Face to Face Digital, Historic Grade I Revival


Best Integrated Energy Management Solution

Winner: Face to Face Digital for Historic Grade I Revival

London-based home technology experts, Face to Face Digital, won the Best Energy Management Solution category at the CEDIA Awards 2014, with an impressive, easy to use system for a stunning Grade 1 listed country house in Suffolk. As part of a major renovation and extension, Face to Face Digital has brought this ancient property, areas of which date back to 1425, completely up to date with sophisticated heating and external lighting control alongside improved power management technology to cut annual energy bills by nearly 80%.

The 65 room house is used as the family home for shooting parties and even ‘club nights’ in the Tudor hall but is unoccupied during term-time when they are in London. Given these long periods of absence energy management was a key challenge. The existing oil-fired boilers were not fit for purpose as they were consuming fuel at an alarming rate, with heating bills totalling in excess of £70,000 per year.

In the renovation of the property, these boilers were being replaced with renewable biomass heating but the client recognised that this investment would only go some way to a more energy-efficient household. Could retro-fitting effective energy management technology cut out the chills and reduce the exorbitant heating bills of a large country house?

Will Brocklebank, Director at Face to Face Digital takes up the story. “As we modernised the house’s technology infrastructure, our client challenged us to use our controls expertise to create an easy to access and simple-to-use control solution which could help manage the energy consumption more efficiently and deliver a substantial and welcome cut in running costs. We knew that a carefully engineered technology-based system could make a massive difference, and readily took on that challenge!”

The control system the company developed is built using North Integrator, a multi-protocol IP-enabled building services controller. Through the Integrator and its ecosystem of zip controllers and ObVerse logic, Face to Face Digital provided a configurable link between Ethernet networks, data acquisition networks and third party systems. The solution acts as a gateway and interface with the Trend Building Management which regulates supply-side operation of the biomass plant and two peak-demand oil boilers installed at the house. Using the built-in ObServer software within these controllers, Face to Face Digital wrote a custom cause and effect logic strategy, complete with data logging, calendar and timer functions for the heating system.

In a Grade 1 listed property, concealment to preserve the building aesthetic and minimise fabric damage is critical. So, Face to Face Digital specified and installed discreet needle thermistor sensors in each designated zone in the house. These are wired into the control system, and deliver accurate temperature readings from every zone in the house. The thermistor sensors are offered up into each zone through custom Forbes & Lomax invisible blank plates, so that all the client, family or guests can see is a tiny match-head, virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Due to the property’s construction around a central courtyard, every zone has an external wall, an orientation which complicates the effects of solar gain and ambient weather conditions in each room. To overcome this issue, Face to Face Digital fitted multiple sensors within each zone, as well as external temperature sensors. Then the company wrote logic within the control system software to take account of this basket of readings to ensure an accurate temperature representation from each zone.

This sophisticated approach to compensation was essential to ensure that the drawdown from the biomass storage tank would be as efficient as possible to meet temperature demand from within each zone, and maintain optimum comfort for occupants. The control system automatically manages zone valve operation throughout the property, controlling heat output from a complex mix of ancient cast iron radiators, trench heating and new underfloor heating.

Face to Face Digital also developed a custom colour-coded interface for the system, complete with eco-control functionality which the client is able to access, monitor and adjust exclusively via his iPhone, iPad or PC. This presents heat levels for each and every zone in the house on a single page, with colours scaling from blue for the coldest areas through amber to red for the warmest rooms. The logic automatically maintains the zones at the prescribed temperature set points. A special green ECO mode allows a greater variation from the set point to ensure boilers don’t fire up unless more than one zone demands it. An additional COMFORT mode tightens this in the main living zone, for instance, to ensure temperatures here stay more rigorously within the client’s set boundaries.

At a glance, the client can see how warm the property is from wherever he might be in the home, and can drill down into various zones to toggle between different modes and make adjustments when and where necessary. He can also plot times. For instance, if he knows the family will be visiting for a weekend in December, the system can be programmed to warm the house and any required zones ahead of schedule, accordingly. For such a huge property which takes a long time to warm up, this is an invaluable asset, especially in the winter months.

Using his iPhone, iPad, or via Face to Face Digital’s custom web interface, the client can access the heating system from inside the home, or when he is away during the week. This degree of control is important, eliminating the risk of any unnecessary interference from children or guests. In such a large property, any ill-informed changes can have a rapid and dramatic impact on fuel consumption.

The biomass boilers, which use special wood-pellets as fuel, have been funded under the Government’s Renewable Heating Incentive scheme. As such, providing energy usage data is essential to maintain the funding stream. Face to Face Digital have specified and installed real time flow monitoring using sophisticated Kamstrup energy meters. These interface with the control system and allow the client to provide online submission of fuel consumption and performance data at the touch of a button from anywhere in the world.

Face to Face Digital went beyond the heating system and recommended other ways that they could improve energy management for the client. He did not require internal lighting control. However, when using the house for parties or entertaining, external lighting is extensively used for guidance on the driveway. Additional floodlighting evokes drama, detail and ambience when directed to the front of this historic building, a nearby ruined chapel and a listed dovecote in the grounds. New low energy floodlighting and LED lighting were fitted as part of the renovation. These are controlled via relays so that the client can operate these from the Control 4 system inside the house, only as and when needed, for example, on guest arrival and departure.

The home’s audio-visual system is IP power controlled. It includes a switching protocol to shut down parts of the rack when equipment is not in use. For example, the huge MC2 T2000 amplifiers and XTA DP444 Audio Processor which drive the powerful audio system in the Minstrels Gallery can be switched off when not in use, either remotely or from the Control 4 screens or remotes used in the house.

Face to Face Digital’s integrated energy management solution has substantially reduced the client’s heating bills to approximately £15,000 per year. His payback on the overall technology investment will be less than two years. It was a solution that also delivered a wow factor for the CEDIA Awards judges too, and makes it a deserved category winner in this year’s premier scheme for technology integrators.

Face to Face Digital
Tel. 020 7384 9121

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