Designing a lighting and shade retrofit

The project was unique from the very start. Darren Kammer, president of DK Automation in Plano, Texas, received a cold call originating from the Lutron Website, where he’s listed as a certified contractor.

“They said they had a lighting control system that they hate,” Kammer says. “They bought it cheaply, and they wanted to upgrade to a Lutron System.”

Not only is it unusual to get a cold call, but these particular homeowners were already familiar with concept of smart home lighting and shades and knew which system they potentially wanted to install. A perfect client in Kammer’s world.

Kammer visited the home to understand the extent of the client’s problems. “I needed to determine whether there were wiring problems or it was the system,” he says.

Once Kammer performed the audit—which determined the condition of the loads—it was time to design a system that could fit the homeowner’s needs.

“The plan was to retrofit the lighting system by changing all of the switches out to dimmers and installing keypads in various places to control settings. Also, they wanted to re-install drapery systems that are on timers and battery-powered roller shade systems,” Kammer says.

First step—lighting

Oftentimes, cheaper systems don’t communicate properly, so lights will turn on at random times or not at all. The clients needed a system that was in synch with each light and one that worked on a single time mechanism, not multiple timers.

After a thorough discussion with the homeowners, they settled on the Lutron HomeWorks® QS lighting system that uses a processor and wireless technology to connect and store the system’s lighting scenes.

Kammer walked through the whole house with his clients, discussing the traffic flow through the house at different times during the day and what type of lighting was necessary for each scenario.

Room by room, lights were dimmed to create a scene for that time of day or area of the home. A scene describes the lighting pattern of a particular space, including which lights are on and at what level of brightness. These scenes are accessed through keypads located in central areas of the home that are labeled according to the scene for which it is intended. This system allows people to turn on multiple lights in multiple areas of the home, with one touch of a button.

For example, Kammer’s clients had different nighttime schedules, where one person stayed up later than the other. There is a button on the keypad called the good night button, which is programmed to turn the bedroom lights off and leave a dim light on in the master bathroom, plus leave the downstairs lights on. Once the other person goes to bed, he presses another good night button that automatically turns off the rest of the lights.

“You can set scenes for anything—for instance, waking up in the morning, the bathroom light goes on, and the kitchen light goes on for making coffee, or in the evening, a TV button dims lights in the living area for watching your favorite show,” Kammer says.

Unlike the client’s old system, all of this customized lighting is programmed into a software program that is communicated through a processor in the home. The communication runs through a radio frequency, exclusive to the manufacturer.

Another lighting issue for these clients was the lighting in their fish tanks.

“The clients have three fairly large fish tanks that have six different lights—a red, blue, green, white, fluorescent and one that triggered the system to turn on. Previously, the homeowners had 18 manual timers on each light in each tank, which changed the lights at different times of the day. “The problem was that they weren’t in synch, the timers were going off at different times and the colors would always be messed up,” Kammer says.

He was able to synch the lights to an astronomical time clock—that way all of the tanks were the same color at the same time of the day, based on the sunrise and sunset.

The whole house lighting system also has a module that can be programmed for a doggie door, which uses sensors on the dog’s collar to open the door throughout the day so the dog can come and go, yet closes during the evening, when the dog needs to be confined to the home.

Second step—shading

The homeowners said the drapery tracks made a buzzing noise every time they opened and closed, and the sound consistently woke them up in the morning when it was programmed to open.

The clients opted for a drapery track system in their living room that opens during the day and closes at night in synch with their night/day lighting scenes. The new system no longer had the buzzing sound.

Previously, other shades in the home required a very unusual battery that had to be changed on a yearly basis. Since the battery is found at the top of the shade, it was very hard for them to change the battery, especially on such a regular basis. The solution was to install wireless cellular shades that open and close via remote control.

This particular shading system has a three-year battery life which can be replaced with a double A or D batteries, found at any grocery store.

“These were good for their bedroom because people don’t always like have their shades open upstairs, unlike downstairs where they usually like to keep them open during the day,” Kammer says.

Third step—installation and management

The homeowners wanted to keep the installation time and scope to a minimum.  Kammer’s clients found his lighting and shading systems to be especially convenient because it did not create damage to their home. It took Kammer and his crew of electricians took five days to install the switches, key pads, processor (also known as the brain) and the three repeaters (the communicator from switch to brain), and the shading systems.

“During the audit, we learned that the lighting malfunctions were a result of poor system communication, so we knew we didn’t have to rewire. Installing the Lutron system on its own, or in this case, replacing an old system with a new system doesn’t require tearing down walls,” Kammer says.

The programming of the processor usually takes the most time.

Kammer says that these clients were unusual in that they had a better idea of what they wanted and what they were currently missing from their system. Usually, a client that is a newcomer to smart home technology takes more time to understand how the system works and how to design it to their needs.

Still everyone has tweaks to their lighting scenes, and this is also another area of convenience of this particular system. “Lutron has its own Apple and Android app that allows homeowners access to programming from their own homes,” Kammer says. Previously, homeowners had to call Kammer to change light settings, and he would manually program them into the system. Now, the app sends the new settings to Kammer, and he installs them into the system every few days.

The success of this project directly relates to expertise that Kammer was able to provide his clients about the capabilities of the new lighting and shade technology. Even though they were more educated in this area compared to other homeowners, they also learned a lot about what could be done and what wasn’t happening on their previous system. Working with a home automation expert on smart home aspects of a project will help create a successful remodel.—Morgan Zenner

DK Automation was awarded a Gold Lutron 2011 Excellence Award in the Most Unique/Creative Application category for this project.

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