Increasingly my clients are seeking complicated and expansive lighting plans – banks of recessed floods for ambient lighting, directional recessed or track lighting to light artwork, specialized task lighting and decorative or accent lighting such as pendants. Many or all of these lights are on dimmer switches and there are switches in multiple locations to control the lights. This often results in banks of 5-gang switch plates. Some of my clients complain that they can’t remember which switch controls which lights or complain that they need to make multiple adjustments in order to get the lighting look they want – and so they often don’t take the time to do so and settle for what works in most situations.
The answer to these clients is lighting controls. Lutron, Leviton and many other manufacturers support what’s often known as scene controls. This controller is in the home of one of my friends who built a high-end new home. You can select a single button and turn on a specific pre-selected set of fixtures to turn on and each at a selected dimming level. So when I visit, I can turn on the lights I need to make coffee in the morning and then select a different set to turn on lights that only light my favorite reading chair. I don’t need to turn on excess lights or experiment with what grouping will work. My friends entertain frequently and have light groupings and levels set for different types of entertaining. Equally nice is the ability to push a single button and turn-off every light on the entire floor at once when retiring for the night or leaving the house for the day.
These systems are not cheap. There are many additional wiring runs required and usually the assistance of skilled labor to program what’s required. Such a system will add thousands of dollars to your remodeling budget – and is only really worth doing in my opinion if you’re bringing walls down to studs. These systems are part of what’s known as structured wiring. Structured wiring systems can also be more extensive including automation to raise and lower sets of blinds, turn-up and down your thermostat, and run your media, network and security systems. While increasingly high-end homes include such systems, mid-range remodels seldom include them.
The time to consider the system is at the beginning of a remodel because costs are dramatically affected by advance planning. Retro-fitting after a remodel is underway can add unnecessary costs to the project.