Scene-based lighting systems are an important element in home design that every home automation installer, contractor and DIY’er should be familiar with. New reliable scene systems provide a simple way for homeowners to control multiple lighting circuits to match their task and mood lighting needs. The good news is that scene lighting today is not just a luxury for museum-size mansions, but a realistic option that’s ideal for homes as small as 2000 sq. ft. With recent advances in lighting control technology, the cost of lighting fixtures can far exceed the cost of a reliable scene control system! Fully functional scene controllers featuring easy installation and programming are available for as little as $100.

The concept of scene lighting for residential systems is borrowed from the theatrical lighting profession, where scene lighting is essential to any performance. Here’s an excerpt from Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia:

“Modern stage lighting affects what audiences see. Carefully planned lighting can establish mood and color, control the audience’s focus of attention, and enhance the meaning of the play.”

Change some of the words and you have an accurate description of what residential scene lighting can do:

“Modern scene lighting affects what people see in your home. Carefully planned lighting can establish mood and color, control the focus of attention, and enhance the beauty and functionality of the home.”

Scene lighting is the simultaneous control of multiple lighting circuits to independent brightness levels (or OFF). These levels are preset into distinct scenes through an easy programming process. Once the scenes are set, the homeowner simply pushes a scene button and immediately all the controlled lighting loads achieve the desired levels.

The scene lighting solution is especially convenient when there are numerous loads involved. For example, picture a kitchen, dining room and hallway where there are separate dimmers for individual lighting fixtures. To achieve different dining “scenes” without scene lighting control, a person has to go to each dimmer independently and adjust the levels. To change to another scene, you have to go back to each dimmer and readjust it. Assuming that we don’t want to make chalk marks on our walls, how do we remember the setting we like on all the dimmers for each scene? With scene lighting, all it takes is one push of a button.

When organizing lighting scenes, I like to break them down into two categories: Utilitarian scenes necessary for daily living, and Mood Setting scenes where the goal is to create a specific ambiance. An example of a utilitarian scene would be one for the path lighting between the garage and the entrance to the house, as well as the main hallways. In this scene, accent lighting is not a primary consideration. The goal is to have as many lights ON at full brightness as required for homeowner comfort and safety. Another utilitarian scene is the “Dog and Snack” variety. This scene requires low-level lighting for a nighttime trip from the bed to the bathroom and kitchen (for human needs), and to the back door as well (to let Fido or Whiskers out). Mood setting scenes can meet a variety of needs for aesthetics, comfort and entertainment. Possible entertainment scenes: One for formal occasions in the dining room and another tailored for a barbeque around the pool and patio areas.

Here are seven scene ideas for a home lighting system.

Family Living- Coordinate a variety of lights in the typically used family areas (kitchen, den, living room) to functional levels: kitchen 100%, den 100%, and living room 75%.
Home Theater- For viewing: main theater room lights OFF, wall sconces 10%, key hallway lights to kitchen and bathroom 75% or less, other lights OFF. After/Before viewing: main theater room lights 100%, wall sconces 75%, key hallway lights to kitchen and bathroom 100%, other lights ON at selected levels.
Family Dining- Dining room 75%-100%, kitchen areas 100%, living room 50%.
Formal Entertainment- Outdoor pathways 100%, accent lighting 75%, living room and entertainment areas 100%, indoor art lighting 75%, dining room 75%, kitchen 100%, upstairs hallways 75%.
Outdoor Entertainment- All outdoor areas, including pool, decks, gazebos or cabanas, and pathways would be at 100%. Key indoor hallways to bathroom and kitchen 100%, other rooms 50%.
Dog & Snack- Accommodates nighttime necessities by illuminating the “path” from the bedroom to the bathroom and kitchen (for human needs), and to the back door as well (for our pet’s needs) to a 30% level.
ALL ON- Press one button to turn every light in the system ON at 100% in response to strange noises at night or an emergency.

There are some important basic considerations in a scene lighting set-up. Certain lighting loads are included in each of the scenes while others are not. A lighting load that’s included will go to its programmed state whenever the scene is activated. Loads that are not included will ignore the scene command. Since individual loads are not a part of every scene, multiple scenes can be active simultaneously. For example a DEN and a KITCHEN scene can both be active at the same time when they do not include the same lighting loads. A lighting load can also be part of scene when it’s in the OFF state. In this case, whenever the scene is activated the load will turn OFF (if it’s not already OFF).

What’s really involved in material and installation costs? How complicated is it to program and use a scene lighting system? For starters, only four Leviton DHC products are needed to install a complete scene-based lighting system: the HCM06 dimmer switch receiver, the HCS10 switch receiver, the HCCS7 keypad scene controller, and the HCA02 system amplifier. Each one of these devices is available for under $100. A more comprehensive Leviton DHC scene lighting system featuring 2 keypad scene controllers and 20 receivers would have a total materials cost of under $1800.

An important new development with the Leviton DHC scene lighting system is that it is a “distributed” lighting control system. Each scene controller is really only a keypad and does not directly control the load. Any circuit breaker could pop open and the rest of the scene system would operate normally. This offers a dramatic improvement in reliability over typical scene systems that utilize a central controller for all connection points in the system.

Other major advantages of distributed systems are flexibility and ease of installation. The system can be expanded at any time because specialized wiring is not required between the devices. Each controller communicates with receivers via the home’s existing AC wiring. This simplifies installation and reduces labor costs. Even if a completely new fixture is added to the house, an electrician installs the fixture with standard switch wiring and connects the DHC scene receiver. Expanding the number of scenes beyond the 7 available on each of the controllers is also easy. Multiple scene controllers can be ganged in a box to control up to 64 scenes in one house. For a more sophisticated whole-house scene system, Leviton offers the DHC Toscana? Deluxe Programmer that allows you to create 64 whole-house lighting scenes and program up to 64 timed events as well.

Toscana can be used in conjunction with any number of 7-scene keypad controllers. Leviton’s Seven-Scene Dimming Controller allows you to create seven lighting scenes quickly and easily using any number of scene-capable receivers.

Of course, homeowners will want individual control of each lighting load as well as the scene control. The HCM06 dimmer and HCS10 switch look and feel like popular Leviton Decora rocker-style dimmers and switches. You don’t need to learn how to operate a new type of device. The top part of the Decora rocker is ON or BRIGHT, the bottom part is OFF or DIM. Note that local adjustments do not affect scene programming. Whenever a scene button is pressed, individual receivers go to their programmed status regardless of how they were manually adjusted.

A homeowner needs to work with his installer (if it’s not a DIY project) to decide what the settings should be for each scene. It’s comforting to know that programming and reprogramming are very easy with a scene control system such as the one offered by Leviton DHC. Press and hold the scene button to be programmed on the HCCS7 for 10 seconds to enter the programming mode. The homeowner or installer then adjusts each receiver to the desired brightness level (or OFF). To exclude a lighting load from a scene, simply pull out the small air-gap switch on the receiver. After all the receivers are set to their desired levels, the final step is to press the scene button on the controller one more time to “teach” the scene. The programming need only be done once since the controllers and individual receivers permanently remember the scene settings.

Scene lighting is a relatively low-cost technology that enhances the beauty, comfort and safety of your home. It’s a great time to consider the scene lighting solution.