||12-31-2006 01:15 AM
We built a new house a while ago and I researched it very extensively so I could probably write a short thesis on it. However, I'll just offer some basic thoughts I have on it. First depending on whether you are retro-fitting or it is for a new construction/remodel makes a big difference on which direction you want to take. Also, if you just want certain fixtures automated versus every switch in the house plays a major part as well. In my opnion, UPB switches (like x-10 but much more reliable and versitile) are great for retro-fits or for automating a limited number of switches. I have heard good things about Z-Wave and some of the other RF based switches as well. On the other hand, if it is for a new construction/retrofit and you are going to integrate all/most of the switches in the house a hardwired system would give you more features, better reliability and faster speed. Plus, a hardwired system can help remove clutter from the walls since you do not need to have an actual switch for each load, only keypads or touchpads that control scenes involving multiple (or single) lights. Look at systems by companies such as Centralite or LiteTouch in this case. I am currently working at replacing all of the switches in our house with HAI UPB switches but I am also going to build a garage/shop/apartment in the near future and will put a CentraLite system in that.
As far as whether it is worth it depends on your needs and expectations. From a convenience standpoint you can set up entire rooms or the whole house for that matter to jump to a certain pre-determined scene with the touch of one button. You could have a party scene that sets the mood in every room perfectly for entertaining or you could hav an all-off scene that turns all of the lights off for when you are going to bed or leaving the house. From a security standpoint you can have lights turn on when certain actions take place or in some systems you can set up lights to turn on at seemingly random times so that it looks like you are home when you are not. You could also have lights turn on to illuminate a path such as when guests approach the front door or you enter the house at night. From a cost savings standpoint there could be a savings. Scenes can be programmed to only turn on the lights needed at the level needed for specific activities so you don't have every light in the room set to full brightness when you don't need them. Also, most automated switches have a soft-start which can dramatically increase bulb life (and I have discovered that most bulbs aren't cheap). However, after considering the cost of the switches and equipment you will probably find that there isn't really much if any of a long term cost savings. Finally, from a gadget/coolness standpoint, automated lighting is pretty fun and impressive. It is nice to get it all set up and see it do what it is supposed to do. If you like to tinker and are into gadgets you would probably have fun with automated lighting.
Another thing I should mention is that to get the most out of an automated lighting setup you would probably want some sort of controller. Some lighting systems come with a controller (or at least one is available from the manufacturer) while some systems are mainly just the switches and keypads and don't have a specific controller designed to operate them. These systems, however, usually use a universal or open technology and there are third party controllers available for them. What works very well is to be able to integrate the lighting control with a security system which would allow you to send lighting commands based on security events taking place. For example, you could have all of the lights in the house go to full on in the event that the security or fire alarm is tripped or you could have certain outside lights go on whenever an outdoor motion sensor in tripped. I use an HAI OmniPro II security/automation controller which is very reliable and is compatible with many types of lighting control.
So with all that said I still don't have a definate answer to all of your questions. Does it work? If you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish and you invest in the correct system it should work for you. Is it worth it? That would be a matter of opinion. It is definately a luxury and not an essential part of my house but to me it is worth it based on the security, safety, coolness and convenience issues not to mention that I am saving at least some electricity compared to traditional light switches. I would recommend buying a few quality switches (maybe for one room with a keypad) and seeing how you like it unless you are making a decision for a new construction in which case I would try to go look at some houses that have an similar system in place. Whatever you do make sure to buy quality switches for more professional results and stay away from most x-10 based products. Download user and installation manuals from companies/products you are interested in and that will give you alot of insight into what is required of the systems and how it will work for you. Sorry for such a long post but there really is alot to learn and consider about lighting control and it is something I really enjoy talking about. Feel free to PM me if you have any further questions or check out http://www.worthingtonsolutions.com/.../yabb2/YaBB.pl
(I hope it's ok that I posted that link here) for some more information about lighting control as well as general home automation as well.