Weighing Wired Against Wireless Lighting
Which kind of lighting control system is right for you? Here’s a rock-’em, sock-’em five-round smackdown to determine your winner.
November 23, 2010 by Steven Castle

Round 4: Features

Will you generally get more features with a hardwired lighting system? Yes. Is this due to the technical limitations of a wireless system? Not really, says Lutron’s Stamm.

The company’s wireless RadioRA system was first introduced for lower-cost and retrofit solutions, “so we limited the feature set a little bit. Now the cost of the technology has gotten better, so we can add those features back,” Stamm says.

The newer RadioRA 2, for example, can interface easily with motorized shading systems and works with all sorts of new devices and features like smart thermostats and plug-in appliance modules for energy management. It has also grown from being limited to 32 dimmers to being able to handle 200 devices. If your home needs more, you can upgrade to the wireless HomeWorks version that supports 1,500 devices.

So the feature limitations with wireless are largely the result of economics.

“With Vizia, the biggest thing we’re seeing is security guys pushing it real hard and bundling it with energy management,” says Leviton’s Hendler.

ViziaRF products can work with other Z-Wave devices like Mi Casa Verde’s Vera system, which has become a popular mid-market controller for Z-Wave audio/video, lighting, and more. One can set up a Leviton system, transfer control to Vera, and it can calculate all the energy being used at the switch level. It can even be controlled via an iPhone app, and work with Z-Wave compatible door locks. Very cool and affordable.

Sure, you can still get more features and more robustness from a wired system, but know what you want to do and research what each type of system can do for you.

Winner: Wired systems, for now.

Round 5: The Future
Hardwired lighting control systems are still the better bet for being reliable and more robust. These advantages are becoming slimmer and slimmer, however, as wireless technologies improve and become more cost-effective. If you have open walls and can afford a wired system, by all means go for it.

Budget, however, may be the knockout punch for wireless over wired for most: You can start with a wireless lighting system at a much lower cost, and build on it from there. Just check for potential interference and range issues—and you should be golden. The reliability and robustness of wireless systems have improved greatly.

We’re also seeing some really cool technological applications, such as energy-saving kinetic energy, in which keypads can be powered on their own, using the energy resulting from key presses. PCS’ (Powerline Control Systems) PulseWorx RF system and Leviton’s commercial-grade LevNet wireless system use technology from EnOcean to do this, and our bet is that we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it in the future. Though it shouldn’t be limited to wireless lighting control systems.

As Lutron’s Stamm says. “You should never have a home without wireless in its future.” And with many more retrofit home projects taking place today, you can see where this is going. But still, wire if you can.

Winner: Wireless

Leviton’s Vizia RF+ wireless control line features switchable outlets, and plug-in remotes.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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