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Which is Best: “Hardwired” or “Electrical Grid” Lighting Control for New & Remodeled Homes?

Of course it is hard to answer the question as to which lighting control technology, hardwired or electrical grid is best. There are many capabilities and features of each system to take into consideration when trying to assess the better technology. So when everything is added up there are surely features of each system which will cause this or that person to gravitate in either direction.

Hardwired System

Before any decision can be made we should take the time to understand the underlying technology of each system. For example, a hardwired system at its core is one that transmits and receives lighting commands over real wires installed with the walls. On the walls scattered throughout a given home are low-voltage switches. There are low-voltage wires running through the walls connecting those switches to a switch consolidator electronic component.

Low-voltage generally means that a scant 12Vdc power is utilized as power at the switches. Lighting control commands are generated when one presses one of the buttons of the switch on the wall. That command is carried on low-voltage wire and identified in the switch consolidator component. It is a lot like a telephone switch board that links one caller with another. It does not execute the commands it simply identifies which button has been pressed and conveys the information to the proprietary computer.

When the information reaches the computer an action is taken. The action taken depends on the programming downloaded previously into the computer. For example, button “A” may be programmed to turn on the kitchen light whereas button “B” may be programmed to turn on a scene where multiple lights are turned on. Every aspect of each light load can be programmed individually. The illumination level, ramp up rate and fade down rate is programmed. In addition, specific lighting control scenes wherein multiple lights receive commands simultaneously are possible.

Electrical Grid System

The primary difference between a hardwired system and an electrical grid system is that there is no specific low-voltage control wire installed for command entry at the switch in the latter. In fact, the electrical grid system has no control wire at all. The wiring of the lights within the home by the electrician is performed in the normal way. That is to say that the electrician will install a J-box for each light then wire in a power, neutral, and ground to power the switch and ultimately the connected light load.

What happens when one presses a switch to the “on” position when an electrical grid light switch has been installed? With no programming at all, right out of the box the switch will allow electricity to flow to the light load which will then illuminate. So far there is no difference between this switch and a standard switch from Home Depot®. However, right out of the box with no programming whatsoever the switch provides interesting and useful capabilities. If one presses the top of the switch once the light load will ramp up to 80% illumination over a two second interval thus avoiding the shock of the light coming on full steam immediately. If one taps the top of the switch twice the light will snap on to 100% immediately.

When it relates to the electrical grid system we are only getting started. The reason is that once all the dimmers and controllers have been installed the programming begins. Every aspect of each light load can be programmed individually. The illumination level, ramp up rate and fade down rate is programmed. In addition, specific lighting control scenes wherein multiple lights receive commands simultaneously are possible.

Underlying Technology

How do the command signals get from each switch to other light loads if the switches are wired like traditional switches? Well first of all it must be understood that the electrical grid switches are not normal switches as you have likely surmised. They are actually very sophisticated electronic components that are able to transmit and receive coded commands over the electrical grid in the home. The technology permits command signals to be broken down into binary information which is transmitted in the milivolt range at or very close to the “0” volt position of the 60 Hz electrical sine wave.

What’s The Bottom Line?

A hardwired system requires the expense of low-voltage wiring and the expense of having it installed. In addition, the low-voltage switches must then be installed and “wired up”. The electrical grid system does not require running of control wires and the switches are installed by the electrician in his normal contract to wire the house for AC. Generally the hardwired system cost in the range of triple what an electrical grid system cost. As far as programming is concerned the two technologies are pretty much equal.

My Opinion

I have installed hardwired, wireless, and electrical grid systems. For the last five years I only install the electrical grid technology known as Universal Power Bus®. There is no comparison with other systems in terms of ease of installation and cost. In addition, it is very reliable.

Installing Numerous Systems

It has been my experience that when home owners are considering one system for their new or remodeled home, they are likely considering other technologies as well. It would be in your best interest to have installation guides on each system you would like to include in your project. Read them all then procure your components, special tools, and cable so that they are all on the job site ahead of your proposed start date.


Several Golden Advantages of Pulling Bundled Cable in New and Remodeled Homes

I don’t know which manufacturer first invented bundled cable for residential and small commercial use, but it was a fine day for America and the rest of the industrialized world when they did. It is like the old proverbial phrase, “It’s better than sliced bread.”

Many of you are thinking privately to yourself now, “Wow this guy really likes his bundled cable!” But it’s true, this new way of wrapping multiple cable types in one tough outer coating made wiring houses and small businesses so much easier. It opened up many other possibilities in the sheer number of electronic technologies that could be installed due in large part to labor savings. However, it also reduced the overall cost of the cable as well.

Think About the Labor

Think about what it takes to pull a single cable through the walls from the most distant bedroom in a home all the way back to the electronics distribution panel. First you have to select a path in the framing studs of the home, then drill holes large enough to accommodate the particular wire you are pulling. When that is complete you set the cable up on a roller or pull it out of a box through the walls to the panel.

Yes, if you are going to pull three types of cable at once the trick is to just drill slightly larger holes in the framing then wrestle with each wire as you pull it through the walls. All the while special attention has to be given to the process to avoid kinking or tangling the cables. When you are all complete you have three different cables pulled for that bedroom.

Do It the Easy Way

Now picture yourself drilling a 5/8” hole in the center of the framing studs. Set up a 500 foot roll of bundled cable to be pulled off the roll. First of all when you pull the cable it is much thicker and comes off the roll without kinking or tangling. Those two problems are a thing of the past. You can be pretty rough while pulling it through the walls because the outer coating is thicker than smaller cable. Damaging the cable by bending it too much is not going to happen with bundled cable.

Now Look What You’ve Got

When you are finished you have successfully pulled two Cat 5e twisted pair cables, two quality RG-6 quad-shielded coax cables, and two multi-mode fiber optic cables. Into one room with one pull you have pulled enough cable for three telephone lines, one fax line, one computer terminal, video entertainment, a video camera, plus enough fiber optic cable to handle any technology that will come along in the next 25 years. Now you know why I am so excited about bundled cable.

Well if you have pulled one bundled cable to every room in your house, now you can install an electronics distribution cable in a centrally located room and choose the systems you want. What follows is a laundry list of systems people commonly incorporate in their homes.

  • Telephone system
  • Front door and whole-house Intercom
  • CCTV system for lifestyle and security cameras
  • Cable TV to each room
  • High-speed Internet access in each room
  • Access control
  • Whole-house stereo

Install Your Own System

Of course, what I have outlined here is the simple explanation of installing a structured wiring system. However, it is not rocket science, meaning you could install your own system saving yourself lots of money. This simple little explanation I have provided today is not going to be enough guidance on installing your own system.

Instructional Guide

What you really need is a complete instruction manual that provides specific information on which system to install along with specific connector type and model information and specific guidance on standard and optional electronic hubs. With that degree of guidance you truly could purchase the necessary components, then install the system yourself and in the process save yourself a pile of money.


Lighting Control Systems

There are basically three types of premier Architectural Lighting Control Systems available. The first is a hard-wired system. The second type is an electrical grid system and the third is a wireless lighting system.

Lighting Control Systems Options

There should be a healthy discussion of the various lighting control systems on the market today and which is the best. If we brought in a representative from all the lighting control systems, they would all swear that their system was hands down the best. In addition, if we organized those same representatives into groups defined by the technology their lighting control system is based on, they would swear up and down their technology was better than all other technologies.

Stand Behind What I Install

I have installed several types of systems which fall into different categories of lighting control technology. I would consider myself to be somewhat of an expert because I have installed these systems in my client’s homes and faced the pitfalls of each type of system. After all, over the years when I recommended a system for a home owner, I was the one who took the heat if and when it did not perform up to what the customer expected.

There was a time when I only installed top-of-the-line hardwired systems. Hardwired means that every switch in the house has a control wire pulled from its location back to the controller. Yes, this type of system has many reliable features and works 100% of the time. That was the reliability I counted on so that I could sleep at night. The down side to this particular type of system is that the equipment is very expensive and the labor to install it is substantial.

Wireless Lighting

There are other types of systems which have come a long way in terms of their reliability. I have installed wireless lighting systems in the past, but there was always that one or two light switches which had difficulty in receiving the command signals. Although the manufacturers claim new reliability performance rates at 100%, you are dealing with a system that controls the light switches by transmitting RF energy through the air.

I have been installing lighting control in large expensive homes with lots of concrete or steel in their construction. All of these factors leave me with a lingering worry as to whether all the light switches will work all of the time for every function. My opinion is why take the chance when something else is available. In addition, these wireless lighting control systems compare in cost up there with many of the hardwired systems.

New Reliable Cost Effective System

Fortunately a new technology emerged just a few years ago that is 100% reliable and not too cost prohibitive. It does not send command signals through the air nor does it control the switches through specially run control wires. This system sends command signals down the hard wires of your electrical grid to each light switch and controller.

I am an Authorized Dealer for the UPB Lighting Control system which I recommend for my jobs, big and small. The labor to install the system is cut down to an absolute minimum. In fact, your Electrician will do most of the work in his normal contract to wire up your house for AC. No additional control wires have to be pulled by you or the electrician. He will wire the house in the normal way.

Cost Less But Not Cheap

I said the UPB system is less expensive but I did not say it was cheap. On the contrary, the individual Dimmer switches cost in the range of $100 each. The 6-Buttom controllers are in the range of $265 each. These switches are in fact, reliable electronic components.

There is some other equipment and software involved as well, however when you add it up it cost a fraction of what other lighting control systems cost not to mention the difficulty of installation. So what I am offering you is a system I can teach you how to install which is 100% reliable and has all the bells and whistles of systems costing much more. One other very important factor is that it will integrate seamlessly with the HAI Security & Home Automation system discussed in one of my other “How to Install” books.

Control Your Cost

The keys to this technology are capability and cost. The absolute best way to control these issues is to install the system yourself. I help by providing lots of FREE information on this and other related home electronics systems like my 10 Video Mini Course. I invite you to follow me on my BLOG, sign up for my bi-monthly Newsletter, and view my ever increasing list of How to Install videos.

In addition, I have written an eBook on How to Install Lighting Control. In the book you will receive step by step instructions on installing the system which integrates with the Security & Home Automation controller I have been installing for years.

Installing Multiple Technologies?

It has been my experience that when people are considering one technology for their new or remodeled home, they are likely considering other technologies as well. I make available a FREE eBook on How to Install Modern Home Electronics. Download the free copy and it will give you an overview of several systems which are commonly installed in homes.

If you are a person who wants to bypass all the instructional material and go straight to our website where you can safely shop on-line for electronics for homes at reasonable prices Click Here.