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Lutron RadioRA 2 for DIY (replacing Insteon)?


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#1 nwavguy

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Posted 06 April 2010 - 01:05 PM

I know it's relatively new but I haven't been able to find much here on Lutron's RadioRA 2 system. It seems to have a lot of strengths, the previous RadioRA has a great reputation, and RA2 is price competitive with higher quality UPB and Z-Wave hardware.

I have a house full of 70+ dying Insteon devices and I'm really not wanting to throw more good money after bad. I've already replaced a few dozen Insteon devices and I'm tired of their quality issues. I'm also tired of having multi-ganged Insteon dimmers/switches that don't match in LED color and brightness as I swap out dead devices. Smarthome seems to care more about making them cheap rather than making them right or even being consistent.

Insteon also, after 6+ years, has not really delivered on their promise of dual-mode powerline/RF products--they still have only a couple that use RF. I also don't like Smarthome having a monopoly as the sole source for Insteon. Everyone is at their mercy for pricing, support, etc. And, for me at least, their support has been terrible with lots of shipment errors, returns that don't get processed, long hold times, etc.

I have to laugh as most Insteon fans defend it largely because of the lower cost. But if an Insteon dimmer lasts on average 2 years, at $45 each, I'll have spent $135 after 6 years per switch. So why not install ONE high quality device in the first place? Hindsight... Yeah I know about Insteon's extended warranty. But I have better things to do than replace Insteon hardware, wait 15 minutes on hold, and fight with Smarthome's customer service people.

Ok, enough ranting about my Insteon woes... So, what to replace 70+ Insteon devices with? The obvious choices are:

UPB is basically a higher quality version of Insteon offered by multiple manufactures. The good news is my Elk and existing software both support it. The bad news is I'm not crazy about the cheaper UPB switches and the nicer ones cost as much (streetprice) as RadioRA 2. I also wonder about UPB's future with Z-Wave gaining much wider acceptance? It also gets more expensive if you want to control electronic ballasts or dimmable CFLs (which the standard RA 2 dimmers handle). UPB has a loyal following and seemingly far fewer complaints than Insteon. I just wish it had some bigger names behind it and nicer hardware to choose from.

Z-Wave is supported by a relatively large group of manufactures, including huge players like Leviton and Cooper, but seems to have technical issues in 3 major areas: Changing standards, interoperability between brands, and network configuration/troubleshooting. Manufactures appear to be struggling trying to support even their own older hardware/firmware let alone that of other manufactures. And you can't, for example, just move a plug in controller without risking screwing up the entire mesh network. Z-wave is technically more complex so it's supported by fewer DIY home automation software vendors than say Insteon or UPB. And, often times, support is limited--like Elk only working well with Leviton, etc. And, again, if you look at high quality Z-wave devices, like say Cooper Aspire RF, the price is essentially the same as RadioRA 2. In fact, if you consider the price of dimmers that are electronic low voltage/dimmable CFL compatible, and the cost of remote multi-way switches, RadioRA 2 (streetprice) can even be cheaper than Z-wave.

RadioRA 2 appears to be a more robust solution than either Z-Wave or UPB (and certainly vs Insteon). It uses lower frequencies that better penetrate walls in a less populated RF spectrum. It's also a direct network, rather than a slower more complex mesh network like Z-wave. So all the issues of devices relying on other devices go away--as do the potential long latency problems. A device can malfunction and you just lose that device--no complex diagnostics, re-configuration, etc. are required. Lutron has clearly done their homework, the reputation of the old RadioRA is strong, and they have more experience with RF lighting control (since 2001) than any of the other players. It's about the same cost as high quality UPB or Z-Wave, so why isn't there more DIY excitement over RA 2?

RA 2 is greatly simplified, and lower cost, compared to the old RadioRA system. The main repeater has an RS232 and Ethernet interface built in and can also be used to configure the system. So all RA 2 systems have the capability to connect to a PC with no added hardware. The RA 2 protocol is a simple open standard and can be found here:

Lutron RadioRA 2 Protocol

What's not clear to me is if one can do a "walk around" self configuration of a RA 2 system (intended for use with Lutron's own controllers/keypads) and then control the main repeater via RS232 from a PC? The guide above says: "The installer will make any necessary changes to the control interface using the Lutron DeviceIP or RadioRA 2 PC software tool." If the PC software tool is required to configure a system for PC control us DIY guys are dead in the water without that tool or some other work around.

Does anyone know the answer to the above? Can a self-configured RadioRA2 system be directly controlled via RS-232 (or Ethernet) without needing Lutron's PC software tool?

And, the other question is, does anyone know of any DIY friendly RadioRA 2 PC HA software that's either out now or planned? If it's really as easy as the ASCII protocol defined in the above document, I don't see what's stopping the DIY software guys? Premise Home Control driver anyone?

Do others see a DIY market for RA 2 or is my analysis somehow flawed?

Edited by nwavguy, 06 April 2010 - 01:54 PM.


#2 Yankeewired

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Posted 06 April 2010 - 09:34 PM

Radio Ra 2 has great potential. Several reasons why I would consider using the Lutron product .(1) Should be very reliable as this company has a history of good products, you shouldn't have to replace dead units like some other makes (2)The RA2 products are stylish and not odd looking and match their non automated maestro series dimmers.(3) Lots of choices on keypads/dimmers and I think the RA2 comes in a ton of colors(4)This one is HUGE imo ..they have dimmers that operate without a neutral... really a lifesaver.(5) You don't need to be a dealer to buy most of the RA2 products .(6)Should have wide third party support
Here are several cons(1) Priced at the high end ( however should be solid performance so whats that worth?)(2)No ipod/iphone/ipad app. I gotta have that. ( I bet we will see something before too long)(3)This one is HUGE imo...the RA2 has pc software but I think you need to be a dealer to access/ learn...I don't know about you but I'm past the days of running back and forth pushing buttons to program a dimmer...this would be a deal breaker for me.
Just my two cents.

#3 Dan (electron)

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 07:44 AM

If anyone has contacts in the Lutron company, I 'd like to ask them to invite the RadioRA2 guys to this discussion. There has been a lot of interested in RadioRA2 lately, so I think everyone would benefit from this.

#4 Neurorad

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 09:43 AM

I really don't know the method which Lutron uses to prevent control without the software. But as you said nwavguy, Lutron clearly states that the SW must be used for 3rd party control.

I don't know of any Lutron employees online. Many pro dealers/installers, at remotecentral.com CI Lounge and AVS, but not Lutron employees. The Lutron 'Reps', scattered around the country, seem to be very 'dealer-centric' - their job is to protect the installers, and they aren't, generally, helpful to consumers, other than to refer to the pros/dealers. Very, very friendly salesmen, but they do what they can to protect the line, and I don't know of any specifically online (ChicagoRep at AVS is not a 'true' Lutron Rep, but his company installs a lot - maybe he used to be a Rep).

Someone at the CQC forum seems to be well connected to Lutron, but I've never seen mention of his employer. Maybe you can ask Dean, e. He also mentioned that he has a RA2 evaluation kit, sent to him by Lutron.

nwavguy, I enjoyed your thorough discussion. I came to the exact same conclusion. PM sent.

Edit - dude at AVS is called ChicagoRep, not LutronRep ;)

#5 nwavguy

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 09:36 PM

Thanks to all for your input. I agree it would be nice if someone from Lutron would participate here, but given their focus (and protection of) their dealer/installer channels, I doubt that will happen.

And thanks Neurorad for confirming my general thoughts. As Yankeewired said, another benefit of RA2 is Lutron makes a huge line of Maestro products that match their RadioRA 2 products. Many of them are fairly reasonably priced in the $20 - $30 range and readily available at local big box stores. That's a huge plus if you have a lot of multi-gang switch banks or otherwise want everything to match--something you can't do with most of the other choices out there. Even Cooper and Leviton don't offer as many matching devices for their Z-wave products and companies like Insteon/Smarthome, HAI, ACT, Simply Automated, etc. have virtually none.

It's also worth pointing out Insteon forces you to buy a full load controlling dimmer/switch to use as 3-way/4-way remote for the same $45 each. And the slaves for the Cooper Aspire Zwave are roughly twice that much. With RadioRA2 they're under $30 street price. So some parts of the system are cheaper than other options.

So this really comes down to the HA2's main repeater interface and the ability to configure the system without Lutron's dealer-only software. Also, just for those who are curious, the main repeater retails for $399 and can be found discounted well below that price. And that's the *only* piece of central hardware you need to cover a 60' circle. According to Lutron small homes/condos can use just the single repeater. Moderate sized homes need one auxiliary repeater ($299 list). Large homes might need two aux units. The main repeater provides the direct RF links to devices within the first 60 foot circle, the configuration, and the PC connectivity. It also has built in actions at schedule times, a random "lived in" away mode, etc. Considering it has built-in ethernet (something few DIY PC interfaces have at any price), and some self contained automation, that's a very attractive price.

I'm waiting for a call back from a local Lutron dealer, but if need be, I'm probably going to just order a switch and main repeater and find out if the interface is working or disabled out of the box. That still would require manual system configuration (of the button pushing variety) but at least would provide a workable solution.

If anyone from Lutron is reading this thread, I'd like to point out that most forms of protectionism don't pay off in the end. I can understand Lutron not wanting to hold the hands of DIY customers doing advanced automation. So, for example, only offering support through their dealers/installers is understandable. But that's very different than selling a product as being end-user installable but deliberately handicapping the functionality. Generally manufactures offering high quality products don't need to coddle their distribution channels by compromising the product. If you have a strong product those channels will want to sell and install it regardless of if it's DIY friendly or not.

It would be great if Lutron would let the non-technical customers continue to buy RadioRA 2 through their installer network, and us HA geeks choose it as well. Having the product be supported by more HA software and controllers would only be a good thing. I believe RadioRA 2 is a strong enough product line that doing so would only increase their total sales. I doubt many of their installers would drop the line just because it was DIY friendly.

Edited by nwavguy, 07 April 2010 - 10:17 PM.


#6 Neurorad

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 11:07 AM

I'm a little surprised that Lutron hasn't implemented a forum for support, for their 'non-protected' items (Spacer, Maestro, etc). Maybe it's the concern that misinformation will be spread, about the correct methods of installation of line voltage devices.

The pros at Remotecentral have griped considerably about the availability of the 'Classic RA' devices, and have voiced strong concerns about RA2. I wish there was a separate channel for DIYers who have a legitimate DIY home automation controller. Maybe that's the way around it - I suspect RA2 programming SW won't be required for integration, but will be required for advanced programming. Lutron will come around, once RA2 is established.

FWIW, I don't think the RA2 programming software provides an inherent 'vacation mode', a distinction from HomeWorks.

#7 Herdfan

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 11:14 AM

I'm waiting for a call back from a local Lutron dealer, but if need be, I'm probably going to just order a switch and main repeater


Dig and find a dealer who is willing to provide you with the software. Unless they changed the license, Lutron allows dealers to provide clients with the software. Lutron even has a homeowner version of the Homeworks software that is only missing pricing data.

So talk to your dealer and let them know that you will buy product from them if they provide you with the software. If this dealer won't, find one that will.

It has been 3 years now since I ripped out my Insteon install and went with Homework's wireless. Don't regret it for one minute. The only time I have had a missed command was when my wife mistakenly unplugged a repeater. (I have since moved this repeater and wired it back to the processor so this won't be a problem again.)

Good luck.

#8 nwavguy

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 11:52 AM

FWIW, I don't think the RA2 programming software provides an inherent 'vacation mode', a distinction from HomeWorks.

I'm not sure how it's done, but Lutron states "In addition, you can program your lights for an “Away” setting, so that your home has a “lived in” look when no one is there. " You can find the quote on page 3 of this PDF:

Lutron RadioRA 2 Consumer Brochure

I was assuming that's a feature of the built-in time-of-day controller in the Main Repeater? I don't know if it's just fixed times, random, etc.

I too hope Lutron "comes around" with respect to delivering on their promise of RA2 being "open". They make a big deal about how it can integrate with a variety of other HA solutions. Hopefully that will (soon?) include DIY friendly HA solutions.

And thanks Herdfan. Paying a premium to a local dealer may end up being my best option if they will leave a copy of the software. Although, as I said, if the interface is at least somewhat open out of the box, I think that could work too.

#9 Herdfan

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 02:00 PM

FWIW, I don't think the RA2 programming software provides an inherent 'vacation mode', a distinction from HomeWorks.



I'm not sure how it's done, but Lutron states "[i]In addition, you can program your lights for an “Away” setting, so that your home has a “lived in” look when no one is there.


I think there has to be a "vacation mode" otherwise it would be a step back from RA1 which included it in the Chronos.

#10 Neurorad

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 03:06 PM

Chicagorep, a pro integrator at AVS said "No, it does not [include a vacation mode], one of the things I bitched about when I found it was not available."

Perhaps he's mistaken.

#11 Neurorad

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 03:23 PM

For posterity's sake, I decided to link to relevant RA2 forum discussions

General RA2 discussion
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=19699
http://www.avsforum....d.php?t=1178211

RA2 Programming SW SQL Server Issues
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=20499

Is PSP training at Lutron worth it for advanced programming? (and some nut derailing the discussion with talk of wall plates ;))
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=21287

#12 Redclay

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 05:39 PM

I don't think I'm interested. If Lutron's too good for me, then I'll not be begging them to let me give them money. They can keep their toys in their little secret club and I'll find someone else who wants me as a customer.

Oh, you forgot to mention that Leviton's Vizia system has both standard and RF devices, is street-priced better than Lutron as far as I can tell and, if you stick to Leviton's zwave devices (which is no more restricting than using RA2), works rather dependably (at least for me.) And they actually like DIY customers.

#13 nwavguy

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 08:02 PM

I don't think I'm interested. If Lutron's too good for me, then I'll not be begging them to let me give them money. They can keep their toys in their little secret club and I'll find someone else who wants me as a customer.

Oh, you forgot to mention that Leviton's Vizia system has both standard and RF devices, is street-priced better than Lutron as far as I can tell and, if you stick to Leviton's zwave devices (which is no more restricting than using RA2), works rather dependably (at least for me.) And they actually like DIY customers.


I can understand the first part. Apple does something similar with protecting their products in many ways including controlling who can sell them, apps only being available through their iTunes store, and preventing anything Apple from being discounted unless authorized by Lord Jobs. Some people really dislike Apple for their tight control and closed architecture and refuse to buy their products. I personally think Lutron is following a similar path.

As for Vizia, I only said Lutron has a lot *more* matching devices. Leviton makes a ton of stuff, but most of it doesn't look much like the Vizia bottom paddle switches. But looks aside, I'm still not sold on the headaches of Z-wave. Those with all Leviton systems do seem relatively happier than most other Z-wave adopters. The forums are full of posts of people with assorted Z-wave problems. And in the "do it all over again" survey sticky on this forum, UPB soundly beats Z-Wave which also says something.

Every system has it's downside. I thought I could live with the marginal quality of Insteon but, over the long haul, it was worse than and more painful than I expected. I really don't want to end up frustrated again with a "high maintenance" system.

For posterity's sake, I decided to link to relevant RA2 forum discussions

General RA2 discussion
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=19699
http://www.avsforum....d.php?t=1178211

RA2 Programming SW SQL Server Issues
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=20499

Is PSP training at Lutron worth it for advanced programming? (and some nut derailing the discussion with talk of wall plates ;))
http://www.remotecen...?keywords=21287

Thanks! Those links are very helpful.

#14 Redclay

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 08:33 PM

That's fair enough. I feel your pain with Insteon...I'm still replacing units myself. I might have made a mistake long-term with zwave...but the current WAF is 2^100 higher with the Vizia RF+ than the Insteon. As to the 'bottom paddles', we've grown to prefer them to typical toggle switches. But that's just personal preference thing.

I do wonder if the zwave issues people have had are related to the (clearly overstated) promise of interoperability. Some of the quality of the early zwave devices turned out to be not much better than Insteon.

Hopefully one day someone will design a 802.x dimmer that will just become a part of a home wifi network.

Edited by Redclay, 08 April 2010 - 08:37 PM.


#15 Rustycoon

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 12:18 PM

Hi all, I am in the process of deciding what to put into my home that is under construction. Sounds like there are plenty of pluses for radio ra2.

I had a rep come out and he was more than willing to give me a copy of the software with an order. They are supposed to have an iPhone app out this summer.

I'm waiting on his quote and will bargain with him if necessary to get a good price. If others can sell it for cheaper most likely he can too!!
I'll post more info as I get it.

Good Luck to all!




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