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Thread: The first step - Lighting dimmers

  1. #1
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    Default The first step - Lighting dimmers

    Hi,

    We're in the process of having some building work done which involves a new living room ceiling, new light fittings and various bits of replastering - so I thought it was an ideal time to investigate some basic home automation.

    So far though, I don't seem to have found an ideal solution for what I think I need - so any advice will be welcome.

    The room is an extension with a flat roof, so that means there are limitations in where 'boxes of electronics' such as external dimmers can be mounted.

    There will be 4 lights in the room, two ceiling lights, a table lamp and a 'standard lamp' up lighter. The ideal is that a control remains on the wall where the current switch is that has simple on / off switches and dim controls and a couple of buttons to recall preset scenes. Also the ideal is that this double gang unit also houses the two channels of diming for the ceiling lights but can control the other lights plugged into normal sockets via RF or signalling on the mains. I would also like to be able to control the lights from our universal remote (IR) and just for the sake of gadgets would like to be able to link the control to a PC in the future and gradually expand the system.

    However I want something that anyone (ie grandparents) can operate without having to learn. Having seen various push on, push off, hold to ramp up and down solutions I'm not keen on these - people end up holding them for a bit longer than a 'push' but not long enough for the lights to fade up noticeably and so can't work out why the lights aren't coming on. I also want something that looks ‘nice’ – some of the X10 switches I’ve seen are just plain ugly!

    I'm also paying for all this myself - so want something that I don't think is extortionate. I'm frustrated that you can by a RF controlled plug in dimmer for £10 - but for an integrated system the same dimmer element can be £150.

    So I’ve looked at various solutions I’ve found through google:

    X10
    The question here seems to be how to provide a ‘nice’ light switch. Prices seem sensible, IR interfaces seem to be ugly boxes, but there are quite a few interface units available and the options of both RF and mains signalling.

    Lutron Rania IR
    This is the kind of interface I’d like for a dual dimmer, it’s a dimmer and switch in one unit and it’s got the IR control – however no expansion to real home automation.

    Futronix
    2 channel dimmer that fits in a single gang UK box with all sorts of bells and whistles, includes IR remote control – but no expansion options.

    SceneStyle
    Same as Futronix – no expansion

    Get Smart
    Inline dimmer option for the table lamp – but I don’t like the idea of having a battery powered switch, I’ve got a problem with where to put the dimmers for the ceiling lights and it doesn’t seem to be expandable to real home automation.

    Rako
    Has the problem of where to house the dimmers again, plus battery powered controllers – however again there is an inline dimmer option for the table lamp, IR and computer interfaces – including a bi-directional computer interface so it can interrogate the current state. But wow it’s expensive!

    Ulti
    Looks good, has a dual dimmer with 4 buttons and an inline dimmer for the table lamp. Not cheap. Computer interface is only unidirectional. RF control only, no IR. The worst web site in the world!

    C-Bus wireless
    Not sure what the difference is between this and Ulti – except they seem to be more expensive for the same 4 button dual dimmer. Computer interfacing seems to be via wireless to wired C-bus gateway plus a computer interface – so double the cost.

    Z-Wave
    Seems like an attempt at improving on X10 - but setup seems to be over complicated (and you have to buy a dedicated remote to be able to program it) and isn't readily available in the UK.

    Domia
    I haven't understood the difference between the 10 and Lite ranges. The advantage seems to be a technical improvement on X10 - but as there doesn't seem to be a unit to meet my 'dual dimmer in wall box with local control' requirement is it worth mixing them with other X10 units.

    I'm starting to think X10 is going to be the most flexible option, perhaps with a couple of Marmitek micro dimmer modules in the back of the current double gang switch box with a 'nice' looking switch panel on the front.

    Any comments?

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    Moderator toscal's Avatar
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    Have a look here http://x10-hk.com
    Also the dimming micro modules use momentary switches so you can choose a range of switches you like.
    Last edited by toscal; 16th January 2008 at 07:22 PM.

  3. #3
    Automated Home Legend TimH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    Hi,

    We're in the process of having some building work done which involves a new living room ceiling, new light fittings and various bits of replastering - so I thought it was an ideal time to investigate some basic home automation.

    So far though, I don't seem to have found an ideal solution for what I think I need - so any advice will be welcome.

    The room is an extension with a flat roof, so that means there are limitations in where 'boxes of electronics' such as external dimmers can be mounted.
    If you're mounting anything in the ceiling void you will need to provide access to maintain it. Wiring regulations also state that all mechanical joints in cable (screw terminals etc.) must have maintenance access.

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    I would also like to be able to control the lights from our universal remote (IR) and just for the sake of gadgets would like to be able to link the control to a PC in the future and gradually expand the system.
    This point is probably your first decision. Do you put something in now which does the job, knowing that you'll change it later, or do you pre-invest for future functionality?
    X10 has a low initial cost, is scalable, but some people have reliability issues. CBus, for example, does have a higher initial cost but also greater reliability and functionality vs. X10)

    I'll offer my 2p on a few of your options

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    X10
    The question here seems to be how to provide a ‘nice’ light switch. Prices seem sensible, IR interfaces seem to be ugly boxes, but there are quite a few interface units available and the options of both RF and mains signalling.
    There are fairly cheap (~£30) IR remote extender systems, so you could hide the "ugly box" away and just relay IR signals to it...
    (see this thread http://www.automatedhome.co.uk/vbull...ead.php?t=1450)
    The Clipsal modular faceplates may provide you with a "window" to receive the IR through, just be careful not to mix mains and low voltage signals in the same back box.
    (http://www.letsautomate.com/clipsal.cfm?)

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    Rako
    Has the problem of where to house the dimmers again, plus battery powered controllers – however again there is an inline dimmer option for the table lamp, IR and computer interfaces – including a bi-directional computer interface so it can interrogate the current state. But wow it’s expensive!
    I don't know what the expected/claimed battery life is, but if switch locations are fixed, you could rig up a remote power supply to permanently power the units and fix the switch to the wall as per any other switch.

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    Ulti
    Looks good, has a dual dimmer with 4 buttons and an inline dimmer for the table lamp. Not cheap. Computer interface is only unidirectional. RF control only, no IR. The worst web site in the world!

    C-Bus wireless
    Not sure what the difference is between this and Ulti – except they seem to be more expensive for the same 4 button dual dimmer. Computer interfacing seems to be via wireless to wired C-bus gateway plus a computer interface – so double the cost.
    I'm not sure, but I *think* Util is a separate, standalone system whereas CBus Wireless can be integrated with a wired Cbus network.
    Clipsal have announced their training programme for 2008 which now includes 3 levels of CBus courses (http://www.automatedhome.co.uk/C-Bus...nnounced.html), which seems to indicate that the product is well supported. Other feedback I've seen says the kit is very reliable with few failures.

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    I'm starting to think X10 is going to be the most flexible option, perhaps with a couple of Marmitek micro dimmer modules in the back of the current double gang switch box with a 'nice' looking switch panel on the front.

    Any comments?
    As mentioned, X10 is a good starting point as it's got a low entry cost. You could go ahead with X10 initially, bit with some extra thought during the install, pre-wire for a different technology (CBus?) should you wish to expand later. You can hide unused wires in the wall for later use - I've done this in a number of places (Cat5 to light switch positions, for e.g.)

    Another one for your list - Idratek (www.idtratek.com). The automation software (Cortex) that runs behind the hardware is very feature-rich and has the advantage that if part of the "intelligence" falls over, it can revert to basic functionality, or "reflex" operation (so if the PC crashes the lights can still go on & off...). I'm not an expert on this one, but there is a specific forum here on Automated Home for Idratek and the feedback I hear is that the Idratek guys are very supportive
    It is also more than just a "lighting" system, the Idratek network supports all manner of other sensors and allows some quite complex automation possibilities.

    HTH somewhat

    Tim.

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    Thanks for your reply Tim.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    If you're mounting anything in the ceiling void you will need to provide access to maintain it. Wiring regulations also state that all mechanical joints in cable (screw terminals etc.) must have maintenance access.
    Yep, I was basically saying that I didn't want to put anything other than bits of wire between the ceiling and flat roof.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    This point is probably your first decision. Do you put something in now which does the job, knowing that you'll change it later, or do you pre-invest for future functionality?
    The problem with this seems to be that X10 has such a wide range of produts, where all of the other systems may be a more reliable protocol, allow more devices, but just don't seem to have the same selection of devices.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    X10 has a low initial cost, is scalable, but some people have reliability issues. CBus, for example, does have a higher initial cost but also greater reliability and functionality vs. X10)
    My issue with all this is that the cost seems to be a significant multiple - not just a 10% premium. I think with the units on the site that toscal pointed me at, it seems that their 'enhanced' X10 can do everything I'd ever need - as long as it does what it says on the tin (more in a separate post)

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    I'll offer my 2p on a few of your options
    That's exactly what I was after ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    There are fairly cheap (~£30) IR remote extender systems, so you could hide the "ugly box" away and just relay IR signals to it...
    I'm sure I can come up with something. An IR sensor extended on the end of a thin bit of wire also seems possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    I don't know what the expected/claimed battery life is, but if switch locations are fixed, you could rig up a remote power supply to permanently power the units and fix the switch to the wall as per any other switch.
    It's 2 years, but they generally seem to be little button batteries. As soon as there more than one switch / remote it's just starting to be a pain. The problem in my case is where to put a low voltage PSU, it can't just live under the upstairs floorboards.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    I'm not sure, but I *think* Util is a separate, standalone system whereas CBus Wireless can be integrated with a wired Cbus network.
    Yes but the problem is they don't say - and what looks like the same 'Saturn' dimmer module seems to be £50 more expensive if you buy it as a CBus Wireless rather than a Ulti unit. They also seem to be connected with Getplc - so are those units also compatible?

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    Clipsal have announced their training programme for 2008 ...
    I think someone needs to train the Ulti people how to design a web site - it's very prety but trying to find the information is almost impossible. You basically have to find the pdfs to download as there's no real content on the web site.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    As mentioned, X10 is a good starting point as it's got a low entry cost. You could go ahead with X10 initially, bit with some extra thought during the install, pre-wire for a different technology (CBus?) should you wish to expand later. You can hide unused wires in the wall for later use - I've done this in a number of places (Cat5 to light switch positions, for e.g.)
    As long as it works, I'm struggling to see what X10 won't do within the limit of 256 devices.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    Another one for your list - Idratek (www.idtratek.com). The automation software (Cortex) that runs behind the hardware is very feature-rich and has the advantage that if part of the "intelligence" falls over, it can revert to basic functionality, or "reflex" operation (so if the PC crashes the lights can still go on & off...). I'm not an expert on this one, but there is a specific forum here on Automated Home for Idratek and the feedback I hear is that the Idratek guys are very supportive
    It is also more than just a "lighting" system, the Idratek network supports all manner of other sensors and allows some quite complex automation possibilities.
    Yep, looks quite good, but it's another propietary system with a limited range of hardware - ie no plug in / in line dimmer for my table lamp.

    Thanks again.

    Liam

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    Quote Originally Posted by toscal View Post
    Have a look here http://x10-hk.com
    Also the dimming micro modules use momentary switches so you can choose a range of switches you like.
    This looks quite promising. Quite good looking switches in UK format, including ones with built in dimmers. Enhanced X10 electronics which should help reliability. Scene memory modules so it's not relying on a PC to turn a single command into multiple commands.

    Has anyone actually got any of these or know anything about the company?

    Also they seem to have these '(encrypt)' versions of things - but I haven't found an explanation of it yet.

    So from this web site I would get (please point out any floors in this plan! - links to products in the text):

    Double gang frame - so it will directly replace the old dimmer.

    Double button Lamp Wall Switch (2 Wire , no neutral connection) - ideal to control the two ceiling lights. Looks like and works like a normal light switch. My only concern here is that the lights we were looking at are 200W each - the web page says 400W max, but the pdf manual says 500W max so this could be right on the limit. Is one lamp blowing going to destroy the dimmer? Can this unit be interogated from a computer interface to see it's state?

    Two Scene Controller Wall Switch - it looks like I can mount this next to the dimmer and have a couple of scenes that control either the standard and table lamp, or those plus the ceiling lights. The only down side is that I need to make sure there's a neutral in that double gang box. Also this only seems to be a transmitter - so I can't trigger the states stored in this from a remote control. Will I need something that can send absolute dim values to be able to setup a scene? If so, any suggestions.

    As this will need the neutral, is there any difference between having a dimmer that needs a neutral or not - there are both options available?

    Lamp Plug-in Module - that's the table and standard lamp dimming sorted.

    To be able to control these from either IR or RF remote I'd need X10 IR\RF Transciever + Mini Controller Is there a cheap X10 IR remote that I can use to teach my universal remote a sequence for 'unit 1 on' etc?

    I assume with this setup a control over mains computer interface (CM11 / CM12U?) is going to be better than an RF Interface

    If I want any more scenes, I just add one (or more) of these somewhere in the area 4 Scene Micro Module Or will the CM11 / CM12 do this?

    So it seems to be everything I was looking for (again assuming it works) for £170 + delivery, which is about the price of one Lutron dual IR controlled dimmer.

    Liam
    Last edited by Liam; 17th January 2008 at 02:10 PM.

  6. #6
    Automated Home Legend TimH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    The problem with this seems to be that X10 has such a wide range of produts, where all of the other systems may be a more reliable protocol, allow more devices, but just don't seem to have the same selection of devices.
    Were you thinking of any particular X10 modules/features?
    Idratek for sure, and also CBus do support "other" modules, and/or have a way of configuring their I/O to replicate the functionality of other devices, e.g. for CBus you could use Bus Couplers and/or Aux units to use non-CBus switches on a CBus network (it's a coincidence, but for e.g. the Clipsal switches I posted the link for previously).

    Idratek has out of the box support for humidity, temperature, etc.

    Cheers,

    Tim.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TimH View Post
    Were you thinking of any particular X10 modules/features?
    It was more the issue of physical aspects of the modules. i.e. to control my table lamp and uplighter it will be far eaiser with a plug in module, in line between the socket and lamp so that I don't need to change that wiring or the sockets they're plugged in to. This will also allow things to be easily moved round at a later date.

    I'd be interesting in comments on my 'shopping list' - any limitations you think I may not have spotted with that X10 setup.

    Liam

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    Moderator toscal's Avatar
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    Lets assume that you have chosen X10.
    I always recommend installing a whole house X10 filter. This goes after the main circuit breaker. This filters out any noise coming into the house and prevents your X10 signals leaving the house.
    There are quite a few universal 8 in 1 remotes available that can transmit RF X10, Price ranges from 25 euros up to well rather a lot I know some remotes that cost over 700 euros.
    Be careful when buying some 2 scene modules as they are really one scene that is turned on by one button and turned off by another.
    The X10-2 modules are a good improvement over the original, and seem to respond to much lower X10 signals.
    A CM11 would allow a bit more versatility to your scenes, but it would mean that they would have to be triggered either by the remote or by a 2 way X10 module. This means a module capable of transmitting its status or a module that just transmit X10 addresses.
    I use a Homevision controller www.csi3.com this is very versatile. I use a Harmony 895 to control all my entertainment and via the RF extender I also use it to control my lights via the Homevision. I just programmed the Harmony with some strange remote for a TV and the taught the Homevision the IR codes and what to do when it receives them.
    Any question just ask I've also sent you a PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by toscal View Post
    Lets assume that you have chosen X10.
    I'm waiting for someone to give me a good reason not to choose X10 and an alternative that achieves what I want (without lots more dedicated cabling and lots of money)

    Liam

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    Moderator toscal's Avatar
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    X10 can be made to be very reliable. I very rarely have problems with it turning on or off or simply not working.
    When it doesn't work its usually finger trouble or the cleaner has knocked the IR sensor, though this has now been fixed, or I've unplugged the TM13 X10 RF transceiver.

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