How to Integrate Smart Lighting into Your Home

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
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The firm OneButton specializes in creating custom technology solutions for spaces ranging from offices to residences. Designer Katherine Boorman tackles connected lighting at home.

At what point in a renovation should people discuss automated/smart lighting systems?

OneButton recently outfitted a modern home on Long Island with smart lighting systems. "The design theory for the space is an artistic minimalism that provides warmth and invites the beauty of the natural space indoors," states the firm.

In my opinion: the earlier, the better. In an ideal world, home automation is discussed during early planning stages. This way it is part of the decision making process that sets parameters for decisions such as light fixtures and window hardware: handles, cranks etc. This prevents moments of panic later on when a light is determined incompatible with a light control system, or worse, needing to re-open the ceiling to add low voltage dimming wire. This is easily prevented on the front end with plenty of communication. Since the world is not ideal, the market has also come up with an array of retrofit solutions for both electric light and daylight. Plug and play lighting systems that require zero new rewiring and a host of battery-powered motorized shade options make smart lighting accessible to everyone in the market at any stage of renovation, from DIY homeowners to design-build projects with an army of sub contractors.

The entire south side of the house is glass—great for taking in views of the beach, but not so good in terms of solar gain. The bedroom windows are outfitted with both sheer and blackout curtains. Double-height roller shades that rise to over 25 ft tall shield the Great Room from sun exposure while maintaining an unobstructed view of the back yard and ocean. The firm specified a RadioRA 2 keypad so the homeowner can open all of the shades with the touch of a button.

In your experience, which products have performed the best?

"Over 75 dimmers were deployed to control an array of incandescent, low voltage and LED fixtures," states the firm. "21 keypads thoughtfully placed throughout the home ensure clutter-free walls and tied together the layers of light in each room with press of a button."

When selecting a light-control product, I balance three things: simplicity, functionality, and aesthetic appearance. This product should have a ten second learning curve for casual users of the system, advanced accessibility for the owner of the system, and should not look like a space gadget.

The minimalist kitchen features an array of lighting: can lights integrated into the ceiling as well as pendants.

I use almost exclusively Lutron products for home automation projects at OneButton. Lutron Electronics manufacturers the highest quality lighting system components on the market and, more importantly, they are not reliant on a homeowner’s wireless network to function like many of its counterparts are. While using your smart device to turn on and off lights can be fun, it is also much more "work" than walking over to a light switch and simply turning it off. Lutron manufacturers keypads that fit in a standard single gang box and can turn one light switch into a "Home On" or "Home Off" button on the wall. Once a Lutron system is set up, I am confident that it will continue working reliably for years. I have a system working in my own house.

"The design goals are achieved by thoughtfully providing only the essential controls on site," says OneButton. "While this process requires a greater time investment via planning and revision, the Lutron controls receive the same amount of thought and consideration as the fine art the homeowners hang."

To compliment the "real life" buttons that Lutron offers, it also has smart device integration. This is where the owner of the system can set their preferences. Perhaps they want their landscape lights to turn on 30 minutes before sunset—three taps in the application and it is set! Lutron offers a host of finish options, from glossy and matte colors, to metal finishes and custom button types. The majority of OneButton’s clients utilize a standard button keypad in a white-matte finish; however we have had the opportunity to get more creative with custom applications.

The chandelier in one of the bedrooms is by David Weeks.

Forbes and Lomax manufacturers simple push buttons and toggle switches that can be integrated in a whole home automation system or act as a stand alone dimmer. Another great company that OneButton uses for home automation is Savant. We use the Savant software platform to tie together all the aspects of a home—lighting, shading, temperature, security, audio-visual systems, and even doorbells!

Do you advocate outfitting an entire house with smart lighting or just select rooms?

I believe the final goal of a homeowner should be whole home control. Unless a project is new construction, a homeowner does not need to swap out every light switch and window covering right away. The beauty of the plug-and-play systems out on market make it simple to add on devices to a system. Starting with an automation system in the major areas of the house—kitchen, living room, dining room, master bedroom, and entry foyer—then expanding to the rest of the home is a fantastic plan.

In what type of residences does smart lighting make the most sense?

Every homeowner should take a close look at how they can upgrade their lighting control. Perhaps moving a confusing bank of six switches in the kitchen to a nearby cabinet and replacing them with a single keypad is the goal of a homeowner's upgrade. Even something as simple as adding a dual switch and occupancy sensor to the bathroom will drastically change how a homeowner interacts with their space.

At the professional level: there are whole home systems available—like Lutron’s Homeworks QS—that can control 15,000-square-foot and larger estates; smaller whole home systems can be retrofitted into a space for minimal cost, like Lutron’s RadioRA 2 with accessible pricing for many homeowners and single room controls, and Lutron’s Maestro Wireless. At the consumer level, there are many new and exciting options available from smart light bulbs—Phillips Hue—to smart DIY systems—Lutron Caseta.

What are the best recent advancements in smart lighting technology?

LED dimming and homeowner accessibility are the most visible and sought after advancements in technology today. LED dimming has been the focus of many fixture manufacturers on the market, due to home automation control. Just two years ago, it was difficult to find a company that made a dimmable LED, let alone an LED that dims smoothly down to 1% brightness. Today, I can comfortably select from hundreds of quality, energy-efficient LEDs that will not strobe, flash, or shutter when dimming.

Homeowner accessibility to lighting control systems gains features and functionality every day. With the mass adoption of smart devices, the general public wants to use them to interact with their whole environment. Turning on and off the lights from an app is not enough; a consumer wants to be able to turn on their lights from the driveway after going grocery shopping or turn off any forgotten lights from their office.

Do most of your clients express interest in automated lighting systems or app controlled lighting systems?

Absolutely! Most clients want a certain level of control, whether it's a single dimmer for their dining room pendant or an entire home system where they can press one button to turn off their lights when walking out the door.

Our clients rely on our expertise to help craft the right controls to make their house as elegant and easy to use as possible. We walk them through the design process, work with designers, architects and contractors to install the controls, program them, and then present them to the client.

From an accessibility and universal design standpoint, how does smart lighting make sense?

Light control should be planned for as carefully and thoughtfully as any other aspect of a renovation project. Homeowners interact with light control every day and therefore space planning should include a clear vision for how lights will be turned on an off. Lighting systems become more and more of the logical choice for comfortable, pleasant living environments.

How much maintenance is required?

Maintenance for lighting control systems varies greatly. Some whole-home systems—particularly those that rely on WiFi networks to function—require periodic software updates, while others continue working for years without needing a visit from a system programmer. As with all systems in a home, it is good practice to update any lighting control system every two years.

Do you think that the decreasing cost of smart bulbs will lead to mass adoption?

I believe that smart bulbs increase awareness of light control to the general public, but that there may be some unintended negative consequences. Many of these companies put together an attractive video clip of a young person in a glass house waking up to their iPhone automatically turning on lights to the perfect setting and the public goes wild. An expectation is set that a single product, like a light bulb, can transform a home into a smart house with little to no effort,when in fact it took days of programming or perhaps even another automation system (Lutron or Savant) to create this beautiful scene.

I think people will start dabbling more and more in home lighting technology. As the public provides more feedback to smart light bulb manufacturers, they will create better and stronger design platforms to make their vision a more easily attainable reality.

Does smart lighting yield measurable energy savings?

To be honest, only if used the right way. A lighting system will yield energy savings if the homeowner uses their "All Off" button or has a setting to automatically turn off a light that was accidentally left on.