BUILDING CUSTOM HOMES on spec, that is, without a buyer in the bag, has always involved a degree of risk greater than that associated with routine residential development. But for Michael Cantor, president of Pinnacle Custom Homes in Chatham, N.J., taking that risk is a no-brainer. He knows the market, in this case homes costing in excess of $3 million built in exclusive communities to be sold to highly successful and discriminating buyers. He also knows that in order to appeal to these buyers, the home must not only incorporate quality materials, features and design, it must also be smart.

“It is crucial,” says Cantor. “A $10 million buyer is a very sophisticated buyer and a buyer who is looking for technology in the home.”

To that end, Pinnacle is in the planning stages for a $10 million spec home to be built in the town of Saddle River, N.J. It will be sited on 4.2 acres backing up to the river for which the town is named in a neighborhood that could be described as the Bel Aire of New Jersey, albeit with more open space and a more countrified appearance than the storied burg outside L.A. It's not quite the Newport of the robber-baron era, but Saddle River routinely shows up in first or second place in the annual rankings of New Jersey towns by household income, which might not sound like much until one recognizes that New Jersey ranks first in the country in median income. The town, in which the minimum lot size for any residential dwelling is two acres, has always been affluent, although in the 19th century it was noted more for farms than mansions. In recent years, Saddle River has seen dozens of its older homes razed to make way for large, modern luxury homes as a raft of celebrities have moved in. Homes valued at $25 million to $30 million are not uncommon.

TECH TURF: Pinnacle Custom Homes' $10 million spec home in Saddle River, N.J., will be an automated marvel run by a central server and Windows XP operating system.

The home to be built by Pinnacle will stand unique even among the palatial estates that surround it. A 13,000-square-foot French-country-manor style home with a stone and stucco exterior, a slate roof, and copper gutters and leaders, the place will have 19 rooms (excluding baths and a four-room staff apartment), an indoor basketball court, gymnasium, wine cellar and tasting room, outdoor pool and cabana, gated entry, motor court with parking for 20 vehicles, and a six-car “collectors” garage. What will make this home different from those that surround it, however, will be the degree of automation that is built into virtually every room. Pinnacle's technical partner in the project is JD Audio and Video Design of Ft. Lee, N.J., a member of the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association (CEDIA).

WHAT, NO HELPDESK? The house will be run by a central server, ostensibly an off-the-shelf computer array running the Microsoft Windows XP Professional operating system. That system will be linked to a Crestron control system, which will provide the interface with and control for lighting, HVAC, security, entertainment, and remote systems. Touch panels will be located throughout the home. The backbone for all the smart systems will be structured cable, with standard copper, coaxial, CAT-5, and fiber connections in every room and at every appliance location. Each room in the home will be equipped with connections to the Information Technology network, and the entire home and its immediate surroundings will serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot—providing wireless Internet access—owing to the liberal use of repeaters on the network.

“With Crestron, if you can imagine it, we can do it,” says Jeff Glassman, director of product development for Pinnacle. “The possibilities are endless.”

The security system, featuring the usual perimeter alarm, motion and intrusion sensors, and remote locking and unlocking capability, will also use video cameras at all entry points, on the grounds, and at the driveway gate. The cameras, equipped with infrared technology to allow for night viewing, will feed their signals through the central control system so that the image from any camera can be accessed by any video screen in the home. They also can be instructed to pan, tilt, and zoom from the control system. The Ademco division of Honeywell Corp. is the supplier of this equipment.

Likewise, the HVAC systems will be controlled by Crestron, which will allow the homeowner to adjust temperature, humidity, and air circulation anywhere in the home from any touchpad. The system will also use indoor and outdoor sensors to automatically adjust environmental controls.

The lighting system, provided by Crestron, will set and memorize lighting patterns and “moods” throughout the home. The homeowner, for instance, can program the system to provide different looks depending on the time of day and weather conditions outside. Lights can be controlled from any location inside the home or remotely via the Internet. The system can also be programmed to simulate movement from room to room when the home is not occupied. Glassman noted that the system can even be programmed to handle lighting through the day without intervention; he incorporated such a system in the home of a family that follows a strict religious prohibition of contact with electric appliances on the Sabbath.

Each room in the home will be able to access independently an audio server system from ReQuest Multimedia of Ballston Spa, N.Y. With this system, any user in any room can play any song or group of songs on the server while another user does the same in another. The control keypads will even display the album art from the song being played. There will be a total of 31 speakers installed in ceilings and walls throughout the home.