Because of the complexity and the high cost, lighting control and whole house integration has only been available to a fortunate few. By keeping devices simple and programming easy, automation can become something that everyone can use. In the future, everyone is going to expect to have it.

Hardwired Lighting Control: Now Affordable and Reliable

Jimmy Busby | CentraLite

Hardwired Lighting Control:
Now Affordable and Reliable

by Jimmy Busby, Chief Technical Officer

Because of the complexity and the high cost, lighting control and whole house integration has only been available to a fortunate few. By keeping devices simple and programming easy, automation can become something that everyone can use. In the future, everyone is going to expect to have it.


For years the only affordable lighting control was X10 powerline carrier technology. The only problem was that it didn't work very well. X10 systems rely on passing signals across the existing power structure of the home. X10 is a great idea in theory, but in practice, the signals must deal with the noise generated by all the other devices using the powerlines.

Hardwired lighting control systems are more reliable than powerline carrier based systems because they have a dedicated communications cable run from each switch location back to a central controller. There were hardwired systems available, but these were very expensive and complicated for installers.

Three years ago, CentraLite Systems introduced the Elegance lighting control system. For the first time, there was an affordable hardwired system on the market without the usual complexity. The Elegance system is based on panels of solid-state relays which control the lighting loads throughout the home. A Master Control Panel (MCP) receives inputs from low voltage switches and other sensors and decides what should be done with the loads

Programming Issues

Hardwired lighting control systems must be programmed with a software utility usually running on a laptop. Lighting loads are configured. Lighting scenarios (scenes) are created with loads. Switches are assigned to either loads or scenes.

Programming most hardwired systems is very complex. One of the fears installers have regarding lighting control systems is the difficulty in programming them. Some systems require an MIT graduate working for hours just to make one light come on. Programming has to be made easier for installers who are not trained computer programmers. The Elegance system's programming software is designed for folks who don't necessarily use their computers all day long. By using simple, color-coded screens, the Elegance software allows just about anyone to program a system.

Flexibility

Hardwired lighting control systems are inherently flexible. Any button can be programmed to control any light or scene in a matter of seconds. What customers want out of lighting control systems is the convenience of lighting scenes. Scenes are lighting scenarios, which include multiple individual lighting loads set to different dim levels with the press of a button. Scenes can also be activated from external signals or based on timed events.

With a conventionally wired home, you're stuck with the switches you wired for at the time your home was being built. A lighting control system allows homeowners to change the functions of their switches after they've had an opportunity to live in their homes. The flexibility of a hardwired system allows for customization after the homeowner moves in that is just not possible with conventionally wired homes.

Simplicity = Cost Effectiveness

CentraLite is able to keep the Elegance system affordable by keeping the system simple. In most hardwired lighting control systems, each keypad contains its own microprocessor. This leads to expensive equipment and more possible points of failure. The Elegance system eliminates this expense and complexity by keeping the switches simple. The Elegance Switches are simply contact closures. The switches are run to centralized termination modules (STARs), which are connected to a central controller (MCP).

Simplicity in programming is also important. Much of the expense in a lighting control job is the days of programming required for most systems. Installers also don't always keep perfect records of what wires go where. The Elegance programming software takes this into account. If you have detailed records of wiring locations (and if your installers really did what is on those records), then you can program the system offline and load it into the MCP at the jobsite. But if you're like us and you don't live in a perfect world, we've included some helpful shortcuts to make programming easier.

The Elegance system allows installers to program switches simply by pressing the button on the wall three times. The button address will pop up on the computer screen. Then the installer just drags the button address over the desired load or scene and drops it in.

Integration is Important

If you haven't been exposed to integrating the electronic subsystems in the home, don't worry, you will. Having your electronic subsystems available at your fingertips is something available right now.

Due to the cost associated with most whole house automation systems, they are available to the few who could afford it. With the CentraLite Device Integrator (CenDI), controlling your entire home from the palm of your hand is now affordable. CenDI allows the homeowner to control lighting, thermostats, security, and audio all from a handheld controller anywhere in the home. Cameras can also be monitored right on the CenDI handheld.

The key to making integration work is using simple communication protocols between devices. The RS-232 protocols used by the Elegance system consist of 5 to 9 characters.

It can Be for Everyone

Because of the complexity and the high cost, lighting control and whole house integration has only been available to a fortunate few. By keeping devices simple and programming easy, automation can become something that everyone can use. In the future, everyone is going to expect to have it.


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