Automation Is Optimization

Last month, I wrote about tempting residential customers to create a network for multi-room HDTV, audio, video, games, Internet and home computers. When you get their attention, you can point out that those things are just the icing on the cake.

The same network that runs all of those fun systems can also lower the cost of lighting, heating and cooling. Besides saving money, your customers can enhance the safety of their homes by adding security, intrusion detection, surveillance and fire alarm systems to the network, once it is in place.

Converging systems to save energy
Lighting controls are an obvious first step. Many companies provide automatic lighting controls. The advantages are apparent. I know that, in my home, I often leave lights on—just ask my wife.

Traditionally, lighting controls compensate for this common behavior with a dimmer or occupancy sensor in each room. These days, lighting controls from manufacturers, such as Lutron and Crestron, focus on saving energy by intelligently combining lighting controls in a network throughout the home and tying in motorized window coverings and temperature controllers. Lighting and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the two largest energy users in homes, and if you think about it, they are related to each other. Depending upon the time of day, day of the year and orientation of windows, more or less light is available through a home’s windows. The electrical lighting can be dimmed or shut off to take advantage of the natural illumination. The amount of heat gained from opening and closing window coverings is another variable—you want more sun in the winter and less in the summer. In addition, electrical lighting adds heat to a room.

Lutron’s HomeWorks QS and Crestron’s iLux systems are both processor--based, so the installer needs to program them. Not only are both capable of integrating lighting and temperature, but they can also be linked to an Ethernet local area network to coordinate with any other system that also is connected. Both companies offer systems based on wired and wireless controls. Wireless connections allow for a simpler installation in an existing home, but there are many advantages to wired connections. They provide a more stable system, which can reliably handle any number of devices connected over long distances.

Whole-home control systems require specialized knowledge to correctly install and program. Lutron and Crestron work through authorized dealers, who they train to become experts in installation and setup.
For Lutron’s wireless systems, electrical contractors can buy the products through an authorized dealer, who will provide training in installation and setup. This trained contractor will be aware of specific product considerations. For instance, HomeWorks systems have to be carefully designed and scheduled to coordinate with the overall project since the wiring will be installed behind drywall. The authorized dealer will look carefully at the infrastructure of the company that wants to do the project. The dealer’s preference is to sign up a firm that can market and project-manage as well as install and program—a firm with whom it can expect to have a continuing relationship. Usually, the relationship is formed with a larger contractor that has a specialized controls department to do the whole job, other times, a contractor partners with a dealer to do the installation only.

Growing your business
If you can sell your customer a home network, not only will you have the additional wiring and devices to install, you will have a great opportunity to sell a commissioning and service contract. What’s more, once the backbone is in place, there is the potential for business down the road by adding more devices to the already-installed network.

Phil Scheetz, HomeWorks QS product manager, Lutron, said that many of the company’s best dealers are electrical contractors.

“If a contractor is either doing service work or adding a circuit or going into a house to swap out a fuse box for a 200-amp breaker panel, you’re in the house for a thousand or more bucks to do that. And that client will probably be doing the upgrade as part of a renovation project, so they need new circuits anyway. If you’re not selling that customer a whole-home lighting control system, you’re leaving money on the table,” he said.

The good thing about it is, not only will you be helping your business, but you’ll also be helping your customer save money in the long run.

BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at or at, an independent professional writing service.

About the Author

Edward Brown

IBS Columnist and Freelance Writer
Edward Brown is an electrical engineer, freelance writer and editor who draws on his years of practical experience designing industrial processing and high-power electronics systems. In addition to writing the Integrated Building Systems column for E...

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