Is Lighting Control The Next Technology You Can’t Live Without?

There is a funny thing about being raised in a world of technology.  Anytime the technology isn’t there, it is almost like confusion setting in.  Can you imagine a world without a cell phone?  Think about all of the other things that technology does for us every day that we just take for granted.  Stop lights for instance.  What chaos would erupt if the little sensors stopped and all lights stayed right where they are right now?

Replace a Light Switch and get four scenes too


Some years ago, I went to a fund raising auction for the local chamber of commerce.  I had just started my business so I went to meet people and take my wife out to dinner.  I thought I was going to get away with it too.  Instead she found a cruise up for auction that was valued at $1900.  She asked how much she could bid on the cruise.  After watching several things go for hundreds more than the posted “value”, I agreed to just $400.


The first bid started at $250, she upped it to $300 and there the auction stopped.  All kinds of thoughts raced through my head.  Aren’t cruises for old retired people?  Aren’t cruises boring?  But it didn’t matter, I owned it and I knew that we were going.


Just 45 minutes after boarding the ship, panic set in.  My cell phone didn’t work and my pager didn’t work.  What would happen if a client called and I wasn’t available?


Thankfully I got the best rest I had in years, and didn’t lose any clients.


Today I am addicted to a completely different level of technology.   For the last 10 years I have been living in a “smart” home.  At sunset the lights would come on automatically, If I came home to a dark house, the power was out.  When I left for more than two or three days the thermostat would automatically change the temperature to save energy.  When I got home, It would reset to the temperature that I liked.  I could even call it from the airport so it would be the right temperature by the time I got home.  The last house I made “smart” used 50% less electricity a year after the project started.


My family thinks I am nuts.  Every time I get a house just right, I sell it and move.  I did it again this year.  This time I bought a house that was built in the late 60s’ with a major remodel in 1971 and 1989.  Not exactly the latest and greatest.


The house has a metal roof and very thick stucco siding. Walking in the door is like going on that cruise,  cellular service drops dead.  The most technologically advanced feature of the house was the automatic light bulb in the fridge, and I am not sure that even really turns off.  After just two weeks my wife asked for a little electrical fix.  The light switch in the guest bedroom was wired to an outlet on a wall where we wanted a TV, not a lamp.


Here was my opportunity to sneak a little technology into the house.  Instead of calling an electrician, I got online.


My first house had the simplest of all lighting control systems, X-10.  X-10 lighting control was easy to use and as long as you had neutral wires, anyone could install it.  I know because I did it.  The X-10 was very easy.  Just make a chart of all of the switches in the house, and give them a letter and number like B-4 or C-10.  There were little dials on the X-10 switches and you just set them to the address you chose.


There were a few bugs though.  X-10 has difficulty communicating across the phases of the house, so without a little adapter, only half of the house would come on when you hit the “all on” button.  Funnier was the half that didn’t turn off with the “all off” button.  X-10 had a little alarm clock so you could set schedules up that would turn lights on and off for you.  I had a “morning” setting so that when the alarm woke me up, the hall and kitchen lights came on automatically.  After I got through all of the issues with the X-10 it turned out to be a great system.


I even added an HAI Omni Pro II home controller that new what time sunrise and sunset was to turn the outside lights on and off at the right time without having to go fiddle with a dial on a timer in the yard.


I started out ordering a simple X-10 light switch and an X-10 outlet.  While we were at it, we decided to add another outlet for the curio light in the hall and the lamp in my office.  Just a few days later and the box arrived with all of the X-10 gear I needed to get started.  As I opened the box, I realized the flaw in my plan. I would need to move a very heavy bed to install the outlet.


After getting back online to find an outlet adapter that I could just plug in I found and article that said X-10 was about ready to disappear.  The company had lost out to new technology, are going bankrupt and aren’t going to survive.  If you need parts I have a few extras laying around.


After some research I found a newer wireline technology that also could be used in a radio frequency based mode.  I like the idea of wireline just because it means fewer signals running around my house to interfere with other technology.


The technology I found was called Insteon.  I ended up making a little bit larger purchase of Insteon than I did with X-10.  The Insteon system I purchased was the original plan for fixing the bedroom, curio and office along with a couple of other items. There is a little showroom at the SmartHome warehouse in Irvine so I went over there to see the Insteon product before I bought it.


When I found out that Insteon could handle LED lights and dimmable CFL, I decided to get a few more switches to replace some old Lightolier dimmers that were not real happy with the LED and CFL lights I put in my new (old) home.  It turns out with older dimming systems if the light uses less than 25 watts, the dimmers don’t work.  I replaced every light in the house with 6W LED, 8W LED or 12W CFL.  No two anywhere in the house added up to 25 watts.


After sneaking the extra switches into the budget and getting them installed before my wife got home, I was pretty happy.  The Insteon system worked as advertised.  The quality of the finish and feel of the Insteon was much better than the X-10 products that are now in a box getting ready for eBay.  At first we both thought the LED’s were a little too bright, but otherwise, the switches were close in performance and style to the Lutron Radio RA line at about half the cost at retail.  Then I learned that I could dim the LED’s inside the switch.  That was cool.  There are color change kits too.


It didn’t take but two weeks for me to install Insteon just about everywhere in the house.  Now that there are motion sensor switches for CFL and LED, I used them in the closets and bathrooms.  Everywhere else inside is now Insteon.   I even added a couple of scene controllers so that I could have a “morning”, “night” , “dinner”, “movie” and “party” button.  “Entertain” wasn’t in the 50 button bag, and I couldn’t see spending the extra money.


Now that we have been living with the Insteon for a week, both of us are very happy with the system.  The “All off” button next to the bed is probably our favorite.  The next step which will also finish off the house is to add control of the outdoor lights.


If you are thinking of adding lighting control to your home and want to do it yourself, the Insteon System is an excellent choice.  There are a couple of warnings, first check the multi packs like the three way kit, I found them to cost more than buying the individual items.  Second, lighting control is like a cell phone, once you start living with it, you might not be able to live without it.


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