Smart Lighting Systems Part 3: Professional Systems

This is the 3rd instalment in the Smart Lighting series, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 by following the links. In this installment, I will cover some of the better known Professional Smart Lighting Systems.

Professional Smart Lighting

Just like with the DIY systems there are many Professional options for Smart Lighting, I will focus primarily on the residential market in my examples. Some of the best known are Lutron, Crestron, Control4 and Rako. All of these systems offer both wired and wireless solutions and each have strengths in different areas. The most important thing when making your decision is to ask the simple question, “what am I trying to achieve?” and of course you will want to consider budget too.

So how to I choose?

The first thing to consider is if the project is a new-build/remodel or is it a retrofit?

New-Builds and Remodels

In this instance we have the option to replace or run new cabling, this opens up options with regards to how we structure the lighting system and whether or not we can use wired keypads. Typically in residential, professionals will be looking to locate all the dimmers in a single location mounted within enclosures or “panels”. In one sense this is a good option as the panelised dimmers control multiple circuits making them more cost-effective per circuit. It is much more simple to change the control type (dimmed, switched, 0-10v, DALI, DMX) in the future. On the other hand, there is more cabling to deal with meaning that planning and collaboration with the Client, Lighting Designer, Installer and Electrician are vital to success.

The second aspect to this is what features do the different lighting system offer and what limitations do they have? Does the system suit my requirements? In my own experience for this type of installation Lutron is king followed closely by Crestron. Both have superb offerings and the most complete and versatile programming options of any system. Lutron only offers lighting controls therefore you may find the need to integrate with a Control System. If your chosen control system is Crestron then Crestron Lighting is by far the better way to go. For all other systems, Lutron is the best choice. If budget is a factor then Rako is the best option for versatility and functionality on a budget, followed by Control4, this is simply because Rako has more control options than Control4.

Retro Fit

In this instance, we don’t have an option to run new cabling and we need to add wireless smart dimmers and wireless keypads. This can also be an easy way to expand an existing wired system.

Just like with the wired systems we need to consider functionality and budget. Rako has the best offering, in my opinion, their wireless technology is very good and I have rarely had issues with signals and reliability. Rako also has a wireless dimmer to suit all control types (dimmed, switched, 0-10v, DALI, DMX). Also, Rako offers keypads and faceplates to fit both single and double gang UK back boxes meaning that there is rarely any making good to do.

Control4 offer a great solution for replacing switches with keypads, they have keypads with built-in dimmers and switches. These work best when there is a neutral available at the switch, though they will still work without, just with different functionality. The drawback the Control4 option is that as they use ZigBee control signals which cause some unexpected behaviours, this is a product of how ZigBee works. If you have a good installer they will be able to plan around this.

For a single room or a small number of rooms, close together Control4 is the best and most cost-effective option. For many rooms or rooms that are far apart, Rako is the better way to go.

Where do I go from here?

The best thing to do is to consult a professional, and get a second opinion! Ask your professional to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each option, if they won’t consider other options or only offer a single system then they are probably not right for you. The best professional companies I know will offer multiple systems and will be well aware of the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of all of them.

As with all professional systems, they are only as good as the programmer. Therefore if you are having or have had difficulties in the past look around for another Pro and ask them for some input. Most will offer an assessment of the system for free, though re-programming/repairs will likely be chargeable.

With all the systems I have mentioned here if they have been set up correctly, you the user will be able to edit scenes using the systems own app meaning that once the install is complete you should have little to no ongoing costs. Adding new circuits, however, will need a Pro.

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