C-Bus and Dynalite: Can we live without lighting control?

Of course we can, and we have been for generations since lights were invented.  But with IoT (internet of things) and our increasing reliance on, and expectations of the technology around us, maybe it's time to take another look at what value lighting control such as C-Bus or Dynalite can add to our lives. 

If you can relate to one of the following categories, then lighting control might have something to offer you.

  •   You have pride in your home and take great pleasure improving its look and functionality
  • You are a time-poor family, everyone is coming and going at different times and life is lived at a frantic pace
  • You travel a lot and your home is frequently unoccupied
  • You like implementing technology to improve control, efficiency, and enjoyment from your life
    • You have no idea about technology and make everything worse as soon as you touch a remote control or ipad 
    • You greatly care about the safety of your family 
    • You want to greatly improve the value of your home while having a point of difference when selling

      Why it's worth it

      If you were able to sit and have a coffee with 5 people who own and love C-Bus, this is what they would tell you are the highlights and must-haves, rather than what the brochure tells you.  Many of these points are related to how the C-Bus has been designed, installed, and programmed; therefore not all of the best stuff in C-Bus is an automatic or inherent feature, and needs to be implemented by someone who knows what they are doing.  Make sure you use a C-Bus specialist who can show you some of the work they have done in the past.

      Convenience

      The main benefit to regular people is the ability to switch any light from any switch.  Some people may fail to understand why you want to be able to switch on the pool lights from your bedroom, or garage lights from your kitchen, but you live in the house and you get to decide what works for your twisted, maniacal mind.  Keep in mind that it might take you a few tweaks and a couple of months before you get it right, so allow for a few revisits of the lighting control programmer after you move in.

      Energy Saving

      This comes more with how it's designed and programmed rather than being an automatic feature.  Most programmers set dimmers to output a maximum of 90%, so straight away the extra power used by the C-Bus modules is neutralised.  By installing sensors in bathrooms, pantrys, garages, and utility rooms; the lights will switch off after 10 or 20 minutes of no motion in the room.  Say goodbye to lights being on all night in those sneaky rooms you don't always check.  Having an 'All Off' button next to the bed will ensure you get all the others.

      Regulating temperature with integration to Air Con, automating motorised blinds to keep rooms cool during hours of direct sunlight, and dimming lights in rooms that don't need full brightness are just a few of the ways C-Bus and other lighting control systems can save energy and money.

      Simplicity

      Turning groups of lights on and off with one button, scheduling lights to come on and off at certain times, and lights turning on and off based on motion in the room are some of the ways lighting control simplifies our lives.  We're not talking about freeing up  4 hours a day or eliminating 50% of your stress, but in a world of endless 1st world problems, every little bit of simplification helps.

      Security

      Lighting control can help keep your family safe.  Motion sensors turning on lights in hallways and stairs, or outside paths, will reduce the chance of accidents in the dark.  Those same outdoor sensors turning on lights can also warn you of potential intruders.  Your C-Bus system can also be integrated to your alarm system, so that if the alarm goes off, all the lights will come on.  They can even flash or strobe if you want them to. See our article here on outdoor security lighting  https://moodled.com.au/blogs/news/outdoor-sensor-lights.

      More on C-Bus  https://www.clipsal.com/Trade/Products/Integrated-Systems/C-Bus-Control-and-Management-System.

      More on Dynalite  http://www.lighting.philips.com/main/products/lighting-controls/dynalite.

      You can also learn more about the benefits of C-Bus and Dynalite here  https://moodled.com.au/pages/ebooks

      How to pay for it

      When building or renovating, the budget is usually finite, and less than we need to get all the things we want.  This often means that to add something in, something has to come out.  Prioritising functionality and features against aesthetics and quality is one of the harder things to do during a project, and it hurts to continue adding things to that 'can't afford it' list.  Lighting control often ends up on that list, but here is a few ways to help shift it back in to the 'must have' list.

      I've seen so many Kitchens that cost in excess of $40K with the best appliances and the best bench tops but still end up looking fairly plain at night.  Some of these appliances never truly get used to their potential either.  Now if you’re a budding MKR contestant, your kitchen will probably be all about function rather than form.  As for the rest of us, you could spend $20K on the kitchen, add lighting control with some creative lighting design, and it would look twice as good, still be just as functional, and cost less money.  If you want your kitchen to look outstanding and be the envy of all your guests, spend less on bench tops and appliances and more on lighting design, lighting control, and light fittings.

      Design consultation is another area that can be trimmed to pay for lighting control.  If you have a budget for an interior designer, you can either add lighting control into their budget (sacrificing some of the more frivolous aspects of their design), or reduce their budget enough to allow for lighting control.  In my experience when a designer's budget is reduced, the overall quality doesn't suffer, they just roll back on some of the more extravagant items in the design, such as using the $1500 rug instead of the $8000 rug that looks exactly the same.

      If you're on minimum budget for your designer, perhaps you could remove some of the rooms from their scope.  Have them focus on a few key rooms and use the surplus funds for lighting control.   

      If your interior designer is well known for lighting and lighting technology, then it would make sense to use them for the entire project.   If your designer doesn't specialise in lighting, perhaps use some methods from above to reduce the budget, then hire a lighting designer or lighting control specialist to provide your 'soon to be stunning' lighting system.

      Whole House or Part House

      When you start to break down the budget you may be interested in comparing the cost of doing part of your house in C-Bus or Dynalite rather than all of it. This is certainly valid and worth considering.  Lighting control is definitely more valuable to you in some rooms over others.  For example, outdoor lighting, Kitchen, Living areas, bathrooms, hallways, and master bedrooms I would consider a must; all other rooms are optional.

      Keep in mind though, the moment you scribble on a building plan and take a single light off C-bus and onto standard 240V, you lose a few of the key features of a lighting control system.  For example, your 'All Off' scene will no longer do all lights in the house; nor will the 'All On'.   

      It's also hard to 'wire' for future C-Bus in these zones so think very carefully before deciding to do only half the house.  It's unlikely you will go back and finish the rest later, or even have that as an option. 

      So whilst some of the main features of lighting control require all your house to have it, some rooms having C-Bus is definitely better than none.  I have seen plenty of happy clients who have C-Bus for outdoor lighting, kitchen, lounge, entry, dining, and master bedroom; and truly love their systems. I dare say if you ask them though, they would probably say they wished they had done the whole house.

      Another popular option when it's pushing the budget to do C-Bus through the whole home is to drop back to the basic white lights switches in all the private areas of the house.  Any switch that's in the open or public area can be whichever you choose (and they make some very beautiful switches), then all other rooms just have basic white plastic switches.  This alone can save a few thousand dollars on an average project.  

      If you are not building or renovating, but still want to install lighting control in your existing house, it's not all bad news.  If you have a single storey house with a cavity ceiling it's a big job, but C-bus or Dynalite can be retro-fitted. If your house is 2 storey, you may well find it isn't possible to implement C-Bus or Dynalite, but there are a few lighting control systems designed to work with these limitations.   

      Essentially, instead of all the lights being wired back to a central hub of dimmers and relays, the dimmer/relay is a small 'puck' that goes in the wall behind the switch.  You can even continue to use the existing switch, but you add the benefit of lighting control.  The best example of this style of lighting control is called Control4.  See alternative brands below.

      Full Blown vs DIY

      Let's get something straight right up front, lighting is a 240V electrical service and can kill!  Do not, under any circumstances, try to install lights if you are not a licensed electrician. Of course you can change bulbs, and in some circumstances where there is a socket in the ceiling, you can even change one downlight for another. However all other work on lighting and wiring should only be done by a qualified electrician.  

      You will notice there are a lot of DIY 'smart bulb' options emerging that work from your smart phone.  While these products have their place and are very useful in some scenarios, a 'lighting control system' they are not.  Wifi, Bluetooth, X10, there are a number of different technologies and sometimes there is a problem that might be solved by one of these products.  However if you are looking for some of the benefits discussed in this article, you might find 'smart bulbs' fall short.

      Obviously changing a light bulb for a smart bulb is DIY.  Some systems replace your light switch which will still require an electrician to wire in, but you can do the programming and configuration.  

      Should I Smart Bulb?  Sure, if you just want a few lights to be dimmable, or you want a motion activated light in the hallway, or you want to your lamp to be colour changeable, or you want your light bulbs to also be wifi repeaters, speakers, or CCTV cameras.  But despite the cool features some of these offer, and the relatively inexpensive pricing, these products fall a long way short of a lighting control system.   

      Some only allow you to group 4 or 5 lights together, some only work when your phone is 8  - 10 metres away, and some take 5 - 10 seconds for your phone to connect before you can turn the light on and off.  Some of these things will prove to be quite limiting for most people who are looking for more than one benefit from one light.

      Here's where I think the DIY smart bulbs are useful and popular, included or excluded from a lighting control system.  Elgato make the Avea, a great replacement light bulb for a kids bedside lamp.  They can control it from their ipad, and the colour changing is very popular.  Read more about them here https://moodled.com.au/collections/smart-light-bulb/products/elgato-avea-smart-light-bulb and see this video of them in use here moodLED Avea Smart Light Bulb

      The other popular smart bulb worth considering is the Sengled CCTV bulb.  This is a great replacement for your external floodlights as it has the same motion detection, but it also has a HD security camera that can be viewed over the cloud, and can alert you when it senses motion. Quite a nice way to keep you family safe, even if you're not home.  Read more here https://moodled.com.au/collections/smart-light-bulb/products/sengled-snap-led-smart-light-bulb

      All said and done, Smart light bulbs are a gadget, 'lighting control' is a technology system.  As long as you understand the differences and what each will do for you, you should be able to get the most out of either.


      Alternative Brands

      In this article we have discussed, at length, the merits of C-Bus and Dynalite lighting control systems.  There are, however, a number of other competing brands that are worth being aware of.  While C-Bus is the market leader, Dynalite a very similar product, some of these other brands bring a different slant to lighting control and perhaps some other welcome benefits.

      Control4

      Control4 is essentially a control system, a way for you to easily control all the technology in your house from a simple interface on a touchpanel, ipad, or your smartphone.  However they also have a full suite of lighting control products that rival the functionality of C-Bus and Dynalite.  

      In fact, they have some distinct advantages in their product range.  In a traditional C-Bus system, all the lights are wired back to a central electrical hub, and the dimmers and relays are 'Din' rail mounted within that enclosure.  Control4 have a range of output units that are Din rail mounted, but also have panelised lighting modules, and switch/puck lighting modules.  Panelised is where one or two rooms worth of lighting are connected to the one 'panel' located in the field, and switch/puck are single channel modules that go in the wall where you're existing light switch is.  

      If you haven't guessed it, the biggest advantage of the Control4 puck or Switch dimmer, is that it can be retro-fitted.  To install a C-Bus or Dynalite system in an existing house is at best, expensive and difficult, at worst, not even possible.  Therefore Control4 offers a fantastic option to 'convert' your existing 240V lighting into a lighting control system.  

      Because Control4 is more than just a lighting control system, you are required to have a central controller for any of their equipment to operate and work together.  Having this controller though, buys you a ticket to all of the systems Control4 can control, not just lighting.  Audio/Visual, security, CCTV, irrigation, motorised blinds, access control, etc.  So if you are building a new house or not, and want your lighting control to be one service within your 'Smart Home', Control4 is well worth looking at. www.contro4.com.

       

      Dali

      The important thing to understand about Dali is that it's a protocol, or standard, rather than a product brand.  Therefore any manufacturer can make products within the Dali protocol, and a lighting control system can be designed in a number of different ways with different manufacturers.

      The other main thing to understand about Dali is that it's used primarily in commercial applications, such as office buildings and factories, but is starting to emerge as an attractive option for residential homes.  In simple terms, it adds some 'smarts' to the actual driver of each light fitting, which allows all the lights to be grouped in different ways, rather than being limited by how they are cabled.  This allows for a lot more flexibility in programming compared with C-Bus and Dynalite.  

      The main disadvantages for residential are:

      • Very few 'residential' light fittings have a Dali option at this stage
      • Although the lighting control equipment may cost less, the light fittings cost considerably more
      • If a light fitting fails it will cost more than normal to replace, and it will need to be reprogrammed by your installer/integrator

      Others

      KNX - A standard similar to Dali.

      Crestron - Similar to Control4 but more expensive

      Lutron - Similar to C-Bus but predominantly American

      Pitfalls to Avoid

      As with any technology system, there are people out there with stories of woe and frustration, who unfortunately didn't reach the 'happy customer' list for C-Bus and Dynalite systems.  The notes below will help ensure you do make it to the list, and become one of the group of people who could no longer live in a house without lighting control.

      LED Light Fitting Compatibility

      10 years ago there really wasn't a problem with dichroic lights and compatibility with dimmers.  As LED lights have emerged, with their long list of fantastic benefits,  the one downside is their compatibility with dimming.  Unfortunately, many lighting products say they are dimmable, but do not dim well.  Flickering, shimmering, pulsing, not dimming far enough, and strobing are all common symptoms of lights that are sold as 'Dimmable'.   

      Therefore the first pitfall to avoid is ensuring you have a light specified for the dimming channels that is truly compatible with dimmers, and has been tested to do so extensively.  moodLED was created to find a range of LED light fittings that dim as well as the old Dichroic's, without the bad side effects, so your first stop in avoiding these pitfalls is to visit www.moodled.com.au

      Only use and Established Professional

      You've got a great sparky who did the C-Bus introductory course 5 years ago and you tell him you want C-Bus in your new house.  Unfortunately this is a path towards failure.  No offense to your friendly sparky, but to do lighting control well you need extensive experience and hands-on practice.  One of the downsides to C-Bus is that nearly anyone can buy it, any electrician can install it, and anyone who has done the basic course can program it.  This adds up to lots of cowboys out there leaving a trail of poorly implemented lighting control jobs behind them.  In C-Bus world, only use a 'C-Bus approved installer', or better still, a 'C-Bus pointone' integrator.  They will know how to interpret your needs, design a great system to suit, document it properly, and program it to give you the best result possible.  

      In Dynalite world, there are far less cowboys out there, as the path to becoming an authorised programmer is much more stringent and harder.  However, Dynalite programmers will usually charge a lot more per hour for programming.  Control4 has a similar protection system in place where only a trained and approved programmer can access the programming software, and only a trained dealer can purchase equipment to sell to you.  As a result, there are a lot less 'train wreck' Dynalite and Control4 lighting control systems out there than C-Bus.  C-Bus is still the most rounded product range and best value, just use the right company and you will have no problems.

      Understand the Proposal

      It's critical that you sit with your contractor and go through the proposal they present in detail.  There should be a floor plan with lighting marked up that shows you each and every light, which other lights it is grouped with, whether it is dimmed or switched, and which light switch it will be controlled from.  You also need to be clear if the proposal is for supply and programming, or installation as well.  Some C-Bus/Dynalite specialists are also electrical contractors and will only do a project if they are doing all the electrical, and others are programmers only who need to work with the builders electrician to have the equipment installed.  

      Check the proposal for rooms with movement sensors, such as pantries, laundries, and walk in closets.  You will need to understand how these sensors will be implemented in the design and programming.  In some cases, sensors replace a light switch in a small utility room, and turn on the light when they sense movement, start a timer, then turn off the light when the timer expires.   Other scenarios have a sensor and a switch, the sensor only responsible for turning off the light when the room is empty.  Make sure you understand in detail how these will be implemented, as frustration can occur later if you and the designer were not on the same page with the design.

      If your system design incorporates movement sensors, there are a few other things to consider;

      • What is the exact location of the sensor?  Make sure they are positioned so that they activate as soon as you walk in a room, but not if you are just walking past.
      • Make sure they are not used in a room you expect to give free access to any pets.
      • Check that any external sensors will not have street traffic within their range.
      • Make sure they are not positioned in an area of dynamic temperature or humidity, like directly above a clothes dryer. 

      Here are some other things you need to make sure are detailed and understood in your system design:

      • Exactly which switch style is being proposed for each room.
      • Does the design incorporate control of your ceiling fans, motorised blinds, and exhaust fans or heat lamps?  It should.
      • Who is responsible for running the electrical wires and who is responsible for running the data cable between the light switches? (You would be surprised at how often the data cable gets left off each contractors scope)
      • Is there allowance for one or more call backs about a month after you have moved in to make a few programming changes.  (There will always be some tweaks needed once you have lived with the system for a while)
      • What is the contractors service terms if there is a problem, ie how soon will they come out to fix an issue.  You may be able to go a few days without email but it is unsafe to go a few days without lights.

      Scenes

      Scenes are an important part of any lighting control system.  Recalling the on/off or dimming level of a group of lights with one button is an integral function of C-Bus or Dynalite.  For example, create 4 different but perfect moods for your Lounge room and save them for instant recall.  Have an 'All Off' scene on the switch beside your bed, or a 'Welcome Home' scene at the door where you enter, or better still, triggered by opening your garage door.  

      Make sure you tell your contractor that scenes are important to you and understand how they will incorporate them into your design.  You should know how many scenes they will program, where and how they are activated, what is required to edit them, and what conditions are attached to them.  For example the 'Welcome Home' scene may do different things if it's day time, evening, or late at night.  

      There should be an allowance for the contractor to do a walk through with you during commissioning of the system to discuss and fine-tune the scenes, then a revisit after a month to further tweak them once you have lived in the house.  Poor or no implementation of scenes is one of the pitfalls of a lighting control.

      Control System

      Sometimes your Lighting Control system might be one aspect of a smart home or home automation system.  If you can, avoid having one contractor provide C-Bus, and another that provides only the AV and control.  Try to get one contractor who is capable of doing all of it.  If you do have to have 2 contractors, make sure you sit them in a room during design to ensure the system will be designed for maximum integration, and determine what each contractors scope of works will be to achieve that.  Take copious notes of that meeting and have each contractor sign off on the notes afterward.   

      The reason for this is to avoid the "I didn't allow to do that…" or the "That was in his scope, not mine.." excuses that can come at the end.  If your system is not integrated to the other technologies in your home at the optimum level, you may not make it to the "Can't live without lighting control" list.  

      If you are using one contractor for all of the technology systems, make sure they are designing it so you only need to use one interface.  There is nothing worse than having to switch between 3 apps on your phone to turn down the lights in a room, switch on the music, select a spotify playlist, and adjust the volume.  If you have an "All Off" button on your light switch, it should also be programmed to turn off the TV, ceiling fans, and Air con for that room, and not just the lights.  This is called integration or home automation and can take lighting control to a whole new level.  To avoid disparate systems that don't integrate well, choose brands like Control4 or Push Controls as your first choice, or RTI, Savant, Crestron as a second tier.  

      For more information on Home Automation and Smart Homes, see www.homeautomationexplained.com.au

      Also check out a fantastic new Video Intercom Doorbell that works with most automation systems here  https://doorbirdintercom.com.au/

      Under Specified

      The thing I have seen most in my experience is homes that were under-specified for lighting control, or lighting in general.  Things like a grand lounge room with a fireplace, sitting area, and TV; with only 1 lighting circuit that is not even on a dimming channel.  It's almost not worth it to have lighting control in this room with 1 circuit.  A room like that needs to have 4 or 5 separate dimming circuits, so that an entirely different mood setting can be created depending on whether you're watching TV, drinking a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, or reading a book in the sitting area.  Of course these scenes will be saved and accessible via one button press.   Make sure there are enough and varying lighting circuits to create moods and allow maximum functionality with your lighting control system.  Creatively, this is the job of a lighting designer.  

      I've seen other systems where the user presses the 'All Off' button as they get into bed, then notice out the window that the pool house lights are still on, because they weren't added to the C-Bus system for budget reasons.  He has to get back out of bed, trudge down the stairs, out to the Pool House and turn the lights off, then head back to bed in the dark.  Not ideal and shouldn't happen with a lighting control system, however, if you restrict the budget and don't do the full house, this is an example of the downside.  

      Another way a system can be underspecified is with the light switches.  If you have 2 light circuits in a room and have a 2 button switch, there is no way to implement scenes or advanced programming.  If you have a 4 or 6 button switch in that room, now you can have a button for each light, a few scenes for the room, and maybe an 'All Off' at the bottom. Avoid a design that has just enough buttons on switches to accommodate the local circuits.  Keep in mind, within any particular style of switch, there's usually only a $10 to $30 difference between the 2, 4, 5, 6 button varieties.  The big cost difference in switches is between the styles.  A plain white plastic switch will be considerably cheaper than a glass switch with dynamic labelling.  Although switch style can also be a category that can be underspecified, the end effect is usually more aesthetic rather than functional.

      Under Utilisation

      I once spoke to a C-Bus system owner who complained he thought his system was a complete waste of money.  I asked if I could visit and inspect the system to which he agreed.  When I arrived I saw a tasteful, elegant, middle class house.  This was not a multi-million dollar home. As I explored the system, I discovered that the C-bus design was emulating a standard 240V lighting system.  There were even around 20 dimming channels where the buttons were programmed to be on/off, so dimming wasn't available.

      None of the benefits of lighting control over normal lighting were implemented!  Basically, the user had purchased a more expensive, but standard lighting system for his new home.  He later explained to me that the electrician he was using was interested in but had no previous experience with C-Bus, and had to do the basic course before starting.

      With around 2 hours of programming, we were able to introduce some scenes, dimming on all the appropriate channels, and some schedules and timers.  This made a huge impact to the usability of the system, and the client was completely turned around on the benefits of a C-Bus system.  We later followed up with another visit and added a few sensors, a module for advanced programming, and some upgrades to a few switches.  The difference when we were finished was massive compared to when we started.  The client who was firmly in the 'Don't buy C-Bus it's a waste of money' camp, is now unconditionally in the 'Can't live without lighting control', camp. 

      Poor Pink Cabling

      With C-Bus and Dynalite the switches are cabled with a standard 'CAT' style cable.  C-Bus make their own version which is 240V rated and can therefore be wired into an electrical enclosure.  This cable is pink in colour, hence the term 'C-Bus pink' that you will hear bouncing around the building site.  While Dynalite has some differences to the way the switches are wired, some of the problems listed below can still occur.

      Issues relating to cabling can come in 2 kinds: Problems at the commissioning stage getting the whole system online; and operational problems after hand-over.   

      As the owner, you may not even be aware of commissioning problems that were present then fixed.  But some may take days to find and fix with considerable extra resources required.  Commonly these type of issues would be to do with the way the cable is 'looped' around your home, or terminated on the switch.  The symptom may be some switches or sensors not powering up or not able to be 'scanned' by the programmer.  In most cases these issues will have no effect to you or your budget, but this is one of those areas where if there are 2 or more different companies with overlapping scopes, the problem might find its way to your list.  If the programmer wasn't responsible for running the 'C-Bus pink', he may blame the electrician, and vice versa.  

      At the end of the day these problems usually always have a solution.  However to avoid them coming up, try to engage one company to do it all, or at least have the C-Bus programming company run the pink cable, while the electrician runs all the 240V lighting cable and installs the dimmers and relays.  

      Some issues may not be picked up at commissioning and present themselves later as light switches that flash their indicator led's, or light switches not working.  The path to repair is the same as above, however, it's usually after you've paid the bill so it may be harder to get action.  Also because you live there, the impact will be substantially more inconvenient.  Use a professional and you will be unlikely to face this issue.  

      When considering C-Bus, the most experienced contractors can be found here. 

      http://www.c-buspointone.com.au/general/find_a_c-bus_pointone_member

      Or here.

      http://www1.clipsal.com/cbusai/find_a_c-bus_approved_installer

      For Dynalite, try here.

      http://www.lighting.philips.com.au/products/dynalite/where-to-buy

       

      So there you have it.  In the age of the smartphone, and the amazing things our technology can do, it's time to consider leveraging some of that technology to make our homes more beautiful, safer, and convenient.  What I have tried to provide you is both sides of the argument rather than just a glossy brochure, and some of the things to avoid in an effort to increase your success in implementing a lighting control system.  Now go and get yourself on the 'can't live without Lighting Control', list. 

       

       


       

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