How to design a smart home lighting system
As well as the obvious role of providing night time visibility throughout a property, lighting systems play a critical part in fashioning a comfortable environment that accentuates the interior design.
Devising a lighting system for a smart residence will require many of the same procedures as a traditional building: these include determining the number of fixtures needed, ensuring consistent levels of illumination throughout the property and seeking energy efficiencies where possible.
However, a connected residence does add an extra level of complexity to the design process. There are several elements that must be carefully considered in advance of the project’s commencement that, if ignored, can have serious ramifications on the functionality of the end system.
Foresight is better than hindsight
A detailed planning process is central to achieving a successful smart lighting project. Designers should produce a detailed lighting schedule that not only specifies the quantity of fixtures in each room, but also the wattage, power consumption and exactly what type of dimming is planned for each zone. This will provide a connected home expert with everything they need in order to accurately scope out the project and instruct you on the most suitable control system and components for the property.
When designing smart lighting, it is better for all parties to have complete clarity on the complexity of the system being envisaged sooner rather than later. This means deciding exactly the types of behaviour you expect each room to provide – whether lights need to be daylight-responsive or if it would be desirable to include energy-saving functions such as having the lights switch off in a room when no occupation is detected. Working out the optimal behaviour for your connected home technology will inform the design process and allow you to foresee whether there are any aspects or challenges within the building plan that might impede the desired lighting schedule.
The wiring architecture also needs to be defined at this conceptual point. There are several options for this, each with pros and cons depending on the scale of the project. For example, a Control4 system allows each fixture to be controlled independently but, when integrated into multiple circuits, the fact that each component will have a different address means that there can sometimes be a visual delay when turning on entire rooms or corridors.
So who is driving this thing?
One of the biggest challenges with lighting installations comes from the sheer number of tradespeople that need to be involved. The interior designer, lighting designer, product supplier, smart home installer and electrician will all contribute their expertise at some stage, as will the connected home team that ties everything together into a fully-functioning package. If a comprehensive scope of responsibilities is not clearly defined from the outset, potential issues can go unnoticed until the majority of the work has been completed, which can lead to serious system flaws that slow down the building process and cause costs to spiral out of control.
The ideal scenario is to bring in a connected home expert who can project manage the whole process from start to finish: working closely with the designers to assess suitability and compatibility of certain lamps and fixtures with the chosen control architecture, checking that the wiring and products supplied are of sufficient quality and integrating the various systems into a unified platform. This allows for stable, end-to-end management of the entire project, ensuring regular communication between the various parties and reducing the risk of issues rearing up unexpectedly along the way.
Depending on whether the project is a new build or a retrofit, it may be tempting to adopt wireless elements into your lighting scheme. For any work where cables are already being laid for other purposes, it makes sense to go with a wired set-up for as much of the lighting as possible.
There are several reasons for this: a wired property is generally much more robust than a wireless one, particularly when it comes to reliability. Granted, wired can come at a higher installation cost for smaller properties, but for larger properties it is much easier to scale while affordably maintaining the consistent performance that homeowners should expect as a given.
If you can, wire your lighting; if running wires will cause significant disruption, then wireless might be the way to go. However, you will need to make sure that there will not be any significant environmental challenges that might affect the reliability of the wireless signal. Depending on the building materials used, it might be worth the upheaval of rewiring to ensure a more dependable system.
Devising a user-friendly solution
The occupants of the house should be at the heart of any design. Not only must the lighting design be sympathetic to their activities – when they spend time at home, the rooms they spend time in at various times of day, what they prefer to do to relax – but it must also be easy for each member of the household to use.
Control should therefore be the most important element in the lighting scheme mix from the perspective of the homeowner. Getting this right means that they can enjoy a flexible – yet relatively simple – experience that allows them to tailor their environment to their needs, whatever they are doing. The problem with many off-the-shelf applications is that they are designed as one-size-fits-all; if the property in question is to benefit from a more complex lighting scheme, then a generic control interface that cannot be quickly understood by someone unfamiliar with the property will not suffice.
Before a lighting control system is commissioned, a thorough analysis needs to be performed. Will the function of any switches or interface elements be immediately obvious, or will they need to be altered or labelled differently to the standard layout? Will the control system need to control other sub-systems such as heating or home entertainment as well as the lighting? If so, should these be controlled using the same app or keypad? Does everything in the property need a complicated lighting scheme, or can certain areas such as bathrooms be managed with a simpler layout?
Answering these questions before you start will help significantly when working with a connected home specialist to deliver the best possible lighting scheme for the property in mind. Planning ahead as much as possible also means that time-consuming operations – such as keypad engraving – can be performed without affecting the timescale of the project delivery.