Technology: Tripping the Light Fantastic

By Simon Buddle, SMC. The lighting control system provides many great features and benefits. Easy scene setting, added house security,...

Simon BuddleBy Simon Buddle, SMC. The lighting control system provides many great features and benefits. Easy scene setting, added house security, holiday modes, as well as the ability to operate any light from any button in the home to create fabulous in-room or whole-house scenes. We can control a huge array of lamp and fitting types from halogen, fluorescent, LED and cold cathode. Designing, installing and commissioning a lighting system is a significant undertaking, but it really only comes into its own when the final programming and scene setting are carried out. Until that time, it is really just a lot of on/off switches dotted around the building. Lighting designers will spend hours creating the right aesthetic for their client's environments; the look and feel of a room, artwork correctly lit, reading lamps strategically placed, subtle pathway lighting or stunning centre pieces which provide the central focus for a room. In many cases they will go as far as to create 3D renders that include colour temperatures, light levels and beam angles in order that the homeowner can get a real feel for the room before it is even built. [caption id="attachment_4923" align="aligncenter" width="599"]Example of a lighting centre piece. Example of a lighting centre piece.[/caption] Scenes and Circuits Many clients have a desire to create a bank of multiple light switches by simply using each button as an on/off switch for a given circuit. Whilst this pragmatic approach to operating the lights may well seem logical, it really doesn't tap into the power of the control system and nor does it help to create a mood or ambience within the room. An important part of the commissioning process is, I believe, to educate the customer as to the capabilities and benefits of the system whilst exploring their and the lighting designer's wishes and ideas. [caption id="attachment_4924" align="aligncenter" width="600"]A bank of multiple switches does not tap into the power of a control system. A bank of multiple switches does not tap into the power of a control system.[/caption] The Right Choice of Keypad An important consideration is form and function - what type of keypad, style and quantity of buttons might be needed in any given room. A case in point would be the toilet for example. Does it need a ten-button keypad? Does it need a keypad at all? Should it not just have a presence detector? Whilst we are on the subject, it is important to understand that there are many devices on the market which purport to be movement sensors. There is, however, an important distinction between presence detectors and motion sensors/detectors. For the purposes of our control systems, we would always choose presence detectors. This product group is far more sensitive and therefore capable of perceiving much smaller movements - an important factor in offices and areas where people may be seated for long periods of time. Entry and exit routes may need extra buttons to operate 'whole house' functions, and doors that lead out to garden areas may also benefit from a couple of additional buttons for external controls. Control of blinds will require additional buttons. [caption id="attachment_4922" align="aligncenter" width="599"]Doors that lead to garden areas may also benefit from additional buttons for external controls. Doors that lead to garden areas may also benefit from additional buttons for external controls.[/caption] Adding the Wow Factor Once we've got everything working and provided the homeowner with a rudimentary scene setup, it is time to consider the final step - client customisation - the setting up of lighting scenes to create the desired ambience, style, look and feel that will ultimately turn the house into a home. If a lighting designer has been involved in the project you can be sure that they will need your help during this vital phase. If not, then it is time to step up to the plate and offer your services. The scene setting should be done live, room by room and obviously whilst it is dark - which clearly creates some challenges during the summer months. Accent lighting will help provide mood, whilst task lighting will enable people in bed for example, to read easily without flooding the room with unwanted light. It is worth noting that this process of customisation may well be iterative and require several more visits until you have finally achieved the desired result. But it is this process that really adds the value to the lighting control system, and without it, many people will simply feel that they have paid a great deal of money for overpriced light switches. [caption id="attachment_4926" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Task lighting for reading in bed Task lighting for reading in bed[/caption] If you have colour-changing fittings that you are controlling through a DMX interface it is worth reviewing the timing and colours used at different times of the day. Do all of the colours work? The yellow part of the spectrum may appear washed out and ineffective in a cream or pale-coloured space. The timing of the colour change will also have an impact; are the transitions smooth, does it feel natural and does the pace of the colour change work in the designated area? There is no use having a colour change scene in a hallway that takes 15 minutes - no one is ever in a hallway that long. Similarly, it shouldn't feel like they have entered a night club, unless of course that is the client's intention! [caption id="attachment_4925" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Ambience created through automated colour-changing light fittings. Ambience created through automated colour-changing light fittings.[/caption] Conclusion As with so much of what we do, the devil is in the detail. Those few evenings spent with the client will, I believe, create the right ambience in their home, making them very happy and hugely appreciative of your efforts whilst adding huge value to their lighting control system, and in so doing, hopefully winning you a customer for life and perhaps even new ones. Simon Buddle is the Technical Director of SMC – systems integration consultants and installers. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award. Comments on this article are welcome. See below.

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