October 30, 2010
We’ve certainly come a long way from the simple on/off light switch. Our class visit to Lutron, known for their switches, dimmers, and daylight control systems, in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania proved that controlling the light in your home or office is just as important as having light there in the first place!
Fun facts about Lutron:
- Joel Spira, founder of Lutron, invented the first sold-state (energy-efficient) household dimmer in 1962!
- Lutron develops controls both for electric lighting – switches, dimmers, etc. – and daylighting in the form of motorized shades and curtains.
- If you don’t believe fluorescent lights are dimmable, just ask them — they’ve been doing it for 35 years.
I’m sure if you’ve ever been to a Home Depot or other big box store you have seen their wall-o-dimmers in the electrical aisle. You might even have some installed in your home or office right now. What you may not know, though, is that their newest dimmers and controls can turn your home or office into a sentient being — yes, I’m talking about smart lighting! (Dun dun dunnnnnn.)
Imagine every light fixture, light switch, or dimmer being able to talk to every other one in your home or office. Imagine that you can press one button to turn on the lights in your home — before you even pull into the driveway. Imagine that you can set “moods” with your lighting, for dining, parties, or watching a movie. Imagine being able to close all of the window shades in your home at the same time. Imagine controlling all of this from your phone or mobile device. This isn’t the future — they can make all of this happen today!
The representatives at Lutron demonstrated all of this to us in their Residential Experience center, a life-size model of a high-end home, complete with kitchen, bedroom, living room, and home theatre. Remote controls, wall button panels, a cell phone, and even an iPad were used to control all of the lighting in the house. At one point we were all set free to explore the house and play with the controls. I wish I had taken a video — lights were turning on and off, window shades were going up and down — it was like the house had a mind of its own! One of the more eye-catching “toys” we could play with was an iPad application that allowed you to turn lights on and off in a room by touching a photo of the room — touch the pendant light in the photo of the living room, and the pendant magically turns on — maybe a bit overkill, but very futuristic.
After the Residential Experience center we were taken over to the research and engineering building to the Commercial Experience center — it was like visiting different rides at Disneyland! There the representatives demonstrated for us the systems Lutron has engineered to control whole commercial buildings, while at the same time providing significant energy savings. Did you know, for example that by installing occupancy sensors to turn off the lights in your office after everyone goes home for the night, you can save over 50% on your company’s annual electric bill? Occupancy sensors, then, in combination with other Lutron offerings such as daylight harvesting, personal lighting control, controllable window shades, and lighting scheduling can save you even more! Lutron’s systems also allow building engineers to fine tune the lighting system throughout a building by, for instance, dimming all of the lighting in the building by a small percentage. Most people won’t consciously notice a change of 5-10% in intensity over an entire lighting system, and the benefits can be substantial — huge energy savings and double the lamp life for every lamp in the building (yes, you heard that correctly). Who wouldn’t want those kinds of benefits, especially today?
So, after all of the time we have spent learning about light sources and lighting design so far this semester, it was very helpful, and fun, to learn something about lighting controls, especially since they are so crucial to the success of any design. The same can be said of theatre, too, where controlling focus and intensity is crucial to the mood and flow of a show. The Lutron rep, in an explanation of the residential control system told us that the idea to program certain “presets” or “scenes” into a lighting system is actually a theatrical concept, however, for most residential clients they prefer to use less technical terms in favor of ones like “moods” or “feelings.” How fun would it be to program the lighting in someone’s home to behave like a play or musical — fading lights up and down at just the right moments, accentuating the mood and rhythm of daily life? I know one thing — when I buy a house and you come over to visit, you’d better be prepared for a show!
For now though, I’ll have to settle for lighting on a much smaller scale in my New York City apartment. On the bright side (no pun intended), everyone in our class walked away from the visit with a free Lutron plug-in lamp dimmer — the perfect start to setting the mood at home. Hey, I’ve gotta start somewhere, right? You’d be surprised how much impact one small dimmer can have on a room, though. This one works perfectly for my bedroom plug-in pendant lamp; I can now fade the lights up or down in my room without even getting out of bed! Now that’s what I call energy savings!