Villa Collina Renewed: Tennessee’s Most Efficient Italian Smart Home

Editor’s Note:Villa Collina Renewed” is a 15-part blog series detailing owner Dr. Eric W. Barton’s work to restore the largest home in Tennessee to its original Italianate beauty. Each week we will discuss renovation projects across the 40,250-square-foot waterfront mansion, from geothermal upgrades and energy efficiency to state-of-the-art lighting, marble renovations and fountain upgrades. We hope you enjoy this detailed research on the jewel that is Villa Collina.

Always looking to leave the world better than he found it, Dr. Eric W. Barton’s initial focus on renovating the Villa Collina centered on conserving energy.

Efficiency upgrades include a new geothermal HVAC system, automation technology across all electronic platforms, window film, water and LED lighting improvements and smart home system programming. Energy efficiency upgrades continue today as Barton researches the best and latest conservation technology.

One of the largest conservation upgrades to the 40,250-square-foot mansion is the lighting improvements, including the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs with the installation of roughly 7,600 LED light bulbs at a total project cost of about $112,000 to date. This includes electrical, modifications to fixtures and renovation of outdated fixtures such as to the chandeliers, outdoor lighting and lighting above columns.

“With the change to LED, we had to upgrade thousands of light fixtures throughout the home from light bulbs in the ceilings to accent lights affixed to the columns that are a staple of the home,” Barton said. “Energy consumption with the more-efficient LED bulbs has been cut in half, saving thousands of dollars.”

Not only have light fixtures been upgraded to LED bulbs, but all light fixtures – in addition to every other switch-controlled electronic system in the mansion – have been upgraded to the Lutron HomeWorks system, providing convenient, intelligent and sophisticated control of the Villa Collina’s lighting, shades, 23 thermostats and geothermal HVAC system, audio and video systems.

Utilizing the latest technology to achieve energy efficiency has always been a focus of Villa Collina operations. Once the mansion was completed in 2000, it had the largest Lutron lighting control system in a private residence in the world. The Villa Collina held on to that title until Microsoft founder Bill Gates finished his home approximately eight years later. The Lutron system has since been updated with today’s technological advances and controls a broader spectrum of technologies in the home.

“Each morning and evening the shades are automatically raised and lowered to utilize natural lighting, while also curbing unnecessary heating and cooling of the home and protecting expensive artwork throughout the home,” Barton said. “As the sun’s position changes during the day, blinds will slowly adjust to allow sunlight into the rooms.”

The electrical and HVAC systems can be controlled by a series of apps on an iPhone, iPad, iPad mini or Android smartphone. The Lutron app controls the lighting, heating and cooling, and the window treatments. The additional app controls the multi-room audio and audiovisual systems, where the owner can choose a song playlist to hear or cable channel to watch. In addition, another app controls the surveillance and security system, looking at multiple cameras installed throughout the house. With the touch of a button, the owner can control all fireplaces, the 24 HVAC units, lighting and blinds, TVs and audio, door access, and both outdoor and indoor security from anywhere in the world.

In his initial inspections of the home, Barton noticed the original carpets, furnishings and curtains – all luxurious, handmade and imported – had deteriorated from sun damage. The large south-facing windows, which receive the greatest amount of sunlight during the day, were not protected, allowing years of damaging ultraviolet (UV) exposure and heat to enter the structure. Barton hired Energy Control Consultants to add a protective layer of film on all south-facing windows in the rear of the house for solar energy control.

The window film, 3M – Prestige Series 50 film, is designed to reject around 53 percent of heat into the interior of the house and up to 99.9 percent of harmful UV rays. The film is custom cut to the size and shape of each window in Villa Collina. This new film will help reduce harmful heat and UV rays from damaging furnishings and carpet, all of which have been restored to their original pristine condition since Barton took ownership of the home.

Within a year of purchasing the home, he replaced all of the original HVAC units and installed high-efficiency TETCO HVAC systems. The units use water-sourced heat pumps with closed loop, often referred to as geothermal. Glycol-based antifreeze runs through the closed loop system, which acts as the airflow in a typical air conditioning unit. The current HVAC units are high-end and expensive and use two-stage cooling, which reduces the capacity of the cooling tower outside.

According to Barton, these energy saving solutions “have resulted in our KUB (Knoxville Utilities Board) monthly bill being reduced by several thousand dollars.” Although the initial costs of these systems are expensive, the savings over time is much greater. These new systems add to the efficiency of the home and allow Barton to manage the estate’s energy from anywhere in the world.

Up next: The majestic Villa Collina is a beautiful masterpiece both inside and out. Eric Barton has made some lavish, trend-setting interior decorating choices. Come back for next week’s installment of Villa Collina Renewed.