Retrofit advice on lighting


Active Member
So for about 6 weeks now, I know that I will be 'trading' my 1,200 sq.ft cape style to a 3,500 sq.ft custom one-story over a full basement which was built in 1988.

My current home is not automated, but most rooms have wired CAT5 network access leading back to a switch in basement. I also have 3 Logitech/Slimdevices units, serving music from NAS, media center PC in living room, as well as a PBX/VOIP.
10 years ago when moved into this house, replaced most light switches with dimmers, like the Lutron Toggler, which served us well. Every light is easily adjusted individually, so are three-way even.

Now, the new home does not have anything like it yet. I will have a 'wiring closet' in the basement to house my nas/pbx/mail/web rack and have no problem wiring the important locations.

I have spent most of my time in the last weeks reading information on this great website, and I think I understand the role of the controller (hardware or software) and the different technologies involved.
It is also very clear from the great feedback provided what one could do to make a new construction ready for any possible automation.
There seems a lot less discussion on retrofit installs, and I will say this cautiously, understanding the inherent limitations. It is my plan to automate my new home, and also add a security system.

So my question is what do you recommend for lighting control/automated dimming that is the most responsive?

I have no experience with any of the mainstream technologies, but have a ceiling fan/light that has an RF remote, and this has probably close to a second or more of lag time from pressing the button on the remote and the light coming on, and than another second or so until reaches full brightness (ramp up?) Compared to incandescent lights turned on with toggle switch, this noticeable lag always gives me a pause.

To summarize: retrofit install by capable DYIer trying to decide on lighting control.

Thanks in advance, Leo
Take a scan of the article in my signature - it covers UPB lighting in detail.

My current house is a 2-story, on a concrete slab (no basement), 4,000sq ft... and I had to retrofit it. For doors/windows, I used wireless contacts; for motions/keypads/speakers, I sucked it up and wired them. For HVAC, I had a two-zone system, so I just replaced the zone controller with a communicating zone controller; used the same wiring - all I had to add was a Cat5 from the wiring closet to the controller in the attic (10ft away). For lighting I went all UPB of course.

I did cut a little bit of drywall, but did so very inconspicuously - mostly one and two gang blanks covered the holes in places completely out of sight anyways; for my nastiest run (along 2 exterior walls wrapping around the room) I peeled off the baseboard and removed the drywall behind the baseboard; drilled the studs and ran the wire, then patched the drywall and replaced baseboard... that way there was no paint matching or texture matching involved.
I have to agree with Word2Play here. I been through the gamit of lighting protocols. Like most of us I started with x10, then to insteon, to zwave, etc. While all of them worked they were not easy or trouble free. Insteon had quality issues with the hardware and i finally gave up on them when they were having software issuses. I understand they have have fixed most of that but I personally will never buy another. Zwave also worked well enough but i got tired re-scanning every once in a while when switches would lose their communication path. I installed UPB about 3+ years ago, A conbination of HAI, SA, PCS and WebMtn switches and devices and have not had a problem since. They've worked so well that I tend to forget about them even being there.They've been responsive, durable and trouble free since installed. I had no idea until after I'd installed the UPB switches how much time I was spending on keeping the lighting on the right track and working well enough that I didn't get that look as the wife was telling me such and such light didn't come on. ;) Now I get to anoy her with other projects instead of lighting. :)
It seems that centralites jetstream is not mentioned here as much as some of the other options. What I can tell you is it was a simple install. Easy to program. Plays nice with my M1. And their support and service has been good. I've had it installed for right at two years now, with the only issue being the failure of one switch due to the paddle issues that have since been addressed. The faulty switch was replaced by centralite and I was provided the paddle update for my remaining switches with no questions asked. My wife did recently bring up the system when she was watching a friends pets, complaining about what a pain it is to wander around their house flipping That's as close to an attaboy as I'll get from her on the techy stuff. The only time I have to think about it is if we decide that we want to make a change in the way we handle an existing lighting condition. I considered all of the options on these boards, and have no regrets having chosen the jetstream system.
Another protocol not talked about much anymore is the On-Q ALC (now Genesis 1:3)cat5 based switches.( you can search the original thread by Sacedog)

I too started out with x-10, then UPB, but the WAF on the UPB switches wasn't that positive. I wanted a closed loop system that was immune to any outside factors, so I did the 'unthinkable'----retrofitted the whole house with cat5 to every switch. 51 total devices. A couple of mornings in the attic, a few days under the house, and a couple of 'choice words' later the system seems bullet proof.

I could never get the UPB switches to trigger 'flawlessly' like the ALC devices, there is zero lag time with them.

I considered / tried some of the many options available, and have no regrets going with the ALC system, the WAF is good, which means less static in the house.
I'll second blmxm here on centralite jetstream, its a great retrofit light system with easy programming. Plays nice with HAI as well. I think UPB is a good choice also but its success will be dependent on the quality of the powerline in the house. It works well with good electric wiring but some older houses did not follow the rigorous standards imposed in building today.
picta brings up a good point, in that the ability to retrofit will have a lot to do with the quality of wiring. In my last house, I swear the electrician was trying to show off by running as little wire as possible but keeping to code... There were no neutrals in a lot of places and some pretty tricky 4-way circuits.

Luckily in my current house, there's a neutral in every box (except one) and they're all deep boxes - that made a big difference. Then again, that's an issue for any of these brands - except z-wave has some options that don't use neutrals, but they only work with incandescents (deal killer for me). There's ways around the neutral issue, but they end up costing more and require thinking outside the box.

What Edge did just wasn't an option for me... due to the framing and construction of my house, it would've meant a lot of drywall repair (with texture) and even a lot of work in the attic finding the wiring under several feet of insulation and an awkward framing situation - that would only be possible if I were doing a $50K+ remodel.

UPB has been good to us - never had a WAF issue - once in a while get a "that's cool" out of her.
Thank you all for your feedback. I was reading up on the recommendations and had my head spinning...
Will get the keys later this week, and after that I can start investigating how the house was wired and start making some detailed plans.
I've installed a couple of Jetstream switched and they work just fine. I want to swap out for the "new" style paddles, but I haven't taken the time to do it yet.
I'll second blmxm here on centralite jetstream, its a great retrofit light system with easy programming. Plays nice with HAI as well. I think UPB is a good choice also but its success will be dependent on the quality of the powerline in the house. It works well with good electric wiring but some older houses did not follow the rigorous standards imposed in building today.

I'd like to add my third to the replies from picta and blmxm. I've installed every technology currently on the market. And while each seems to have their positives and negatives, Centralite has my absolute top vote. UPB is my #2 choice primarily because it is well suited for installations where the customer only wishes to control a few loads, and the distances between the point of control and the load is great. That's because UPB communicates over the power line, whereas JetStream and it's RF communication requires shorter distances between devices. You can find plenty of posts praising or criticizing every technology, but for my money Centralite Jetstream is rock solid. My customers love it, and most importantly myself and my wife love it. No matter which technology you choose I'll just say this.....once you experience and live with reliable Lighting Control it's kind of hard to imagine living without it.
I'll cast another vote in favor of UPB. I played with X10 in a mountain cabin and found that it was very frustrating. We built a new house in 2007 and I did all of the low voltage wiring. I knew I did not want any more of X10 and had read lots of positive stuff on UPB. I initally started with the outside lights only, but eventually wired up everything except bathrooms and closets (about 22 wired circuits total), plus some lighting/appliance moduels. I use all Gen1 Simply Automated hardware. The Gen 1 hardware has a slower response time than Gen 2 devices, but the family has gotten used to it, so we really don't notice the slight lag anymore. I had one switch that was dodgy from day one and it eventually failed after about 4 years. I called Simply Automated, they asked me to send it in and they repaired it for to cost of postage, so kudos for SA customer service. My house is a touch over 3700 sqft with twin 200 AMP service panels plus a 100 AMP subpanel for the generator, so I did wire in a UPB signal bridge/booster. Every switch works great, even when the generator is powering the house (provided the switch is on one of the powered circuits.)

As previously stated, the biggest determining factor with regards to a retrofit of UPB will be whether or not the exisitng switches have neutrals in the boxes.
As you will find out, no technology is perfect. If you choose Jetstream you may get frustrated at the lack of options in devices. If you go UPB you may have issues with noise, lack of neutrals, etc. My point is don't rule out a hybrid system. You didn't say whether you will have a central control panel or software automation system vs just a standalone lighting system, but if you will be using and sort of controller a hybrid of 2 or more protocols may be a good option. You could say use Jetstream as your primary for most lights but then say supplement with UPB for inline modules or if you need say 8 button scene switches. Using a central controller you can easily have say a UPB scene button control any combination of UPB/Jetstream or other devices.