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Beginner lighting control questions

Ira

Active Member
Trying to wrap my head around this stuff, and I'm curious as to how the typical consumer lighting control works and what they are capable of.
 
I understand that thru the use of motion sensors, I can turn on the lights in a room when a person walks in. What I don't understand is if/how they handle all the real world scenarios, for example...
  1. The lights are already on because another person is in the room and turned them on via wall switch.
  2. It's daytime and I don't need the lights on.
  3. It's late at night and someone is sleeping in the room, so I don't want to turn the lights on.
  4. I'm just passing thru the room to get to another area, and I don't want to turn the lights on (maybe I have motion sensor nightlights that lead the way).
  5. What is the strategy for turning lights off, and how do you take into account other people not leaving an area, or only leaving for a minute or two and not wanting to turn off the lights while away?
I think the latency related to voice control of lights will have a negative impact on acceptance, so I really want to steer clear of voice control. 
 
At the suggestion of others on the forum, I'm researching z-wave as the lighting control underpinnings. I expect that we will use this sparingly.
 
This is a new house under construction. Are there any threads that discuss what I should be doing to make HA implementation easier? I thought I saw some several years ago, but I haven't been able to find them.
 
Thanks,
Ira
 

pete_c

Guru
Way back it was wiring your home relating to LV cabling and using deep boxes for automated switches.  Personally here also adding circuits - breakers to panel et al.
 
What is nice about lighting these days is not to worry about is LED lighting.
 
I still prefer HV wiring in conduit rather than using romex and plastic boxes.  That is me though.
 
Long time ago here did put wired PIRs (occupancy sensors on the ceilings of rooms) which would trigger lighting in same room.  Today you can also control temperatures / humidity / cooling / heating based on occupancy.
 
I would do the occupancy thing with the OmniPro 2 panel and use Homeseer for different levels of automation.  Today using Homeseer / Home Assistant and tinkering a bunch with WiFi / Tasmota / automated switches.
 
Using Alexa devices managed by HA and only a bit of VR with them.  Still using TTS (Alexa and Microsoft SAPI).
 
Not much in to remote control with my cellular phone or via the cloud management.
 
Settled on UPB here as I do not have any issues with it.  Your choices these days are really what you feel most comfortable with.
 
WAF factoring in....she doesn't like Amazon devices nor the follow me automation in the home and continues to utilize lighting manual way.
 
Wife still remembers the movie "Demon Seed (1977)" and mentions unplugging everything when I pass.
 
Automation here is a hobby and accepted as a means of keeping me busy.
 

sic0048

Senior Member
Since you are dealing with new construction, you have to decide between two wiring schemes.  One is to wire the house like you would for any "dumb" lighting system.  Just make sure the electrician puts neutrals at every switch location.  They should in this day and time, but this wasn't done in older construction.  The second way to wire is if you have picked out a lighting system that requires the lights to be controlled at a centralized relay and then the switches on the way don't have high voltage going to them, but only a low voltage "control" wire.  Personally I would not recommend wiring for option #2.  Not only are those lighting systems generally very expensive, you also have to commit to that unorthodox wiring scheme and there is no way to go back to "regular" lighting should your system die or you want to remove it for some reason (moving, etc).  The first option allows you to have "smart" lighting or not and it won't scare off potential buyers when you want to sell your home, etc.
 
Given the types of questions you asked, I think you may have an unrealistic view of what lighting automation should do.  First, I believe that any sort of automation should never limit the way you interact with your house systems.  In other words, using lighting automation should never replace regular wall switches IMHO.  You still want/need the ability to walk into a room and turn the lights on via a switch.  Automation should be about creating MORE ways to control systems, but not at the expense of taking options away.  Second, when it comes to triggering lighting with motion, I don't think it makes sense in a home or work environment.  We've probably all been at some facility that has motion lights and had the lights go out because we didn't move around enough.  That is going to be the case with motion lighting.  It's going to come on when you don't want it (ie someone else is sleeping) and it's going to go off when you are still in the room but not moving.  Therefore I would suggest that you DON'T attempt to control lighting with motion - at least for interior lighting.  Using motion for exterior lighting is less problematic because there are fewer "what if" scenarios you have to program them for.  
 
Lighting control is more about using other types of triggers to turn lights on and off.  Maybe it is simply time of day, or security alarm status, or voice commands, or a garage door opening, etc, etc, etc. I'll give a few scenarios where we use lighting automation at my house.  For example, we have the exterior porch lights and flood lights come on at dusk and turn off when we arm the alarm for night mode (ie we are going to bed).  However they are also turned on after this if the camera systems pick up on any triggered motion (ie people or cars in my defined areas - not because a bug flew by) and will then turn off again after a period of inactivity.  We also have a large interior room that has ceiling lights on two different switch circuits.  With the lighting system I use now, changing the status of any of the three original switches will turn on/off all the ceiling lights.  In my kitchen, I have under counter LED lights that are plugged into a regular outlet in my cabinet.  They are actually plugged into a smart plug which allows me to turn them on/off using a dimmer button on the wall switch that controls the ceiling lights in my kitchen.  The same goes for some sofa table lights in the Den.  They are plugged into a smart outlet and I can control them suing the dimmer buttons on the regular wall switch so that switch controls both the ceiling lights and the sofa lights.
 
In addition, my lights can be controlled via Alexa or other assistants.  You might actually be surprised at how much you might use that.  For example, in my Den, the lights from the kitchen table fixture create bad glare on the TV.  It's so nice to be able to say "Alexa, turn off the kitchen table" and have those lights go out without having to get up and go into the kitchen.  Now I'm not walking into a room and using voice commands to turn the lights on.  It's still much easier and more natural to simply hit the light switch.  But there are definitely times where using voice commands to turn a light on/off in a different room is really convenient.   
 
Anyway, I hope that helps.  I didn't want to talk about specific lighting systems, etc.  I'd be happy to talk about that more, but I just wanted to give a more generic overview of what I think lighting systems should be expected to do and what they shouldn't be expected to do.
 

LarrylLix

Senior Member
Voice control has replaced what would take about 60 switches for me in my home. I don't need a switch for every theme outside my home, like Christmas, Canada Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's day etc.. All those colour themes are also available on my inside lighting. I don't use vocals to control my thermostats. You could but I have decent automatic thermostats that only get touched about four times per year.
 
I use voice for white lighting as well, to control many different kinds of white lighting. TV, Movies, Dim, Full On, Automatic, Reading, etc..
The delay is not objectionable as walking to 8 different switches would be a PITA.
 
I have many motion detectors that turn lights on automatically and an ISY994 home automation controller that dims the lighting at preset times of the day, or night, as well as controls the length of time they stay on. I am not interested in lighting power consumption. 8 to 100 watts of LED doesn't cost much these days.
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
We have all Lutron Ra2 lighting, about 180 devices.  It's been fantasically reliable.  Likewise their occupancy sensors.  They're quick to very respond and very accurate at sensing vacancy when placed properly (some 3M command picture strips have actually held a few of them in place for years now).  They're still on their original batteries, since 2013.
 
You're not going to get anyone's system to detect that you're just "passing through" an area, because they're not going to be able to tell that, how would they? 

I have several of the occupancy sensors set on schedules.  Like not having the master closet sensor triggering lighting between 11pm-6:30am. 

We do not use occupancy sensors "everywhere", as there's just too much potential for unwanted triggering.  But it's in all the bathrooms, several closets, the home office and several points outdoors.   

We do have some separate, stand-alone motion lights on the stairway.  The stairway is largely open and would have presented difficulties trying to arrange hard-wired lighting for it.   

Voice control has made using multifunction/scheme keypads nearly obsolete.  We still have them, and do use them from time to time, but nowhere near as much as we would if we didn't have voice control.

We designed the house from scratch, with an architect.  I hired a lighting consultant to adjust the architect's lighting plan, and it was helpful to do so once the construction had walls/roof.  This allowed seeing how natural light fully affected the building and a few lights were moved/omitted/added.  

I specifically had the wiring circuits set up as capable of being controlled from traditional lighting wall controls.  This way I'm set if/when technology changes, and I'm not left with something obsolete.  Panelized lighting has merit for large rooms that would end up with a dozen dimmers on the wall.  But most residences aren't going to have that. 

My advice is don't fall prey to fantasies about "clean looks" for walls without switches.  Guests and other people coming into the house will expect there to be at least some form of standard wall controls.  Like cleaning services, or medical emergency personnel.  Don't strand them in the dark.
 

Ira

Active Member
I will add a reply later to comment on my plans, but I have a very specific question about switches that is bugging me. Assume I'm using a single z-wave smart toggle switch (not 3-way, etc.) to control an outside porch light. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that the switch can operate as a non-smart toggle switch, i.e., if the toggle is down, the light is off. If the toggle is up, the light is on. So let's say I turned the porch light on manually via the smart toggle switch. Later, I remember that the porch light is on, so I turn it off somehow other than manually toggling the smart switch (maybe via iPhone, computer, whatever). The next evening, I go to turn the same porch light on again via the same smart switch. Is the toggle already in the "up" position because I manually turned it on the night before (and didn't use the switch to turn it off)? If so, do I have to hit the toggle switch twice to turn on the light? Or does the next manual change to the toggle switch change the state of the light, regardless of the light's current state, which makes it look more like a 3-way switch, i.e., light state cannot be determined by simply looking at the current state of the toggle switch? 
 

sic0048

Senior Member
Most smart switches aren't actually toggle switches.  Most are momentary contact switches that are designed to look like a regular toggle light switch.  The advantage to this is they always look the same and always operate the same - regardless of status of 3 or 4 way switches.  The disadvantage is that you have to get use to pressing the button of the switch (the momentary contact portion of switch) to turn the light on as well as off.
 
As far as looking at the switch to determine the light status, many switches will have some sort of LED on it to reflect this status.  Perhaps it's red when off and blue when on, or out when off and blue when on, etc.
 

ano

Senior Member
Ira said:
I will add a reply later to comment on my plans, but I have a very specific question about switches that is bugging me. Assume I'm using a single z-wave smart toggle switch (not 3-way, etc.) to control an outside porch light. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that the switch can operate as a non-smart toggle switch, i.e., if the toggle is down, the light is off. If the toggle is up, the light is on. So let's say I turned the porch light on manually via the smart toggle switch. Later, I remember that the porch light is on, so I turn it off somehow other than manually toggling the smart switch (maybe via iPhone, computer, whatever). The next evening, I go to turn the same porch light on again via the same smart switch. Is the toggle already in the "up" position because I manually turned it on the night before (and didn't use the switch to turn it off)? If so, do I have to hit the toggle switch twice to turn on the light? Or does the next manual change to the toggle switch change the state of the light, regardless of the light's current state, which makes it look more like a 3-way switch, i.e., light state cannot be determined by simply looking at the current state of the toggle switch? 
Maybe at one time, people turned on lights with motion detectors and turned them off to save power. I don't think home automation today is much about that.  Today, buy an LED bulb and over its life, it won't use anywhere near as much money as an automated switch costs.  So you are going to pay $60 to save $7 in electricity? Really?  Home automation today is more about security, creating ambiance, and ease of use.  So really consider reframing your thinking.  Otherwise you might be going do the wrong path.
 
For wiring your house, that has changed over the years as well.  Today. Not really. You have WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, etc.  So today you don't need many wires.  I have had several very automated homes, and all we purchased "used" so no special wiring.  Now maybe you want some special wiring, like Ethernet, but you don't need a whole lot special wiring.  It is also quite expensive to add.  
 
So do your research, ask lots of questions, and listen to all different alternatives before you decide on one. 
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
During construction it's relatively simple and considerably less expensive to add whatever wiring you'd like.  Especially if it involves masonry construction.  The wire is the most inexpensive part of the equation.

You can 'over wire' just as easily as you can under provision.  But it's a lot less money putting the wire in now and having it go under utilized.  Much more so than the hassle/labor/expense to figure out how to add it later.

Video distribution over anything other than Ethernet is pretty much dead.  Don't bother thinking about stringing HDMI or RGB around to anywhere other than in a theater setup.  These days it's more realistic to use HDMI-over-category wire, but note 4k and 8k will require CAT6 or better.  

I wired for whole-house audio.  Nearly a decade later we still have not bothered to install ceiling speakers.  Devices like the Echo have pretty much handled most of what we wanted out of music playback.  Sure, the fidelity sucks compared to better solutions... but the price-point and convenience makes it a pretty compelling alternative.  The audio distribution vendors have failed to catch onto this wave.  Sonos are nice but ridiculously overpriced and the company's tendencies to obsolete things is more than a little troubling.

Take pictures of all open walls during construction.  Get in there and take them right after the plumbing, HVAC and electrical have been installed.  Low voltage typically gets done right after those, include that in pix as well, but having a clear view of all the infrastructure can help a lot if there's any work needed later.  Like a drain that clogs, it'll help the plumber to know where the turns are located.  Side tip: don't let anyone put coffee grounds down the drain.
 
I think it's foolish to get trapped in the "don't bother to save energy" way of thinking.  Yes, there are certainly many ways people are willing to argue over the concepts of "return on investment".  But all too often those fail to give any consideration for the on-going and long-term impact of energy use.  Using less is always better, even if it has a one-time sunk cost added.

Likewise arguing over what home automation is or isn't.  It's many things but none really worth arguing over.  For us it's a combination of convenience and energy management, with a touch of security.
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
wkearney99 said:
You're not going to get anyone's system to detect that you're just "passing through" an area, because they're not going to be able to tell that, how would they? 
 
 
One way to do this is with Hue bulbs and motion sensors. They will let you set the motion trigger to set the lights to a different color and/or brightness for nighttime and use a fairly short on time. You can then have your HA system monitor how long the lights stay on and if they don't go off right away (indicating pass through) they could change the scene from "nightlight" to "full bright".
 

Ira

Active Member
Let me try to clarify a few things...
 
The plan is to wire the house in a conventional manner, i.e., nothing will be wired based on the use of smart switches, etc. For example, all 3- and 4-way switches will be wired for conventional 3-and 4-way switches. All boxes will have a neutral. My tendency is to use RIB relays, etc. to accomplish a goal (I asked about one such goal in a different post) instead of relying on smart devices. The hope is that doing the wiring this way won't limit implementing smart technology in the future, if we decide to do so. I will not use the techniques required by some of the high-end HA technologies, e.g., all wiring is home run. The entire living area has a crawl space below with 36" of headroom and attic space above with a lot of headroom. Almost all the walls are framed with 2x6's, so I think it will relatively easy to add wiring later, if it turns out I didn't accommodate something ahead of time. I will also run a generous amount of LV wiring, but I'm not at that point yet.
 
Most of my comments/questions were based on me not having any experience in the smart home lighting control area (even though I did all the wiring in my two previous homes), and not understanding how some of this stuff is used (and whether or not it makes sense) in the real world. For example, using motion sensors to control lights seems like something that would be great to have in a "HA model home" to show what can be done, but I didn't see the practicality of it in most scenarios. For us, given that we've never gone down this road, I think we need to address the obvious needs during construction with conventional methods, then after living there for a while, look into more lighting control based on what we experience while living there.
 

pete_c

Guru
The plan is to wire the house in a conventional manner
 
I think you are doing OK then just adding a neutral wire and deeper boxes.   Here just recently replaced a few metal mudplate covers with plastic mudplate covers to accommodate two automated switches.  (one light and one fan light combo).
 
Personally my wife prefers the keep it simple approach to lighting switches and still today wonders what the purpose of an automated switch is / was.
 
You mentioned Z-Wave technology earlier and your familiarity with it.  Go with what makes you feel comfortable if you decided that is the future of your current new build.
 
Here only auto illuminating outdoor coach lights based on motion after hours and interior garage lighting based on garage door(s) contact switches.  (IE: not doing the wired occupancy sensors this time around).
 
LV is mostly related to network and sound here.  I am using KODI boxes as mini STBs which stream live OTA, 4K movies from NAS or Internet services.  No runs of HDMI cables this time around and no wireless speakers (that is me). Kept grandfathered DTV for wife here.
 
Relating to the Internet / cabling and Infrastructure trying hard to be vigilant to protect the home network with an "a la carte" installation of modem, firewall, WAPs, managed switches.  Always preferred wired security and now testing wireless / cloud security in house #2.
 

LarrylLix

Senior Member
I am with ano (above) on this one!
 
You can plan your lighting and spend thousands more on home-run wiring for relay panels and still need protocols or wireless thing to control the relays. Then when your needs change and you want one light to come on separately from the other light on the same circuit, now what do you do? Introduce WiFi smart lights into the relay controlled circuit?
What about later you want to add some colours in your living room for mood lighting or festive colours? It would take a lot of traveler wiring and relays to control that one if it can even be done.
 
Make sure you install lots of Cat-6,7, or 8 wiring to every room, and multiple cables to a few possible AV spots. I used Cat-6 for all my phone jacks so they can be repurposed later.
 
Run a few plastic conduits from your basement ceilings up through the main floor and terminate in the attic. That could save you a lot for that bathroom ceiling heater the wife wants later, some speaker wiring, attic vent fan, or soffit web cams that you didn't think of. Maybe even an anemometer on your roof? Put the flange end above the attic truss level so they can't slip back down through the snug holes you drilled. You can bury them in attic insulation so they can be dug out later if needed.
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
Ira said:
Most of my comments/questions were based on me not having any experience in the smart home lighting control area (even though I did all the wiring in my two previous homes), and not understanding how some of this stuff is used (and whether or not it makes sense) in the real world. For example, using motion sensors to control lights seems like something that would be great to have in a "HA model home" to show what can be done, but I didn't see the practicality of it in most scenarios. For us, given that we've never gone down this road, I think we need to address the obvious needs during construction with conventional methods, then after living there for a while, look into more lighting control based on what we experience while living there.
 
Not sure what you mean by "real world" or "practicality" In my house you can walk down any hall or through any room or into any bathroom or anywhere in the basement without touching a light switch. This is less because of the convenience (which you get used to pretty quickly) but more because I don't want lights left burning all day and night for no reason. Most of these lights are simple "Home Depot" motion detectors which do not require a Home Automation system. 
 
You really only neeed Home Automtion when you get into more complex controls such as "Turn on the garage light if it is after sunset AND the garage door is open". Etc.
 
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