Photo courtesy of Lutron.
You get into bed and just as you get cozy, you realize you’ve left a light on in another part of the house. But instead of getting up you simply press a button on a keypad or remote control, and not only are all the lights off that need to be off—the security system is armed and the house is ready for the night.
That’s what a lighting control system can do—and that’s just one of the many conveniences it brings to homeowners.
The good news is that these systems are no longer the province of the rich. Wireless technologies and simple-to-set-up systems are making some levels of lighting control available for nearly everyone—and they should be parts of any new home options list.
Inexpensive dimmers are about the least amount of lighting control you can put in a home. And they can be quite helpful in saving homeowners energy. Just dimming a light 10 percent to 20 percent can save about the same amount of energy used by those lights—and that will be reflected in a home’s energy bills. Just be careful to make sure new, efficient LED and CFL lights can work with your dimmers.
2. Green or Eco Button
Some lighting control systems have energy-saving buttons that have preprogrammed energy-saving settings. Or have the electronic installer program a lighting control system so lights always dim by 10 percent—meaning they are operating at 90 percent brightness. This saves about 10 percent of the energy used by the lights and is usually not noticeable by the occupants.
3. Motion Detectors & Vacancy/Occupancy sensors
Photo courtesy of Leviton.
A motion detector does what it says—and detects motion to turn on a light. These are used prominently in outdoor flood lights, for example, but can also be used inside a house to turn on a light or enact a lighting scene. Occupancy and vacancy sensors use motion or heat detectors to determine if someone has entered a room or is no longer present, and shuts the light off automatically. Vacancy sensors are effectively used in bathrooms and children’s rooms, where lights are often left on after someone has left. Vacancy sensors require that the light be turned on manually.
It shuts off a certain time after no one has been detected in the space. Occupancy sensors turn the light on automatically when you enter and turn off after you leave, and are effective in laundry rooms and other areas where you may enter with your arms full.
Here’s a good video to understand the difference and their best uses:
Lights today can even be tied to daylight (or photo) sensors to turn off lights when there is enough natural light, or vice-versa.
4. Timed Settings
Many lights, such as energy-hungry outdoor floodlight, can be put on timers so they come on at a certain time and turn off at another time. Because dusk and dawn times are different each day, however, some lighting control systems employ astronomical clocks that adjust accordingly, so the outdoor lights can come on automatically at dusk each night. They are often programmed not to turn off at dawn, but at a preset time in the middle of the night.
Photo courtesy of Lutron.
5. Set the Mood
Lighting control systems with dimming capability are especially effective in setting a “scene” where lights in a room come on to certain levels. For example, a kitchen may have a “Cooking” scene where the lights over the work areas are bright, and a dining area may have a “Romance” scene where the lights are dimmed. With LED lights today, designers can even “paint” scenes with colored lights at various levels, effectively setting a mood and connecting emotionally. Often the lighting scene can be paired with music to provide an aural accompaniment. This can be powerful stuff.
6. Lighting for Show
Not only can a lighting control system set the proper mood, it can be used to effectively display the architectural elements of a home, such as an interesting alcove or cathedral ceiling—or deftly display artwork, whether on the walls or in a sculpture garden. A good lighting designer and installer team can devise a lighting layout to cast just the right amount of light with just the right color temperature to make a piece of art really stand out.
7. Movie Time
Want to shock and awe your friends? When it’s time to settle into the entertainment space and fire up a good movie, lights can be set to automatically dim when a “Movie” or “Showtime” button is pressed on a remote control, smartphone or other control. With a home control system, the lights slowly ramp down as motorized shades or drapes close and audio/video gear powers up. A preset button can raise lights just a bit or illuminate just those along a floor to help safely guide someone out in the middle of the show.
8. Automated Pathway Lighting
When one of the kids or Grandma gets up at night, lights via a motion sensor or a pad sensor under a carpet by the bed can trigger lights to come on at a dimmed level, so folks can find their way to the bathroom or kitchen without being blinded. You can also program pathway lighting from a garage or driveway to a door, from the entrance to a bedroom, or wherever you like.
Photo courtesy of All Sounds Design.
9. Automation through Security Systems
If a home has a security system, lighting can be tied into it so the lights go off when the security system is armed, for example. If the security alarm is tripped, the lights can flash to discourage bad guys as well. An electronics integrator can also connect lighting to security sensors like magnetic door sensors so lights turn on automatically when someone enters and proceeds down a hallway, for example.
10. Vacation Mode
Many lighting control systems feature a “Vacation Mode” that learns the homeowners’ habits and replays those lighting sequences through the day and night—or turns on lights randomly to discourage burglars.
Types of Lighting Control Systems
- Hard-wired Lighting Control — Usually the most expensive of systems, requiring its own control wiring to be run before the walls close and typically limited to large luxury homes. These usually require lighting control processing panels in a mechanical room, often where the structured wiring is also routed.
- Wireless Systems — Becoming more popular in new homes and retrofits, wireless lighting control systems transmit command signals from a central processor or hub to the switches or keypads wirelessly. The switches and keypads are wired to the lighting fixtures.
- Powerline Carrier Systems — These lighting control systems transmit command signals over a home’s electrical powerline, and aren’t considered as reliable as wired or wireless (RF) lighting control, due to problems that can result when jumping from one phase of a service to another, for example. These systems have gotten much better in recent years, however, due to UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) technology.
Lighting control systems often replace typical switches with keypads that have one or several buttons to operate the lights in an area or the whole home. The simpler the controls, the better. The buttons can often be engraved, and some feature LED backlighting for ease of use in the dark.