The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

7/7/11

Smart House: Meet 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro, but not at his high-tech abode | NJ.com

Smart House: Meet 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro, but not at his high-tech abode | NJ.com

Smart House: Meet 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro, but not at his high-tech abode

Published: Friday, July 01, 2011, 10:45 AM
webvalastro.JPGBuddy "Cake Boss" Valastro in his North New Jersey home, which is computer automated and under watch of 24 security cameras.

When you are a gregarious celebrity baker, it can be hard to draw the line between an adoring fan and an annoying fan.

For "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro, it was a difficult distinction. The solution was a surveillance security system that helps him keep watch over his North Jersey home – inside and out. Strategically placed cameras can capture views of every drive-by gawker who somehow finds Valastro’s street. Fortunately, the cruisers have been mostly polite and harmless, he said, perhaps hoping to see the $1.3 million dollar house, catch a glimpse of New Jersey's most famous baker or get an idea of how his family lives when television cameras aren’t rolling.

But the surveillance cameras are always rolling. “The initial feature was security, because I am in the public eye,” Valastro said of his need for what would ultimately morph into a home automation system that controls everything from the cameras to lights, televisions, alarms and music.

Valastro can see street views of his house, as well as what’s going on inside, from his iPhone. He can turn on a bedroom light while he is working at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, where fans line up for blocks to take pictures, sample the cannolis or just step inside the setting where Valastro and his staff produce the elaborate and often mechanized cakes featured on his TLC network show. When Valastro is on vacation, he can use his smart phone or a touch-screen tablet to operate the sprinkler system, maintain the pool or adjust the thermostat to an energy-saving setting.

An application on Valastro’s phone and the six family iPads allows them to access the home’s $100,000 Elan g! control system from anywhere in the world that they can get a cellular or wi-fi connection, explains Abiose Gale, co-owner of 360 Media Innovations, the Maplewood company that installed Valastro’s system. “Once you log in, it connects you directly to the home controller, he said. “The home controller is the brains of the system; it tells everything in the system what to do and when to do it.”

webvalastroelang.JPGValastro's home is controlled by a $100,000 Elan g! home automation system that can be accessed by numerous hand-held devices, wall panels and televisions. A master bedroom television can be used to control the home's temperature in four zones. .

Elan g! is a customizable, expandable system. For the Valastro home, 10,000 feet of wiring was retrofitted for a fully integrated version. Its scope includes 68 light switches, a four-zone HVAC system, 24 security and surveillance cameras, and a whole-house audio system with 42 speakers, including one in the three-car garage. The system also tracks the home’s energy usage, a feature that can be used in "smart grid” technology. Automated homes soon will be able to communicate with power suppliers via internet to monitor and potentially reduce energy usage.

Within the 7,000-square-foot home Valastro shares with his wife, Lisa, and their four young children, options to access the Elan system abound. There are eleven wall-mounted touch screens that double as digital picture frames throughout the four-floor home. Two system touchpads, three iPods, six iPads and four of the 18 flat-screen TVs all can access the system.

“You get spoiled,” Valastro says. “You become very reliant on the system.” His wife agrees. Asked her favorite feature, Lisa Valastro responds emphatically, “Being able to see what my kids are doing.”

webValastrophone.JPGA phone can be used to view the pool and activity in other areas of the house.

I recently tagged along on an Inside Jersey photo shoot at the Valastro home to see some of its high-tech features. The home will be featured in the magazine’s August issue, and Elan g! representatives arranged access for us in hopes of spreading the word that Elan systems aren’t just for the rich and famous. Representatives say the control system can be installed in a small home for less than $2,000. Larger homes also can start with one room and expand the system over time. Tech geeks don’t need to be told that there are many home automation options, including do-it-yourself systems available online from companies such as smarthome.com.

What about the kitchen?

It’s certainly cool that television programs can be viewed through a vanishing TV screen within the Valastros master bathroom mirror, and that the whole-house audio goes silent when the phone or doorbell rings. I have to admit, however, that I was hoping for some smart kitchen features.

Back in 2001, LG Electronics rolled out its first refrigerator with a built-in computer. The company also had an internet washer and an internet microwave. In 2002, Whirlpool was introducing its Polara, a programmable cooling and heating range that was expected to be updated for internet control. The updated model was to have been commanded by computer or smart phone to stop refrigerating and start cooking.

webNETFRIDGE.JPGThe Internet Refrigerator from LG Electronics, introduced in 2001, was among the earliest "smart" appliances, with its built-in computer.

It seems, however, that these early appliances were ahead of their time. It didn't help that the LG internet refrigerator was priced at a whopping $20,000, putting it out of reach for all except the most well-heeled early adopters. Polara's suggested retail was $1,900. Both appliances were costly luxury items that were to be set back even more by the nation’s economic challenges.

Now, some 10 years later, with iPhones, Androids and other “smart” devices becoming the order of the day, connected appliances are starting to re-emerge. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas there was an area dedicated solely to internet-compatible appliances. By year’s end, LG Electronics is expected to introduce a full range of them, including a smart washing machine and a new smart refrigerator that will be able to report its contents to a smart phone or tablet and recommend recipes that incorporate the ingredients on hand. Prices were not yet available.

Laura Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Show noted that 10 years ago, household infrastructure was not exactly ready to support connected appliances. Some of the earliest models were hindered by their reliance on painfully slow dial-up connections, she says. LG’s first internet fridge operated with a built-in modem, for instance. But as the number of homes with broadband connections continues to rise, connectivity also advances, she said.

With apps to monitor and control so many aspects of life, more people are expecting the same convenience to be available in their homes, said Warwick Stirling, Whirlpool Corporation’s global director of energy and sustainability.

“Ten or 12 years ago consumers didn’t expect everything to be connected,” he said. “Because so many things are becoming connected, consumers are now asking, 'Why is my fridge not connected, why is my range not connected, and if it is connected what is it going to do?' ”

While he said Whirlpool and other major appliance manufactures have been working on smart appliances for more than 10 years, not all of them make it to the marketplace. The challenge is to outfit them with interactive features that are truly meaningful for users and not just gimmicks, he said. Whirlpool and other manufactures also are expected to launch new smart appliances before year’s end.

Helping the push for smart appliances is the continued demand for greater energy efficiency, Stirling said. New appliances are going to be “smart-grid” ready in not only revealing their energy usage but allowing it to be controlled by consumers and their automated household command centers.

Utility companies have already begun to introduce time-of-use pricing plans with savings that encourage more usage during evening and late-night hours when demand is lowest. Rather than expect us to wash clothes and run the dishwasher at midnight, the smart grid appliances now in the pipeline are expected to have timed functions and automatic energy-consumption adjustments that take advantage of off-peak discounts.

“Companies even in the recession are still innovating,” Hubbard said. “I think when we come out of this recession consumers are going to be ready to make the investment in connected home appliances.”