If you have looked through our previous blogs, you'll know we at Philharmonic AV are big fans of intelligent lighting control. We have discussed the many advantages that such a system can provide, but there are potential pitfalls too.
In a typical, traditionally wired home, a power cable from the fuse board (usually one per floor) runs through the ceiling and to all the on-wall light switches. Cables from these light switches then go to each lighting circuit. Simple, but in no way managed or smart.
A traditionally wired system:
For many years, the next step up from the traditionally wired house, was to have panels full of centrally controllable dimmers located in a few locations throughout the property. These panels are fed by a main incoming power supply from the fuse board, and then every circuit to be controlled in the property is wired back to one of these panels. This provides you with all the intelligent features we love here at Philharmonic AV, but it does mean you need to have space for these panels in your home and it also requires a lot of cable. If there are plant rooms and large storage closets in the property, finding space for these panels isn't usually a problem. However, every inch of floor space is valuable, so this can sometimes be a challenge.
Circuits wired back to a central panel:
Here's where a different approach can help. Using modern control protocols called Dali and/or EcoSystem, we can create a hybrid of the two approaches described above. Many of you will be aware that most modern lighting fixtures, especially those utilising LEDs, will come with a 'driver' attached which essentially ensures the lamp receives the correct voltage and current. In an intelligent, managed lighting system when you want the lights to be dimmable, these have to be dimmable drivers. But what if we put the dimmer inside the driver, creating a dimmable ballast? The obvious advantage is that you don't need lots of space for lighting panels full of dimmers, but you do need a means to control these ballasts (which will typically be hidden up in the ceiling). Here's where Dali, and Lutron's variant EcoSystem, come in. Dali is a robust data communications standard that will run along basic two core cable. This cable can be run from ballast to ballast in any order, alongside a power cable, making it simple and quick to wire. The only central equipment you need is a control processor and Dali module(s), reducing the space requirement enormously.
A Dali controlled system:
Another great advantage of Dali ballasts is this: each Dali ballast has its own unique address. When a new system is commissioned, these ballasts are grouped together in the control software so that they respond to the same commands. Imagine a large open plan sitting / dining area: as well as wall lights, pendants and table lamps, there are likely to be a number of in-ceiling down lights. These might be grouped such that the ones over the centre of the sitting area work together, ones around the outside work together, ones over the dining room work together etc etc. Now for the cool part - let's say the owner decides to mount some artwork each side of the fireplace, and wants a scene where just the downlights by these art pieces come on. In a traditionally wired system, the only way to make this change would be to run new cables and add a new dimmer, involving lots of cost and disruption. With a Dali or EcoSystem solution, the groups can simply be changed in the software, so those two downlights could be separated off into their own group and programmed accordingly, with no changes to equipment or wiring at all! This technology was first developed for partitioned office buildings, but the advantages in residential applications are clearly apparent.
The final advantage worth mentioning here is compatibility. Many light fittings can be supplied with a Dali or EcoSystem driver by the manufacturer. This means there can be no doubt that the dimmer built into the driver is compatible with the light fitting, avoiding a common problem found with traditional intelligent lighting systems.
To find out what an intelligent lighting system can do for you and your home, why not give us a call on 0207 887 2424 to talk through the options.