DIY Home Automation: Lighting Control Systems
Things Your Lights Should Be Able To Do But Probably Can't
There are so many cool, useful, and fun things you can do with your lighting that I can't even hope to describe them all here; but I can at least give you some small hint of the possibilities and then introduce you to some low cost tech products you can use to upgrade the awesomeness of your home's lighting.
I will start with the most obvious - you should be able to switch your lights on an off without having to actually get up and walk over to a physical switch on the wall. This is the digital age, and you should be able to control your lighting digitally - from an app on your smartphone or tablet. That way if it starts to get dark and you want to switch on the lights, or if you want to darken the room to create that cinema feel to watch a movie, you don't have to disturb yourself from your comfortable position on the sofa.
You should also have dimmers on all of your lights, including any lamps that you have. Dimmers not only mean that you can set the lighting to just the right level for any situation, they also help you to save electricity which would otherwise be wasted powering lights to a higher level than you want or need. Of course you can get dimmer switches without home automation technology, but also want to be able to use them from your phone, don't you?
If you have more than one light bulb in a room, you should be able to change them all to preset levels by pressing a single button. No more getting up and walking around the room switching on lamps and turning off the lights when you want to get cosy or turning on lava lamps and so on when entertaining friends - just one button for 'movie mode' or 'party mode'. You should be able to do that from your phone too. And while we're on the topic, there should be a single button on the wall by the door which switches off every light in the room instead of having to switch each one off individually.
Perhaps if you have to set your alarm to get up when it is still dark, you may like it if your bedroom light could switch itself on automatically when your alarm goes off, just to make it a bit easier to wake up and get yourself going.
Hallway, corridor and stair lights should probably just know that if you enter that space after dusk you want the lights to be on - because why the hell wouldn't you?
Also, if you leave the house in a rush and leave the lights on you should be able to check which ones you left on and switch them off from your phone wherever you are - because saving the planet is good and saving money is even better.
You can do things like these, and perhaps more besides, with even relatively low cost home automation systems.
If you only want to set up lighting controls and aren't bothered about being able to expand your system into a more comprehensive home automation set up then Philips Hue is very hard to beat indeed. With wireless connected bulbs this is a pure 'plug and play' system with no hassles at all in terms of the set up. This starter pack comes with a control unit and free iOS or Android app, and not only can you switch and dim your lights, you can also change them to any color you want all from your phone!
This is the cheap and easy way to control lamps without having to get up off the sofa!!
Components of a Lighting Control System
- Controller(s): The controller can refer to both the 'brain' off the system which you connect your individual appliances up to, and the actual device you use enter commands yourself. In some systems a remote control handset is used, which performs both functions. In most modern systems, however, you will have a controller unit which you plug into the wall and hook up to your household wifi connection, and then a phone app which you download to actually interact with the system. Most wifi linked control boxes come with a free app for you to use, but please do check this when making a purchase as some brands will want you to pay a monthly fee for access to the app.
- Wire-in Dimmers: There are actually several different ways to connect your lights to the controller. One way to do this which some systems use is a small unit which you connect up behind your switch or light fixture by connecting a couple of wires. This serves as both a dimmer and a connection between the lamp and the controller
- Plug-in Dimmers: Plug-in dimmer units usually go between your wall socket and a lamp plug to hook freestanding or table lamps into your system.
- Custom Bulbs: The easiest, but sometimes the least flexible way is to use a system where all you need to do is to replace your regular bulbs with special ones that have a wireless connection to your system built into the bulb itself. This means you don't even have to break out the screwdriver to get your system set up, but it does mean you can't just pop down to your local shop if you need to replace a bulb (or rather you can, but the remote control features will no longer work)
- Wireless Switches: A wireless switch looks like a regular light switch fitted to your wall, but it has no physical connection to your home's electrical installation and probably won't be associated with a single light fixture or device like a normal switch. Instead it connects to your controller and uses its wireless connections to other parts of your system. They are often used to set 'scenes' (like the movie or party settings mentioned previously) with a single button click, or to switch off everything in a room all together with just one button. You can also get switch units to replace your regular switch units with the wire-in dimmer described above already wired in.
- Motion and Presence Sensors: These are used to automatically turn things on or off when a person enters or leaves a room or corridor. A motion sensor is pretty cheap and is good enough for a corridor or any other space which you move through but don't sit down and relax in. A presence sensor is pretty much exactly the same technology, but it is more sensitive and can therefore still detect a person sitting still on the sofa - something which a motion sensor can't do. If you have pets, especially dogs, then you might want to look for a sensor with adjustable sensitivity so that you can make sure it will react to people but not to pets.
- Light level sensor: If you are using motion sensors or timers to automatically switch on or off, then you may also want to get yourself a light sensor so that you only switch on lights when they are needed. Some good quality motion sensors will already have this built in.
Insteon is a popular and expandable system. This starter kit includes the controller and two dimmer control units to get you going.
Integrating Lighting Controls into a Whole Home Automation System
Lighting is a great place to start when putting together a home automation system, and for some people it will be all they need. But the in my opinion the real fun begins when you start integrating it into other systems. This may end up being a bit more complex in terms of the set up, but here are some cool integration ideas you may want to consider if you are feeling more adventurous:
When setting 'scenes' there are loads of opportunities for integration. For example, why not be able to close your curtains and turn the lights on with a single click? If you have a networked home entertainment system then being able to click a single 'movie mode' button from your app which puts your TV and home cinema equipment into movie mode, closes the curtains / blinds and turns down the lights all at once is pretty nifty. Also, if like the idea of a single button to turn off all the lights in a room, then how much cooler is it if you can turn off every single electrical device in a room with just one button?
Lighting can also be integrated with a security system, particularly if you have cameras in your home and would want to be able to get a good recording of any intruder.
The options for integration are really only limited by your imagination.
No seperate control box required - these switches just replace your regular switch faceplate and connect to a free app to allow for remote control from your phone!