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Smart Home Technology Comes To Pensacola

Bob Barrett

A building project in Pensacola is using new technology and construction techniques to make the area’s first so-called Smart Home.  The project is located on a waterfront lot near the Pensacola Country Club. When completed, it will be a solar powered, single family home surrounded by mature oak trees. "The idea is you build a solid foundation using advanced construction techniques, which we have, and then you add the 'smart' component" said Dave Robau, a Building Scientist with National Energy USA and project manager for Smart Home Pensacola

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
David Butler and Dave Robau

The smart part of the house begins with solar power generation and storage. "This particular house will have solar photo voltaics to generate electricity. We have a partnership with Tesla, where we'll be storing a lot of the energy that's generated so that we can use it [on cloudy days] when it's really not a good solar day." The house will still be linked to the electric grid for days when the homeowners will need more power than they can generate. For those other days, they will be selling power back to the electric company.

Power generation is only part of what makes the home smart. "Then a lot of the automation comes in using things like occupancy sensors, roll down shades, home automation [using] different technologies. Those are more creature comforts where the owners don't really have to think about setting the temperature, changing the lights and different thing like that." Robau says the homeowners can set up different so-called scenes that adjust settings for different times of day and activities. "You'll have a 'day scene', you'll have a 'party scene', you'll have a 'night scene', different things like that."

The home will also have a geo fence surrounding the property. Dave Robau says this enables the technology in the home to be in sync with the home owners. The geo fence is like an invisible barrier around the house. When you pull up to the house and pass through that barrier, the fence reads your phone and can tell it have arrived home. "So if I like to listen to NPR when I come home from work, that's pre programmed in. Maybe I like to set the temperature down to 74 degrees, et cetera."

The home also reacts if someone who is not the home owner enters that invisible barrier. "With flood lights outside, cameras and different things. You can actually see that on your phone. If somebody's approaching, whether it's the mailman or somebody you don't want your home will alert you to what's happening."

And it’s not just the technology that makes the house unique. Robau says the home, which is being built on Pensacola Bay, will stand up to most storms that may come our way. "This is a 300 year house. This house is set on concrete piles. The whole slab is a product called LiteDeck, which is an insulated concrete deck system. We've used advanced framing techniques with a product called a Structural Insulated Panel Systems, or SIPS. So this is a well built house. This is far and above [the] Florida building code."

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News

From a distance, the work site looks like any other home construction project. It’s when you get up close that you notice the difference the structural insulated panel system makes. David Butler is the President of Loxley Hawk Environmental Construction which is building the home. He says the product goes together easily. "The exterior walls were delivered on a Tuesday and by noon two days later we had all the exterior walls up and braced off and ready for interior framing." He says in addition to the ease of construction, the panels have the insulation already installed. They are also precisely precut, which makes installing windows and doors much easier and helps form a tighter fit, preventing heat, or cooling loss and saving energy. Butler says it’s important to make sure subcontractors like heating, plumbing and electrical workers are familiar with the SIPS building system. "You bring in your tradesmen early on to make sure they are all comfortable with this structural insulated panel, SIPS system. But everybody that I'm working with right now is familiar with the process. they've worked well with us to get everything done. It's just a little bit extra on the front end to make sure everything's coordinated."

The original plan was for the home to be move-in ready in the fall, but Dave Robau says delays in the new solar roof will probably move that date back. "We are pretty adamant, as are the homeowners, that we want to showcase the latest technology. The Tesla Solar Roof is the latest technology. It's a photo voltaic, building integrated panel system which just blends seamlessly into the roof design." He says that the roof will not be available until later in the year, so they will likely install a temporary roof until the Tesla is available. "Had it not been for that, this type of construction goes up fast, and we'd be having Thanksgiving Day dinner in that other room right there. But given the delay on that particular product, it might push out our certificate of occupancy until February."

Whenever the move in date comes, Robau says there will be opportunities for people to come see the finished product and learn more about smart home technology. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.