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What You Need to Know about Lighting Design and Lighting Control

by Ann Ferguson

Overview

One of the first things I became enamored with when I started in the home automation business was the ability to easily and elegantly control lights. It seems silly at first – I mean, really, how hard is it to go over and turn on a light switch? But once you have lived with a light control system, you will never, ever want to go back to “dumb” lights. Similarly, if you’re building a new home and you’re not installing a centralized lighting system, you are making a huge mistake.

Recently, our industry has also started taking control of the lighting design portion of the light industry. This also seemed silly at first. How hard can it be to light up a room, right? You put a few lights in the corners of the ceiling and maybe one on the fan, and you’re done, right? Wrong! There is a LOT more to it than that, and the benefits are amazing. Like lighting control, once you’ve experienced a properly-designed light system, you will never want to go back.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know either of these services exist. But Arizona Sound && Light is proud to offer them. Please read on, as I’ll try to explain why you absolutely, positively need lighting design and lighting control in your life!

Mystery Switches & Wall Acne

One of the obvious reasons for lighting control is convenience. Every night, right before I go to sleep, I hit the “All Off” button on my phone, and all of the lights go off. I don’t have to go around the house to make sure my “I don’t like to step foot in the dark” daughter has left 10 lights on! I can also do the same thing remotely – maybe I wasn’t sure I turned off all the lights before I left for work. Or maybe my wife wants to turn them on before she gets home. Or, maybe we’re on vacation and want to make the lights turn on and off at random times, to make it look like we’re home. All of these are excellent reasons to have a light control system. But there are additional reasons, as I’ll describe below.

I don’t know about you, but every house I’ve lived in has at least one or two “mystery switches.” These are the switches on the wall that you just don’t know what they do. Perhaps they’re turning on a light at the neighbor’s house? Who knows! But, similarly, you probably have to press 3 or 4 switches every time you want to turn the foyer light on when the pizza guy comes. Or you can never remember which of the 6 switches on the wall does the light on the porch. If you have a proper light control system, all of your switches will be engraved so that you will see a backlit label directly on the switch, telling you exactly what it does! Or, on your phone app or remote control, it will also be labeled. No more mystery switches, no more fumbling with multiple switches to find the one you need. Brilliant!

Lighting control with labels

Speaking of the 6 different switches on the wall that I mentioned above, have you noticed how ugly those can be? If the electrician didn’t get all 6 of the electrical boxes properly aligned and level, it could look like a real mess. It’s definitely not appropriate for today’s modern, clean architecture! We in the industry call it “wall acne” – I laugh every time I see an otherwise beautifully designed home, but there are 6 or 8 switches on every wall. Yuck. Big design faux pas! So, what’s the solution? Simple – a centralized lighting system. In this type of system, all of the switches are in a cabinet in the equipment room. The only thing you see on the wall is a single keypad or elegant touchscreen, which can control any or all of the lights in your home. In our previous showroom, for example, I could turn off 79 lights throughout the office with the push of one button on a keypad. The other buttons set beautiful scenes for “dining,” “movie night,” and more. No wall acne, no ugly, misaligned switches with mismatched plates! Beautiful and functional!

Wall acne with lots of light switches

Lighting Design vs. Lighting Layout

So, that brings us to our last topic – lighting design. Again, this is relatively new to the low-voltage system integration industry, but designers and architects have been doing lighting design for many years. Only the problem is that many of them really haven’t been doing it very well. Lighting design is just not sexy, and it’s way too technical. (All new lights are low-voltage, and they have various technical specifications like color temperature, warm dim, fixture dimensions and compatibility, and more.) So, most designers and architects are intimidated, and they simply do the bare minimum lighting design. As described above, they put a few recessed light cans in the corners of the room and a fan in the middle, and that is the extent of their “design.” In the lighting design community, this is typically referred to as “four cans and a fan.” Like wall acne, it’s definitely frowned upon for a new home build.

Instead of four cans and a fan, a properly done lighting design adds multiple layers of light to the space. The lights used are chosen for the specific purpose in that area. If it’s a counter, desk, or workstation, the top of the workspace should be illuminated, not just the area in the ceiling where the fixture is. The quality of the light is important too – how well does the fixture dim, what is the color temperature of the light, etc. (Can the color temperature be varied as the light dims, or as the sun sets, to mimic the quality of natural sunlight?) All of these characteristics and more describe the difference between a “lighting layout” (i.e., just placing enough fixtures in enough locations to illuminate the room) vs. a “lighting design” (i.e., carefully choosing fixtures and layers of light to enhance the beauty and functionality of the space). As I said above, once you’ve seen the difference between a “4 cans and a fan” lighting layout and a proper lighting design, you will never want to go back!

Comparison between basic lighting system and lighting design

Conclusion

As our name implies, here at Arizona Sound & Light, we are passionate about light. It seems superfluous at first until you realize just how important light is to each and every one of us. We rely on many forms and conditions of light every day, throughout the day. If done properly, with expert light control and lighting design, it can really improve and enhance your life. Please give one of our lighting control experts a call, and we’ll be happy to explain more!