Lighting control systems bring simplicity to our lives by eliminating excessive wall plates and switch boxes while saving us money through automatic or programmed energy saving settings. However, as with everything in life, there are choices to be made and with a lighting control system, one of the first decision to be made is “Which layout is best for me?”. Below we will describe the differences between the three types of layouts – centralized, decentralized, and hybrid – and the benefits and disadvantages to each system, in hopes of helping you determine which is best for you!

The first lighting control system design type is a ‘wireless’ (or decentralized) system. While this design type is in fact wireless, it is not wireless in the traditional ‘cutting cords’ sense – all of your high voltage electrical wiring still goes to their normal switch locations, but instead of standard light switches or dimmers, you have what is referred to as ‘hybrid’ switches or dimmers. These ‘hybrid’ pieces are capable of handling the lighting loads while also being able to dim to preset levels and communicate with each other over a wireless network. Typically this type of system is installed when someone is looking to install a lighting control system into an existing home but it is often used in new home construction or remodels due to its relative simplicity and similarity to a standard layout of switches and dimmers.

Advantage: Wireless systems are flexible, relatively easy to install and require less programming (in most cases) than the alternative methods. They will also provide a sizable cost savings over the alternatives.

Disadvantage: While you gain the benefits of a lighting control system (preset ‘scenes’, energy savings, etc.), you still end up with the same number of ‘hybrid’ switches or dimmers as your home would have without the system. Eliminating wall clutter is often the drive towards a lighting control system for many people and why alternatives may be a better choice.

The next type of lighting control system is referred to as a ‘centralized’ system. In this design, instead of your high voltage wiring being run to a standard switch or dimmer, is pulled back to a centralized location in the home. From there it is run directly into your electrical panel and then into something called a ‘dimmer pack’ within an automation enclosure. With all of the lighting loads now handled by the dimmer pack, you eliminate multiple switches in each room and replace them with a single keypad (or more depending on how many entry points there are into the room) that communicates to this dimmer pack instead. This keypad will be labeled for the various lighting ‘scenes’ for the room – a kids bedroom may only have ‘On’ and ‘Off’ while a Family Room may have additional scenes for ‘Watch TV’, ‘Reading’, ‘Entertain’ that will automatically adjust the lighting of the room to pre-programmed scenes.

Advantages: With a centralized lighting system you free your walls of light switches – gone are the 3-gang and 4-gang light switches and forgetting which switch does what. A centralized system also gives you the ultimate in flexibility if you want to change the lighting configuration in your room due to everything being home to the mechanical room. While many wireless lighting control systems provide reliable operation, the wired nature of a centralize system provides the ultimate in reliability among lighting control systems.

Disadvantages: The biggest disadvantage to a centralized system is the cost – it will require more equipment to manage all of the lighting loads in your mechanical room, it requires excellent coordination with other trades involved (primarily the electrician) and takes more time to install and program.

The final type of lighting control system is a combination of the first two and is referred to as a ‘hybrid’ system. This type of system is utilized when not every room in the house needs to be part of a centralized system or an addition is being made onto the home and part of the home can utilize a centralized setup and the other cannot. Most of the time you do not start the process by choosing a ‘hybrid’ lighting control system but it is often a good solution to overcome challenges throughout a project.

Advantages: Cost savings can be realized by not home running every lighting load in the home and instead utilizing local wireless ‘hybrid’ switches or dimmers. This often makes sense when there are a few rooms in the house that are less used or in a part of the house that would require a lot of extra materials to bring into the centralized system.

Disadvantages: As the ‘hybrid’ solution is often used to solve shortcomings of the other two designs, on its own it does not have sizable disadvantages.

Hopefully this informed you on the differences between lighting control systems. Should you have more questions or want some input on a project you are planning, please visit our ‘Contact Us’ page and drop us a line – we would be glad to help!