Frankly, lighting control is not very sexy. People have been turning their lights on and off since Edison’s day, and very little has changed in that time. Light goes on, light goes off. Sure, that’s cool and all, but when your biggest new trick is the ability to raise and lower–dim–the lighting level, you’ve got a long way to go before you can join the cool kids at the flat panel, 3D, high definition, and digital surround sound table.
In the past, having a keypad and a dimmer required two devices, often requiring cutting in a new wall box if doing a retrofit. Now, Lutron’s hybrid keypad incorporates a dimmer, meaning that you get two in one.
Besides, automating lighting is expensive; generally replacing a $1.49 Home Depot paddle switch with something 100-times more expensive. And for that kind of cake, brother, you’d better offer some features that make me want to get up and dance!
If any company knows lighting control, it is Lutron. In fact, it is safe to say that Lutron owns the lighting control market. They hold 2,700 patents worldwide, including the solid state dimmer. If there is a Rolex, Bentley, or Chateau Lafite Rothschild of lighting control, it is Lutron. In 1997, Lutron came out with RadioRA, the world’s first two-way radio frequency lighting control system. At last year’s CEDIA, the company completely rebooted the line and delivered RadioRA 2. Because RA 2 communicates wirelessly, it easily retrofits into virtually any home by simply removing the old “dumb” switches and installing the new, RA 2 devices.
The three big differences between RA 1 and RA 2 are price (RA 2 costs about 30 percent less), scalability (RA 2 supports up to 200 devices), and integration (built-in IP control and support for Lutron’s shading system). It is important to note that RA 1 components are not compatible with RA 2, so a system has to be all of one or the other.
Lutron sent enough devices to automate all of the exterior lighting in the front of my home as well as all of the common areas–master bed, living room, kitchen, breakfast nook, dining room, and hallways. While I went with boring white for my installation, Lutron has a spectacular range of colors and finishes available. Seriously, the black pad with stainless plate will make you rethink lighting control’s sex appeal.
I installed a total of seven dimmers, three on/off switches (for compact fluorescent bulbs), nine accessory (threeand four-way) dimmers and switches, two hybrid keypad controllers, two tabletop controllers, the main repeater, and garage visor control receiver with two controllers. Lutron also sent their screwless wall plates that create a wonderfully finished, designer look for your lighting devices. All told, my review system would retail for around $4,250. (By contrast, a similar RadioRA 1 system would have retailed for $6,150.) As a point of reference, the key components are dimmers ($149 for 600-watt, $199 for 1,000-watt), keypads ($399 for a hybrid and $449 for a 10-button), accessories ($40) and $499 for the Main Repeater.
A licensed electrician is definitely required for installation, but since I was installing it in my own home, I was free to do the work myself. Since I planned on integrating RadioRA 2 with my URC control system, I installed the Main Repeater next to my URC MSC-400 controller for RS-232 control. The repeater also has an RJ45 connection for IP control. Beyond a free iPhone interface (an iPad version is supposedly in the works), there are drivers for Control4, AMX, Savant, Pronto, Life- Ware, URC, and others. With minor issues due to my own lack of electrical experience, I soon had everything installed. My hiccups were resolved in phenomenal manner by Lutron’s spectacular technical support that is truly available 24 hours a day. (I called them at close to midnight for some programming help.)
Programming is done via a PC interface that is significantly faster than the old “walk around and individually set lighting levels” manner of RA 1. The software is very intuitive and helpful in designing a system for prospective customers, even generating a bill of materials to submit to Lutron. With just a few clicks, you can determine which lights respond to a keypad button push, the level they come on to, and the fade in or out duration.
I have a specific way I like the lights to be when we eat dinner. This used to involve walking around the home turning things off, dimming this, and brightening that. Now, I press a button labeled “Dinner” that executes a lighting scene that adjusts everything to exactly the way I like. Same for when it’s time to watch a movie or go to bed, or when guests are coming over or… One button push, and it is exactly the way you like it. Very cool.
The repeater features an astronomic timeclock for setting events based on specific times of the day or sunrise/sunset. I programmed the system to automatically kill all the lights at 12:30 AM, except the kitchen cans, which dim to 15 percent– sunrise–as a nightlight for my 3.5 year old.
One new device that is ultra cool is the hybrid keypad. In the past, having a keypad and a dimmer required two devices, often requiring cutting in a new wall box if doing a retrofit. Now, the hybrid keypad incorporates a dimmer, meaning that you get two in one. This is brilliant! Also cool is the Powr Savr motion sensor that can turn lights on or off according to a room being occupied. This is great for eliminating those, “Did you leave your lights on?” moments.
I installed the new iPhone app, which is a wonderful way to interact with the system. It automatically found my repeater over my WiFi network, and then creates virtual replicas of all the dimmers and keypads. Also cool is the Pico wireless controller which sits on our bedside table; this is perfect for setting “the mood” or–more likely–saving me from having to get out of bed to kill the lights.
Initially, I didn’t really “get” the concept of lighting control. But now that I’ve had Lutron’s RadioRA 2 lighting system in my home for the past couple of weeks, I not only get it, I totally dig it. Next up is replacing my other switches, adding some shading, and fully completing my transformation to living in an automated world.
Lutron simultaneously improves upon the original Radio RA system by adding features, tripling capacity, and greatly reducing the overall price.
While cheaper, the system is still by no means “cheap.” All told, my review system would retail for around $4,250.
■ Scales from 2 to 200 devices covering virtually any sized project
■ PC set-up offers far faster programming time
■ Easily interfaces with Lutron Sivoia QS wireless shading systems
■ Clear Connect RF Wireless technology ensures reliable operation and easy retrofitting