home automation system was unfolding. It looked like a bad DIY job. All the equipment for the system was stuffed into a half rack rather than a more suitable full-height equipment rack. The wiring was a jumbled mess and badly bound together, with poor and insufficient power supplies supporting the components; while the security system wasn’t even plugged in at all.
On top of the bad rack job, there was a combination of custom-interconnected wire, Velcro, prefab cables, zip-ties, and electrical tape. Most of the Apple equipment was literally dangling on an array of wire. There were extension cords plugged into power strip outlets, which were plugged into power distribution centers with splitters you would get from a hardware store. In the original home automation rack there was only a nine-outlet power strip. The hot water heater, the HVAC system and the lighting control were also plugged into those extension cords.
It took the audio/video company and his team about two weeks to first figure out where everything was connected and then re-design, re-wire and re-program the entire home automation system. This included the Honeywell security, Lutron lighting and IC Realtime cameras that had already been set up but now needed to work well with the overhauled home automation installation and all of its control options, such as the iPads, iPad minis, iPhones. They installed a new Middle Atlantic BGR rack and spruced it up right down to the custom screw covers.
Singing the Praises of Automation
It certainly doesn’t take much to get Kevin Jonas talking about all of the day-to-day advantages that he enjoys from a fully functioning home automation and A/V system. For a person who has spent a great deal of his time on stage and in front of the camera, he’s got a natural charisma when displaying how he uses different aspects of the home technology. When asked about the motorized scissor-lift that can lower his living room TV into viewing position at the touch of a button, Kevin happily grabs an iPad from the kitchen counter and in about two seconds the big screen is on the move. He enjoys showing off the fascinating home automation technology because his interest for it is genuine. Kevin and his father-in-law installed the ComfortVu TV lift themselves, although they had to drill it twice because they didn’t have it level the first time. He even shared a video of the DIY project with his 3.5 million Twitter followers.
Kevin researched a variety of home automation systems and decided on an Apple-platform system after visiting a showroom; where he saw firsthand the integration possibilities and the recognizable control options. “I had a few ideas. I really enjoy the whole home automation functionality, especially in a home of this size,” he says. “I hated having to walk around to flip off all the light switches when there’s a much more effective way to do it; not only for you, but from an energy efficient standpoint. I knew how easily this system was integrated into iOS and everything that was already going on with my phone, my tablet and my computers.”
He’s so skilled with his home automation system and his iPad that he can dart through setting up a customized user interface page, putting in all of the desired icons for controlling whatever subsystems you’d want as shortcuts for a specific room, in minutes. He also went as far as to say that he’d love to go through the same training and programming courses that were offered to the custom home automation professionals. “The great thing about this system is you can modify it,” he says. “I just enjoy having everything at my fingertips, but if I really wanted to I can throw a new icon in, add a new button, and then edit it.”
Besides triggering his TV lift by touching a button on his iPad, there are other highlights that Kevin likes about his high-tech home automation system.
Security and surveillance: Video from eight surveillance cameras, in important areas such as the front door and front gate, can be viewable from portable devices and fed to iPads and TVs throughout the house. Scheduling and Alarm system functionality can also be done remotely. Kevin’s home isn’t in a gated community, but on a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood. As a celebrity and owner of a relatively large house he can expect any number of caretakers, guests, handlers, TV crew people, workers, and others showing up. Since Kevin is away from his home so much being on tour and traveling, the key piece for him was being able to monitor what goes in his home from anywhere in the world. There are times when he had to let someone into his home and he didn’t give them the key, but was able to unlock the door, turn on the lights and disarm the alarm for them. All this was done from Brazil. Kevin get alerts, so he can instantly look at the camera feed to see who’s there. The home automation system has allowed the Jonases to feel way more secure in their own home.
Phones: Phones aren’t usually very exciting but don’t tell that to Kevin. His home automation system has a sharp IP-based telephony system that allows people to make calls from their iDevices’ apps or operate room-to-room intercom basically all as one integrated home automation system over the home phone line. Kevin’s just as excited to demo iPad calling as he is brandishing A/V systems. It’s an addition that the Home Automation company integrated, while also boosting the communications by using three cordless phones that work off of cell antennas so the signal can bounce around smoothly as you go from one end of the house to another. You can page from one room to another or transfer calls, regardless of whether you’re on a wireless device or Apple device, a cordless phone or the touch-panels in the rooms. He also has the paging feature, which means you can page through the home speakers, and it mutes whatever is playing on the speakers. Plans are being made to remove the old doorbells and gate control interface and replace them with a new IP phone interface to complete the telephony package and basically include it with that exterior security.
Skype: There are televisions throughout the Jonas home, but the one that Kevin uses frequently is the Samsung TV in his office because it has Skype. He does all his conference calls from there. Kevin chose to live in New Jersey because he loves it there, but he needs to be in L.A. a lot, so instead of jumping on a flight, he has a camera on top of the TV in his office. He can just Skype in a session and talk to anybody.
Lighting Control: The Lutron lighting throughout the house, along with being controllable and monitored under the support of the home automation system, provides a strong way for the different areas of Kevin’s home to be both aptly illuminated as well as energy friendly. Due to the fact that he is eco-minded, he’s already thinking about switching to LED lighting and about the prospects of incorporating an energy management solution in his next home. For now, he’s happy to applaud the quality of what lighting control is already accomplishing. “The amount of energy saved with a lighting control system like this is incredible. When you turn on a light switch it’s usually at 100 percent but none of my lights are 100 percent. My lights are all at 65 percent, which is bright enough everywhere but people don’t realize that they’re dimmed. If I really needed it to be 100 percent, I could just press a button and it all turns to 100.”
HVAC: Heating, cooling and humidity control is clever and highly customizable. If you’ve ever watched Married to Jonas, you’ve probably noticed that some of the individual interviews take place next to Kevin’s spacious wine room. A sensor in there monitors the temperature and the humidity, which will send a notification if the conditions rise above a certain level. Throughout the house, indoor and outdoor zones are easy to schedule by temperature, time of day, season or other marker. Settings can also be copied to other zones, created and edited not only by the Home Automation company, but by Kevin himself.
Audio and Video: Being an entertainer Kevin spends a great deal of time using the multiroom A/V operations within his home as well as the dedicated theater room with a 110-inch screen and comfy seating for movie viewing. The housewide A/V system can access all of the music they have stored in Mac Minis or on a separate hard drive from any where they are using an iDevice as well as throughout the house. Apple TVs route iTunes and streaming content to TVs and speakers so that individual playlists and music libraries can be easily accessed through the couple’s own personalized user interface pages. When Kevin’s creative juices are flowing he can record some music into his Logic Pro demo rig or even connect his guitar pedals and amp and play it back over the home audio system. One of his favorite features of the A/V system is that obtaining pretty much any feature of the home tech subsystems doesn’t interfere with whatever audio or video the Jonases are enjoying on TV. This is all because of the home automation system that simply overlays the interface features and navigation onscreen, allowing for lightning-quick progressions to lowering the heat, viewing camera feeds, or anything else.
Like the operation of all things tech-related in Kevin’s house, it’s smooth and seamless —which bodes well for this Jonas brother’s next big technology achievement. “I’m a big kid at heart, and these are my toys,” he says. “Dani loves the home automation system and she kind of let me go for it. She knows we’re contemplating moving now, and that in our next home it will probably be even more extensive.”