Light It Up

The convenience of home control technology is enjoyed by many today, including control of home theaters, distributed audio/video and advanced security systems. As someone who specifies or installs products, why not go the extra step and offer them lighting control options as part of their home technology package? This would provide luxury custom homeowners with a simple way to manage their lighting needs.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association’s New Home Buyers and Technology Purchase Study released in June 2006, 45 percent of new home builders in 2005 were offering lighting control products — up from 38 percent in 2004. Although it also reveals that 76 percent of respondents were satisfied with their automated lighting control products and 71 percent were likely to recommend it, there is still 22 percent that says they regret not purchasing lighting control. This leaves an untapped group of home buyers that design/builders are missing.

The CEA defines an automated lighting control system as technology that controls lights without the use of manual switches. An example is the ability to turn lights on or off simply upon entering or exiting a room.

“A homeowner can control any type of lighting — incandescent, low-voltage, fluorescent or any form of lighting,” says Brad Wills, director of new business development, Schneider Electric/Square D. “[Lighting control is] important to have in larger homes because it’s impractical to walk through a huge house to quickly turn off all the lights.”

Keypads can manage the whole-house or single-room lighting control system. “[Lighting control] systems operate through sensors and touch-point buttons located on keypads,” says Richard Brady, executive vice president, Vantage Controls. “A homeowner can control any device in the house from any point in the house.”

Through use of keypads, scenes can be created in any room at any time of day. Homeowners can activate scenes such as good night, vacation, home theater or party. “The good-night scene is the scene most people wish they had,” Brady says. “Now homeowners can lean over, touch the button next to the bed and know that everything in the house is turned off.”

The vacation scene gives homeowners added security when they are gone. “The homeowner can touch a button when they leave for an extended period of time and the house acts as if someone is living there. The homeowner can program it to turn certain lights on at the times they want them on,” Brady says.

Homeowners can program scenes on their keypads for individual rooms. “It will adjust the lights according to the use of the room,” says Gary Meschberg, director of business development, GenLyte Controls, manufacturer of the Lightolier brand. “People use different lighting if they are watching a movie, cooking dinner, cleaning or entertaining.”

Ambiance and aesthetics are also enhanced by scene availability. “What does a home look like with a light that is controllable,” asks Phil Scheetz, home systems marketing manager, Lutron Electronics. “Lighting control can create a certain mood.”

Home Advantage

There are many benefits to installing a lighting control system in one’s home, one of which is energy efficiency. “Complete control of the on/off button allows homeowners to turn off lights when they aren’t being used and they can be assured that all lights are off when they need them to be, [without having to walk through the entire house],” says Don Buehner, president and CEO of LiteTouch.

Another aspect to lighting control that adds to a home’s energy efficiency is how the lights are turned on. “Homeowners can save a lot of money because slowly dimming lights saves on electricity. The life of the light bulb is extended because it’s not ramped up, but gradually turned on,” says Bill Hambley, senior vice president of sales and marketing, CentraLite Systems.

Because these systems are sophisticated, a homeowner can regulate whether lights are at full power, half power or any level in between. “The human eye can’t tell the difference if a light is on at 80 percent or 100 percent. When a light is used at 80 percent, it can double the life of the light bulb,” Buehner says.

Convenience is another important benefit offered by lighting control systems. Not only can homeowners manage their lights but they can also manage their media and HVAC systems with a lighting control system. “The lighting system can turn off the lights, set back thermostats and turn off music or movies,” says Norton Ewart, product manager, Colorado vNet.

Because a keypad can integrate lights, thermostats, lighting and audio into one unit, it reduces wall clutter. “In most cases you can reduce the number of switches on the wall,” says Jay McLellan, president and CEO of Home Automation Inc. “It’s a single-gang control panel.”

McLellan adds that security is another benefit of lighting control. “The lighting control system is the heart of the home and can be tied to the Internet and phone. [The system] can send e-mail or call when motion is detected.”

Wired vs. Wireless

A lighting control system can be either wired or wireless. The wired option utilizes a category 5 cable for its communication throughout the house. “In a wired system, cat 5 cable is run from touchpad location to the distribution area and out to different dimming modules that are located throughout the home. A high-voltage wire called Romex is run from the breaker panels to dimming modules and out to the lights,” Ewart says.

Lighting control can be used in both new construction and retrofit applications as most manufacturers offer wired and wireless options. The wireless option is great for retrofit applications because it can be installed with minimal disturbance to existing lighting. “Installers replace the light switch which is embedded with the wireless technology,” Wills says. “Walls don’t need to be torn out. This technology will make the remodel market grow tremendously.”

Setting up a wireless system has become easier and more reliable in recent years. “There are 375,000 new homes a year built in the country that are over $250,000,” Hambley adds. “And there are 100 million existing homes with 20 percent of those being candidates for lighting control. To date more lighting control is going into new construction, but as retrofit systems become more reliable that market will grow.”

One reason lighting control is found mostly in new construction is its cost. Generally, new construction is where homeowners are spending money unless undertaking a major remodel. Plus, in new construction one can roll the cost of the system into the mortgage.

Misconceptions, Reputations

As with most new technology, homeowners can be hesitant to embrace lighting control. Traditionally, lighting control is one luxury that some builders find has too many disadvantages rather than benefits. “Builders perceive that it will raise the cost of the house too much and that they won’t make the kind of margins they can from other features such as home theaters and granite countertops,” Ewart says.

Lighting control might have been difficult to work with in the past, but manufacturers today are focusing attention on how to make it easier for builders, installers and homeowners. “People think it’s complicated or hard to understand. We’ve made that our focus in our keypads,” Buehner says. “Our keypads are equivalent to a light switch — easy to see, read and use.”

Hambley offers three reasons for builder resistance. “One, lighting control products were installed in expensive homes in the past. Other builders didn’t want to spend the money on it. But now it’s cheaper. Two, they think the high-voltage installation is much more costly but really it’s a wash when all installation is taken into consideration. The labor is done with low-skilled labor. And three, there’s the bad reputation smart homes received in the 1990s when home automation systems weren’t robust enough to handle the needs of most people. All systems on the market now are very robust and cost-effective,” he says.

Helping Designers, Builders

With many designers and builders hesitating to offer lighting control options, manufacturers are making efforts to offer reliable services and training. “We have resource books with specifications. We have a layout of an initial system for a new dealer or builder who wants to incorporate lighting control in a house,” Hambley says. “We offer knowledge and expertise to anyone surrounding the job on what lighting control is and how they can install and program it.”

Once builders understand a system, sometimes it’s difficult to explain or sell it to their clients. Manufacturers are trying to assist builders to meet this challenge. “We provide training, tech support and sales material to help them explain the value of it. We have a network of dealers and manufacturer reps around the world that can be great resources to them. We work closely with designers and builders,” Brady says.

To keep the products simple and easy to use, Schneider Electric/Square D offers its Clipsal lighting product. “It includes an LCD that fits in the size of a light switch and has the ability to regulate eight different loads. The homeowner can name each button and change its name in the future,” Wills says. “This product is a simpler and easier-to-read solution.”

Also offering simple and easy-to-use products, Lutron offers its AuroRa lighting control option. “It’s designed to simply give control in and around the home. No incremental wiring or knowledge is needed. It’s accessible to builder, installer or the homeowner,” Scheetz says.

Bringing all home automation together, Colorado vNet offers its distributed system called Vibe. “It’s a cat 5-based system that uses a touchscreen and central media controller. The same control that manages the music will also control lighting scenes,” Ewart says.

Vantage Controls also focuses on whole-house automation by offering its InFusion media. “This software allows for wireless interconnectivity with the entire system — lights, music, digital media, Web surfing and e-mail accessibility,” Brady says.

Focusing on energy efficiency, LiteTouch offers its Light Harvesting product. “It includes a sensor that can detect how much natural light is in the house. It knows when you need more or less light based on the natural lighting in the room,” Buehner says.

Home Automation Inc.’s Snap Link includes the advanced feature of video monitoring. “It plugs into the computer and you can see the setting for lights, thermostat, doors and windows, and video camera. You can log on to see a picture of what is happening at home.”

What’s In Store

Lighting control is still gaining leverage in the market as designers, builders and homeowners adjust to what is available in lighting control options. But as more products enter the market, more architects specify them and builders install them, technology will get better. “Installation and programming will become simpler and easier. It will become a home automation integration system and tie in HVAC, security and audio.Homeowners will want it in one system,” Wills says.

Technological advances are going to make products simpler and easier to use, Scheetz says. “There are some new light sources such as LED and fluorescent lights, and we will continue to expand our control for those residential products. Lighting companies will also expand their offerings in those areas. That adoption of lighting control is moving quickly. That is the next frontier.”