How to overcome common challenges of a retrofit lighting control project?

By David Ribbons
David Ribbons is Director of Sales, Europe and Africa, at Lutron Electronics

In a renovation project, at what point in the design process should the requirements for lighting controls be specified? Right from the beginning! It is crucial to factor lighting controls provisions into renovation plans and budgets from the outset. That said, today’s light-source technologies, such as LED, and digital lighting control technologies, such as EcoSystem, offer more freedoms than constraints. Here are five main aspects that architects, interior designers and lighting designers should consider, in order to avoid the most common pitfalls of a retrofit lighting project.

First, free yourself from conventional wisdom!

The EU ban on inefficient directional halogen lamps, which progressed to a new step on 1st September 2016, continues to fuel the acceleration in adoption of LED as the dominant light-source. LEDs enable the reinvention of light design and the discovery of new, exciting, aesthetic possibilities.

In addition, the use of addressable digital control methods enables fixtures to be controlled as a larger number of independent zones within a room, to give more flexibility and increased artistic options for separate dimming levels in different parts of the space, instead of the traditional single zone of light.

Second, stop thinking you will need a lot of system installation space

Architects may think they do not have enough space to install dimming equipment for an increased number of zones in small spaces. Sophisticated lighting control systems require big electrical panels, right? Wrong! This notion belongs to the era of heavy-current mains dimmers, which is mostly now in the past as more efficient light sources take over. In this day and age, distributed systems, where the dimming capability is located within each fixture’s driver, rather than in a central panel, have taken over from centralised systems, thus freeing up the physical space taken by large electrical panels.

Third, choose wireless technologies carefully

A retrofit project often doesn’t allow for the possibility of making holes inside walls to install new cables. Wireless lighting controls, including sensors, provide a convenient solution to this problem. However, do not use just any type of wireless connection! Wi-Fi (also known as 802.11), for example, is often too congested to provide adequate reliability for systems that require a rapid response speed, such as lights coming on instantly when a button is pressed. Specifiers should choose an RF technology, such as ClearConnect, which operates on a quiet and well-regulated frequency band within the wireless spectrum, so that equipment such as audio or video streaming devices cannot swamp the control commands. This will ensure lighting control works instantaneously every time, which is crucial to prevent user frustration.

Fourth, opt for comfort and energy-saving features

Window treatments can be instrumental in making a room comfortable, by eliminating glare problems, and offer substantial benefits in increasing energy-efficiency, by reducing solar gain. Even when it is not possible to install power and control cables for shades in a retrofit plan, all spaces have the opportunity to deploy battery powered and wirelessly controlled system, such as Triathlon. Battery life can be as long as 4 to 6 years, and maximum window sizes can be a huge 3.6m x 3.6m.

Fifth, remember user interface can be both useful and beautiful

The era of wall-mounted light switches in each room is certainly not over. Traditional on-off switches are now commonly complemented by wall-mounted controls and mobile devices. However, just because wall-controls are practical, this does not mean that they have to be ugly! Lighting control keypads exist in a wide variety of finishes, colours and styles to match room decor. Designers can choose from wired or wireless keypads, and should consider options including keypads that can be seen in the dark, due to illuminated backlighting of buttons, although there’s no need to worry about these being too bright as they can now dim automatically. Engraved buttons are key in all circumstances, indicating which “scenes” will be controlled by each button, thereby making the controls intuitive for building users to operate.

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