No Wires Required: Lighting Controls

Wireless lighting controls are finding their own niche, especially in institutional and educational settings, because of the many advantages they offer. Lighting controls with dimmers can powerfully affect the ambience of a room, and wireless products’ low cost and simple installations make obvious additions to your building and renovation repertoire.

Rise and shine for class

New innovations in lighting controls are perfect for school settings and are increasingly being incorporated into classrooms and lecture halls. Many schools and university campuses are focused on these innovations, as they save energy costs and efficiency and increase the capabilities for demonstrations and presentations. Manufacturers are increasing their lighting control offerings to meet campus-related desires.

“In an educational setting, lighting enhances the learning environment,” said Tony Zarzaca, national sales manager for commercial systems at Lutron. “It’s more cut and dried than the medical setting. Our product is an EcoSystem intelligent dimmer ballast for fluorescent lights, which when combined with digital controls, gives teachers total control of the lighting. Each ballast has its own brain, so if an area needs to be brighter, it can accommodate that as well as dimming if a child has sensitive eyes. Kids learning is highly visual, so if they can’t see the board because of a glare, this alleviates that.”

Outfitting a classroom with a sensor enables a lighting control subpanel to automatically dim lights to capitalize on available natural light.

“We have a lighting control system that consists of a combination digital ballast system for light fixtures,” Zarzaca said. “We provide occupancy sensors, so the lights go out if no one is in the room. There is also a daylight sensor that is used to regulate the light from windows to the doors. The sensor in the room is set to a light level that is comfortable in general. The sensor tells the ballast when to dim as the sun passes through the room. It creates a uniform light level based on how much light is available. The teachers can override the system at any time. [Or,] if they want to show a movie, they can dim the lights at the front and leave the ones at the back on or turn the entire system on or off. It makes the room very versatile.” And versatility is important to modern classrooms. Today, those rooms take on many functions and must suit a number of environmental moods.

Square D/Schneider Electric has been involved in projects that incorporate area lighting panels in the ceiling, which coordinate turning lights on and off via occupancy and light-level sensors. The company also has been involved with opening and closing a damper that allows in natural light through solar reflective tubing. For example, as soon as someone enters a classroom, the solar reflective tubing automatically opens. If the natural light does not meet a certain light level (e.g., 55 foot-candles), the lighting control system will bring up one of the two light banks and possibly both. As the day wears on, the system turns off one bank of lights, and then the other, if necessary. A Square D Clipsal four-key Neo lighting control keypad can be used to close the dampers for a video presentation or perhaps for a certain period of time.

Presentation matters

Instructional spaces are typically used by various groups of people for different purposes throughout a given day, requiring unique lighting requirements and scene settings. In addition, each instructor is probably going to have a different level of technical expertise. Therefore, one of the most critical factors in planning a lighting upgrade is room usage. Any classroom or institutional space used for presentations should be equipped with lighting that can be varied and controlled. An upgraded lighting system with audio/video interfaces enhances the overall educational process for both teachers and students.

“Universities are getting more elaborate with their controls,” said Scott Jordan, product marketing manager for the lighting control business at Square D/Schneider Electric. “There are multilevels of controls, depending on their presentations. There are touchscreens on the podiums that can create a preset scene.”

Wireless lighting controls also can integrate various multimedia components. Controllers can be configured to raise and lower motorized window shades and projection screens to establish the perfect environment for any presentation situation. Instead of going from window to window lowering shades, then to the wall switch to turn off lights and then lowering the projection screen to begin the presentation, the user can make all of these adjustments from one location by pressing a few buttons.

Of course, the primary complaint among teachers and students is the lighting is too bright or otherwise inappropriate for their needs. Normal classroom lighting is too bright and washes out images on the projection screen. When the lights are turned off, the room is too dark for note taking. The simple installation of dimmers solves this problem. During a presentation, lighting over a video screen can be reduced to a minimum for optimal viewing, while separate lighting over a conference table can be dimmed to a medium level for note taking.

“We try to make it simpler on both the designer and electrical contractor,” Jordan said. “In many cases, everyone is in a hurry. They want to get the job laid out and put out a bid. The contractor looks at it and is then left holding the bag, being responsible to the customer. Our systems can be tailored via software over a network. They don’t have to rewire or add equipment, which can be costly, depending on change orders involved.”

A standard wireless lighting control system for a classroom consists of two simple components: a wall-mounted or tabletop transmitter and a fixture- or junction-box-mounted power controller.

Getting healthy

Lighting controls are also being installed in healthcare settings to ease turning the lights on and off and adjusting window shades. Overall, these controls can be used to make a patient’s life better.

“There are a lot of similarities with educational and institutional installations,” Jordan said. “From the conference rooms and parking lots to dining facilities, there are many similarities, but in regular lighting control, the biggest difference is in two areas. We have seen in the healthcare industry in patient rooms, contractors are trying to enhance the patients’ experience. If you walk into a hospital that was built in the 1940s that has tile floor and a steel bed with glaring fluorescent lights and a creaky radiator, it’s not a place you are going to want to hang out for a long time. Hospitals today are pouring a ton of money and thought into design and creating an experience for the patient that will make them feel like they are at home.”

Certainly a level of comfort is integral to the healing process. If adequate equipment and treatment procedures can contribute to a patient’s recovery, lighting can add to or help define a soothing environment.

“Lighting in general creates a healing environment in a medical setting,” Zarzaca said. “Look at the way hospitals are designed today versus 10 years ago. There is more care taken to creating an atmosphere that is soothing to patients. The medical community says that people respond better to lighting systems with dimmers and scene settings.”

“One hospital near us brought an interior designer into the renovation process, creating multitone earth tones and a comfortable lighting experience,” Jordan said. “In lighting controls, they can add dimming to create lighting scenes and include a scene controller. For example, if a nurse is tending to a patient, there

can be a preset lighting for exam mode and a separate one for TV viewing that dims the lights for more comfortable viewing of the LCD TV. In the bathroom, there are different settings, as well, to create a more comfortable experience overall for the patient.”

Making the EC’s life easier, too

Of course, the users aren’t the only ones who benefit from wireless controls. Wireless lighting controls offer comparatively low installation costs, and their ability to adapt as facilities and lighting needs change reduces energy consumption and costs. Dimming lights uses less electricity and can extend the life of bulbs significantly, meaning less maintenance worries.

Flexibility is a key factor where the controls can be reconfigured or expanded to accommodate alterations. In the educational setting, a school may have a room partitioned to serve as two separate classrooms one year but require just one room the following year. With traditional lighting, each conversion would require the expense of tearing apart walls for rewiring. Wireless lighting control allows the changes to be made quickly and efficiently. In addition, using lighting control subpanels can reduce cost for wire/conduit and make labor easier for contractors by being able to run circuits to the subpanel and not all the way back to the panelboard.

“Our Clipsal is a smart system with a microprocessor embedded so the contractor doesn’t have to worry about how it works,” Jordan said. “They can install the system and program it at the end of the day. Contractors are very happy with the flexibility of the system because normal crews can get the work done and then talk to the operator to find out how they want it to work, walking them through the various scenes and configuring the system.”

With so many benefits, it’s obvious wireless lighting controls will take hold of the market. As a result, the simple installation of direct control lighting and audiovisual equipment will enhance the lives of you and your clients. EC

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or


About the Author

Kellie K. Speed

Freelance Writer
Kellie Speed is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or .

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