Home Automation: Lighting Control

Collect all the info you'll need on home automation lighting control, and prepare to increase the energy efficiency and security of your home with an automated lighting scheme.


Living area with flat screen mounted on the wall with white furniture, wood coffee table, hardwood floor and steps leading up to other rooms.

By: Sean McEvoy

Home automation systems can offer great convenience and efficiency for homeowners, saving precious things like free time, energy and perhaps best of all, dollars and cents. One of the most popular control systems chosen by homeowners is lighting control, which offers all of the above benefits, plus the bonus of increased security for your home.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Windows

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Windows are bigger than ever today. Literally. Homeowners can now choose from a robust selection of window products that are functional, decorative, and more efficient than ever before — with many qualifying for a tax rebate of up to $1,500 if installed before December 31, 2010. These enhancements give us more ways to usher natural light and fresh air into the home.

"People are less inclined to cover up their windows, and they're more interested in the window and the trim being a focal point of the room," says Barrie Spang, a Cleveland, Ohio-based home stager. "Windows are more of a priority than they used to be."

According to a Pella Home Improvement Survey, about 3 in 10 people planning home improvements in 2010 will install new windows. Technologies in tinting and frame fabrication, along with an emergence of hardware options beyond the standard painted metal, are giving them plenty of choices. Image courtesy of Andersen Windows (andersen.com)

High Energy

Low-e argon gas-filled windows are the gold standard in energy efficient design, and you'll pay about 15 to 20 percent more for this premium option, says Tim Franklin, architect/owner of Akron, Ohio-based Tim Franklin & Associates.

If you plan to stay in your home at least five years, you'll realize a return on this investment. In the meantime, these windows are 30 percent more efficient than most conventional double-pane windows, so you'll cut your energy bills.

You might have heard about triple-pane windows, the latest super-energy saver. But you might want to wait before investing in these windows, which are intended for severe weather climates. Their insulating power over alternatives has yet to be substantiated by the industry, Franklin says. Image courtesy of Tim Franklin & Associates


You'd be hard-pressed to find a new window without a double pane, but that doesn't mean that glass is thick enough to prevent heat loss.

Hone in on the window's U-factor (or U-value), which measures the rate of heat loss. The lower the U-value, the greater a window's resistance to heat flow, and the better its insulating value.

The Efficient Windows Collaborative, a consortium of manufacturers that promote energy-efficient windows, recommends a U-factor of .35 or less for northern climates; .40 or less for north and south central climates; and .75 for southern climates. Image courtesy of Marvin Windows and Doors (marvin.com)

Friendly Frames

Wood is high-maintenance; vinyl is easy-care but lacks aesthetic appeal. Aluminum-clad frames are top-end and you'll pay about 30 percent more for these than vinyl. You might consider fiberglass. "It's more dimensionally stable than wood or vinyl, low-maintenance and if you get the right brand, more energy efficient," Franklin says.

Fiberglass resembles wood but is moisture-safe, bug-repellent and maintenance-free. "When the frames are painted, they look like wood," he adds. The cost is similar to a wood-framed window, sometimes less.

Meanwhile, contemporary homes can go virtually frameless. Mark Newman, a San Francisco, Calif.-based designer, is working on projects that incorporate minimalist paint-grade wood frames that are left unstained. "Another thing I'm seeing in contemporary projects is frameless windows with a reveal around the perimeter that's about 1/8" deep so it subtly outlines the window," he says. Image courtesy of Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.

Tint Technology

Forget the tacky films that peel at the corners or too-dark tints that completely block views of the outdoors. New films for windows fool the eye completely, provide UV protection that preserves paint and textiles and keep a house cooler.

"There are windows that are tinted and you wouldn't know it," Franklin says of windows that are manufactured with various gradations of UV-repellent film and look like "normal" windows. Homeowners in the South, Southwest and other hot regions will reap energy-saving rewards from tinting windows ever so slightly. And no one will know! Image courtesy of 3M

Transoms That Open

Transoms are the "eyebrow art" of a window. Rather than providing fixed transoms that exist for aesthetics only, some manufacturers are rolling out "active" transoms that open, providing an inlet for fresh air.

What's more, the look of these working windows is more appealing because they require deeper casing, Franklin says. "Active transoms have more depth, so they don't look like a flat piece of glass stuck on the wall with a bit of casing," he explains.

Homeowners seeking environmental benefits from a window design should move away from configurations like radius-style windows shaped like half-moons, "sunbursts" or circles, which do not open.

Meanwhile, double-hung windows are back as the most popular style (though casements reign in contemporary homes), and now they're easier to operate and available in larger sizes. Image courtesy of Tim Franklin & Associates

Have a Seat

Design elements surrounding the window are getting more attention, such as the cozy window seat that older homes boast. Spang says people are asking for new window seat installations, which are generally poplar wood, painted. "Window seats are multi-purpose and we can hide a lot of storage underneath them," she points out. They can provide seating and a nook for reading or napping. (The family dog will appreciate this "lift" to his window to the world.) Image courtesy of Barrie Spang, Staged to Sell

Eye Candy

Hardware on windows is a package deal. You can't buy a window without it, so what you generally get is painted metal. But not anymore. Look for latching hardware in oil-rubbed bronze, satin nickel and brushed nickel. "I think manufacturers have been slow on the uptake in terms of offering different types of hardware, but I see that finally starting to change," Franklin says. Image copyright Simonton Windows (Simonton.com). Used by permission.

If you're considering a home automation lighting control system, you'll first want to explore the varying levels of cost and complexity available, from simple, standalone products that operate on a manually operated timer to turn lights on and off, to extremely sophisticated lighting control that integrates with a state-of-the-art whole-house automation system.

For homeowners interested in a simple and efficient lighting control system, minus any complex bells and whistles, the option of a traditional manual timer-controlled lighting system will definitely be worth considering. Significantly cheaper than more advanced models that can be controlled and configured wirelessly or from anywhere on the planet via the internet, these basic systems plug directly into electrical outlets and feature simple clock timers that can be set to any desired duration, which will then repeat on a 24-hour basis.

The next level of complexity among automated home lighting systems is a more contemporary but still standalone system. This execution generally features the ability to control home lighting wirelessly or via the internet, but it does not connect to a fully networked, whole-house system, which might also feature controls for things like HVAC, security and outdoor sprinklers.

If your home requires a more integrated system, or if you're simply in the market for something truly state of the art, you may want to investigate a lighting automation system that's bundled with a whole house system. This way, you'll be able to control all of your home's systems—security, HVA, sprinklers, lighting, pet feeding and just about anything else you might need—via your wireless network or the internet. While a whole-house system is at the top of the pricing tiers for automated home control systems, you may find that the savings over time in terms of cost and time make the initial expenditure more palatable. Additionally, a whole-home control system may increase your home's resale value and attractiveness to prospective buyers.

Whichever home automation lighting control tier you choose to implement in your home, it's important to note one of the added benefits of automated lighting: security. Lighting systems--particularly for outdoor lighting—can be easily integrated with security systems and often feature motion detection as a deterrent for criminals. Even without sophisticated features, a basic lighting automation system that keeps your home consistently well-lit whether you're home or not can operate as a deterrent on its own.

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