Where and Why to Use a Lighting Control System

With home control systems and preprogrammed scenes, you can match your lighting to your mood.

lighting control system

A lighting control system can be used in every room in the house, even outsider. Images courtesy of Lutron.

Restaurants do it. So do nightclubs and some spas. At home you probably do it too. When you want to relax–really relax–the lights go down. Soft lights have a way of easing even the tightly wound out of the breakneck speed of everyday life, putting us in the right state of mind to enjoy a quiet dinner conversation or an occasional back massage. A lighting control system can make that as easy as automation. As the lights fade out, our minds and bodies take note that it’s time to slow down.

Achieving this state of tranquility isn’t difficult. If your home’s light fixtures have dimmer switches, you can manually dim the lights–but why do it the old-fashioned way? Installing rows upon rows of dimmer switches is an innefficient way to put your house into slow-mo. It takes time and energy to slide and twist each dimmer switch to the ideal setting. You can get to cloud nine much faster by putting a light control system in charge of the lights.

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Lighting control systems can rid a home of conventional light switches, or at least simplify them. Many systems rely on small keypads with buttons (sometimes labeled, sometimes not) which can control an entire group of lights. These lights may be located in the same room or scattered throughout the entire house. Through the use of a keypad, the same soft lighting effect that once required the adjustment of a half-dozen dimmer switches to create now takes the press of a single button. This single-button action is the basic premise of a lighting control system that affords many advantages for every major room of the house. Most systems, especially newer ones that include wireless control, also let the users control all their lights and lighting scenes from a smartphone or tablet app.

The advantages of smart lighting control can be realized in a media room, where a control system fades out the lights in preparation for a movie. In a foyer, a control system might command lights throughout the house and backyard to illuminate a pathway from the front door to the bedroom upstairs. Some lighting control applications work really well in home theaters, while others make a bigger impact in great rooms and master suites. Bottom line: There’s a lighting control system for every space in your home. Here are a few of our suggestions, based on the systems we commonly see used in particular rooms. Of course, with the proper programming and installation from a professional home systems installer, any type or brand of lighting control system can add visual interest to any room.

Multipurpose Family Room LivRmLoft_Dim-Hi
A multipurpose family room is probably the best candidate for a lighting control system. You may want the lights dimmed while watching a movie but like them a bit brighter for weekend football games and Saturday morning cartoons. A table lamp at its brightest is a necessity for reading the titles on Blu-ray cases and for fiddling around with audio/video components. You might also entertain friends, read books and host après-work happy hours in this room. A lighting control system for the family room could include multiple scene settings to accomidate all those uses. With a keypad or a smartphone app, the user just selects the desired scene, and then all the lights (and even the motorized window shades and electronically-controlled gas fireplace) automatically adjust to the proper level.

Master Bedroom
You may not spend the majority of your free time there, but a master bedroom still deserves some level of lighting control for what might be the most relaxing time of the day. A system that can arrange more than a dozen individual lighting scene might be a little over the top for the sleeping quarters, but you’ll still want a system that can adjust the lights appropriately for some of the activities that commonly take place in a bedroom, such as reading, sleeping, romance, clean up and possibly lighting a path to an adjoining master bath. You can even program your lights to automatically turn on slowly at a set time each morning, to help you greet the day.

The fact that the bedroom is usually the place you end and start your day makes it an ideal room from which to control all of the lights in the house. For this, you’ll need a system that can send commands from a master bedroom keypad or an app to any and all lights switches. By using a whole-house lighting control system you could turn off every light before going to bed and in the morning brighten the kitchen before you leave the bedroom. Strange bumps in the night seem to disappear when all it takes is one tap of a button to light up the backyard. And when you crave a midnight snack, the system can light a faint pathway from the bed to the refrigerator.

Home Theater
A lighting control system can recreate the ambiance of a commercial movie theater at the press of a button. Nearly every manufacturer of lighting control systems offers a solution that’s perfect for a dedicated home theater room.

An integrated home automation system with lighting control can not only dim the home theater lights but also control the audio and video components. Such a system may combines a standard-looking handheld remote controls or rely on smartphone and tablet apps. Advanced programming can even allow allow personalized touches such as turning up wall sconces when the pause button is pressed.

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Master BathroomBath_Modern_Dim-lo
In most households, the only room that’s totally free of distractions (as long as the door is shut tight) is the master bathroom. Here’;s the one and only place you can gain uninterrupted, quality peace and quiet. Having the lights on low instead of the ordinary get-ready-for-work bright is the perfect antidote for an overworked mind and body, especially if there’s hot, bubbly water involved. A single-scene system might switch off the lights over the vanity and illuminate the sconces around the whirlpool tub to a soft 20 percent intensity. It’s really the only scene you’ll need for this room. The remainder of the time, the system’s keypad can function like an ordinary dimmer switch.

The Home Office
Of any room in a home, the home office offers an ideal location to transition from work to home mode. It’s no wonder so many people incorporate mini bars, stereo systems, easy chairs, televisions, libraries and other features to help kick-start the relaxation process. After a day of fluorescent bulbs burning into the back of your head, it certainly doesn’t hurt to also incorporate a dimmable lighting control system into the home office as well. A keypad that invites you to select one of several preset lighting scenes can match the lighting effect to the activity. For example, barely-on lights overhead and a few soft table lamps can establish an ambiance that’s ideal for music listening. A brighter scene might inspire you to scour the Wall Street Journal or finish up some paperwork. Or, you might just need one basic relax scene where a remote control gradually fades out the main light to whatever intensity you desire at the moment. You might also want a work scene for those work-at-home days or when you need brighter light for doing paperwork, like paying the bills.

What Home Lighting Control System is Right for You

Room-By-Room Lighting Control
Lights are a necessity in every room of the house–from an active, busy spot like a family room to a quite retreat like a bathroom. Attached to a standard switch, lights perform a very important duty for every space in a home by providing illumination when and where we need it. A lighting control system builds off this core capability by enabling lights to complement the design of a room as well the types of activities that take place there—all with the single press of a button.

Lighting Control System Types
Whole House or Single Room – Lighting control systems fall into two main categories: whole house or single room. As the name suggests, a whole-house lighting control system is designed to command lights throughout an entire home, including outdoor areas. Although a keypad might be stationed in the kitchen, it can set the lights in the kitchen and every other room in the house. A whole-house lighting control system is useful in any home, but particularly so in large homes where turning off the lights manually before leaving for work or going to bed is a laborious, time-consuming exercise. It’s also a great type of system for homes with an open floor plan or for families that use the entire house when entertaining. A whole-house system could arrange the lights in the foyer, the kitchen, the family room and other rooms with one press of a button.

A single-room system is designed specifically to arrange the lights within one room. Most people choose a single-room system when they want to improve the eye appeal or add visual impact to one special room of the house, such as a home theater, an art gallery or an elegant sitting room. Because it reaches and controls fewer lights, a single-room system is generally more affordable than a whole-house setup. However, once you come to appreciate the benefits of a lighting control system in one room, you’ll probably want the same for other rooms of your house. Make sure the single-room system you choose can be easily expanded to serve the entire house.

Hardwired or Wireless – You’ll also need to decide between a system that’s wired into your house and one that’s wireless. Most professional home systems installers recommend a wired system for homeowners who plan to build a new house. Wired systems are generally more reliable than wireless systems and can usually handle some very complex levels of control—even operating heating and cooling components, motorized draperies and other electronic equipment. That said, even a wired system these days will usually also include some form of wireless technology

A wireless system, however, is ideally suited for existing homes as it precludes the need for additional wiring. Snaking low-voltage wire underneath floors and behind the walls of most homes is a tough job that may end up costing you a bundle in labor charges. Wireless lighting control systems minimize the installation labor by utilizing either a home’s existing electrical wiring or radio frequency (RF) airwaves to transmit instructions from keypads to the light fixtures.

Types of Control – Keypads are the de-facto means of controlling lighting systems. Mounted on the wall near the entrance of each room (the common location for regular light switches), a keypad provides a convenient way to cue a lighting scene by pressing a clearly labeled button. In addition to keypads, some lighting control systems can be operated from handheld remote controls, touchscreens, and of course through smartphone and tablet apps. Wireless-enabled lighting control systems offer the convenience of using any web-enabled device to operate the lights at home, even when you’re away. Through a web connection, the lighting control system receives and carries out commands from remote devices.

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