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By Tom Howard

My article “The Total Light-Control Experience,” in the Winter 2007 issue of The Modern Estate, offers a short primer on the benefits of lighting control. Here are further specifics that readers interested in choosing a lighting control system may find helpful.

Your System Options: Centralized, Hybrid, Wireless

To achieve total light control in your home, you must choose among three systems—centralized, hybrid, and wireless. For help with the design and installation of a lighting control system you will need the services of a systems integrator—someone who can provide expertise in both contracting and home management services.

In a centralized system, all the lighting circuits, or “loads,” are run back to the dimming panels with remote dimming modules in the basement and/or attic; they are controlled by low-voltage keypads. When you press a button on the keypad, the lighting control processor tells the remote dimming modules what lights to turn on/off, and at what level. It’s that simple. A fully centralized system gets rid of clutter—like those ugly, 7-gang switch plates—and is the most powerful and flexible system for lighting control. But centralized systems must usually be installed only in new construction or full-scale renovations.

A hybrid system combines centralized lighting with local dimming. It is, typically, less expensive than a centralized system, but doesn’t eliminate all the clutter. In a hybrid system, the lighting circuits in areas like the foyer, kitchen, family room, and master suite—places where you want to get rid of clutter—are run to the dimming panels and are controlled by low-voltage keypads. A hybrid system can’t really be installed into an exiting home unless it’s being renovated.

In secondary locations like baths and kids’ bedrooms (where there may be only a few lights), a hybrid system will use local switching, though it can be controlled by the lighting system. In these locations, the normal switches are replaced with cosmetically matching Smart Switches that are controlled by the system. For example, in a hybrid version, when you press the “All Off” pre-set on the keypad, it tells the lighting control processor to shut off all the lights in the dimming panels and tells all the Smart Switches to turn off as well. A hybrid gives you all the power of the lighting control system, but you’ll still have some local switches. Any room that has three switches or fewer ganged together can be put onto the system with the Smart Switches, but any room with four or more switches ganged together really should be centralized with low-voltage keypads.

Another lighting-control option is a wireless system. This gives homeowners who live in an existing home (one that is not being renovated) the luxury of lighting control. The home’s switches are replaced with radio-controlled Smart Switches and controlled by keypads in strategic locations. The beauty of the wireless solution is that you can select the particular lights you want to put on the system, and add to those choices at any time; wireless is cost-effective and can be easily retrofitted to an existing home. The only downside to the wireless solution is that it doesn’t reduce the wall clutter. Still, the homeowner can explore creative solutions like mixing the wireless version with the hard-wired version and moving switches into closets and crawl spaces, etc.

Natural-Light Control

Installing a lighting control system offers another benefit— natural-light control: motorized shades that can control sunlight, minimize harsh glare, and protect valuable furnishings and artwork from harmful UV damage. With the touch of a button, you can quietly transform glare into soft, pleasing light; create privacy in bedrooms and baths; let just the right amount of light in from hard-to-reach windows; or achieve total blackout in bedrooms and media rooms.

In the old days, motorized shades used high-voltage motors that sounded like a herd of angry can openers and offered very few options in the way of control. Lutron has introduced its Sivoia QED (Quiet Electronic Drive) Shades, which are totally silent and sit on the same “bus” as the lighting control system, and have virtually unlimited possibilities for programming. By putting the Sivoia shades on the lighting control system, your systems integrator can set pre-sets on the low-voltage keypads, gather the shades into groups, and even put the shades on the astronomical clock in the lighting processor. So, for example, if your home is on the water and your living room faces west, the solar shades can be programmed to come down and eliminate the glare every afternoon—at various times, depending on the time of year. Sivoia shades can also be used in stand-alone situations, in homes where a lighting control system has not been installed.

Lighting Integration

A lighting control system can be nicely integrated with other technology. For instance, it can be added to a control system like Crestron, which has easy-to- use graphic user interfaces (GUIs) on touch screens, so you can use GUIs to control the system. You can have your security system “talk” to the lighting system—set it up so if your security system is tripped, every light in the house will go on and the outside floodlights will flash. Systems integrators can even set the system so you can call in to you house and turn on the lights by phone on your way home, or even remotely control the lights over the Internet.

For homeowners who want to enhance the beauty and functionality of their home, total light control/natural-light control can provide sophistication and elegant simplicity at the touch of a button.

Tom Howard is vice president of sales and marketing and senior sales/designer at the systems integrating firm Performance Imaging, located in Stamford, Connecticut. He has designed, sold, and project-managed hundreds of lighting control and integrated systems. 203.504.5224; www.performanceimaging.net.