Welcome to this edition of the Houston Custom Home Builder podcast series brought to you by Houston’s leading luxury construction team, Morning Star Home Builders. I’m Greg your host, and for today’s episode, we’re joined by one of Houston’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury home builders, Ted Cummins. Ted, nice to talk to you. How are you?
Ted: Good morning, Greg. How’s your world?
Greg: It’s very good though. I hear you went on a trip recently and I’m very curious to hear how that went.
Ted: Yes. I appreciate the opportunity to share with our listeners and our readers about this. There’s so many facets to new home construction. I don’t remember for the last count, but I don’t know if it’s 75 or 150 little pieces and stuff that goes into building a custom home. Because we’re design build, we’re working with our clients on the front end of construction, means there’s a lot of things to research, to do due diligence about, and to really get an understanding from our clients needs, and then how we go about meeting those needs. One of the things that –
Greg: Sure you have to do all the homework for us, right?
Ted: Well, absolutely. One of our passions is, I feel like it’s our responsibility to bring information to our clients, and they can decide what gets them excited and what doesn’t.
Ted: Mid-September, I traveled up to Dallas and attended the CEDIA 2016 convention. For those that don’t know what CEDIA stands for, it stands for the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. Basically, these are the guys that are installing the electrical wiring, smoke detectors, cameras, alarm systems. Beyond that, these are also the guys that are being trained and educated on switching, and routers, and home automation, that opens up a whole different world in technology that some of our clients are wanting to know more about.
Greg: Is the home automation, is that the big push with this kind of convention, or is it several subjects, and a lot that consumers don’t really think about?
Ted: It’s certainly a mix. This is the second time I’ve attended their convention. I go every three to five years. I don’t go every year, because some of that technology hasn’t changed a lot. It certainly has moved to a different level just from the last time I attended which was in Atlanta a number of years ago. There was really a mix of product and suppliers on the floor at the Dallas Convention Center. Probably the most amount of speakers I’ve seen in my whole life. There was a lot of speakers. Just simple things, anything from new LED or LCD TVs that are actually designed and manufactured just to go in outdoor spaces.
About, I’d say 100% of the homes that we’re designing and building, everybody wants entertaining space on the back porch. What you don’t think about is, in bright sunlight, how are you going to see the screen if you’re out there mid-day watching the football game or whatever, or lounging around the pool. The manufacturers have stepped up and come out with a certain specific TV just for outdoor spaces. I saw enclosures to go around those TVs, because that way they handle the elements, the rain and stuff. There was just a crazy amount of things to look at.
Greg: Wow, my mind’s kind of swimming. I don’t have a TV on my back porch. I hadn’t really thought about it, but that opens up a whole lot of options. Doesn’t it?
Ted: Yes. I would say the majority of our clients are wanting to put TVs outside, and the flat screens, you know they continue to go down in cost. It’s one of things for most people, they think, “Eh, I’ll spend $300 or $400 and it’ll last two or three years. I’ll replace it, and by then it’ll be even less expensive.” The technology of increasing the brightness of the screen really helps with people, because they don’t think much about until they get it set up and go, “Oh.” That’s just one of the things that I saw. I have a list of things I did want to talk about, to share with, again, our readers and listeners as well.
Greg: Yeah, I’m curious to hear what you thought were the top three, or five, or whatever, struck you the most. What did you really take away from that convention?
Ted: Before I go there, I did want to repeat something I think is very important. It is, in our company, we are not focused on volume. When you’re not focused on volume, it’s amazing how much from our heart, and where we want to come with our clients, is we feel like it’s our responsibility to bring, whether it’s technology, or whether it’s home efficiency, or whether it’s the design trends, but we want to bring that to our clients so they can make an informed decision. There’s a lot of builders that have never even heard of CEDIA, let alone attended any of their conferences. Again, I wanted to go to see the latest and greatest. We’ll kind of go down that road. Let me ask you this, have you heard of Ring?
Greg: Is this the camera door bell?
Ted: Yes, it is. It’s very popular right now. You can buy them at Costco. This is not a high-end automation piece of equipment. Probably it’s closer competitor is a company called Door Bird. B-I-R-D. Door and then Bird. That’s the competitor. I’m going to throw out a couple products that people can research on their own. The ease of somebody going up to your doorbell, and not even hit the doorbell, and because it’s motion activated, it’s already alerting you that somebody’s standing in front of your front door.
When they hit the doorbell, you’re already seeing a video of them at your door. With your phone, you have a full two-way, almost intercom, conversation with this person at the door. There’s infrared technologies, so you can still see somebody there at night, in front of the camera, if your porch light’s not on. You get a text message as well. On some of these devices, you can actually record a history of anybody coming to your door. You can answer the door whether you’re sitting in your office, or sitting in your home. That technology is pretty neat stuff.
Greg: Does that have to tie into a bigger home system, or is that a standalone system as long as you have a phone and you install the Ring, that you’re good?
Ted: It’s all connected through WiFi. I would say that’s probably the biggest thing that I took away from my two days of being on the floor at CEDIA was that more, and more, and more, products that are in the home or going to be WiFi enabled, which means they’ll be able to connect to your WiFi, and to a hub, basically, within your home. Then, that connects everything together. Connects you to your phone as well.
Greg: I can speak to my house, basically, even if I’m not in my house, through my phone.
Ted: That’s right. Yeah, If you go to a commercial on Ring or Door Bird, you’ll enjoy seeing the kind of commercials. Very cute. How about another product, because I know we’re short on time. Let me ask you this. In your home, how do you feel your WiFi works within your home from one place of the house to another?
Greg: Poorly, which is horrible, right, because I’m podcast guy. You would think that I’d have the world’s best WiFi set-up and I don’t. You told me you’d try not to embarrass me on this national podcast.
Ted: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Two products to look at, one is Eero, and that’s pronounced, E-E-R-O. Another one is Luma, L-U-M-A. I would encourage you to Google those two products, and see what they say. They refer to having it more of a mesh technology, which is different from an extender. I learned the difference from that, that I didn’t understand before. It’s pretty interesting, and I would encourage our listeners and our readers to look at that.
Basically, you’re trying to give an even flow through the house of WiFi connectivity. You’re not having to only be in a certain spot to be able to get signal, once you move you lose the signal. Most of them come in a three pack. One connects to your existing router. Whoever your cable or internet provider is, you have a router with that, this device plugs into that. Then you may have two or three other devices that sit around the house, to get more of an even connectivity to that router and into your WiFi. Everybody deals with it. Again, I’m all about understanding needs and meeting needs. I know just as a home owner, these are products that I was looking for that we could actually think about, and we can do anything wiring within the home to make things simpler for our clients, I think they’ll like it.
Greg: Is this something that you think about ahead of time? Obviously, you’re going to conference so that you can design the house to accommodate this new technology?
Ted: Well, it depends. If I’ve got a client that’s very much into this … We’ll talk more about our next Southern Living showcase home up in Bluejack National. Before I went, I spoke to the homeowner, and he told me specifically some things that he was interested in and to me to do some research on. Part of that answer is, yes. Some people say, “You know, it’s not that big a deal to me,” and that’s okay.
Greg: It would be, for me. I understand everyone’s different. Different strokes for different folks.
Ted: That’s right. Another one that I ran across that wasn’t even on my radar, was being able to do automated shades for shades that have never been automated before. You’re going like, “Okay. How’s that work?” There’s a company called Axis, A-X-I-S, as in Sam, Axis. They’re basically more into the remodel, because in new construction, we have that conversation with our clients. We had one a number of years ago that one of their treats on a Saturday, wants to sleep in until 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning. We’re going like, “Okay, where do I sign up for that?” Their windows faced directly east. We hardwired power up into the encasement around the window. We put an automated shade controller on it, and it has a remote, or these days it would have an app to the phone. We can set it on a schedule, so they could literally set it on. Then it had darkening shades behind it that can motorize down when they go to bed, and it would not open up until, say, 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning. That simple automation was pretty cool. We’ve done that in new construction.
This product is very interesting because it’s to retrofit existing blinds or shades. It’s done through Bluetooth technology and rechargeable batteries. Again, you have an app on your phone. You can set a schedule. You can control it with your phone when you want it to open up or close. I was pretty intrigued about something as simple as that.
Greg: Wow. This sounds like quite the opportunity for you to just learn about all different aspects of not only new construction, but like you said, retrofitting as well.
Ted: Probably one of the biggest about the whole event was this company called … You ever heard of Amazon?
Greg: I’ve heard of them once or twice, a week. A week, I think.
Ted: Well, Amazon. Some of listener and readers may have heard of Amazon. I’m sure we’ve all bought products from them. I don’t know how many are familiar with the Amazon Echo. Greg, are you familiar with the Echo?
Greg: I think I’ve seen a commercial once or twice. I’ve not actually seen it in practice.
Ted: It’s a tubular looking device. Sits on the counter, kitchen counter, or wherever. Plugs in. It’s literally got eight microphones embedded in this technology along with a wireless speaker. That speaker is for voice controls, but it also can play music. I got kind of interested in that. Echo was shown, in a big way, by Amazon, there, at the CEDIA convention. I was actually pretty surprised. I didn’t think of Amazon and this specific device of being at the level of the automation that I normally see at these kind of conventions. Would you kind of agree with that?
Greg: I would.
Ted: The interesting thing is that for those that have Echo, or haven’t, so they have a voice command, or a person’s name, a lady’s name, of course, by the name of Alexa. You speak into the Echo, and you say, “Alexa. Turn on my music. My oldies,” and Alexa says, “Turning on.” All of sudden, you hear your oldies playing through the Bluetooth speaker. Then you say, “Alexa. Set a timer for 3.5 minutes.” Alexa sets a timer for 3.5 minutes, because you’ve got cookies in the oven. This kind of voice control automation, I think, honestly, I drove away thinking, “This is probably the biggest thing I’ve seen in many, many … What I’ve seen within CEDIA and a lot of us that turn our nose up to, or are cautious about automation, is the fear of how to control it. Would you agree?
Greg: Yeah. Absolutely. Especially for some people who are not as technology adept as others, I guess.
Ted: There’s several of the larger automation companies, Crestron is one of them. Control4 is another one. A lot of access controls, lighting controls, shade controls, manufactured by a company called Illutron. These are three very, very, large companies that live in the automation space. It was announced at that convention, by the director of Amazon, for this product that I actually sit in with a meeting on, was they now are going to be implementing and partnering with Amazon to be able to use Alexa as voice controls for their automation components, which I was very, very, surprised to hear.
Greg: Yeah, that is surprising. Wow. That’s a really big move.
Ted: That’s a huge move. Mr. Kimball, or Kendall, I think, is the guy’s name, that spoke, used the term that he thinks this is a disruption in the way we live. I thought that was kind of an interesting way of talking about it. In his mind, of course he’s the director of product development for Echo, but he thinks this is a huge turn in technology within our homes.
What was cool was Crestron was there. They played a quick video. The video was about a gymnast, that was in college, that fell and broke his neck, and is now a paraplegic from his arms down. He later had a home built, and Crestron and Amazon teamed up as a project for him. Both of his hands have atrophy in them, so he can no longer grip or even open anything with his hand, in a wheelchair. Now, Alexa has changed the way he lives. Now Alexa is opening up the doors. It’s turning on the lights. It’s opening up the shades. It’s adjusting the thermostat for him. It’s playing the music that he wants. You get pretty excited seeing how voice control for the home, I think, is really going to change the way we live in our homes.
Greg: What’s exciting for me is that we’ve just started your podcast series, here, a month ago or so, and you’re going to be able to take us though real world examples as you continue to build new custom homes, how this actually gets into the marketplace, and how it actually affect construction. I imagine you have to wire a little bit differently, and you have to prepare a little bit differently, but we’re going to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, aren’t we? You’re going to update us as you go along with some of these new homes and some of these new ideas. It’s kind of exciting for us.
Ted: It is. It’s also fun because we also do remodeling. With WiFi enabled products, now you can use some of these products within your current home, and you don’t even need to build new construction, or even have the wiring in place to be able to take advantage of these products. That’s the kind of fun thing that I get to experience, both from remodeling clients and new construction clients.
Greg: Wonderful. Ted, once again, thanks for the education, and I look forward to … Seriously, let’s do some updates on either your remodels or your new homes and come back to the automation subject every now and then, and see what new products you’re seeing and how your homeowners are being affected, and how it really works its way into the marketplace.
Ted: I would love to do that. I appreciate the opportunity.
Greg: All right. I’ll talk to you soon.
Ted: Okay. Thanks, Greg.
Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Houston Custom Home Builder podcast series. If you have any questions, or would like to contact us at Morning Star Builders, you can find us on Facebook. You can always visit our web site at homesbymorningstar.com. We appreciate your time with us today, and look forward to bringing you another episode soon.