Are you a Control Freak??

September 7, 2021, by Guy Kornetzki

Some people prefer to cruise through life without a care in the world; “don’t sweat the small stuff” they say, “chillax”… whereas others need to have a tight handle on every, single detail of every, single thing. And you? Somewhere along that scale, I imagine.

Lighting control is quite similar – there is a range of options to choose from depending on your preference, budget, the size of the lighting installation and its technical complexity. And yes, it also depends on how much control you want to have: little / some / complete control. So I ask again: are you a control freak?

For simplicity, let us divide lighting control solutions into two main categories: manual and automated.

Largely speaking, manual lighting control will involve a switch that operates lights. It may be a dimmable switch (to increase and decrease the brightness) and it may control more than one light fitting. But that is pretty much the extent of functionality we get – the lights come on and go off. Very simple.

By contrast, an automated lighting control system will have more components including some sort of “brain” which will do most of the control work in the background for us. All we need to do is press a button to recall the settings. Also, simple. The reason for having the “brain” is because there can be a whole lot of things that happen in the background, both relating to lighting as well as integrating with other systems, so the automated lighting control system becomes essential to simplify the operation for us.

There are no hard and fast rules about when to use one lighting control solution verses another, however from our experience you might want to ask yourself the following questions as a guide:

  • Do you want lights to dim in each space or are you happy for just on/off operation?
    • Dimming has many great advantages however there are instances where it may not be necessary.
  • Are there any special lighting features in your project, for example colour-changing or sequencing lights (=two or more lights operating in a pre-defined pattern)?
    • An automated system is likely to optimise such features and make them easier to operate and enjoy.
  • How many lighting circuits are in each space and across the project?
    • Large circuit count often makes manual control cumbersome, ineffective and unsightly. Even 4x lighting circuits in a space may be too much for manual control.
  • How many floors and rooms are there in your project?
    • Large projects often benefit from an automated system because it centralises control. This makes it easier to control multiple spaces (with multiple circuits as above) with a touch of a button, for example being able to turn off all the lights when you leave the house.
  • Do you want certain “smart” options such as to control lighting from a wireless device (like your phone or tablet), incorporate motion detection and astronomical time-clock or for the lighting to interact with other systems?
    • Only an automated system can offer such additional functionality, including integration with other systems such as AV (=audio/visual), security, temperature control etc.

There is a lot to think about, and one solution rarely fits all, so we talk with our clients through their thought process to better understand what is truly needed.

We are often asked for “simple” lighting control, because in truth life is complicated enough sometimes. However, if certain functionality is needed then an automated system may end up being the simple solution because it is the right solution. In our experience, “simple” is sometimes a reaction to a negative experience with an automated control installation in a previous home or workplace. And the root of the negative experience can be varied, for example: over-specifying a system that ends up being too complicated and ill-suited for its purpose; poor setting up during the commissioning period; poor handover – not taking sufficient time to explain and teach the client how to use the system.

The projects we are invited to work on at Light House Designs are a mix of both manual and automated control solutions, and they may not split as obviously as you might expect.

For example, we have some very large private country houses, with multiple floors and rooms including sizeable external spaces which suggest the use of an automated lighting control system. However, some of those are entirely manually controlled. A considered selection of non-dim and dimmed switches are located in particular places to control rooms, corridors, staircases and the exterior lighting.

By contrast, we also have a much smaller, dual-level city project comprising an open-plan living/dining/kitchen, master bedroom with dressing room and bathroom. Such a contained space is unlikely to have a large circuit count and therefore lends itself to a manual system. However, the client asked for an automated control system because of its added benefits.

So, whether you are a control freak or not, hopefully you will not freak-out by lighting control anymore.