Taking Control of Lighting
The benefits of lighting controls
10 August 2012Ian Hamilton, managing director of decorative electrical wiring accessories, audio and lighting controls manufacturer Hamilton Litestat, looks at the benefits of lighting controls within energy management systems in new builds and refurbishments.
According to the International Energy Agency, 30–40% of total energy consumed in homes and offices is related to lighting but up to 90% of this is unnecessary. Currently, lighting accounts for around 8% of a household’s annual bill and against a backdrop of rising energy costs these figures show why it is so important to consider how to maximise energy efficiency in your building project using lighting controls – from simple dimming switches to sophisticated scene-setting control systems.
Lighting is one of the easiest areas in which to improve the efficiency and the advent of LED lighting is a key element in reducing energy consumption. Of the lamps on the market at the moment LEDs are slightly more expensive than the traditional energy-saving bulbs (compact fluorescents, or CFLs) but they are more energy efficient and save more money in the long term, lasting up to an incredible 50,000 hours and paying for themselves long before they need replacing. Traditionally, LEDs couldn’t be used as dimmable light sources but new lamp technologies and LED drivers mean that they are now becoming more popular within lighting control systems, as they provide the best energy saving results and end-user experience. You must, however, always check that the bulbs you buy are compatible with your lighting control or dimming system – as some may not have been tested. You can also dim halogen bulbs, although the energy saving properties compared to LEDs are not as strong.
In terms of control systems themselves, the most energy efficient are those with intelligent scene-setting functionality, which automates the dimming and switching off of lights entirely. Even though these products contain complex systems and software, they can actually be very easy to install. One of our systems would, for example, come packaged with a small enclosure housing the electronic power handling equipment, which would need to be installed by a qualified electrician in a cupboard, roof space or somewhere else out of view. All power connections would typically be made at the enclosure, then a data network would be created using, for example, Cat 5/6 or Belden 20AWG cable. This network links the enclosure with the wall-mounted control plates, which may be located anywhere in the property. Depending on the number of zones (rooms or collection of light sources) you want to control, you may need more than one enclosure but additional boxes can usually be integrated into a single system. Typically, light sources tend to work in multiples of four ie a small system would control up to four light sources within one zone and a bigger system might control multiple zones, each with four, eight or twelve light sources. Of course, other systems may work slightly differently but most contemporary set-ups will be fairly intuitive, requiring a qualified electrician to install but thereafter being quite simple for the end user to operate. The following diagram indicates how a multi-zone system might work in a typical family home, giving the user a high level of control over the main living areas. In this example the lounge (zone 1), the dining room (zone 2), and the master bedroom (zone 4), each have four controllable light sources, and the kitchen (zone 3) has eight. Additional zones could be added for children’s bedrooms, landings etc and the system can be built up as required.
There are many additional benefits arising from lighting control systems that can really add value to your project, making it more appealing to potential purchasers and residents. It’s estimated that when a light is dimmed by 25% there is around a 20% electricity saving; when dimmed by 50% the saving is 40%. Therefore, if a user sets up a control system for an entire property to only turn the lights on when needed and to the minimum brightness required, there are significant savings to be made. Also, what many people don’t realise is that it’s often quicker and easier for an electrical contractor to install a lighting control system, than it is to rewire a standard lighting system, which can lead to a cost saving on labour time. This is the same whether building a property from scratch or retrofitting.
It’s not just energy saving that control systems help with; they can create atmosphere and mood, from simple low-level lighting in a child’s bedroom to help them sleep at night to complex colour washing effects with LEDs. For colour washing the user would need an additional DMX control station – similar to those used in the entertainment industry to control stage lighting – however, small, easy-to-operate domestic versions are available reasonably priced. Control systems also have excellent security benefits, for example manufacturerscan supply built-in software that records usage over a 7-day period. This would then be replayed when the occupiers go on holiday, giving a natural usage pattern over the course of a week rather than an artificially timed scenario that repeats the same pattern every day.
Lighting control systems can be integrated with other functions around the home such as audio controls or security blinds. By combining the functionalities within the same system users can create an entire smart home system controlled via a central source, making it easy and intuitive for residents and adding real value to a development.
In terms of everyday use, most systems can be controlled either via control plates, remote control or wireless devices such as iPhones or iPads. Control plates can be designed to match the interior décor, so if your project is contemporary a sleek glass touchscreen option might be best but if you’re working on a barn conversion you might prefer a natural wood finish.
Today’s homeowners have increasingly high expectations of their properties in terms of living experience, design, energy efficiency and security – and using lighting controls as part of an overall energy management system really is an effective long-term solution to ensuring your development meets all these demands.
Decorative electrical wiring accessories, audio and lighting control manufacturer Hamilton Litestat has supplied a varied selection of its switch plates and sockets to renowned horse trainer Paul Nicholls’ new house in Ditcheat, Somerset.