How to Install Simple Lighting Control
With $200 and a couple of free hours, you can install a convenient and energy-efficient lighting control system.
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August 01, 2006 by Mike Pearson

Not so long ago, lighting control systems were only available in high-end or custom homes at a high installation cost. Today, new products and technologies put lighting control within reach of any homeowner.

In a networked home lighting system, keypads and controllers are used to remotely turn lights on and off and to change their intensity. Imagine the convenience—and the cost savings—of being able to punch a button on a keypad by the front door and turn off all the lights in your home when you leave for the day, or the security of having a keypad in the garage that turns on selected downstairs lights so you never go into a dark house. 

A number of do-it-yourself lighting automation solutions have recently become more attractive with the inclusion of wireless technology. The beauty of some of the newest “wireless” systems is that they use radio frequency technology in conjunction with a home’s existing wiring to make installation easy and control more comprehensive. These products work with what you have—there’s no need to worry about running wires or hiring an electrician. 

Lighting Control: Where Do I Start?
The hardest part of home lighting automation is understanding what’s possible and then deciding where to start. Fortunately, given today’s technology, you can implement your automation projects in stages: you may decide to start with one room or, say, the main floor and then extend the network.

We’ll begin this lighting automation project by replacing a single light switch with a keypad that remotely controls selected lights on the main floor. A number of lighting scenarios, or “scenes,” can be controlled from keypads, but we are going to focus on only one scene for the sake of simplicity.

We will set up the first button on the keypad for an “I’m Home” scene. When we’re done, pressing the “I’m Home” button will turn on the porch light, the family room lamp, and an overhead florescent light in the kitchen.

Lighting Control Equipment List
To implement the “I’m home” scene, you need to create a network between the keypad and all of the lights you want to control. That is, you need to ensure that every light source in the network is connected to a remotely controllable hardwired switch or plug-in module. In this case, we are concerned with the keypad, the porch light, a family room lamp and the overhead florescent light in the kitchen.

Our shopping list looks like this:

  • One programmable keypad to replace the light switch by the front door (it already controls the porch light).
  • One lamp module for the family room lamp.
  • One relay switch for the florescent kitchen light.
  • Two RF signal devices.

RF signal devices are integral to a wireless system. They create the network by simultaneously transmitting and receiving messages across radio frequency and your home’s existing wiring. There is no installation necessary for RF signal devices; they simply plug into existing outlets. And the really good news is that, once installed, they have you covered for some time to come. You will be able to add many additional light sources to your network without buying additional RF signal devices.

Lighting Control Installation
To begin, plug the RF signal devices into outlets some distance apart. Refer to the installation instructions for placement. Plug the lamp module into the family room wall outlet and plug the lamp into it. Replace the florescent light switch in the kitchen with a relay switch. Since florescent lights cannot be dimmed they require a non-dimming relay switch.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, install the keypad. As an example we’ll install an INSTEON-enabled KeypadLinc V2. To install this device all you need to do is remove the old light switch, reattach the line, load, and ground wires with the addition of the neutral wire. The following step-by-step instructions will guide you.

Installing the KeypadLinc

  1. At the circuit breaker or fuse panel, disconnect the power for all of the circuits in the switch junction box.
  2. Remove the faceplate from the switch junction box, then unscrew the switch and pull it out from the junction box.
  3. Disconnect the wires from the switch you are replacing and ensure you have 1/2-inch of bare wire on the ends.
  4. If you are installing KeypadLinc into a two-way circuit (where one switch controls the load), follow the diagram in the KeypadLinc’s Quick Start Guide to identify and connect the LINE, LOAD, NEUTRAL, and GROUND wires. If the colors of the wires do not match the diagram, be sure you have identified the wires correctly before connecting them. (See Figure A).
  5. If you are installing into a multi-way circuit (where more than one switch controls the load), consult the manufacturer’s user’s guide.
  6. Ensure that all wire connectors are firmly attached and that there is no exposed copper except for the GROUND wire. (See Figures B-D).
  7. Orient the KeypadLinc Dimmer with the ON button on top. Gently place it into the junction box. Screw it into place.
  8. Turn the circuit breaker back on or re-install the fuse.
  9. Test that KeypadLinc Dimmer is working properly by turning the light on and off.
  10. Reinstall the faceplate.

Note: The NEUTRAL wire will not normally be connected to the switch you are replacing. If there is no NEUTRAL wire in the junction box, please consult an electrician or call the manufacturer’s technical support line.

Once installed, the keypad can then be programmed at the keypad or by computer using specially designed software. The whole installation takes only a couple of hours and can cost under $200. As soon as you are ready to expand the network you can move on to programming other scenes; “Away” and “All Off” for example. It’s easy to add light sources and appliances to the network once the keypad and the RF signal devices are installed.

While this is a very simple example of a remote control lighting system, you begin to see the possibilities and the ease of installation afforded by today’s lighting control products. After using lighting controls in one room and experiencing the associated convenience, comfort and cost savings, you won’t want to stay with traditional lighting in your home.

Mike Pearson is a Senior Product Manager at SmartLabs, Inc.


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