Net Zero Home Gets 600 LEDs Controlled by Automation System

Homeowner builds system, with pro installation help and Crestron automation, to make bring stubborn LED lights under control.

Photos: Simon Berlyn

Steve Goldman is proud of his house. Since construction began in 2009 it’s been a labor of love for the self-professed technology enthusiast. Remarkably, it’s not what the home can do, but what it doesn’t do that has Goldman beaming with pride. Thanks to technology, the home is one of the largest LEED Platinum rated residences in the country. It’s also a “Net Zero” house, which means it produces more energy than it consumes.

There are three key elements that make this 14,000-square-foot home so energy efficient that Goldman is able to sell power back to the local utility: the implementation of LED lighting; a geothermal heating and cooling system; and a 45-kilowatt solar system. “The only incandescent bulb we use is the one in the microwave oven,” says Goldman. The rest of the lights—all 600 fixtures and more than 2,000 linear feet of rope—are illuminated by LED bulbs.

As efficient as these lights are, though, Goldman went the extra step and had them, as well as many other parts of his new home, professionally automated. Lights have been programmed to turn on and off by themselves since the dawn of home automation, so on the surface it seemed like a simple project. The problem, explains Chris Montreuil, senior system designer at VIA International (formerly DSI Entertainment Systems), Los Angeles, was that at the time of the installation most home automation systems were still designed to communicate with incandescent bulbs only. “LED lights use such a small energy load that it’s difficult for a home automation system to even recognize that they are on the system,” Montreuil explains.

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Having a solid technology background, Goldman took it upon himself to design a device that would enable a Crestron automation system to fully dim and brighten every LED bulb in and around his home without a hitch. “It’s a proprietary system (a patent application is in process), so I can’t say much about it, but it basically fools the system into thinking that there’s a load when there really isn’t,” Goldman explains.

System Design & Installation

VIA International, Los Angeles, Calif.

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Given Goldman’s tech experience and the amount of work he had put into the project, VIA felt comfortable enough to give him piece of the Crestron automation system (a lighting interface module) to test with his newly developed driver and a variety of LED fixtures. Of course, the engineers at VIA were crucial to the system’s success, Goldman says.

Without getting too technical, Goldman found the type of LEDs that best responded to his driver and worked his system around them. The result is 100 percent dimming capability, which at the time was impossible for any home automation system to do. With Goldman’s driver connected to Crestron’s lighting module (and programmed by VIA) the lights in the house were able to dim down to the level where the light looks like a match head, Goldman says.

This dimming capability, plus the numerous lighting “scenes” created by VIA resulted in LEDs that consume less energy than a hair dryer (see sidebar below) and accentuate the architecture and design of the house. A romantic scene, for example, sets the lights in a particular room to a 5-percent intensity level. A user can easily brighten the setting by touching a button on a Crestron wall-mounted keypad (which was installed in every room). VIA also created a special program for Goldman that would allow him to alter the settings of any scene easily from an app on his iPad or a Crestron touchpanel. It’s a simple matter of choosing the scene, holding a button down for four seconds and altering the level of intensity of each light on the scene.

The specially engineered system gives Goldman the tools he needs to be in complete control of his house and the amount of energy it consumes … and to possibly sell his LED solution to other homeowners. “There is some contemplation of marketing the driver,” says Goldman, “and the good news is, if and when it does become available, it won’t be expensive.”

Even More Efficient
Did you know you can maximize the energy efficiency of LED lights by dimming them? Although dimmable LEDs weren’t readily available when Steve Goldman was building his house, you can find them now, and many can be managed and operated by a home automation system such as Crestron’s in this home or lighting control systems such as Lutron’s. Although it may seem like you’ll be sacrificing good lighting by dimming them, the fact is, an LED bulb even at a super-low setting like 10 percent, still provides ample illumination. “It still looks pretty bright,” says Goldman. “You can barely see the light from an incandescent bulb set at 10 percent.” This is because LEDs employ semiconductor chips like those used in computers, whereas light bulbs use filaments that have to be heated before they can generate light. It’s a capability that Goldman uses to the full advantage, especially outside. As soon as it gets dark, his home’s Crestron automation system signals a driver, which tells hundreds of outdoor LED lights to activate. After midnight the LEDs dim to 10 percent. It’s a level that still provides ample illumination for security purposes. In this setting each 5-watt LED draws only a ½-watt of power yet provides the same level of illumination of a 20-watt incandescent bulb set at a 50 percent brightness level. All 500 outdoor LED lights combined draw only 250 watts. If these LED lights were conventional incandescent landscape lights, the draw would be 10,000 watts, says Goldman.

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