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Controlling Light

Lighting control was once the overlooked and often under-appreciated technology sales opportunity for electronic systems contractors in the home.

Assessing the Latest Offerings for Lighting and Shades Control

Crestron has released two new Prodigy Wireless Keypads, which enable streamlined wireless control of lighting and multi-room audio distribution systems in the home.

Lighting control was once the overlooked and often under-appreciated technology sales opportunity for electronic systems contractors in the home. Many felt that consumers either would be unwilling to part with their familiar, albeit clunky, toggle switches, or integrators simply lacked the real estate to properly demonstrate the value of a fully integrated lighting control system to their clients.

In recent years, however, lighting control dealers have seen the light, literally, and the manufacturers have created products that better engage homeowners in creating their own lighting scenes, allow access to their systems via trendy mobile devices, and even save them energy and enhance the security of their homes.

For some dealers, like industry veteran David Wexler, co-owner of The Little Guys in Mokena, IL, the great thing about lighting control is that an electronic systems contractor doesn’t have to install a system all at once, which provides an upgrade path and more revenue from the client, later.

“One of the best things about adding lighting control to a project is the expansion possibilities as time goes on,” Wexler said. “Adding switches to different rooms and changing scenes as the client’s needs change, gets us back in the client’s home and an opportunity to make recommendations on other upgrades to their systems.”

Another industry vet, Leon Shaw, lives with lighting control in his own home, so he can provide a very personal explanation of the benefits of the technology to his clients. “Anyone with a lighting control system soon finds it is one of the favorite parts of the home,” said the founder and chairman of Audio Advice, in Raleigh, NC. “It’s certainly this way at my house. You find yourself playing with different light levels for preset scenes. In the past, changing these levels required a visit from one of our lighting control techs.”

Shaw is also amazed that a full system from his vendor of choice, Lutron, can cost a client a third less than it would have five or six years ago.

But perhaps the biggest benefit to selling lighting control is that, when combined with shades, blinds, and drapery control, it isn’t likely to be “price shopped” by potential clients at retail, like so many other consumer electronics products.

“We have found lighting control to be a very important part of our offering,” said Scott Sullivan, president of SoundVision in Novato, CA. “Combined with motorized shades, it has increased our average integration job by 80 percent. It is very expertise intensive, so it has not been commoditized like many of the other products we offer. It is also the one aspect of the job clients are most thrilled with when the project is completed.”

Although most lighting control companies are firmly established with their core offerings, each has something new to offer dealers looking for a new sales hook or better way to control a system. Here are just some of the latest developments in the category:

The Newest Offerings

After launching its flagship RadioRA2 line back in late 2009, Lutron has been continually adding enhancements to its line ever since. On the heels of its recent RadioRA 2 iPad app launch, the Coopersburg, PA, manufacturer began accepting orders for its new Venetian Blinds with Intelligent Tilt Alignment. These blinds combine smooth, quiet motion with independent control of blind height and slat angle. As a result, blind height can be adjusted to account for changes in the sun’s position or to showcase the outdoor view without affecting the angle of the slats. Also, slat angles across adjacent blinds will remain within 1/16th of an inch of each other, and Intelligent Hembar Alignment, a hallmark of all Lutron shading systems, maintains the hembar position of each section of blinds within 1/8th of an inch as well. Venetian Blinds with Intelligent Tilt Alignment are available for Sivoia QS and Sivoia QS Wireless systems and control options, including GRAFIK Eye QS, seeTouch QS keypads, Pico wireless controls, and infrared remote controls.

Known more for its projection screens yet definitely not a stranger in the window shades control business, Draper Inc. recently unveiled a dedicated window shades website featuring a Motor/Controls Selection Tool, Fabric Selection Tool, a document library, and a Photo Project Gallery. It also includes an all-new Fabric View- Through Simulation Tool, to help visitors get an idea of how different openness factors and colors affect the view. Several new shade products, including the Clutch FlexShade XD and Panel Track, also can be found on the new site, as well.

Somfy, the manufacturer of many of the motors found in automated shading products sold in the industry, recently expanded into the home automation category with its new TaHomA line. TaHomA begins with a simple home automation solution that allows consumers to control, schedule, and supervise their Z-wave-enabled window coverings, lighting, and thermostats directly from a computer, iPad, or iPhone. The system’s interface guides consumers with step-by-step prompts as they personalize their home energy functions.

Crestron, which long ago established itself as a major player in the lighting control category, has released two new Prodigy Wireless Keypads, which enable streamlined wireless control of lighting and multi-room audio distribution systems in the home. The P-CBDEX Prodigy Wireless Keypad and P-KPLEX Prodigy Wireless Lighting Keypad connect directly to a Prodigy home control system. All Prodigy control systems, including the new PMC3 and PMC3-XP, feature a built-in wireless gateway so there’s no need to setup a separate wireless network. Meant to provide simple, push-button control of lighting dimming levels and a variety of audio system commands, the new design also extends the range of Prodigy handheld remotes and simplifies system installation. P-CBDEX includes all buttons required for complete room lighting control and audio control, indicating preset lighting levels, on/off, audio source selection, and volume.

Lutron’s new Venetian Blinds with Intelligent Tilt Alignment combine smooth, quiet motion with independent control of blind height and slat angle.

LiteTouch has released a free new mobile Apple app to control its well-established, retrofit-friendly 5000LC and FIVEk lighting control systems. Remote Access delivers communication over Wi- Fi, Edge, or 3G networks, meaning that the user can be in their home with their phone controlling the lights, or anywhere else they can get a phone or Wi-Fi signal such as office, airport or vacation. The app also offers LiteTouch homeowners the ability to monitor current energy use levels, check system status in real-time to see what lights are on, an onscreen display of keypad layouts as they appear on the walls of the home, and navigation and control of lights by area or room location.

Powerline Control Systems Inc., the manufacturer of PulseWorx lighting control for residential and light commercial applications, has introduced Mi Lightstyle, which is an independent hardware/ software package that allows system control by internet-connected smartphones, tablets, and computers. The installing ESC can create advanced times, triggers, email, or text notifications and events based on status of the devices, time of day, even local weather conditions. Mi LightStyle features drag-and-drop configuration in Mi LightStyle’s web interface, allowing easy adjustments to the attributes of every device and/or scene in the system. System configuration can create complex schedules and triggers based on any combination of events or preferences and will be able to receive instant notification of any system changes via email or text message.

Vantage, another respected leader in lighting control, recently formed a partnership with Bticino, an Italian company specializing in electrical device design, to bring distinctive styling and high-end automation to its line. Bticino’s Axolute family of wiring devices are modular and compact, crafted with a range of high-end materials, such as diamond-cut glass, leather, marble, slate, Corian, Alessi Stainless Steel, and Swarovski Elements crystal. The Axolute line includes wall switches, dimmers, outlets, GFCIs, and datacom.

With these new products and a new attitude from dealers, its unlikely that lighting and shades control will ever be overlooked again.

“Here at Suess Electronics, we design and install home automation systems,” said Rod Reynolds, a system designer, for the Appleton, WI, ESC. “In every system we propose, we include a lighting control system, because we feel that to omit lighting control from the design does the customer a disservice. Once the concept of lighting ‘scenes’ is understood, we are well on our way to a successful installation.”

Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.