Tag china

My Townhouse Remodel part 2

Our house is finally finished (for the most part). I’m hard at work tweaking all the automation functions at this point. The pictures are some of the highlights of this house. I received a lot of interest in this project, so I wanted to showcase some of the finished product. Here is an exclusive (for now) preview.

This is a 3 story design 210 sqm, and actually 4 story if you count the roof space. I built in access to the roof where I will eventually add an outside dinning area.

My idea was to mix Chinese and American design throughout. All the infrastructure (electrical and plumbing) is built to commercial American specs. All material was personally purchased and sent to this location for our builder’s use. Very little material was actually used locally. I travelled to USA, HK, Shenzhen, Gaungzhou, Germany and Shanghai to aquire the materials used in this project. I was responsible to inspect and approve every phase of the construction. With over 4000 meters of data cable alone, I had to teach the builders the art of data wire routing and handling. This is just not done in China, well certainly not Kunming. In the end, all the time I spent was well spent.
The result is a solidly built home that should last trouble free for quite some time. You can see some home pictures. I didn’t take too many, but you get the idea.

I spent 3 years on the design and testing of the automation and security systems. The main challenge was integrating electronic systems from several countries so that they all communicated with each other. The systems are all commercial spec and designed as bullet proof as can be made. The breaker pic divides all the house electrical systems properly and everything protected via a custom made arrestor panel from Germany. You will find all houses in China will have a maximum of 5 or 6 CB’s. I have 44 CB’s including EFI’s. Everything is 3 wire, including lighting circuits. China normally uses 2 wire electrical.

I designed this to be a green house, and it’s using 40% of the energy consumed in a normal home. If I turn on every light in my home, it consumes 500 watts of power, about the same as a normal single dinning room light fixture. Water heating is solar and electric. A computer monitors the solar water temp and constantly pumps solar heated water back into my electric heater to maintain 60 C temperature 24/7. The HA picture shows a few screens on my iPad to illustrate the energy monitor. The upper left screen updates every 30 seconds giving me energy use for heating, lighting, appliances. With other software, I can graph this data year by year to monitor and adjust various configurations.

The whole house is controlled manually using iPads and iPhones. I can operate and monitor all the functions from anywhere in the world. Also the house functions automatically without the need for any intervention on my part. All the security and control systems are on an integrated UPS power system that will continue to function 100% for 6 hours should A/C fail. The house even follows my location and knows how far away I am from home. When I get within a certain distance from home, automation systems will react. If it is night time, certain lights will turn on. The security system will disarm and unlock the entry door. Of course the coffee machine will turn on. If a friend is trying to locate my place, I will have outside lights blink so he can find my location in the dark.

I will break down the HA systems by category next.

Security: The HA screens pic (lower right) and the Cams pic is my ipad monitor for security. Cameras are all IP, with PTZ function. Controllable from any location. They sense and record motion events, as well as sound. Via the HA screen, I know the state of all security devices, including main water and gas. The system will respond to any emergency much the same as any security system, but with a few differences. If a fire or burglery occures, I am notified by email and instant phone messages. Same is true with any house malfunctions. For example, if a water or gas leak occurs, the house will shut of the water or gas mains, then notify me of a problem. I can even call into the house and “listen in” to various areas of my house.
The reality of a police response to a home in China is non existant. Therefore I designed the house for “self protection”. The bad guy will find himself very uncomfortable should he gain access inside. I won’t elaborate on this specifically here, but suffice to say, he will want to leave as fast as possible. My experience as a security systems tech for US govt, military weapons facilities, prisons and banks came into play with my house project. The server room pictures show the various systems in operation.

Lighting: LED lights and even wall sockets are automaticaly controlled. The lights are all dimmable (see HA screens top right and bottom left). The house tracks the azimuth of the sun to determine when to activate light automation. Moving around the house will automatically turn lights on and off. The house also uses logic to control the lights functions. It knows when I want to watch the theator, and will close window curtains, drop down the screen, and adjust lights accordingly. If I arm the security system for away mode or sleep mode, it will turn off all lights and appliances. I create program routines the system can pick from based on sensor inputs for many different scenerios. For instance, when I wake up and disarm the security system, the system knows to turn on my coffee machine. It can also give me audio feedback for any given situation.

A/V system: I have whole house audio and video distribution controlled in the server room. I can Play movies or watch TV in different rooms, all controlled in a central location. HDTV is streamed via CAT6 to the various TV’s. Same for music. I use the iPad to select music to play, and which room to play it in. I have about 300 channels of worldwide TV via an IPTV box. Throw away the satellite dishes! This stuff works well here, and the HD is way cool!

That is a pretty fair overview of my home in Kunming. The reaction of visitors to my house is quite positive. In fact, I’m already doing designs for 2 villas in Kunming. I think Chinese people really embrace this style of living and security. The HA market here has a huge potential. Not to mention the fact the savings in energy resources.


My Townhouse Remodel

This post is related to my post “The Art of Realestate in China” posted May 3rd,2010.

I am about 1 month away from everything completed and ready to move in. It has been a long road to reach this point, but joy is soon to be had.

After the physical construction of the building, the interior design work began. We went through a lengthy process before selecting a Kunming remodel company. Most important this involved visiting many construction sights of various remodel companies so I could observe the actual construction methods of the work crews. I was looking at their methods of wiring, plumbing, wall and floor fitting, material quality, building skills and finish. This is the ONLY criteria I used for selecting a remodel company. I had no interest sitting in their sales office and listening  to a bunch of sales talk or looking at the books of remodel pictures. Upon visiting a remodel company, I told them  to give me locations of their current projects. If I liked what I saw, then we can sit down and talk about doing business.

In the end, I did select a company AND a particular work crew from this company. Upon returning to this company’s office, I insisted that ONLY this work crew be assigned to my remodel. They agreed to my request, so the next step was to pick an architect from their company for drawing up our design. Their function for us was to create the plans as opposed to them “creating” a design for us. I already had very specific designs for every centimeter of our property. I also insisted that the A/C wiring and plumbing be installed to my specs (US standards). Drain and sink traps, circuit breaker layouts, jbox and wire splices, water valves, water pipe specs, conduit, and an industrial whole house  lightening surge protection system (German made).

In a nutshell, the concept of our townhouse was that it would be built as a green “Smarthouse”. Totally automated throughout, with my designs certainly exclusive to anywhere in China. This is a project I have though about for a long time, and patiently waited for western technology to catch up to a point of making it a reality. However, now being in China added a high degree of difficulty to this concept. So in order to pull it all off, it required a lot of electronics from the USA, Poland, Germany and China. Adding to the fact that all this mix of tech stuff had to talk and play nice with each other at the same time. I spent over 1 year alone on it’s design and implimentation. This involved numerous travels to these different places to aquire all the hardware and software necessary for this project.

The other challenge was to teach the construction crew the art of running over 3000 meters of low power cable over a three story 200 sq meter townhouse. The wire I used was spec’d by me and I traveled to Shenzhen to visit actual wire factories in order to obtain the exact wire I needed. I found out early that what is printed on the wire cable IS NOT actually what you get! SOP for China I suppose. For you tech heads, I needed a mixture of AWG 22,18,16 wire, RG 6 quad core, Cat 6 with a splash of Cat5e. In the end I used a quality wire company in Shenzhen to obtain it all. Next challenge was the wire routing done the right way as opposed to the Chinese way.  That is to say wire all run through conduit to a central 3 story chase, down to my server room. All this wire is run start to finish with no splices to the head end. All security, data, sensor and control systems are home run to this server room. The crew did an outstanding job of following my directions, and I have over 150 wires laying about in this room now. OK, enough details. So what does this all really mean?

Once I have personally put everything together,  my townhouse will have some smarts. All lighting will be provided with 21vdc LED’s. I had all the LED lights and LED controllers custom made in Shenzhen. The lights are dimmable and can be controlled for any location on earth. Lighting loads in the house will be 10% of what incandesent or CFL lighting requires.  My iPads and iPhones will remotely control the lights, as well as all other functions of the house. In addition to manual control, they will also be controlled via a stand alone Linux based wireless controller networked from within the house. This unit will make intelligent logical decisions for controlling lights, sensors, security systems, CCTV cameras, home theater  water, gas, even down to the electrical sockets. It will also monitor energy usage and climate inside and weather outside the house. It monitors the exact azimuth of the sun depending on the day of the year for lighting purposes.   In addition it will know which parts of the house are occupied and be able to specifically  identify me or my wife. The house will provide information verbally in both Mandarin and English as to the current status of the various systems, emergency conditions, or provide information I may request of it.

So who cares? I suppose that is all subjective, but for me a few things come to mind. First, it is a major challenge I wanted to accomplish for myself. I suppose I just have too much time on my hands. Next, it takes everyday living to a whole new level, and I am sure, a first in China. These things have been done in the western world, but China, at best, has just mastered automation of turning on a light when you enter a room. That’s about it. Then I want to have the ability to operate anything (sans 50 remote controls) from virtually anywhere in the world. Here is a few example scenarios……

1. The house will know when I am within a predefined radius of my house via GPS sensors. At which point it will turn on various lights in the house if it determines it is dark outside either because of the sun’s position and/or weather making the daytime dark. It will also vary the brightness of the lights according to the conditions. Then it will unlock the front door and disable the security system. As I reach the door, I simply push it open and enter a lit house carrying a handful of groceries.  When the house senses I actually entered, it will announce a greeting (English for me and Mandarin for my wife). It will tell me if I have emails and if anyone had come to the house during my absence. I could then request it turn on the TV and display images of whomever approached the house while I was gone.

2. Finished dinner, it’s movie time! One touch of a single button on my iPad and the system will lower the window shades, run through a 3 minute dimming ramp with the theater lights, lower the 110″ projector screen hidden in the ceiling, turn on the projector, sound system, networked media player and get down to business.  At intermission, one button push and the movie is paused, lights come up to 50%, kitchen lights turn on, hey maybe the espresso machine cranks up as well.

3. Bedtime. One button push and all house lights begin a 3 minute ramp to off. Except for the stairway and bedroom lights. The system checks that all windows and doors are secure, turns off the gas and hot water heater. Announces the house status and tells me a countdown when the security system will arm itself in stay mode. 10 minutes later the bedroom lights will slowly dim by the time I’m in bed. If during the night I get out of bed for the bathroom, the system will turn on lights at 20% dim to lead the way to where I am walking (bathroom, downstairs to the kitchen, etc.)

Since the house status is always being monitored, it will know if a water pipe is leaking and in seconds shut off the water main to the house. Then it will send me an email alert, a text message, and voice announcement to inform me of a problem. If someone rings my doorbell, I will get an alert on my iPhone from wherever I am. I can then open my iPhone and see who is standing there via the camera. Now I can instantly talk to them with my iPhone through the house speakers (no phone call needed), and even remotely open the door and disable the alarm for them if I want them to have access.

These are but a few examples of the power with a “Smarthouse”. Automation is limited only by your imagination. I’ve future proofed with extra wiring all around. I’m also thinking about incorporating an RFID system which will be able to identify anyone who may be a guest staying in the house. So then each guest can have their own custom settings working around the house. If they go in the bathroom, their style of music will play and their preferred light level will activate. Same goes for their bedroom. They can use their iPad to select music, movies, lights, etc to their liking while staying in the house.

Once all the initial systems programing is complete, I will add a SIRI voice based control interface. Currently my entire system does not rely on any PC, it  is a stand alone system. In the event of a power failure, the system will not be effected and continue to function normally on battery back up. However, the SIRI control will require a PC server, so I am still working out how to do it without using a failure prone PC. I am looking at a $35 Rasberry PI computer to implement the required server functions, but this is a project for  the future.

On to the actual townhouse design, I have mixed traditional Chinese design with American design. I think the mix will create a unique living space.

I’ve done a lot of radical surgery on the original layout. Like a balcony that was built off the master bath. Instead, I knocked out the outer wall, extending it to make the balcony part of the bathroom. Then this wall was rebuilt using glass bricks, so the bathroom wall is glass for natural light. The small Chinese bedrooms have been replaced with normal sized larger bedroom space. Small Chinese kitchen design eliminated and now includes a kitchen island. And of course a commercial gas oven/stove and a dishwasher. Funny enough, as I gave the contractor the interior color scheme, he freaked out. He says what are you doing? You have 20 different colors here! He told me at the very most they have only used 5 colors in a single house, and it was much bigger than mine. I told him it’s time to step out of the box my man. Haha And BTW, I had to spend 30 minutes explaining to him the difference between flat and semi-gloss paint finishes.

A lot of thought has gone into design as well as function. Getting down to the final weeks has me sweating bullets that it will all come together as I envisioned.

Onces completed and fully operational, I will do a final post on the townhouse project.


I just returned from another visit to Shenzhen. This time it was all business as I needed a lot of networking stuff in preparation for my home automation project on the new townhouse.

What better place to get everything at great prices, but from the largest electronics market in the world? In the heart of the city sits a 1 km2 area that is all wholesale electronics. Thousands of businesses crammed into high rise buildings selling everything from soup to nuts. It is a daunting environment and not for the fainthearted. Noisy, busy, and confusing comes to mind here. Once you get used to it, the things here are amazing.

This is the world center of manufacturing, assemble, wholesale and export of electronics. Of course we all know Apple products are built here. I decided to get right down to business and hire an assistant to help me through all this. His name is Tide. He is the man to use if you need help there. Go to www.electronicsshenzhen.com.

Time now to explain what happened……

First, I needed some pcb connector plugs. Two to be exact. They are 12 pin J connectors. We quickly found the booth that sells them. Well, they won’t sell me 2 or 4 or 10. Minimum quantity….1000! My God, I only want 2. So, ok, then how much to buy 1000? Look at my receipt…50 RMB, which is $7.90. In the US, I pay $9.50 for 2!

Let’s move on. I needed 32 plastic spacers so I can mount a pcb to a board. These are 1/2” plastic tubes with a hole down the middle for a screw. This time I had to buy 5000! I talked them into splitting a bag and selling me 2500. I paid 60 RMB or $9.52. They run about $1.00 each in the US.

Relays. I needed 4 DTSP 12 VDC relays. Cost about $6 ea in the US. The relay sockets are another $4 in the US. Here I paid $1.80 for a relay and a socket!

This is an AMP crimper tool. Funny, AMP is made in the USA. It costs $80.00. Not this one! This copy costs me 80 RMB, which is $12.69. Everything, including the packaging, is 100% identical.

The list goes on and on. But for some fun stuff, I did buy some gadgets as well.

Beautiful leather iPhone case shown here. I got this pic from a website, but this is the exact case I bought. This site sells them for $44.29. I paid 45 RMB which is $7.14. How fun is that?

Then I got a battery power pack. This one looks like the iPhone and is a 5000ma charger thet can charge two devices at the same time. Weighs about 3 oz. I paid 100 RMB ($15.90). You can get on the net for $27.24.

I just bought the iPad 3 back in the US. They make a new cover for it that will turn on the iPad when you flip it open. Apple wanted $49 for it in the US. I found the same cover in Shenzhen, which also included a full plastic cover for the back of the iPad, which apple didn’t have. I paid $9.54 in Shenzhen for both pieces!

Finally I got this USB digital microscope for my PC. This thing goes from 20x to 200x magnification. I just found it at Amazon. You can get it for $65. Not me….. I got it for $39.76.

So there you go…..Happy shopping!

Detian pubu

I just completed a road trip from Kunming to Xiamen. I drove 2620km which included the 300km extra side trip to Detian waterfall. With only a few exceptions, the highways were all new and modern. The total cost in road tolls was 1760 RMB. Don’t get me started about road tolls in China!

It took 10 hours from Kunming to arrive at Detian in the central Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region . After leaving the G80 you go on the S316 out of Natongzhen to Shuolongzhen. It is approx 150km from here to the falls. At this point you dive into the karst mountains, much like the Guillin area. The drive is beautiful at every turn winding through all the karst hills. We stayed at the hotel overlooking the falls. The next morning we spent a half a day exploring the area.

Detian falls is the second largest trans continental water fall in the world. 2nd only to Niagara Falls in the USA. In fact the falls are divided between Viet Nam and China. The Detian Waterfall is over 200 meters wide and has a drop of more than 70 meters. Its water rushes down a three-tiered cliff with tremendous force. It is the largest waterfall in Asia, and you can hear it’s roar even before you see it. This is really a must see in China.

Xiamen living

I have been really busy the past few months, but now I’m back at it. Lot of changes going on with me right now. We opened a new business in Xiamen, so now I’m bedding down in this beautiful city.

If you read my last post on Xiamen, I was really impressed with visiting here a few years back. I mentioned that I would also consider this a pace to live outside Kunming.

So now I have been here for 2 months. So far it just keeps getting better and better everyday! Xiamen Island is quite the pace to see no doubt. To sum it up, Xiamen is like a mini Shanghai. All the “western” amenities are available in this small coastal city.

The first look at this place and you see a squeaky clean city. People take great care to dispose of rubbish. There are trash cans everywhere. Funny how that works! Xiamen has a huge tourist business which they go to great ends to accommodate. There is much to do and see all over this area. You can google further to see these details.

I want to talk about the “western comfort” factor living here. Many people speak English, like Shanghai. I think besides the tourism reason, Xiamen has a noticeably higher educated population. Probably due to it’s famous university located here. Also there is a large amount of affluent people here. I mean big money seems the norm. It is not uncommon to see BMW’s, Benz, Bently, Lamborghini, Ferrari’s, and all manner of exotic new cars all around. Many driven by 20-25 year olds. People dress in the latest fashions and with all the high end name brand shops around, it’s no wonder. There are excellent western restaurants, bars, cafes everywhere. It is very nice to have delicious western food available to choose from. This is a big contrast to Kunming.

Obviously the cost of living here is more than most places. I would compare it to Shanghai in that regard. Housing in the city runs around 20,000 RMB per sq meter. Twice that of Kunming. I got lucky and found a condo on the famous “Coffee Street” facing the beautiful inner city lake. In fact I walk 50 ft from my front door to the shoreline. In a 2 block walk, I pass over 10 specialty coffee cafes and restaurants. I’m in heaven! A ten minute walk brings me to the ocean waterfront lined with incredible outdoor bars featuring live music and great western fare. The even have fresh draft beer in Xiamen! Nothing like sitting, looking out over the ocean with a cold beer. They even know how to make real thin crust pizza here without the silly fruit and vegetable toppings of typical Chinese places. Basically in Xiamen, I no longer need to make my monthly run to Bangkok to eat some decent food. Don’t get me wrong, Kunming has some great food, but I can’t eat Chinese everyday for Gods sake.

So I bought myself another electric moto to get mobile here. I’ve started exploring and will soon learn this city well. However, unlike Kunming, this place is not set up for 2 wheeled devices. In fact they are outlawed here. Most streets have no bike lanes and you are at the mercy of the typical bad Chinese driver. I have to pay a lot more attention driving around this place. Still this moto I got here is amazing. It has four speeds and does 90 kph! Thats smoking for an electric bike. Since Xiamen is a hilly city, it has the power to navigate everywhere with ease.

Xiamen has a beautiful island just across from downtown. A 5 minute ferry ride puts you to Gulangyu Island. Also know as piano island since every residence there has a piano in it. No cars are allowed on the island, and it is a key tour spot visiting Xiamen. The climate here is tropical. Gets boiling hot in the summer and only cool in the winter. Much the same as Thailand. People told me it does get cold here in the winter, but I don’t believe it. I will have to report back on that one. I can’t imagine it gets cold seeing all the tropical vegetation all over. Looks like a jungle environment to me.