With all things going wireless these days, the next logical step in retrofitting controls would seem to be adding wireless switches. In many cases where the distance is short and the walls are hollow, wireless devices can work well. However as distance between devices increase, reliability tends to decrease.
Millard Schewe | Simply Automated
Mechanical On/Off switches used throughout most homes are simple, reliable and about as old as Thomas Edison himself. The advent of dimmers made mood lighting the must have option for dining rooms and chandeliers over 50 years ago. The X10 craze started back in 1975 and offered remote control of just about anything in the home. X10 solutions became extremely popular as they are very easy to use and inexpensive, yet not very reliable. Today whole home lighting control solutions based on radio frequency (RF) and power line communication are mostly reserved to those who can afford the cost of an electrician and a programmer, or are technical enthusiast, until now.
Frederick Kiko, the founder of Simply Automated Incorporated, is best known for revolutionizing ‘self install‘ methods of residential DSL broadband service. When Fred decided to put modern lighting and load controls in his home he said, “There must be a better way!” Fred’s point is that modern residential lighting control should not be difficult; as he put it, “not like programming a VCR.” If done properly modern lighting control should be affordable, reliable and - most importantly - easy to install and use. This is the foundation of Simply Automated and our residential lighting and load control technology.
Take the simple retrofit virtual 3-way switch application. A homeowner wants to control lights from two locations, and there are no traveler wires. Pulling wires or digging ditches is expensive. So what do they decide to do? Buy some x10 or a $20 DIY wireless switch pair, and done! Right? Well maybe… what if the application is a room addition or a kitchen remodel? With modern lighting control, the virtual 3-way switch application or remote virtual load control is easy and reliable. No computer configuration required!
The x10/DIY solution may work in some applications, but they cannot be considered in a professional install when there are intermittent performance issues or the need to change batteries. A proper, professional grade solution for modern lighting would include switches that are always reliable and do not require battery maintenance. In addition the standard dimming functions for incandescent lights do not always apply. Modern ‘professional grade’ switches can dim LED fixtures as small as 4 Watts and less; and be configured to control fan/pump motor loads as easily as any circuit with incandescent, fluorescent, LED, Halogen or low-voltage lighting transformers.
One of the biggest benefits of modern lighting control is the flexibility of reliably retrofitting lighting controls without pulling or adding new wires. As we know this concept is not new, x10 has been used for years to do just that. The problem with X10 is intermittent reliability, which in many cases overcomes the advantage of low cost.
With all things going wireless these days, the next logical step in retrofitting controls would seem to be adding wireless switches. In many cases where the distance is short and the walls are hollow, wireless devices can work well. However as distance between devices increase, reliability tends to decrease. The mesh networking capability of some wireless solutions offer robust performance, and usually added complexity. The problem is the mesh network’s robustness is proportional to the number of switches installed. And if a cornerstone switch in the mesh fails, it can cause a portion of the mesh to collapse and other switches may stop working as well. The fewer devices there are, the less robust the network. This is where wireless repeaters and base-station controllers come in, adding cost.
More recently a common challenge in retrofit lighting controls is accommodating energy efficient LED lighting that most people want to use. In many cases the purpose justifying the retrofit is adding LED lighting to save energy. The fact is not all dimmer switches are capable of controlling or dimming loads as low as a few watts. This tends to force the electrician and home owner into special switches and new wiring.
The residential lighting automation and control solutions developed by Simply Automated take all these challenges into account. With highly reliable Universal Powerline Bus (UPB) technology small retrofit applications, or new construction with whole home scene controls, are reliable and easy to use. Cost effective point to point, or multi-point zone control applications are Simply Automated’s specialty. Distance is not an issue, as proven in the lab and in the field, two UPB switches can communicate and control each other well over one mile on a 14 gauge circuit.
What is most unique about Simply Automated solutions are the detachable and interchangeable faceplates used on the Universal Dimmer-Controller switch bases. The switch bases are field configurable for dimming and On/Off load control, available with single 900W or dual 550W output circuits (1 watt minimum). They are both a transmitter and a receiver (i.e. transceiver) capable of controlling up to 8 different scenes and being controlled by (or a part of) up to 16 different scenes. What is even more impressive is that each transceiver in the scene can have its own unique dim level and fade rate for each of the 16 scenes. The switch base has eight (8) tiny micro-switches that can be seen when the rocker faceplate is detached. These micro-switches are actuated by any one of the 13 different faceplate types available in 6 standard colors.
The fact that one load controlling switch can have a double or a triple rocker attached makes it both versatile and very easy for the home owner to use.
For example a dual rocker faceplate can be used where one rocker controls the local load and the second controls another remote transceiver switch without the need of new wiring. Or replace the dual rocker faceplate with a triple rocker and add a controlled outlet for one more remotely controlled point.
For the simplest applications the Anywhere Series Virtual 3-Way Switch Kit is cost effective and can be used to turn on/off one or two loads from two locations. Control the porch light and the garage door light from either switch. Add another switch or receptacle and they can all be controlled collectively or in groups (scenes). Or in remodel applications, the Anywhere Virtual Switch can be used to remotely control one or more receptacles, fixture and plug-in modules. Adding controls for under-cabinet lighting, new recessed fixtures or whatever is needed is easy as long as hot and neutral wires are available. The best part is there is no computer or configuration software needed. Just install the switches and set the channels as needed with a few taps to the switch rocker or module button. It is as easy as x10, and 1000x more reliable.
In this day and age of the internet and smart phones the trend is to enable lighting control from wherever the user is located. If they really need to check to see if the garage door is open from the airport, they can and close it. More realistically speaking, being able to control multiple switches from one room’s entry or exit location is significant to many home owners. Of even more value to the home owner is being able to control lights from where they are in a room. How convenient it is to turn off the bedroom lights without leaving the bed? Or conversely, turning on lights before getting out of bed in the middle of the night? How reassuring is turning on all the exterior flood lights and checking the yard when something goes BUMP! in the night? Of additional convenience is automating a celestial lighting schedule, having outdoor lighting and select indoor lighting turn on or off automatically based on when the sunsets or rises. It is nice to never have to adjust a lighting schedule due to seasonal changes (daylight savings) or temporary power outages. You’ll never have to adjust timed lights or enter a dark home again. An additional benefit of scheduled lighting is using an automated ‘vacation mode’ schedule, where different - seemingly random – on and off times are slightly different each day giving the home a ‘lived in look’ for added security. Whatever the application, modern residential lighting control from Simply Automated can provide convenient, reliable solutions that are both affordable and easy to use.
Simply Automated was founded in 2003 by Fred Kiko, holder of more than 35 patents in communications and design, who revolutionized self-installation methods of residential DSL broadband service in the late 1990s.
The mission of Simply Automated is to be the leader in the research and development of simple, flexible, cost effective and technologically advanced solutions in the automation, lighting control and energy savings market – taking pride in being a customer friendly company that listens to our customers and provides optimum solutions for the marketplace.
The first products developed by Mr. Kiko at Simply Automated were a complete line of lighting control and automation products using ultra-reliable UPB technology that utilized the current wiring in the house or business – no new wiring needed. The products included dimmer switches, dimming modules, relay modules, input/output modules, receptacles, phase couplers and repeaters.
The centerpiece products include universal dimmer switches that accommodate up to 13 different faceplates -- from a single-rocker, to multi-rockers, multi-buttons, and multi-rockers with buttons – that could be easily changed in the field. An industry first, exclusive and patented!
Intelligent firmware design and manufacturing technologies enable Simply Automated to provide a technologically superior product in the lighting control and automation market that is up to 50% lower priced than comparable products in the marketplace.
In 2007 Simply Automated focused on the research and development of energy saving technologies and products in both the residential and commercial markets. Working in partnership with utility companies, advanced metering (AMI/AMR) and meter management (MDM) providers, Mr. Kiko developed new energy saving technologies and products soon to be introduced that will offer simple, flexible, cost effective and technologically advanced solutions to revolutionize the marketplace.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of HomeToys
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